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Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

Gethsemane

…and [Jesus] began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them… (Mk. 14:33-34)

As we reflect this week on Christ’s death and resurrection, I often find myself thinking about Jesus in Gethsemane.  This began several years ago, when I had some abdominal surgery to correct a kidney problem.  The day of the surgery, I had a slight feeling of nervousness – like butterflies in my stomach.  As the hour drew nearer, my attitude became much more solemn, and the anticipation of what was to come waxed alongside my anxiety.  Even though I was a Christian at the time, and had all the prayer support, theology, and faith to know that I could face the operation with peace and confidence in God’s providence, my emotions we still high.  I knew that some measure of pain and suffering awaited me.

As I’ve thought about that day, I feel like it was a taste – an infinitesimally small taste, mind you – of Jesus’ distress before he was crucified:  There I was, surrounded by friends and family who I knew were behind me, and would not leave me.  There Jesus was, surrounded by friends who would soon abandon him, thanks in part to a friend who sold him out.  I was about to be given over to a staff of medical professionals who had spent countless hours of study and practice learning how to preserve and protect life, to ease suffering, to bring comfort, and to heal, all under the auspices of a government with laws regulating every last inch of my care to ensure its efficacy and safety for my good.*  Jesus was about to be given over to a staff of professionals whose raison d’être was to torture and kill, to maximize suffering, and bring utter humiliation.

If I think about it from this angle, I can catch at least the trajectory of Jesus’ anguish, and again, in very small measure, appreciate his passion.  My thoughts, of course, ignore the much greater mental anguish that Jesus endured, as he anticipated abandonment by the Father, and bearing the full brunt of his holy wrath.  For this suffering, by God’s grace, I have no good example from my own life from which to imagine Jesus’ pain.

It is no joyful thing, but meditating on the Passion helps us appreciate the seriousness of sin, and the price Jesus paid to free us from it, and all while we were still sinners.  Our own sense of thankfulness towards another is usually closely coupled to our appreciation of the price they paid to help us.  Attempts to understand the depths of Jesus’ suffering can only deepen our gratitude for the glorious salvation we freely receive at his expense.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

*Please no cynical comments about the state of Western medicine, the FDA, etc.  For all of their many flaws, I think the point of my contrast here stands.

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What is the Bible About?

This doesn’t really count as a post, but here is a short video I found especially encouraging today:

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Wright on the Resurrection

Derek at Covenant of Love posted this video this morning.  Thought I’d steal it and post it here. 

Happy Easter!

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Special thanks to India of Broadman & Holman for a review copy of this book.

Over a year ago, I noted that Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels is the single best book on… well… Jesus and the Gospels.  I also noted that a new edition would be coming out later that year, which I’m now happy to review.  My feelings regarding the book haven’t changed at all over time.  I’m just as excited about it now as I was when I first read it 10 years ago. 

The book is divided into 5 main sections: Historical Background for Studying the Gospels, Critical Methods for Studying the Gospels, Introduction to the Four Gospels, A Survery of the Life of Christ and Historical and Theological Synthesis.  Each section can be read on their own and out of order, though of course it is helpful to take the material in the order given.  The book is “textbookish,” which shouldn’t be surprising since it was written as a textbook.  Blomberg does a phenomenal job of weaving through debates in a concise but informative manner, along with giving suggestions for further reading.  He offers his opinions when there are differing options, but he represents other viewpoints well and doesn’t force his reading on the text.

I’ll select two sections to highlight.  First, his opening section on the historical background is extremely helpful, especially for those who have little knowledge of the culture and historical circumstances in which Jesus was born, lived and died.  Whether Blomberg’s discussing the Maccabean Revolt or the religious groups in 1st century Israel (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc), the reader walks away with a clear understanding of the major players and events that form the backdrop of the Gospels.  And- this is very important- you won’t find yourself nodding off like you did in ancient history class (or was that just me?).

Second, Blomberg’s Survey of the Life of Christ functions as a wonderful mini-commentary on the Gospels.  Blomberg deals with issues of historicity and harmonization (perhaps a bit more than I would), as well as offering thoughts on each episode in the life of Christ as seen in the Gospels.  I’m consistently impressed with just how much information is fit into a relatively short space, with attention given to distinctives in each Gospel, interpretive options and short, but crucial, exegetical notes.  You won’t have all your questions answered in this section, but you’d be surprised just how many are. 

There are probably a few places where I disagree with Blomberg on matters of interpretation, but honestly I can only think of 2 off the top of my head.  1) Blomberg sees Jesus’ death as happening in 33AD, whereas I lean (ever so slightly) to a 30AD date.  2) I don’t think the Temple “clearing” (Blomberg’s preferred term) found in John 2 is a separate event from the one seen toward the end of the Synoptic Gospels.  That’s it.  These aren’t exactly the issues denominations divide over.  Like I said, I’m sure there’s probably more, but that’s all I can came up with at the moment.

There will be some who own the 1st edition and will be wondering if they need to get the 2nd edition.  I’m not sure you need to run out and buy it right away if you own the 1st, but I’d make room in my budget to update it at some point.  And if you don’t own this book in any editon, you should.   It would be helpful if this book existed in paperback in order to drop the price a bit.  If it were a tad cheaper, I could see this book used in a church class (as it is, it certainly could be, I just know people in my church will struggle with the thought of dropping $30 on a book). 

So who would benefit most from this book?  Honestly, pretty much anyone can.  Laypeople will find this book an accessible guide to Jesus and the Gospels.  The only section that may not interest most laypeople would be the Critical Methods chapter, but it wouldn’t be because it’s over their head.  Pastors and teachers couldn’t ask for a better book to help them in their personal study and preparations to teach the material.  As I’ve said in the past, I’ve been using this book for years and see absolutely no reason to stop now.  Simply put, I’ve yet to find a guide as reliable as Blomberg or a book as well-written.

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One of the things I marvelled at when reading The Da Vinci Code was author Dan Brown’s claim that the early church, (in a power grab, of course), shrouded Christ’s humanity in a veil of divinity, thus obscuring His humanity.  This created the need for the church as a mediator of Christ’s revelation, otherwise Jesus would be incomprehensible.  Brown’s claims are backed up by several gnostic “gospels,” such as those found at Nag Hammadi.

What was amazing to me about this view, (aside from the fact that it is historically puerile and hopelessly inconsistent to the point where one wonders if Brown even bothered to read a gnostic text, or even look up the word “gnosticism”), was that Brown made such an effort to assert Christ’s humanity, and emphasize his human ministry.  This was interesting to me merely on a personal level, because for the bulk of my Christian life, I have had far greater struggles convincing non-Christians of Christ’s divinity.

This struggle, I learned, was actually much easier than describing what Christ’s divinity actually meant.  How was he God and man?  This difficulty could have been much reduced if only I had read Packer’s 5th chapter in Knowing God.  Here, with the simplicity and clarity that has made this book so popular, Pakcer tackles the incarnation:  Jesus as fully human and fully divine.

Particularly helpful in this chapter is Packer’s precision in expressing that Jesus was not God minus certain divine characteristics, but God plus humanity.  His explanation of Paul’s text in Php. 2:7 is helpful (p.60,63):

When Paul talks of the Son as having emptied himself and become poor, what he has in mind, as the context in each case shows, is the laying aside not of divine powers and attributes, but of divine glory and dignity…a volutary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony-spiritual even more than physical -that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it.

As well as one may be able to describe Christ’s nature, we should note that it will always be mysterious and intrinsically baffling; there is nothing in the universe that serves as an accurate analogue for the Trinity.  God is our only example.  All we can do is express what the Bible teaches.

But even after understanding (best I could) the Bible’s teaching on Christ’s nature, I encountered a third struggle when I met with some Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss the Bible.  Jehovah’s Witnesses deny Christ’s divinity, and instead claim that he was a created being, and while he may be ontologically superior to us, he is not divine.  As I labored to reason with them through the Scriptures that Jesus is indeed the God-man, a chilling question surfaced in my head:  What’s at stake?  Does it matter that Jesus was human and divine?  Am I still Christian if I deny this?

Packer hints at the ramifications of Christ’s nature in the beginning of his chapter.  Gallons of theological ink can be spilled to answer why it is crucial to Christianity that Jesus be divine and human.  Consider my very brief, very incomplete list:

  1. Jesus as the God-man is the only adequate explanation for the information we have of him (i.e., Scripture).  It best accounts for his self-understanding, his actions, words, and teachings.  If he were not divine and human, Jesus was either a lunatic, an apparition, or a scoundrel.  None of these seems a plausible option.
  2. Jesus’ nature as God-man means he is the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins in kind (he is human) and quantity (he is infinite).  Even more, we might ask of Scripture:  Who alone saves?  Who alone forgives sins?  It is only and always God.  Jesus is no savior if he is not God.
  3. Jesus’ nature explains the resurrection.  How could one die, yet raise himself up again by his own authority (see Jn. 10:17-18) if he were not both God and man?
  4. Jesus’ nature cements the authority with which we understand his teaching.  If he’s just another guy with amazing, revolutionary things to say, why would we listen to him over and against the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama or Karl Marx?
  5. If Jesus were not human, we lose the awesome realization of how deeply God loves us, and the expanse of Christ’s humility.  C.S. Lewis says it this way in Mere Christianity (p.179):

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body.  If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

Packer concludes with the practical application of my point above, that as we model God, and “make our attitudes the same as Christ Jesus,” (2 Cor. 8:9), we too become poor, so that others might become rich.

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The Feeling in the Upper Room

When I was 27, I had surgery on my left kidney.  On the day of the operation, I was nervous for what lay ahead.  I recall being in the prep room with my father, about an hour or so before they were going to take me away, and the mood was heavy and sober.  Even though we both had faith in the Lord, it was an anxious moment:  What would happen?  Would I make it?  Would I suffer much?  Would there be complications?  Our anxiety was understandable; it was major surgery, after all.  Still, consider the environment:  Here I was, in an American hospital, where several highly trained, highly skilled doctors and nurses were committed to preserve my life, and ease my suffering.  A whole team of men and women who devoted their lives to study would do all in their power to make sure that no harm would befall me.  To boot, I was surrounded by technology unimaginable even a few decades ago; the product of countless millions of hours of research, development and testing all aimed at ensuring my safety and health. Even more, my father and pastor were with me; standing with me to pray for me and comfort me through this trial.  Even more friends and family stood with me in prayer in their homes.

Contrast this with Jesus’ situation in Jn.13-17.  Here, in His well known final discourse, He shares the passover meal with His disciples.  He is hours away from his own “procedure.”  He anticipates being put into the “care” of individuals committed to ensuring that he suffers as much as possible.  Their aim was to do all in their power to ensure that he dies a horrendous, humiliating, and excruciating death.  Their training was geared towards that end: to harm, hurt, humiliate and kill.  If my soul was sober and troubled before my operation, imagine the trouble He felt in his soul as He had that ahead of him.  Yet, in that place, among the people who would desert him, he serves them (Jn. 13), speaks comfort and peace to them (Jn.14:1; 16:33), and prays for them (Jn.17).  That, friends, is our amazing God.

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In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of the Apostolic Fathers and other early church writers for a paper.  The more time I spend with them, the more I realize that they were a whole lot smarter than I originally thought and far better theologians than many give them credit for.

One of those eye-opening moments for me was reading Justin Martyr on the resurrection of the dead.  There were many who mocked the Christian belief that God would raise all people in bodily form.  One of the mocking claims was that if a person died blind or lame, they would be raised blind or lame.  Here is Justin’s counter (emphasis added):

Well, they say, if then the flesh rise, it must rise the same as it fails; so that if it die with one eye, it must be raised one-eyed; if lame, lame; if defective in any part of the body, in this part the man must rise deficient.  How truly blinded are they in the eyes of their hearts!  For they have not seen on the earth blind men seeing again, and the lame walking by His word.  All things which the Savior did, He did in the first place that what was spoken concerning Him in the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘that the blind should receive sight, and the deaf hear,’ and so on; but also to induce the belief that in the resurrection the flesh shall rise entire.  For if on earth He healed the sickness of the flesh, and made the body whole, much more will He do this in the resurrection, so that the flesh shall rise perfect and entire.  In this manner, then, shall those dreaded difficulties of theirs be healed.

While the language is somewhat difficult to sort, it’s easy to see Justin’s point: Jesus’ healings point to the day when God will raise the body in perfect form, in other words, the resurrection is the final and ultimate healing.

This stuck out to me largely because I originally had thought that this was a fairly unique insight belonging to Jurgenn Moltmann, “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p.65).  It’s fascinating to me to see the same observation made 1800 years apart, and makes me wonder if others have seen this and I just didn’t know it. It also leads me to think that there is more to Jesus’ ministry on earth, the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I currently think.

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On Easter Sunday, many pastors around this country will preach about new beginnings.  They’ll draw analogies with the coming of Spring; the budding flowers and chirping birds show us that life begins anew and we can start a new phase of life.  Christ’s resurrection will be spiritualized and said to be significant because it shows us that our lives can be refreshed.

And they’ll all miss the point.

You see, Easter Sunday is the time to deal with the ultimate problem of our existence: death.  Death is the great equalizer.  No matter who you are, rich or poor, strong or weak, you will face death.  Death is the one thing no one can avoid, no matter how many anti-aging creams you buy or how many vitamin supplements you take.  All these things accomplish is prolonging the inevitable.

Death, as we know from Romans 6:23, is intimately connected to sin.  In the same way, Easter Sunday is intimately connected to Good Friday.  You can’t have one without the other; they are inseparable.  Just as Christ died in our place and paid for our sins, Christ is our forerunner in His resurrection.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death.  Not in some sentimental sense, but in a hard reality.  In His death, Christ experienced the ultimate problem of humanity.  But death, like all other enemies before the Almighty God, is defeated.  Death has been our enemy since the time of Adam, but it is an enemy that has its days numbered.  “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man” (1 Cor 15:21).  To put it another way, Easter isn’t about new beginnings, it’s about victory.

Jesus’ resurrection points forward to the day when His people will also be raised from the dead.  We know that death is not the end of our story because it wasn’t the end of Christ’s story.  Death was, in a real and true sense, defeated on that first Easter Sunday.  And because death was defeated in Christ, all those who belong to Christ will participate in that victory, both now (see the beginning of Romans 6) and fully when He comes back.

So, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory, but we also look forward in anticipation of the day when Christ returns and we will participate in the ultimate victory over death.  As Paul says, “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor 15:26).  Christ’s resurrection points towards the final resurrection, which means the restoration and redemption of what our sin has destroyed.  The final resurrection is the death of death.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.

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Why did Jesus have to die?  As we observe Good Friday, and enter in to Easter weekend, this is an appropriate question.  The stock answer, of course, is that Christ died for our sins;  Jesus died to forgive us from our sins.  While I find nothing wrong about these common answers, I believe that they often assume too much of the one asking the question.

First, the answer assumes an understanding of sin, and humankind’s slavery thereto.  Christ’s death is meaningless and useless if one does not believe in the sinfulness of all humankind, and our inability to be free from it.   The hard fact of our existence is that we consistently “miss the mark” in terms of living out the life for which God created us.  We fall short of God’s moral standard through a depressingly vast, and ever increasing array of thoughts, words and deeds.

Even worse, history has shown that no amount of philosophical or technological progress, and no measure of human effort, no matter how noble, has ever been able to fix it.   If Christ died for our sins, but there is no such thing as sin, Christ died for nothing.  Moreover, if Christ died for our sin, but there is some other way for us to know freedom from sin, whether by deed, word, or personal sacrifice, Christ died for nothing (c.f., Gal. 2:21).

Secondly, the answer assumes an understanding of God’s justice.  Some years ago, I was listening to a debate some between a Muslim and a Christian about God.  When the topic of Christ’s death came up, the Muslim asked the question point blank:  Why did Jesus have to die to forgive us for our sins?  God is almighty and all-powerful; could He not just forgive us?  God can do anything and everything that He wants.  Why is Christ’s death necessary?

The answer is that Christ died because God is just.  If God were simply to let our sins go, to let us slide, then He is not a god of justice.  I’ve met people who chafe on this idea, which they (erroneously) assume paints a picture of a wrathful, angry, sadist of a god.  What we forget is that, if we’re honest about it, we all want a god of justice.  Do we not want evildoers to be punished?  Even the worst sinners among us inherently want justice when we are wronged.  A liar lied to is eager for his deceiver to be brought to justice.  If God lets us slide, then He lets Hitler, Manson and Pol Pot slide, too.  We all want evil to be brought to justice, but the hard consequence of that desire is that we too, are evil, and therefore deserve punishment.

Christ died because God is just, and God cannot do anything contrary to His nature.  As such, there must be punishment for sin; a reckoning for what humanity has done.  So, in a horrible irony, God Himself endures the punishment, which is the worst injustice the world has ever known:  God became man in Christ, and made history by being the first and only human ever to walk the earth entirely without sin.  He came to heal, to teach, to bring life and restoration to the world.  This one, this perfect God-man, was mocked, beaten, and tortured to death by the very ones He came to save.  In executing His justice, God endured history’s most egregious injustice.

Christ died to restore and redeem that which was lost due to human sinfulness.  He died for our sins.  As we reflect on this today, let’s not forget the truths that make this statement meaningful.  Moreover, as God avails us the opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ with others, let us not assume too much.  In America, sin is often a matter of human preference.  Even more, unmerited faith is placed upon our own abilities to solve deep problems, and justice is wrongly subject to our own biassed whim.  Let’s lovingly and carefully proclaim the bad news, that we are sinners answerable to a God of justice, as we joyfully proclaim the good, that “while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”  (Jn. 3:16).

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The Rebuilding of Herod’s Temple

No, this isn’t an eschatological prediction of the Jewish people rebuilding the Temple, reinstituting the sacrificial system or anything like that.  Instead, I’m simply giving you all a link to something I found on Tim Challies’ site today.  A British man has been building a scale model (1:100) of Herod’s Temple for more than 30 years (and isn’t finished).  It’s remarkable what he has done, I highly recommend you take a look at the pictures.

We just finished our section on the gospels in our training schools this week, and talked about Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  For many of us, we can’t picture such a place in our minds.  When we read about Jesus driving out the money changers, we’re probably picturing Him walking into our church foyer.  When the disciples remark to Jesus just how impressive the Temple is, we may not completely grasp what they’re saying.  Well, this man’s model gives us a clue.  I’m not sure where he found the time to do all this, but I’m glad he did.

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