Posts Tagged With: identity

Revelations 3: The Jesus of the Churches

2171172330103330085S500x500Q85Promises.  We all get a lot of them.  Promises are only as good as the one making the promise.  Making promises isn’t the same as wishful thinking.  To give a good promise you must have the ability to deliver on that promise.  In each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, Jesus makes a promise to bring something — good or bad — to someone because of what they have done or not done.  In every case, Jesus makes it clear he possesses what is necessary to fulfill his promise.

Each of the seven letters starts with a description of the ascended, victorious Christ.  Then at some point in each letter Jesus promises something to either those who have persisted in wickedness or faithfulness.  John has done a masterful job of connecting promises with aspects of Jesus’ description in each letter so that the point is driven home that Jesus possesses the ability to deliver on what he has said. (Click here for a PDF of this chart.)

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We don’t just serve a God of wishful thinking.  Jesus doesn’t just hope he can help us.  We aren’t just crossing our fingers and wishing on a star.  Our God makes promises, and He possesses all that is necessary to fulfill those promises.

What did you notice in this chapter?

Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

John 1: Who Is This Jesus?

Who is this Jesus?

That is hardly a question we ask these days.  Most people have heard of Jesus and know something about his supposed identity. However, during John’s time this most certainly would have been the question people were asking.  Given the purpose statement of the book (see the Introduction post below) we know this question was especially the one John wanted to answer in his book.

So it is no wonder that John starts his gospel with a wonderful, lyrical, slightly cryptic explanation of the nature of this Jesus whose story we will hear.  In the first fourteen verses of this first chapter we learn that Jesus is all of the following:

  • Eternal (1:1a)
  • Close in proximity to God (1:1b)
  • One in nature and identity with God (1:1c)
  • The source of all created things (1:3)
  • The source of life (1:4a)
  • The source of light in the midst of darkness (1:4b)
  • The one who brings illumination (1:9)
  • An enfleshed human being (1:10a, 14)
  • Rejected by much of the world (1:10b)
  • Authoritative (1:12)
  • The son of God (1:14a)
  • Full of grace (1:14b)
  • Full of truth (1:14b)

Jesus is the fully human, fully divine son of God who is the source of all things good.  Though all authority is his, people can still find a way to reject this Jesus.  Nonetheless, true life and light can be found in him.

What caught your eye in this chapter?

Categories: John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ephesians 4: Put On The New Humanity

Back on Friday we saw that an important part of Paul’s specially tailored gospel message for Ephesus was that the cross has made the kingdom of God open to all people, Jews and Gentiles.  There is one new humanity irrespective of ethnicity.

Today, as Paul turns from the theological to the practical, from the God-part of the book to the Humanity-part, Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that God hasn’t just placed a bundle of blessings on their lap, they have a job in the new creation: make that new ethnicity-less humanity a reality in their everyday life as a church (4:1, 12, 22-24).  Paul brings this point home with the many “one another” phrases in this chapter (and also the very popular “one” passage in 4:4-6):

Bear with one another in love. (4:2a)

Be humble, meek, and patient in every way with one another. (4:2b)

. . . with your lives bound together in peace. (4:3b)

. . . held together by every joint which supports it [the church body] (4:16a)

We are members of one another. (4:25)

Be kind to one another. (4:32a)

Cherish tender feelings for each other. (4:32b)

Forgive one another (4:32c)

At the same time, we are not all the same.  Not only have we come from different backgrounds, God has equipped us with different gifts, abilities, and personalities (4:7, 11).  Yet, that diversity is unified by a common purpose:

The purpose of this [diverse gifting] is that we should all reach unity in our belief and loyalty, and in knowing God’s son.  Then we shall reach the stature of the mature Man measured by the standards of the king’s fullness. (4:13)

The “new humanity” we are called to become is best seen in the life and person of Jesus the King.  He died for us.  He saved us.  He is working inside of us and through us, all with the goal of becoming like him, not the world from which we have come (4:22-24).  That’s something that can create unity.

What phrase speaks loudly to you in this chapter?

Categories: Ephesians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 16: Who Do You Say I Am?

“What about you?” he asked them.  “Who do you say I am?” (16:15)

This may be one of the most important questions of all time.  Maybe this is the question that all people must grapple with and answer.

For the Pharisees the answer was simple: Jesus was an ally of Beelzebub (12:24), even though all of the signs were there for them to know otherwise, Jesus says in today’s passage (16:3).

For Herod, Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead (14:2 ;16:14).

For the masses, after two miraculous feedings, Jesus was a free meal (14:13ff; 15:29ff).

For some the disciples had talked to, Jesus was another great prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (16:14).

For the disciples, Jesus enigmatically pushed them past the literal (16:7-12).

For Peter, Jesus was the Messiah . . . but not the right kind.  Jesus was the vanquishing savior here to whip up on the Romans, not die on one of their crosses (16:16, 22).

We grapple with the same question today.  Ask around.  Jesus is a prophet, a wise man, a great teacher, a crazed lunatic, a egomaniacal liar, a carpenter turned revolutionary, a revolutionary turned lover of Magdalene, a hippie, a homosexual, a partier, a beaten up hero in a violent bloodbath, a scapegoat for Jewish nationalism, a healer, a handsome emotionless guru, a meek milquetoast whipping boy, a misunderstood leader, a rabbi, a philosopher of love, a Republican, a Democrat, a Communist, a Capitalist, a vegetarian, a figment of Paul’s imagination, or some other permutation next week when another book, movie or YouTube video comes out.

Albert Schweitzer is famous for saying that the quest to determine who exactly Jesus was, apart from the Bible, is a futile one.  It is like looking down into a well; all we see is our own reflection looking back.  People have a tendency to mold Jesus into whatever we want him to be, and in the end he ends up looking a lot like us or at least what we would like to be.

Looking ahead to the account of the Transfiguration in the next chapter, God will weigh in on the matter:

Then there came a voice out of the cloud. ‘This is my dear son,” said the voice, “and I’m delighted with him.” (17:5)

Still, the question is before us today: “Who do you say I am?”

How do we fashion Jesus after our own image today?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mark 16: What Will You Do With Jesus?

Blogs are an ideal place for experimental writing, so I hope you will allow me to do that today.

In just about every Bible translated since the King James Version there is a line after 16:8 that says verses 9-20 are not found in the earliest manuscripts.  Still, I have always read the chapter as a whole, trusting that the editors of whatever translation I am reading had a good reason for putting vv. 9-20 in there.

Verses 9-20 were probably not written by Mark; there is ample evidence to suggest that.  They do show up before AD 150, though, so they are early and maybe still apostolic.  Maybe a copyist thought the book was too messy if it ended at 16:8 and added an ending of his own.  Maybe someone wanted to add a truncated version of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the Great Commission and mention of miracles to be done by the apostles.  Maybe someone felt we needed to actually hear about Jesus meeting the apostles in Galilee as 16:7 mentioned.  Maybe Mark did have an ending and it was lost or destroyed (this section would have been the end of a scroll or codex) and vv. 9-20 are just a copy of the original that was rewritten later.   Maybe Mark died or was arrested before he could finish the book.  Honestly, I am not that worried about it.  It might be wise to refrain from picking up rattlesnakes thinking the Bible authorizes it, just in case.

Today I would like to experiment with ending Mark at 16:8 and seeing what message arises from that decision.  Maybe Mark wanted his gospel to end as abruptly as it started in chapter 1, no mention of his birth and now no post-resurrection appearance by Jesus.  So, the ending of Mark would be:

They [the women] went out, and fled from the tomb.  Trembling and panic had seized them.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (16:8)

That seems like a weird ending to the book.  We never see the resurrected Jesus; we must simply believe that what the angel says is true.  We never see emboldened believers: the apostles are still hiding, and even the women who were at least faithful enough to come to finish the job of anointing the body run away in a mix of awe and terror.  Is Jesus alive as the angel said?  What will become of this new movement?  What more should have been done?  These questions are all left unanswered in Mark’s awkward ending.

But maybe that is the point.  Maybe Mark, who we have repeatedly seen leave us hanging with forced vows of secrecy and people swimming in puzzlement, wants to leave us with questions.  That certainly would fit with the “messianic secret” idea we have seen already.  Remember these questions from Mark?  We are left answering these questions for ourselves:

Who do people say I am? (8:27)

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? (14:61)

Are you the king of the Jews? (15:2)

What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews? (Mark 15:12)

More practically, maybe Mark is intending to push us back into his book to decide for ourselves whether we can believe that Jesus really is who he says he is. Some people think Mark was intended to be used as an evangelistic tool and this sort of ending could set up quite a fruitful conversation with a spiritual seeker.  Maybe we are supposed to naturally compose the ending we think there should have been — what the women should have done, what the apostles should and will do, what needs to be done now if Jesus really is alive.  Moreover, maybe we aren’t just supposed to compose the ending, maybe be are supposed to do that ending we imagine.

I think I like that sort of ending.

As we finish Mark, please take the time to write one sentence summarizing what “big idea” has stayed with you these past three weeks as you have read.

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mark 2: A New Master

Who is this guy Jesus?

It sounds like a weird question, for us, the initiated.  We are in, so we get Jesus.

But as our story begins, to his audience Jesus was just another rabbi calling people to “follow him” (2:14; 1:17).  Frankly, to more and more people today Jesus is also just another religious teacher, a wise man, one more path up the proverbial mountain of religious options, a mountain where all religious paths ultimately lead to the same place and to the same God whatever you may choose to call Him or Her or It or Them.

Who exactly Jesus was is precisely the question asked in various ways today:

Jesus saw their faith, and said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”  How dare the fellow speak like this?” grumbled some of the legal experts among themselves. “It’s blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins except God?” (2:5-6)

They [Pharisees] said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2:16)

People came and said to Jesus, “Look here: John’s disciples are fasting, and so are the Pharisees’ disciples; why aren’t yours?” (2:18)

“Look here,” said the Pharisees to him, “why are they doing something illegal on the sabbath?” (2:24)

This man named Jesus.  He is not like the rabbis, the religious leaders, the masters we are normally used to.

What did you notice today that you had not before?  

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , | 21 Comments

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