Tag Archives: Resurrection

Mark 13-16; Romans 1

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Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, April 7, Chapter 13

In this chapter, Jesus is not concerned that the disciples know what is going to happen.  He tells them enough about the future to prepare them for it.  He does not want it to be such a shock that they all run to the hills.  They have to remain strong enough to stay until Pentecost.

This chapter draws heavily on Daniel and on the Maccabees, the inter-testament books considered almost scripture.

The Big Four ask for signs, but Jesus gives commands. 1) verse 5; 2) verse 7; 3) verse 9; 4) verse 11; 5) verse 13; 6) verse 14; 7) verse 15; 8) verse 16; 9) verse 18; 10) verse 21; 11) verse 23; 12) verse 28; 13) verse 33a; 14) verse 33b; 15) verse 33c; 16) verse 34; 17) verse 35; 18) verse 36; and 19) verse 37.

The word Jesus uses for watch is a typical Greek word used in the markets, meaning to watch for customers.

Jesus gives us a list of things to watch for.  There have been a thousand generations (literally) since Jesus spoke these words and every one of them has experienced these signs.  The point is: the end is close now, be ready.  For someone living in 1014, the time is near, be ready.  For someone living in the year 3014, the time is near, be ready.

In verse 33, the Greek word is different, meaning to stay awake and fully alert.  The prayer is a listening prayer, listening to what God has to say.

Tuesday, April 8,  Chapter 14

The anointing of Jesus is a beautiful moment with deep meaning.  First, the detail of nard.  It was a perfume made in India.  It was transported (about 10 months by camel) in small glass jars with long tapered necks that were broken to open the bottle.  That way, the scent was not lost in the long journey.  As you might expect, the price was way beyond what working people could afford.

From a sermon by Paul Tillich:

What has she done?  She has given an example of a waste, which, as Jesus says, is a beautiful thing.  It is, so to speak, a holy waste, a waste growing out of the abundance of the heart.  She represents the ecstatic element in our relation to God, while the disciples represent the reasonable element.  Who can blame the disciples for being angry about the immense waste this woman has created?  Certainly not a deacon who has to take care of the poor or a social worker who knows the neediest cases and cannot help, or a church administrator who collects money for important projects.  Jesus felt differently and so did the early Church.  They knew that without the abundance of the heart nothing great can happen.  They knew that religion within the limits of reasonableness is a mutilated religion, and that calculating love is not love at all….

The history of mankind is the history of men and women who wasted themselves and were not afraid to do so….They wasted as God does in nature and history, in creation and salvation….Luther’s God, who acts heroically and without rules—is He not the wasteful God who creates and destroys in order to create again?  Has not Protestantism lost a great deal by losing the wasteful self-surrender of the saints and the mystics?…

Jesus connects this anointing of His body with His death.  There is an anointing of kings when they begin their reign and there is an anointing of corpses as a last gift of the living to the dead.  Jesus speaks of the latter kind of anointing although He might easily have spoken of the former.  In so doing, He turns both the ecstasy of the woman and the reasonableness of the disciples into something else.  By His death the reasonable morality of the disciples is turned into a paradox: the Messiah, the Anointed One, must waste Himself in order to become the Christ….The Cross does not disavow the sacred waste, the ecstatic surrender.  It is the most complete and the most holy waste.

Jesus is in command of the Passover events.  He sends two to find a man carrying water.  A man.  In a society where only women carried water.  Tertullian (about 200 AD) gives us these thoughts on the importance of water in this scene.

The Passover affords a more than usually solemn day for baptism.  For that is the day when in effect the Lord’s passion, into which we are baptized, was completed….Nor will it be incongruous to interpret figuratively the fact that, when the Lord was about to celebrate the last Passover, he told the disciples who were sent to make preparation that they would meet a man bearing water.  He thus points out the place for celebrating the Passover by the sign of water.

Notice in verse 13 the sending of two disciples to prepare the Passover, and in verse 17 Jesus arrival with the Twelve.  Clearly, the two disciples were not Apostles.  Since the room had been furnished, food preparation was all that was left.  It is entirely possible that the two disciples were women sent to prepare part of the meal.

The main part of the meal was the Passover lamb which was taken to the Temple for sacrifice, and then roasted in special ovens set up just for the day all over the city.  If the two disciples mentioned had that task, they were men.  They may have gone to check out the room and then taken care of the meat.

But the other food was prepared by several women.  Personally, I think verse 16 suggests that the two disciples stayed in the house to cook the meal, except for the lamb brought in just before eating.

Ten men make the minimum required for the feast.  Generally, it was a family affair; an extended family affair, with the oldest man leading the events and all the men (13 and up) eating together, with the women and children eating in another room, or at another table.

Mark refers to the upper room as large.  It is possible that other disciples ate with Jesus and the Twelve.  If that did happen, it seems most likely that the Apostles ate with Jesus and the other men ate in another part of the upper room, with the women and children downstairs.  It is just as likely that the upper room was on the flat roof with a tent set up for the meal.  Many thousands ate the Passover that way.

Look at the Passover this way.  On Thursday, April 17, everyone living in Kansas City goes to Topeka, without any Topekains leaving, 100,000 lambs are butchered, roasted and eaten in the city.  Every house filled to overflowing.  The feast is so momentous that even slaves share.

God’s covenant with the Chosen People is based on the blood of circumcision, and the blood of the sacrifices shed on the twelve stones of the altar.  Jesus stands between the Old and the New.  Those who eat the bread and wine are binding themselves to God through Jesus.

The New Covenant is a family affair.  Jesus celebrated with his family of the Twelve, and possibly others.  The Old Covenant followed the pattern of a wedding where wine represented the blood sacrifice.  The New covenant used the same symbol and added the bread to stand in for the once-in-for-all sacrificed Lamb.  Bread had always been the symbol of life.

Judas does mess up the beauty of the evening.  Consider that Jesus knew what Judas would do, but still ate with him.  He also knew what each of the others would do.  Peter, we know, the others deserted Jesus no less.  The difference between Judas and Peter was that one asked for forgiveness and the other did not.

Consider these words from Origen (about 240 AD):

If the eleven apostles were of good conscience, having not in any way betrayed their teacher, why were they grieved, as though it might have been that he was speaking of one of them?  I think that each of them knew from Jesus’ teaching that human freedom is infinitely changeable and may easily be turned toward evil.  It may happen, in the struggle against principalities and powers and rulers of this world of darkness, that one may fall quite unexpectedly into evil, either being deceived or overcome by demonic powers.  Thus, each disciple feared lest it might be he who was foreknown as betrayer.

Something else to consider at this point: if John Mark is the author of this Gospel as I think he is, he may have witnessed many of the events of this section.  In other words, much of this could be his personal recollections mixed with those of others who were there.  His mother was Mary, an important leader in the early church in Jerusalem.  Her home was always available to the Apostles.  If she was one of the women preparing the meal, it would have been natural for her to take Mark to help.  He was twelve at the time, not quite a man, but old enough to be in and out of the room.  We will see him again in the Garden.

There, Jesus goes alone to pray.  Perhaps Mark slipped past the not so watchful Apostles to get close enough to hear the prayer of Jesus.  If you think about it, no one else could have heard.

The theme of three continues.  Peter will deny Jesus three times, the Apostles will fall asleep three times, and Jesus will arise three days later.

In verse 41, Jesus says, Enough!  The Greek is apechei, which can mean the account is closed, or it is settled, as in business deals.

In verse 43, we read that the men who came were armed, a violation of Passover.  Judas kissed his Master, the Greek word meaning with great love.

In verse 51, the young man is seen, nearly caught, and runs home naked.  I think this is John Mark who trailed along after the Apostles, wearing his sleeping gown and watching what they did.  I wonder what Mary had to say when he came home minus a gown.

At verse 55, the Sanhedrin consists of 70 men plus the High Priest and several other priestly leaders.  Nicodemus was a member and the likely source of what went on.

Jesus, for the first time, said I am the Messiah.  He added quotes from Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1.  The penalty for blasphemy is stoning, Leviticus 24:14.

Chrysostom (about 400 AD):

O what strange and remarkable turns occur in these ironic events!  When Peter merely saw his master seized, he was so ardent as both to draw his sword and to whack off the servant’s ear!  But—alas, then when it might have been even more plausible for him to be even more indignant, and to be inflamed and to burn, upon hearing such revilings against his Lord, then he became a cringing denier…and that in the presence of a lowly and diminutive maidservant, and not only once but a second and third time.

Wednesday, April 9, Chapter 15

Pilate, you should know, hated Jews and in his first years as governor stirred up endless trouble.  Rome threatened him, so when Jesus came to trial Pilate was on his best behavior.  But we also see a man who does not believe what he is seeing and hearing.  Jesus seems to have affected Pilate.

There is no record of an uprising in the early 30’s when this trial took place, but minor ones occurred so often that they were not recorded.  The crowd was most likely brought in by the leaders, probably even paid, just to encourage execution.

Flogging was done with a whip, like a cat-o-nine.  Leather strips with jagged bits of bone or metal on the ends.  The Romans had no limit to the number of lashes and men often died of blood loss before they could be crucified.

The soldiers of verse 16 were mostly from Palestine and Syria, led by Roman citizens who may or may not have been from Rome.  The Greek word translated as company means cohort.  A cohort contained six centuries, 80 men per century for a total of 480 when full strength, which was rare.  It seems strange that 400 men would be called in just to tease one prisoner.  We have no idea if this was established or if it was done only in Jerusalem, or only for Jesus.

The purple robe was probably an old Roman issue scarlet cloak faded to purple, kept for just this purpose.  The thorns hammered into his flesh with every blow in verse 19.

Simon was pulled out of the crowd to carry the patibulum, the 40 pound crosspiece.  The skin on Jesus’ back was practically ripped off, and he did not have the strength to carry it himself.

Jesus struggled through the streets of the city to the place of execution outside the city.  There are numerous sites that are possible, including on the Mount of Olives.  The soldiers stripped him naked and tied his arms to the patibulum, to insure he stayed in place as the heavy spikes drove through his wrists.  The spikes were placed directly over the median nerves running through the carpal tunnel of each wrist.  The pressure caused immense pain in the hands and arms, even though the ropes supported most of the  weight of the body.

Once the patibulum is lifted to the post, one foot is placed over the other, and a nail driven through to hold them in place.  While Jesus lets his body hang from his arms, the pain builds to level 10 until when he pushes himself up on his feet.  When the pain again reaches unbearable, he reverts to arms for support.  Hanging from his arms puts undue pressure on his heart by ensuring a buildup of fluids in the pericardium, the sack surrounding the heart.  That is likely how Jesus died; the pressure was too great for his weakened heart to push against it.

Verse 32 reads that both of the thieves insulted Jesus, but one probably repented as the day wore on.

Jesus’ last words quoted Psalm 22:1.  Jesus felt that void because the unbroken connection he had always known was suddenly gone.  Jesus had to die alone; God could not die with him.  But now, when we die, Jesus is there because he has already been through death.  He can hold my hand and lead me through the shadow of death.

The curtain in the Temple ripped, at least symbolically.  There were 13 curtains hanging inside the Temple, each the size of a wall and weighing 200 pounds.  If they were all torn, they would have been sown back together because it would have taken 13 years to weave new ones.

There was a sizable cluster of women disciples watching from a safe distance.  Mark does not name Jesus’ mother, but John does.  Mark does indicate that his mother saw him buried.

Joseph of Arimathea took over and had Jesus placed in his own tomb.  The actual work was probably done by servants; otherwise Joseph would not have been able to participate in the rest of the festival for the week of his ritual impurity.

Thursday, April 10, Chapter 16

Joseph rushed the burial of Jesus to see him in before the sun set on Friday.  Otherwise, they would have had to wait until the Sabbath was over on sundown Saturday; meaning Sunday morning.

Was Jesus in the tomb three days?  Yes, by Jewish counting in those days.  Some people today argue that if it was not 72 hours, it was not three days.  What can I say to that?

The women (the Four Gospels disagree on who) went to the tomb to finish the burial process; that is to finish what they did not have time for on Friday.

Notice Mark does not include anything about guards.  He does have the angel appearing, and the odd statement that the women told no one what the angel told them.

It is likely that Mark stopped writing after verse 8 and that the remaining 12 verses were added several centuries later.  In the past two centuries, many older manuscripts have been discovered.  None of the oldest ones includes our current ending.  It is believed that the church added the ending to agree with the other Gospels and to add the Great Commission of verse 15.  Even if Mark did not write the words, they are consistent with what he did write and with the other Gospels.  There is no reason to throw them out.

Friday, April 11, Romans 1

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was probably written about 57 AD while he was in Corinth on his last missionary journey.

Paul calls himself an Apostle along with dozens of others at that time.  The Greek word started as a seafaring term applied to merchant and military ships.  The captain represented the owner or commander to the extent that he could make any deal that was binding on the owner.

The early churches followed the Jewish practice of being ordained involving, among other things, laying on of hands.  We know that Paul ordained others, but his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road was probably accepted by others as ordination.

His apostolic function was to bring Good News to the Gentiles.  It is the image found in Isaiah 52:7 and elsewhere.  How beautiful on the mountains s  are the feet of those who bring good news.  The Holy Scriptures for Paul were the Torah, Prophets, and Writings; our Old Testament.  Everything Jesus said and did can be found in those scriptures.

The phrase, obedience of faith, is found as far back as Genesis 49:10.  Psalm 2:7-8 pictures the Messiah bringing the Gentiles into the Jewish nation.  We need to consider the word obedience more than we generally do.

To be beloved is synonymous with chosen, called, saints.

Paul writes in verse 14 to both the Greek and the barbarians.  We know there were Jews in the congregation because he names some later as being leaders.  In Corinth, the conflicts had been primarily between Jews and Greeks.  In Rome that problem was not significant.  The terms Greek and barbarian simply meant civilized and uncivilized.

I am not ashamed uses a word for ashamed that is based on Isaiah 28:16.  So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,  a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.  Paul uses this idea several times in the letter.

The Power of God is expressed in Exodus 20:18-21.  That is the image Paul has in mind.  That power is the Wisdom of God that Paul will preach to the Romans when he joins them.  Jeremiah 23:5-6 expands the wisdom to include the Messiah.  The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name m by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.

Notice that the Messiah will bring righteousness.  That is a common theme regarding the Messiah.  To be righteous is to food and cloth the poor, touch the untouchable, heal the sick, visit the lonely, to do what Jesus did.  A Jewish teaching is that God gave Moses 613 commands, David reduced them to 11, Isaiah to 6, Micah to 3, Isaiah then to 2 and Amos and Habakkuk to 1: the righteous will live by his faith.

Paul believes everyone can come to know God without hearing the message or reading the scriptures.  In verse 21 he states For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.  The early Greek philosophers developed the idea of natural law and is still forms the basis for much of our own law.  We say today, “It’s just common sense.”  Paul uses many ideas  and terms familiar to the Romans to develop his letter.

Verse 24 has a difficult phrase, God gave them over.  Isaiah 64:7, No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden a  your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.  Paul seems to follow this idea of God turning away from those who are lost in sin, allowing them to lead their own lives.  Paul never uses the idea that God will cause a person to sin.

Remember that Jesus never gave up on Judas Iscariot.  He was the only apostle Jesus called friend.  Just before Judas left for the betrayal, Jesus dipped bread in the sauce and offered it to Judas a powerful demonstration of love and affection in that part of the world, even today.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Jesus and the Dry Bones

SDRandCo (6)

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45
Psalm 130

The Pharisees, rabbi, scribes, Sadducees, and Temple leaders constantly asked Jesus for signs.  Prove to us you are the Messiah.  They were like Pharaoh with the ten plagues.  Anyone can do that trick.  Unlike Pharaoh, even death left them unconvinced.

Earlier in John 5:21, Jesus explains his power over death.  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

Mark and Luke tell of Jairus taking Jesus to heal his sick child who dies before they arrive.  Jesus brings her to life. (Mark 5:41; Luke 8:54)  In Luke 7:14, Jesus heals a dead man being carried past him to the grave.

 

Luke 20:37-38 adds this about death.  But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.

 

Finally, in Matthew 23:27:  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

 

Ezekiel gives us a picture of men’s bones lying sun-bleached and dry in the valley of death.  Then he tells us that the Son of Man will put life back in those bones.

 

This is the sign, a sign the leaders knew about.

 

Yet, when Jesus called Lazarus from the grave, the leaders plotted to kill Jesus instead of worshiping him.  They forgot the words of the Psalm.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

 

The Son of Man is here, now.  He visits with those who allow Him into their lives.  He leaves us filled with the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Life.  Without the Spirit, there is only death.  Life without the Son of Man is life in a matrix that is nothing but a simulation of life; it is not reality.

 

We can only place our hope in the words Jesus gave to Martha before he brought her brother from the grave.  I am the resurrection and the lift.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYb8Wm6-QfA

http://www.brownielocks.com/dembones.html

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 24-28

The picture above is borrowed from Ruth Schwenk’s blog, The Better Mom. October 12, 2011

This is an ancient oil lamp from several thousand years ago.  It is small, barely covering one palm. As I hold it, I imagine walking in the darkness with only a small flicker coming out of the tip, barely penetrating the darkness. I have to hold it close to the ground, and sometimes close to me, to even see where I am going.  This is likely what the Psalmist had in mind when he penned the words “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”  It is not a lot of light.  It is just enough light to take that next step.  Though the darkness around me can feel great, and the questions remain unanswered, God’s Word is enough for me to continue on the path.  His Word illuminates our path, sheds light on His character, His promises, and His plans.

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 3, Chapter 24

The Temple destroyed in 70 AD; the gold and jewels taken to Rome, along with thousands of captured slaves.  The wealth used to construct the Coliseum.  The walls of the Temple pushed over the edge of the massive platform.  The stones were not seen again until 1968.

When the disciples asked about the end times, the most important words Jesus gave them were, ‘watch out that no one deceives you.’

The abomination referred to in verse 15 comes from Daniel 9:25-27.  In 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes placed a pagan altar to Zeus on the Altar of God in the Temple.  Jesus is telling us that Daniel tells us about events in the end times, including a new desecration of the Altar.  Anyone caught in that time will need to flee to the hills.  But Jesus may also have the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 in mind.

Verse 29 quotes Isa. 3:10 & 34:4.  In verses 30-31, if we had any doubts before, the angels and trumpets will end them.

In verse 32 Jesus returns to the lesson of the fig tree, using it as a symbol of signs of the coming of the end times.  When Jesus says, ‘this generation will not pass away’, he is not talking about the end, but rather the beginnings of the events leading to the end times.  From our stand point, 2,000 years later, it is easy to assume that there are many thousands more years to come.

Jesus does make clear that even he does not know when all these things will happen.  Consider with suspicion anyone who claims to know.

The image of ‘one taken and one left’ may simply refer to normal death.  We do not know when it will happen.  All I know is that I have a 50/50 chance of living to age 86 and I have a one chance in 99 of reaching the century mark.  I could also die before I finish this sentence.  Whee, made it.  What Jesus expects of us is to live as though the end is here.  We cannot get so involved with living our own lives that we forget God.

Tuesday, February 4, Chapter 25

The three parables that make up this chapter deal with the end times, so continue the ideas of the preceding chapter.  As to the first parable, allow me to paraphrase shamelessly from Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

In the traditional wedding, the groom walks with family and friends to the house of the bride and returns to his house for the festivities.  But, the walk back winds through as many streets as possible so that everyone gets a chance to meet and greet.  Meanwhile, the main wedding guests are waiting at the groom’s house.

The 10 young women have their small lamps to show everyone who they are.  It is indecent for a woman to be out at night without such a light, even today.  Also, the light is not used to light the path but to show the face.  It is all about maintaining a good reputation.

As the night wears on, the girls snooze.  When the announcement comes that the groom and his bride are coming down the street, the 10 women pick up their lamps which are nearly out of oil.  They are too small to hold more than a few ounces, so 5 women refill their lamps as the others beg for some of the oil.  Getting no help, the 5 rush away to borrow oil from people they know and return to find the door closed.

This message is for Christians.  We may come to church every Sunday.  We may give large amounts of money.  But if we are not ready when the Groom arrives, the door may be slammed in our faces.

How do we keep ourselves ready?  Reread Matt 11:4-6.  More than that, consider that the Bible (NIV) uses the word ‘Justice’ 132 times, 30 of them in Isaiah alone.  When the Bible speaks of justice, it is talking about treating people as equals; making sure people have clothing, food, shelter, education, and medical care.

The Parable of the Talents follows the Ten Women in its content and context.  Being ready for the Return of the Messiah includes working hard in the meantime.  We do not just take a long nap as the ten women did, we need to use our talents to bring justice into the world.  We cannot worry that we do not have the talents of others.  God has given each of us a skill for love and he expects us to use it.

If the Parable of the Ten Women is about being ready for the heavenly party, the parable of the sheep and goats is about judgment.  This has always been my first image of God’s judgment and I often consider which side I am on.  Pay close attention to the items God uses to pass judgment.  Will the Groom (Jesus) open the door?

Paul Tillich was a theologian at Union Theological Seminary until his move to Chicago Divinity in 1955.  In that same year a collection of his sermons given at the Union Chapel was published, called The New Being.  The following is a direct quote from one of those sermons.

Let me tell you the story of a woman who died a few years ago and whose life was spent abiding in love, although she rarely, if ever, used the name of God, and though she would have been surprised had someone told her that she belonged to Him who judges all men, because He is love and love is the only criterion of His judgment.

Her name was Elsa Brandström the daughter of a former Swedish ambassador to Russia.  But her name in the mouths and hearts of hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war during the First World War was the Angel of Siberia.  She was an irrefutable, living witness to the truth that love is the ultimate power of Being, even in a century which belongs to the darkest, most destructive and cruel of all centuries since the dawn of mankind.

At the beginning of the First World War, when Elisa Brandström was twenty-four yers old, she looked out of the window of the Swedish Embassy in what was then St. Petersburg and saw the German prisoners of war being driven through the streets on their way to Siberia.  From that moment on she could no longer endure the splendor of the diplomatic life of which, up to then, she had been a beautiful and vigorous center.  She became a nurse and began visiting the prison camps.  There she saw unspeakable horrors and she, a girl of twenty-four, began, almost alone, the fight of love against cruelty, and she prevailed.  She had to fight against the resistance and suspicion of the authorities and she prevailed.  She had to fight against the brutality and lawlessness of the prison guards and she prevailed.  She had to fight against cold, hunger, dirt and illness, against the conditions of an underdeveloped country and a destructive war, and she prevailed.  Love gave her wisdom with innocence, and daring with foresight.  And whenever she appeared despair was conquered and sorrow healed.  She visited the hungry and gave them food.  She saw the thirsty and gave them to drink.  She welcomed the strangers, clothed the naked and strengthened the sick.  She herself fell ill and was imprisoned, but God was abiding in her.  The irresistible power of love was with her.

And she never ceased to be driven by this power.  After the war she initiated a great work for the orphans of German and Russian prisoners of war.  The sight of her among these children whose sole ever-shining sun she was, must have been a decisive religious impression for many people.  With the coming of the Nazis, she and her husband were forced to leave Germany and came to this country.  Here she became the helper of innumerable European refugees, and for ten years I was able personally to observe the creative genius of her love.  We never had a theological conversation.  It was unnecessary.  She made God transparent in every moment.

Wednesday, February 5, Chapter 26

Have you been keeping track of how many times Jesus tells his followers he is to be killed?  Early on, he speaks of Jonah (12:38 & 16:4), treatment of the son (21:38), and rejecting the stone (21:42), all of which are indirect references and might be over looked.  However, 16:21, 17:9, 20:18, 20:28, & 26:2 are direct statements that Jesus would die.  Yet, no matter how often he repeated the words, his disciples failed to understand, as we also fail to understand.

Jesus did not have to die.  God did not order him to his death.  Jesus found that he loved everyone he met and he wanted to help everyone of them, and us, get into Heaven.  He knew the only way to do that was to defeat death.  But because of the nature of our physical universe the only way to defeat death was to die.  Not just to die, but to take on my sins and die in my place.

We live in a scientific age which cannot possibly explain how that works because it is outside the rules of the physical universe; it is a God Thing.  There is a non-Biblical story of Jesus spending the three days after his death preaching the Gospel in Hell.  I like that image because Jesus was, and is, willing to reach out to even the worst of sinners.

Please stop and reread verse 12.  That is the importance of the anointment. The remainder of the chapter could be discussed for days.  Read with reverence.

Thursday, February 6, Chapter 27

Think on Judas.  So many church members are like him.  We want to follow Jesus as long as he says what we want to hear.  We are willing to give money and help others when we can.  Judas decided to take God’s mission into his own hands.  He decided he knew better than his master, Jesus.  Like Peter, Judas failed his master.  Unlike Peter, he did not seek forgiveness.  I fail every day, but I continue because I know I am forgiven.  One step forward, two back, with practice becomes two steps forward and one back.

There is little to add to the powerful story Matthew has given us concerning the death of Jesus.  The details are not necessary to grasp the emotion of it all.  Jesus said to each person on earth, ‘For your sins, you have been sentenced to death.  I am going to die in your place.’

Friday, February 7. Chapter 28

This is it, the single most important event in the Bible; the event promised from Genesis onward.  For Jesus to die is a good and noble act, but it would leave us in our same state of sinfulness.  Only by defeating death and walking out of the grave can we be truly changed.

I will die to this earth, but be truly born again to the life that God intended for me in the New Jerusalem.  The best day I have ever lived on earth will be worse than the worst day I will live in Heaven.  What a promise.

Let me quote from a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer based on the text, ‘I am with you always.’

What can we possibly mean by saying that Jesus is with us?  Isn’t that merely an approximate, undefined feeling?

Not at all.  It is completely clear.  Jesus is with us in his words, and that means clearly and unequivocally that he is in that which he wants and in that which he thinks about us.  He is with us with his will, in his words, and only in our dealings with Jesus’ words do we sense his presence….  If we have a person’s word, then we know that person’s will; indeed, we know the whole person….  It tells us:  You are standing under God’s love, God is holy, and you should also be holy; God wants to give you the Holy Spirit that you might also be holy.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 19-23

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 27, Chapter 19

When it comes to divorce, the Old Testament is not very clear.  In Malachi 2:16, we read that God hates divorce, but other statements allow divorce.  Jesus goes to the heart of the issue.  God created humans as equals, as companions to one another.  After the fall, men and women had to procreate, so began to marry.  Jesus always argues from the point of perfection.  In Heaven, there is no need to marry; on earth, there is a need.  Within that need we must always seek perfection, meaning in this case, equality.  Jesus rejected both the major schools of thought of his day because they both assumed that only men could or should seek divorce.  As Paul wrote later, men and women must treat each other equally within the marriage.

Verse 10 brings up another issue and Jesus’ response seems to cloud the picture.  Jesus and John the Baptizer, as far as we know, did not marry because their mission required all their time and attention.  Most of us do marry because our missions are not as demanding.  God will let us know if we are to remain celibate.

What about becoming a eunuch?  Jesus dismissed that as something that happens sometimes, but is not to be sought.  Men and women, alike, become eunuchs in practice by not marrying, no surgery necessary.  Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD) in youthful enthusiasm, operated on himself to become a more committed Christian.  He later wrote that it was foolish and unnecessary.  And while we’re at it, don’t poke out your eye either.

It is sad that the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus.  You would think that they would have understood, just having heard his comments about being as innocent as a child.  By laying on his hands, Jesus blessed them.  That had a stronger meaning in Jesus’ day than it does for us now.  A blessing was a powerful gift from God.

This brings us to the rich young man.  Jesus told him to sell his possessions; he went away sad.  In his defense, we must realize that in that culture, still true today, he was responsible for all his relatives, servants, and slaves.  He may also have been in charge of the village, more responsibilities.  That was a great deal to put at risk.  He did not understand that he would gain so much more by taking up that particular cross.  We Americans are rich.  A billion people in this world live on $2 or less per day.  Can we give up our wealth for Jesus?

The eye of a needle.  Just read it as written.  Only God can get a camel through something that small.  Can a rich man get into Heaven?  Yes, the same way a camel goes through a needle.  If I can give all I have to Jesus, God will still have to pull me into Heaven through the eye of a needle.  Doing good deeds is not enough because I am still a sinner.  When I get to the Heavenly banquet, I plan to head to the table in the back, next to the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 28, Chapter 20

The parable of the Vineyard Workers is found only in Matthew.  It is a parable of Grace; an expression of God’s willingness to save all of us, even if we return to him late in the day.

A denarius was a small silver coin used throughout the Roman Empire to pay Roman soldiers as well as unskilled workers for a day’s work.  No one who heard Jesus even paid attention that routine amount.  Notice what the man says in verse 4, ‘what is right’.  Now, his listeners were thinking several of the lesser bronze coins and fewer coins as the owner hired additional men.  At the last hour, he hired the remaining men without suggesting that they would be paid.

At sundown, three surprises occur.  First, the master sends his foreman to make the payments.  Then he tells him to ‘pay the wage’.  That is the direct Greek reading.  Jesus’ listeners would have understood it to mean a denarius.  In a couple of sentences, Jesus has started to turn the parable on its ear.  The third surprise is that the men should be paid in reverse order, allowing those who worked 12 hours to see the one hour workers getting a denarius each.  Now the crowd is thinking that everyone will get a raise, but no.

This is yet another story of the Grace of God.  As an eleventh century scholar wrote, Simeon held the baby at the beginning of Jesus life and the thief hung beside him at the end.  They both joined him in Heaven.  Those who suffer the most in this world can look forward to ‘going to the front of the line’ in Heaven.  Not to worry, the rest of us will receive the same pay.

Once again, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon die.  To ‘drink the cup’ is a common euphemism generally referring to suffering.  Judas aside, James was the first of the Twelve to drink the cup when he was beheaded.  His brother was the last.  His cup was different that the others who are believed to have been killed.  John watched them all go and died of old age, probably in his 90’s.

Verse 26 gives us a basic lesson in being a follower of Jesus: be a servant to everyone.  Jesus followed that verbal lesson with a visual one when he healed the two blind men.  Taken together, the two lessons tell us that we must open our eyes to the Love of God before we can enter with him into the New Jerusalem.

Wednesday, January 29, Chapter 21

Before Creation, God and His Son planned every day of the life of Jesus.  Once the Son became a human, he had to grow and mature the same as the rest of us.  The difference is that he was always able to hear the still small voice of God.  From my readings of the Gospels, I believe that Jesus was given knowledge when he needed it.  Why else would it take him 30 years to prepare for his ministry?  Additionally, if he knew everything, he would not be human.

Regardless, Jesus did know that a donkey was waiting for pickup.  He may have arranged it.  What is important is that it fulfilled Zechariah 9:9.  The two men sent to pick it up could have been any of his regular followers.  Matthew is alone in saying the colt was with its mother.  He also has the strange image of preparing both animals for riding, as if he could.  Mark and Luke write that he rode the colt.

Spreading the cloaks on the street was only done for royalty.  The reason for the branches is not known. There is some evidence that large groups of pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem would stage just such a parade to celebrate and perhaps even encourage the long-expected Messiah’s arrival.  It would have been a bit like a Santa parade today.  In that case, most of the people watching would have failed to note that the One True Messiah had indeed arrived.

The quotes in verse 9 come from Psalm 118:25-26 and Jeremiah 31:7; shouted in no particular order.  While Jesus had not visited Jerusalem in two years, he was well-known by reputation.  As people learned who the rider really was, the buzz of excitement must have increased.  They may not have seen him as the Messiah, but they knew he was a famous teacher.

His first move had most of those same people rethinking their opinion of Jesus.  For him, it made perfect sense; he had to clean his Father’s House.  There were two main targets, the money changers and the sellers of animals for sacrifice.  Both activities were allowed and necessary.  The problem was that they were being done inside the Temple walls in the Court of the Gentiles.  Jesus did not put a stop to them; they continued to the destruction of the Temple nearly 40 years later.  It was a symbolic cleansing.  In fact, every step, every word of Jesus in the last week carries powerful symbols.

Cursing the fig tree is another of the hard sayings of Jesus.  Yet, when we look at it as a symbol, it becomes easy.  If I do not bear good fruit, I will face punishment.

The question of authority is important.  It is a fair question, then and now.  Either Jesus is the Messiah or he is an impostor.  The leaders were seeking proof; fair enough except that Jesus had given them three years of proof already.  Jesus knew they were really only trying to trick him, so poised his own question.  John was baptized by God to announce the Messiah, so Jesus put the leaders on the knife’s edge.

The two parables illustrate what was about to happen.  In the first, both sons are disobedient, but the one who repents is saved from judgment.  The second parable gives us a picture of what will happen to the second son.  The second son is anyone who says he follows God, but never takes care of the needy, always lives for himself.  Jesus is talking to you and me, not just the Pharisees.

Thursday, January 30, Chapter 22

The next parable makes it clear that Jesus includes all of us who do not respond to his call. It is also in agreement with the vineyard workers of chapter 20; the lost ones of society will be brought into the kingdom.  Reread the Beatitudes of Chapter 5.

Verse 11 begins another difficult section.  On the surface, a man is punished for wearing the wrong clothes.  But the symbolism is that some people say they want to join in the wedding with Jesus, but are not willing to do what is required to be his Bride.  We say we are followers, but our dress proves we are not.

In verse 15, we learn how desperate the Pharisees are becoming; they join forces with the hated followers of Herod.  Because Jesus is not himself a trickster, he deals only in the Truth.  ‘Use physical goods in the physical world and spiritual goods in the spiritual world.’

Having fended off the combined assault of the Pharisees and Herodians, he faced the Sadducees.  You should know that most priests and all Temple leaders were Sadducees.  They were all about the Temple and their power ceased to exist after it was destroyed.  Their question for Jesus stayed, they thought, with his spiritual theme.  Who will she be married to?  The answer is: the only marriage in heaven will be all of us married to the Messiah.

Next, for whatever reason, the Pharisees threw him a softball.  The greatest command?  Deut. 6:5 and the second is Lev 19:18.  Why did you even ask?

Jesus turns the tables and asks the Pharisees a tough question.  David, in Psalm 110:1, called the Messiah, Lord.  The title was never used for one’s children, yet David clearly did that, why?  The leaders gave up and left Jesus alone, at least until his arrest.  The answer: the Messiah is superior to even King David, having existed with God before Creation.  Jesus made a backhanded claim of Messiahship.

Friday, January 31. Chapter 23

This entire chapter is an attack on hypocrites.  Jesus begins by pointing to the obvious for his followers, that the men attacking him were the leaders of the synagogues; that is, they sat in the Seat of Moses in the front of the meeting house.  Jesus himself was often invited to sit there and never failed to impress people with his teachings.

God gave us the following: Lev 11:10 “But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to detest.”  Eating shrimp is an abomination to God.  Therefore, Pharisees believed they had to make sure they never came in contact with such things.  They would never wade in the water or get near a fisherman for fear of accidental contact.

 

With that picture in mind, read verse 3 and reread 16:12.  Jesus spends this entire chapter heaping condemnation of those leaders.  It is doubtful that he intends for us to listen to them.  It is much more likely that he is saying, ‘You are supposed to obey those who sit in Moses seat, but these hypocrites do not deserve your attention.’  They are busy creating cumbersome rules that do nothing to keep us close to God.

A phylactery is a small box tied to a man’s forehead while in prayer.  The box contains four small scraps of paper, one each for the words of Ex. 13:1-10, Ex. 13:11-16, Deut. 6:4-9, and Deut. 11:13-21.  They are words we should carry with us in our hearts.

A man’s outer garment also served as a prayer shawl by pulling up a kind of hood.  Each of four corners had tassels attached.  Each tassel contained a blue thread that symbolically connected the man to the priests of the Temple and thus to God.  It did not mean their prayers had to go through the priests, but rather that they had the same standing with God as did the priests.

The meaning of verses 8-10 is made clear by verses 11-12.  We cannot take the words literally.  Call your parents father and mother.  Jesus wants us to shy away from unnecessary pride in titles.  Jimmy Carter follows that idea in down playing his rank of President.  I have more respect for people who do not bother to add ‘PhD’ to their signatures.

Compare the seven woes to the six woes of Isa. 5:8-25, 28:1-35, & 10.  Also the five woes in Hab. 2:6-20.  Pride is the major issue.  I am a worm before God.  I cannot puff myself up to anything else.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence