Posts Tagged With: religion

Revelation 13: Secret Messages

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At church each week I sit a row or two in front of a former POW from the Vietnamese War.  Ken is an immensely interesting man, both distinguished and completely humble at the same time.  I have heard him tell his stories several times of being detained in the Hanoi Hilton and every time the crowd — whether they were age 8 or 80 — was mesmerized.  Especially intriguing was his account of writing letters home to his wife.  However, these letters were filled with intelligence details written in seemingly innocuous code he had been taught in training for the war.  The Viet Cong would read his mail and pass it along as nothing more than a letter to a wife about remembrances from life at home or purely imaginative scenarios.  Hidden in there were details about how many detainees were there, their conditions, morale, and the sort.

Revelation 13 was the first chapter I ever read in Revelation.  I was 14 and I had heard of this chapter about weird monsters and the number 666.  Sounded like the kind of chapter a kid who listen to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath and who read Stephen King needed to read.  So I did.  And understood nothing that I read.

You may feel the same way today after reading this chapter.  Weird.  Puzzling.

I think it is best to think of this chapter like a letter to a detainee’s loved ones that might seem odd but innocuous to the outsider but had much meaning to those familiar with Jewish apocalyptic imagery and rhetorical devices.  How do you talk about the enemy when they read your mail?  Like this.

As chapter 12 ended we left the seven-headed red dragon Satan as he flooded the earth with waters of evil in an unsuccessful effort to drown the woman who gave birth to Jesus.  Today, out of that sea (a universal symbol in the ancient world of evil) comes a horrific beast.  With seven heads and the watery connection, we know this beast is a servant of Satan.  In the last half of the chapter, another beast arises from the earth who serves and glorifies the first beast.  On what is surely a take-off on the sealing of the righteous in chapter 7, this second beast marks on the right hand and forehead all of those in the area who wish to do business.  Finally, John says that this beast is a symbol for a human and using apocalyptic numerology (gematria) one can determine who this is from his secret number 666.

Yeah, clear as day, right?  Much ink has been spilled on this confusing chapter, and I don’t wish to add to it other than to give an interpretation that I think makes sense (the Internet is filled with scores of other interpretations).  After pulling back the curtain of reality in chapter 12 to show us that Satan is really behind the suffering of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, John lets the curtain back into place so all we see again are the human agents of Satan’s work of deceit and destruction.  There is a horrible beast of a power that will make the life of the Christians of Asia Minor difficult.  That beast will come by sea.  This is most likely the Roman government as a whole, with seven heads for the seven emperors there had been before this time, the mortally wounded one being the worst of all thus far, Nero.  Then, as the second beast is especially religious (13:15) the beast from the land is likely the government officials and religious personnel from Asia Minor who were especially loyal to Rome and would have put the greatest direct pressure on the recipients of this letter.  We know that greatest ostracizing and disenfranchising tool that natives would have had was the ability to turn people against a Christian’s business.  If you want money bearing the “mark of the beast” (the picture of the Caesar) you will have to play by our rules and leave your superstitions behind.  These Christians knew well the power of this beast.  The symbolic number 666 has been interpreted many ways, but the best seems to be that this is a reference to Nero, based on a popular belief that Nero was so evil he was going to come back to life again (the Nero redivivus myth).  In a sense, Domitian, who brought intense persecution to the Christians of Asia Minor shortly after Revelation was written (if a date in the 80s AD is correct), became that “second Nero.”  Domitian picked up where Nero left off.

In an effort to universalize this maybe we could say that the beast from the sea is any force that uses sheer power to work against God’s kingdom.  The beast from the land is the force that adds religion by coercion and intimidation into the mix.  That happened in the first-century Roman Empire, the tenth-century Roman Catholic Church, the twelfth-century Islamic Middle East, the early-twentieth century Nazi Germany, the mid-twentieth century Iron Curtain Communists, the twenty-first century terrorist camps in Afghanistan, and now the center of Africa as tribe battles tribe and ethnic group kills off ethnic group.  Brute Power and Religion used to support Brute Power has had many faces throughout history.

I believe these are the two verses that would have spoken loudest to the first faithful Christians reading this chapter:

So everyone on earth worshiped it — everyone, that is, whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the lamb who was slaughtered. (13:8)

When one sees the immense power of these beasts, it is hard to imagine that anyone could resist doing what they want.  And in the ancient Roman society, most did follow the norm.  But these Christians can take heart that they have an allegiance to one who is even more powerful.  They can be those who will not bow a knee.

But, the Christians of Asia Minor are mentioned in this passage in another place, too:

It [the beast of the earth] was granted the right to make war against God’s holy people and to defeat them. (13:7)

That too is this group of faithful Christians.

And now we are back to what has become one of the paradoxical main themes of this book: There is a great rescue coming.  Hold on.  You will be taken safely through it if you do not give up the faith.  But that rescue is not physical.  You will have to lay this life down and go through the second death in order to live forever with the Lamb.

What do you think of this mysterious chapter?

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John 14: If You Have Seen Me, You Have Seen God

If you had known me, you would have known my father.  From now on you do know him!  You have seen him. . . . Anyone who has seen me has seen the father! (14:7, 9)

What a provocative claim!  When you look at Jesus, you are looking at God.  Jesus only makes it clearer the further we read through this chapter:

Don’t you believe that I am in the father, and the father is in me? (14:10a)

It’s the father, who lives within me . . . . (14:10b)

I am in the father and the father is in me. (14:11)

If we have only known Christianity all of our life, maybe we don’t really appreciate how outstanding this claim was.  What other significant religious leader in history has claimed such a thing?  Would Muhammad have claimed such a thing?  Not at all!  That would have been blasphemous and worthy of death.  Would the Buddha have claimed to have been a god?  Though people have turned him into such, the Buddha was clear before his death that he was not a god, did not wish to be worshiped as deity, and did not even want to theorize about divinity anyway as he was simply interested in solving the problem of human suffering.  Would Abraham or Moses or Rabbi Hillel?  This too would have been highly offensive.  The Jews of Jesus’ time were ready to stone Jesus for claiming such.  Maybe one of the 330 million Hindu gods would have claimed to be a god taken human form in order to reveal the nature of the great universal power of Brahman to the unenlightened world.  But what Hindu in recorded history has ever had a run in with these gods of legend?  Besides, the fleshly body is but an illusion that the gods help us escape, why would they want to become flesh?  Marx thought religion and its gods were just an “opiate” for the hungry, disillusioned masses.  Freud would have said a god was just a projection of your superego.  Any good secular humanist would either laugh at the idea that a god even exists, or if one does that god is not at all involved in this closed system we call our universe.  And into that world, those of us who are Christians claim Jesus is God in the flesh.  Truly provocative!  And what a privilege to serve such a god!

And if the claim that God came to this world to reveal himself as a human named Jesus is not scandalous enough, the shock continues.

But you know him, because he [the helper; the Holy Spirit] lives with you, and will be in you. (14:17)

Not only did God condescend to live in the flesh as a human named Jesus, God lives in those of us who are Christians by way of the Holy Spirit.  What other religion in the world claims that the god would come to live in us?  Judaism and Islam are religions of the book; God has done all that is necessary when he gave us a book.  God does not need to come down to our level and it would be unfitting of God to do so.  The eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism would agree that there is divinity in the follower, but there is a spark of the divine in all living things.  This is no special honor.  And this piece of the divine Brahman power has no real consciousness and does not guide us into better living.  A secular humanist is no more convinced that God, if he exists, would indwell us than he did Jesus.  How audacious to believe that our God actually lives within us!  Again, a great privilege!

What do you think?

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John 8: Dehumanizing Religion

One of the ugliest sides of religion is when it uses people.  Religion does this.  It pits people against each other in some cosmic game of “who is closer to God.”  We toot our own horns and then shoot pot-shots into other people.

In today’s reading, the religious people in the story drag a woman likely straight from the bedroom where she had been caught in adultery.  John even says, “they stood her out in the middle” of the crowd, before Jesus and asked him what should be done with her (8:3).  Are they really concerned with her sin?  Only mildly at best.  Are they really seeking justice?  Then where is the man she was with?  No, John makes it clear what they were doing:

They said this to test him, so that they could frame a charge against him. (8:6)

This woman is nothing more than a disgraced pawn caught in a desperate powerplay of the Pharisees.  She is just a platform on which to make their point that Law is to be followed.  She represents no more than an opportunity.  She is the faceless, story-less example of a moral issue.  This woman who had allowed herself to be used by a man for his passion is now being used by a whole cadre of men for their agenda of power.  The Pharisees are using this woman, in the name of religion.  Her sin was not excusable — and Jesus didn’t ignore it either (8:11b) — but she was still a human being.

When have we allowed our religious agendas to use people?  When has a person’s life become little more than a point in an argument or a story in a sermon?  When do we only see the immoral actions of people and fail to see the person doing the action?  Are there people who if they ceased to exist it would be fine with us?  Are there whole groups of people we easily write off with racial, religious, socio-economic, or political labels, caring less about their personal narratives?

Is there a way to follow our Master by seeing a person in need, not approving of their sin but also not condemning and dehumanizing them?

What caught your eye in this chapter?  

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Matthew 23: Are We The Pharisees?

For those who only imagine Jesus as meek and mild and accepting of all, hold on because this chapter blows that stereotype to pieces.

Matthew has brought us to the last week of Jesus’ life.  The tension between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus is escalating, and this chapter does nothing to help that.

As I have said before, I am thoroughly and unapologetically religious.  Institutional and traditional Christianity is in my DNA.  I don’t think religion is God’s Kingdom; it is not where one finds the life and divinity we are all after.  Yet, I still value religion as a vehicle that often times transfers me into the Kingdom of life and divinity.  I like the way Eugene Peterson balanced religion (or “church”) and Kingdom in this quote from Christianity Today a few years back:

What other church is there besides institutional?  There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church because there is sin the church.  But there is no other place to be a Christian except the church. . . . I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution.  I really don’t get it.  Frederick Von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree.  There’s no life in the bark.  It’s dead wood.  But it protects the life of the tree within.  And the tree grows and grows and grows.  If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.  So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive.  And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long.  It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy and narcissism. 

“The Pharisees” by Karl Schmidt Rottluff

When I read a chapter like Matthew 23 I use it to inspect my own religious heart and determine whether Jesus could say some of the same things about me that he once said to the Pharisees.  The following are the phrases in today’s reading that I think all of us who are religious need to dwell on today to assess how true they could be in our lives as well:

You must do whatever they tell you, and keep it. (23:3a)

They talk but they don’t do. (23:3b)

They tie up heavy bundles which are difficult to carry, and they dump them on people’s shoulders. (23:4)

Everything they do is for show, to be seen by people. (23:5)

You tithe . . . and you omit the serious matters . . . like justice, mercy, and loyalty. (23:23)

You scrub the outside of the cup and the dish, but the inside is full of extortion and moral flabbiness. (23:25)

On the inside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:28)

Inserted into his invectives, Jesus offers two recalibrations for those of us who may feel like we are more aligned with the Pharisees than with Jesus:

The greatest among you should be your servant.  People who make themselves great will be humbled; and people who humble themselves will become great. (23:11)

First make the inside of the cup clean, and then the outside will be clean as well. (23:26)

The hypocrisy, legalism, and self-important arrogance of religiosity can be kept in check by a well-maintained interior life that  values humility not pride, service not power.

Lord, protect us from the “leaven of the Pharisees!”

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Matthew 12: It’s What’s On The Inside That Counts

The Pharisees confront Jesus in today’s chapter:

Look here!  Your disciples are doing something that’s not permitted on the sabbath!” (12:2)

How dare they pluck corn and eat it!  That’s work!

So Jesus chastises the Pharisees on how completely they have missed the point.  Then he heals the withered hand of a man standing in the crowd.  Oh-oh!  More work on the Sabbath.  How dare Jesus disregard the Law!  So,

The Pharisees went off and plotted against him, with the intention of doing away with him.” (12:14)

I have never noticed this last verse in this way before.  The Pharisees are incensed that Jesus would disregard the Jewish laws and customs concerning the Sabbath, all the while they are making plans to murder Jesus.  

Yes, it seems they have missed the point.

Today’s chapter really drives home the saying “it’s what’s in the heart that counts,” not the rituals of our hands.

  • Our mouth speaks from the heart (12:34)
  • The fruit/deeds of our life come from the quality of our tree/heart (12:33)
  • A demon can be removed but it will only be worse later on if we don’t fill up our hearts with something good (12:45)
  • Family is defined more by faith than blood (12:50)
  • Repentance of the heart is better than experiencing miraculous signs (12:41)
  • Saving a life and restoring health is far better than getting caught up in law keeping (12:12)
  • Mercy is better than sacrifice (12:7)

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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Matthew 8: Amazing-Faith or Little-Faith?

Some times I have to remind myself how I probably would have been cast in the story of Jesus’ life had I been there at the time.

Matthew marches a fast parade of characters past us in this chapter.  A man with a skin disease that would have made him unclean.  A powerful Roman centurion.  An infirmed mother-in-law.  Handfuls of demon-possessed and sick people.  Two demon-possessed Gentiles from the “other side of the tracks lake” who terrorized their town.  A bunch of dirty pig-farmers.

All of these characters have two things in common.  One, they were unclean, foreign, odd, “others” who did not fit the mold of the “children of the kingdom”  (8:12) and therefore should not be those sought by Jesus.  Two, they were all filled with immense faith.  They flocked to Jesus for healing.  They pleaded dependently for help.  At the least, the pig farmers acknowledged Jesus as awe-inspiringly powerful.  It is the Roman centurion whose faith stands out the most:

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said to the people who were following.  “I haven’t found faith like this — not even in Israel!” (8:10)

But there are also three other characters.

A scribe — a religious functionary who labored with holy words all day long.

A disciple who had decided to make Jesus his “Rabbi.”

A group of disciples (maybe the apostles) who stick close to Jesus, even running to him in a storm.

These are the orthodox ones, the insiders, the chosen ones.  They are religious, clean, upstanding citizens.  These three are who you would expect to come off looking good in the chapter.  But Jesus doesn’t seem to be so sure about the scribe’s claim of commitment (8:19-20).  Jesus seems to think the disciple with a dead father is really just making excuses (8:21-22).  The disciples with Jesus in the boat that stormy day are sure they are about to die.  In contrast to the amazing faith of the Roman centurion, Jesus chastises his own disciples:

“Why are you so scared, you little-faith lot?” (8:26)

The religious don’t come off looking so good in this chapter.

 

I was born to religious parents.  I have been in a church most Sundays of my life.  My family went to church every time the doors were open, and other times too to take care of church matters.  My father was an elder.  My mother a president of a woman’s auxiliary for a Christian school.  I went to Christian camp.  I graduated from a Christian high school.  I have two degrees from Christian colleges.  I work for a Christian high school.  I am a deacon in a large church.  I teach adult Sunday school.  I read Christian books and listen to Christian music.  My wonderful Christian wife and I named both of our kids biblical names.  My blogs are religious.  And if I had enough guts to get a tattoo, it would be a cross.

I am thoroughly religious.

But do I have any faith?

What did you notice as you read this chapter?

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Galatians 4: Children of Freedom

However, at that stage [before coming to Christ] you didn’t know God, and so you were enslaved to beings that, in their proper nature, are not gods.  But now that you’ve come to know God — or, better, to be known by God — how can you turn back again to that weak and poverty-stricken lineup of elements that you want to serve all over again? (4:8-9)

Most who study the background of Paul’s letter to the Galatians agree that the Christians addressed in this book were originally Roman pagans.  Before Christ they “didn’t know God.”  They worshiped “beings that . . . are not gods,” though the Galatians would have thought they were.  They worshiped “elemental spirits,” some translations say, that is supposed spiritual powers that were tied to the elements of nature.  These Galatians were likely those converted in Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium.  Remember, when Barnabas and Paul arrived in Lystra they were first thought to be Zeus and Hermes respectively (Acts 14:8-20), a reaction that makes sense when we consider their paganism.

Now, at the behest of the Judaizers, the Galatian Christians were adopting a form of Christianity that practiced Jewish ritualism.  In fact, the Jewish laws and customs had become their real source of confidence, not the grace of God made available through Jesus.  Though this passage above says the Galatians were turning “back,” almost all agree they were not returning to paganism and that Paul is saying that their adoption of Jewish ritualism is really just turning back to a system that is akin to paganism is fundamental ways.

We could diagram it this way:

How was Jewish ritualism so akin to Roman paganism that Paul would see this as turning back, as if we have a boomerang effect like in the diagram above?  How could Jewish ritualism be closer to Roman paganism than to the gospel of Jesus?

The answer in one word was slavery.  In Paul’s mind both Roman paganism and Jewish ritualism enslaved a person.  Yes, they did this in different ways and their rituals and beliefs were radically different, but they ended up enslaving the worshipper just the same.  Whether one was offering a long line of seasonal sacrifices to the deities of Rome or one was doing the same to God, the result was the same.  The worshipper always had to do more, always had to curry favor with the gods or God, always paid off a debt, and always had to keep the angry gods or God happy.  There is no end to that “weak and poverty-stricken” system of slavery, whether done in Rome or Jerusalem.  On the other hand, true freedom could only be found in the grace of Jesus.  In Christ there is no more slavery (3:28).

I would like to assert that this same dynamic happens in Christian circles today.  We too have the boomerang of legalism.

It is easy to point out religious legalism when you see it.  This would be a legalism that says there is a highly religious routine or ritual that has to be done in order to achieve acceptance with God.  Religion is the way to salvation.  One is right with God because they have done particular religious rituals, as if the communion elements or baptismal waters have magical powers to cleanse.  One earns brownie points with God as he attends the prescribed worship services, serves in a public way in the correctly-performed church service, and gives a set amount of money to the church.  In religious legalism there is a correct set of beliefs and pattern for worship, and it is of utmost importance to discover and conform to these if one wants to be considered a true Christian.  Of course, the problem with religious legalism is the attitude with which these things are done, not the actions themselves.  Religion legalism trusts in human action.  It says the power of salvation rests in the efforts of the person to think and act correctly.  As futile as it is, religious legalism only leads to slavery.

For many of us religious legalism was an early trap we were able to escape from long ago.  It was our first religion, so to say.  But I see another legalism, though, that develops later that is just as enslaving.  For lack of a better term, let’s call this one progressive legalism (can you think of a better name?).  Let me stipulate that I would describe myself (and many would agree) as a progressive Christian, though I try to avoid legalism.  Nonetheless, I have seen how the practice of spiritual disciplines can become another list of things that must be done by good Christians in order to curry favor with God.  I have seen in others and experienced in myself a sense of self-satisfaction (or guilt and despair) in a list of benevolent efforts done for the poor.  There is within some progressives a set of required beliefs too, and those who do not hold these are considered inferior.  And that is when the slavery begins — to lists, earned favor, human actions, an expected way of thinking, an air of superiority, and the never-ending need to keep doing.

Though we might be tempted to place religious legalism and progressive legalism on the opposite ends of a continuum, in reality they are too alike for that.  This is the boomerang effect again, as we realize they are plagued by the same flaws.  Both are ritualistic.  Both rely on human actions.  Both are impotent and cannot change human beings.  Both rob us of freedom.

As Paul reminds us at the end of chapter four using Abraham and the mothers of his two sons as examples,

We are not children of the slave-girl, but of the free. (4:31)

Freedom is only found in Christ.

Where else have you seen this dynamic?

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Hebrews 13: True Sacrifice

“Just give me something to do!  Enough with the philosophy, tell me what to do!”

This exhortation is one I have heard a lot in my life as a teacher, especially when teaching busy, pragmatic adults.  My teenage students have a much higher tolerance for the theoretical, ironically.

The book of Hebrews ends well for those who are looking for something to do.

Our part, then, is this: to bring, through him, a continual sacrifice of praise to God — that is, mouths that confess his name, and do so fruitfully.  Don’t neglect to do good, and to let “fellowship” mean what it says.  God really enjoys sacrifices of that kind!  (13:15-16)

There is a real threat that religion — any religion — will replace the true relational worship God is truly seeking.  For the Hebrews, that meant substituting law observance and religious rituals for a true faith in and imitation of Jesus.  For us that substitution might come in a variety of forms:

  • Letting our assurance rest in our baptism or church involvement
  • Defining our goodness by charitable giving
  • Assuming that Bible reading, prayer, and listening to Christian music are the activities God most want from us
  • Thinking that the greatest things we do for God happen in a church building

This has been a common chorus as we have meditated on Hebrews.

Notice what the Hebrews author says are the sacrifices that God truly desires: praise, witness, goodness done to others, and fellowship.  In other words, love God and love others.  The sacrifices God most desires are relational, not ritual.  They are the sacrifices of will, time, and energy.  It could be that the best sacrifice we could give today would be to forgive a friend who has wronged us or to take the risk involved in mentioning Jesus to someone.

As we finish Hebrews today, summarize in one sentence the overall message you have heard God speak into your life from this book.     

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Hebrews 9: Inheritance Follows Death

What will you do about sin?

In one way or another, every human being answers this question.  Some are intentionally religious about their answers.  Others would prefer to call sin something like “mistakes” or “regrets” or “negative energy.”  Regardless, the topic is the same.  That is precisely the topic taken up in today’s reading, maybe the clearest and most sustained discussion of “atonement” we have come to this year.

By far, the most common answer to the sin question is that we will work it off through good works.  It is not always verbalized that way, but that is the point.  The solution is up to us.  Do more good than bad.  Straighten up your own mess.  Make better choices.  Try harder.  Religious people of all sorts answer the question this way, yes, even some that swear an allegiance to Jesus.

The Hebrew author is quite clear what he thinks of that answer:

Gifts and sacrifices are offered which have no power to perfect the conscience of those who come to worship. (9:9)

Good works won’t do it.  Offer whatever you wish.  Kill a hundred animals.  Rely upon yourself and the results will always be the same: failure.  We can’t solve the problem ourselves.

Then the writer offers his best answer later:

There’s no pardon without bloodshed! (9:22b)

This is not always a well-liked answer.  Some don’t see why God needs to have blood; he can simply forgive.  Some see this as barbaric and archaic.  Some paint this as the bloodlust of a neurotic, angry god.  Well liked or not, the Bible’s answer is always the same: forgiveness takes blood, or more to the point of the symbol of blood, it takes death.

The reason for the death and blood will be answered several different ways as we go through the New testament this year, so we will add to the answer as we go.  The point here is a legal or contractual one: we stand waiting for an inheritance (9:15).  We look forward to the fullness of the Spirit and the world where “everything will be put into proper order” (9:10).  Inheritances come from wills, and a will can only be executed when the death of the person promising an inheritance has been substantiated (9:15-17).  Thus, blood as a symbol of death is necessary.

What did you notice anew in this familiar chapter? 

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Mark 11: The Expected One, with a Twist

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!  Check out my other blog for some of my favorite MLK quotes if you are interested.

A conversation I had yesterday with a friend named Eddie from Bible class at Highland is running through my head as I read this chapter.  It was the end of class time and I had just taught with Trent (who is probably sorry now that I dragged him into this series) about how the kingdom Jesus so often talks about was a “kingdom-coming,” not the “going-off-to-the-kingdom” we might have been taught to expect when we were growing up.  It is a tough sell to help people see something so familiar in a new light, and I am not sure I was communicating well.  Anyway, Eddie made a perceptive connection back to a class I had taught two weeks ago on how Jesus’ followers then and now tend to turn the “kingdom” into what they want it to be.  Eddie’s point was that if the Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to fully understand the Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom well, then why do we expect that we will understand the prophecies of Jesus and John in the New Testament with perfect precision?  We at least need to be humble about our interpretations.  Nice point!

We tend to want Jesus to be what we are looking for, which is not always what he really is.

The people were expecting a war-lord who would ride into Jerusalem and drive out the Romans.  Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem in this passage (11:1), the first time in Mark, but he is riding a “colt” hardly ready for war.  That day he looked around like a tourist and rode back out of town to Bethany.  The Expected One didn’t really come as expected.

The temple is the preeminent place for purity.  It was important to the Jewish religious leaders to maintain ethnic purity and to keep pagan money stamped with the Caesar’s image out of the Lord’s Temple.  The Lord comes to the Temple in the form of Jesus and he makes a holy mess because they are pure in all the wrong ways.  Isn’t “my house to be called a house of prayer for all the world to share?” (11:17).

God rewards faith.  Have faith and don’t doubt and you will see amazing things happen (11:22-24).  They just might not be what you were expecting.

If anyone will understand the kingdom it will be the religious establishment.  Jesus should be warmly accepted by them of all people.  But he is a threat to their power.  He seems to be pitting the Jewish religious leaders against the people.  Shouldn’t the Messiah see life like the chief priests and legal experts?

Maybe more to the point today is the one point I do understand from the strange fig tree story in this chapter: it is more important what Jesus is looking for in us.  He is looking for fruit (11:13).

What were you not expecting in today’s reading?

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Mark 7: God’s Commands & Human Traditions

“You abandon God’s commands, and keep human tradition!” (7:8)

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and “legal experts,” and he mentions a specific habit they had of depriving their own parents of charity on the pretense of giving this money to God instead, which let’s assume they actually gave.  In the end they “invalidated” God’s command to honor parents by their religious show of piety (7:13)

Do we do this today?

By “we”  I mean us, those reading this blog, not some uncle’s brother’s friend who attends some backward church.

By “this” I mean put so much stock in our religious customs that we actually end up ignoring or even transgressing the very desires of God that these customs are meant to help us serve.  Of course, we have traditions, but Jesus is not attacking traditions here.  It’s deeper than that.

What do you think?

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