Tag Archives: Authority

God’s People, part 127: Scribes

Read Matthew 23

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”  (Matthew 7:22-23, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Scribes_at_Tomb_of_EzekielPart 127: Scribes. In today’s time, most of us are both keenly aware and yet ignorant of what a scribe is. It is language we simply do not use anymore, yet the function of the ancient scribe still carries on in our world. When we think of scribes, we probably imagine a monk passed out at his desk after countless hours of transferring the holy writ (the Bible) from old pages to new ones in order to preserve the holy Scriptures. Indeed, that would be on function of a scribe.

Yet the scribe was more than just a preserver of ancient texts. A scribe in the ancient Jewish world functioned as lawyers, journalists, government ministers, judges and/or financiers. While some scribes copied documents for sure, that was not necessarily a part of their job description. This, then, helps us to get a better understanding of the scribes in Jesus’ day and why he ended up confronting them so vehemently.

The scribes were professionals who were, no doubt, weighing in on the “legality” of what Jesus was teaching. Did it hold up to the first century Jewish understanding of the Torah and the prophets? Did Jesus have the authority to teach in ways that contradicted, and humiliated, the professionals? Just who is this Jesus anyway. Who died and left him the expert in such matters. THEY WERE THE EXPERTS!!!

Thus, the scribes were among the Jewish groups that pushed back against Jesus’ teachings, especially when it came to matters of the law, of taxes and money, and other such matters. This Jesus was stepping on their toes, stepping into their space, and assuming their role in authoritative ways. As a result, he and his teachings were a threat to their livelihoods and they, no doubt, took his resistance of their authority as a personal affront to them.

The challenge for us is to reflect on the ways we are the scribes of today. Do we hold up our interpretation of the law, of what is right and wrong, over and above what Jesus taught and commanded? Does Jesus threaten us and our way of thinking? Does he pose a threat to our political worldviews and agendas? Does he rudely burst in our lives, into our space and step on all of our toes?

If so, then we need to consider how much of a follower of Jesus we really are. We need to reflect on our loyalty, our faithfulness to Jesus. If we are not aligned with him, but are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will divinely strengthened and guided to make the adjustments needed so that we become more like Christ. To not do so not only separates us from Christ, but it most definitely brings others down along with us.

The Holy Spirit works within us the changes that God sees necessary in our lives.

Lord, keep me from becoming like the scribes and seeing you as a threat, for you are my Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: All Authority

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. This is the month of retreats for me, so as I am busy leading them, here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

The Sermon, part 29: Beyond Amazed

Read Matthew 7:28-29

But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15 NLT)

emotions-different-facesHere we are at the tail end of the great Sermon on the Mount and it says that the people were “amazed” at Jesus, for he taught with “real authority”. The text also throws in an added slight against the scribes, who evidently didn’t teach with “real” authority. Before we get into the amazement the people were experiencing, it is important to understand what is meant by Jesus teaching with “real authority”

The Greek word used here for “authority” is ἐξουσία (pronounced ex-oo-see’-ah) and it can mean one who has privilege, one who has the capacity, one who is competent, one who demonstrates mastery, one who has command (such as a magistrate, a superhuman, or a sovereign ruler), as well as one who has the power to delegate influence, authority, jurisdiction, liberty, right, and strength. I believe that the author here intends a little bit of all of these meanings when writing of Jesus’ authority.

In other words, Jesus taught as one who was given the privilege from God to teach. He taught as one who had the capacity and competency to teach, expound and expand upon the Torah. He demonstrated that he was a master, and that he was in command of the stuff he was teaching. Not only that, he was in a place to make his teachings divine commands. In Christ, God’s sovereignty resided and Jesus’ teachings displayed that sovereignty.

So, when the author writes that Jesus taught with the kind of authority that the Scribes and religious leaders didn’t have, it’s kind of a “no duh” moment. Of course, the author is purposefully slighting the leaders who opposed Jesus as a literary device that all the more shows the gap between where God was calling the people (as seen through Jesus) and where the current leaders where taiking the people.

With that said, the author was doing more than that as well. He is also showing that Jesus taught with the full and sovereign authority of God, as opposed that was passed down from Moses to the priests throughout the generations. Even if the leadership was in line with Jesus’ teachings, and there’s evidence in Scripture that some of them were, none of them could teach with the kind of authority that Jesus taught with, because none of them were God’s divine Son.

What’s more important, though, is the fact that the author wrote that the people were amazed at Jesus’ teachings. We often read this as, people were excited, or were in awe, or were totally elated by Jesus’ teachings; however, those words do not do justice to what the author is trying to convey here. The word “amazed” can also be translated as stunned, aghast, shocked, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, and struck with astonishment.

The people could not believe what they had just witnessed and were standing there with their mouths agape, wondering what they had just heard. Some were, no doubt, aghast or horrified by what they just witnessed. Some were dumbfounded and left wondering what had just happened, Others were flabbergasted and/or bewildered by Jesus’ teachings.

In all senses of the word “amazed”, people were not quite sure what to do with this Jesus. Some wanted to kill him, others wanted to hail him king. Others still wanted to follow him, and others were just confused as to what it all meant. Regardless, all were left completely paralyzed in this moment of “amazement.” The question for us, now that we’ve reached the end of this great sermon, is this: are you amazed? Are you struck with astonishment at what he has taught? Did it invoke anger and outrage? Did it invoke confusion and bewilderment? Did it invoke a desire to dive deeper into Christ’s teachigngs?

Perhaps it did all of the above. The key for us, as surely as it was key for the crowd following the sermon, is that we need to move beyond amazement into action. There comes a point when the astonishment wears off and we are left with a simple but monumental choice: how will we respond to Christ’s authority. Will we accept it, or will we reject it. Will we choose to follow it, or will we seek to undermine and destroy it. The time is long overdue that we make the choice before us. Paralysis and dumbfounded amazement is not God’s plan for us. Choose this day, and all days, whom you are going to serve.

“Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.” – Rollo May

Lord, move me beyond amazement, paralysis, and apathy to a life that LOVES and MOVES IN LOVE. Amen.

The Sermon, part 6: Relocated

Read Matthew 5:21-32

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (Matthew 28:18 NRSV)

jesusauthorityFollowing Jesus’ claim that he is the fulfillment of the Torah and the Prophets, he taught his disciples that in order for them to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, they had better exceed the Pharisees in their understanding and application of the law. I spent the better part of the last devotion discussing the historical context of both Jesus’ and Matthew’s time periods, respectively, in order to caution you that it would not be wise to take Jesus’ words out of those two contexts when trying to understand what he means. If you did not read it, I suggest you go back and read the last devotion as it is important.

Jesus’ claim that there is a higher standard than that which the Pharisees are putting forth, is one that Jesus intends to support by a series of examples of exactly how that higher standard comes to fruition in the Law. For Jesus, and even more so for Matthew and his community, the Pharisaic understanding of rigid adherence to “the letter of the law”, missed the very heart of it. Yet, again, I caution the reader not to pass judgment against a group of people we hardly know apart from these words written against them.

Rather than focusing on the Pharisees and whether or not they had the right understanding of the Law, we will focus on Jesus’ understanding of the Torah itself by looking at the examples he puts forth. These examples are actually antitheses of the law as it is written in the Torah. This may sound strange, for how can Jesus go against what is written in the Torah? Well, in short, he doesn’t go against it as much as he goes beyond what is written.

Over the next twenty-seven or so verses, Jesus will do something that will astound the people listening to him, so much so that when he is finished with the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, the Bible has this to say, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 NRSV). By the end of his sermon, Jesus no doubt gets the attention of the crowd, and also the attention of the religious leaders.

Over the next several devotions we will look at each of these six antitheses individually to gain a better understanding of what Jesus is pointing to in the Law of Moses; however, for the purpose of this specific devotion, I will introduce the format in which Jesus pronounces these antitheses to the the Torah. For each of the six, Jesus starts of saying, “You have heard that it was said…”, followed by the Law as it is found in writing in the Torah and as was read in the synagogue. Jesus then proceeds by saying, “but I say to you…”, in which he then proceeds to give his own pronouncement of Law.

It is important to note that nowhere in the entirety of the Bible is the antithetical form found. Thus, you can imagine the shock that Jesus’ words must have caused the religious leaders! In the history of Judaism, no rabbi had ever proclaimed his/her own pronouncement of the Law in contrast with the Law of Moses in the Torah. Yet, in Matthew, Jesus does just that. Some would find much hope, comfort and challenge in Jesus’ words; however, others would see this as an attack upon the Word of God as handed down to the people from Moses.

No doubt, the antithetical form was meant to shock people and it should shock us as well. What Jesus does in today’s text is relocate God’s authority from the written text to himself. That authority comes through God’s presence in his life, his teachings, his ministry, his death and his resurrection. If we believe this to be true, if we accept Jesus relocation of authority to be the “Gospel Truth”, what then does this mean for us? How should we be living our lives in accordance with the Law as given by Jesus Christ? Read today’s text closely and carefully. If Christ is THE AUTHORITY, then let us reflect on the kind of heart-changes that Christ is working into our lives.

“Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Lord, I accept your authority and I choose to follow your lead. You are my Lord and my Savior. Amen.

All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.