Tag Archives: John

God’s People, part 133: The Gospels

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1 NLT)z

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.

TheGospelsPart 133: The Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lay on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels ‘round my head;
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.

Many, myself included, grew up reciting this beautiful (and, yet, strangely chilling) bedtime prayer while a child. In this prayer, children and adults alike are praying to the four saints who wrote the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often when people think of the Gospels, they think of just one account told by those four different people. On top of that, much of our understanding of Jesus is really a conglomeration of those four gospels.

When reading the Gospels, one must take into account that they were written in first century of the common era and not in the 21st century. That means that, in order to fully understand the significance of the Gospels for our lives today, we have to take into account what they were actually conveying to people in the first century. This is not just true of the Gospels, but of any text written in any period of time in history.

What’s more, the Gospels were not written as historical accounts in the sense of 21st Century, objective, impartial history; rather, the Gospels were a marriage between history, theology, and socio-political commentary. The latter may take some by surprise as we in the 21st century like to try to separate religion from politics; however, in the 1st century there was no such divorce between the two.

For instance, when Jesus is given the title Son of God, that is not only a theological truth being conveyed, it is also a statement against Caesar who was known to the world at the time as divi filius, or son of a God. Important still, the Gospels are absolutely setting up Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom in contrast and opposition to Caesar and the kingdom of the world. In other words, the Gospels very intentionally call the reader to choose between the empire and the world order and Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom. The two are mutually exclusive; a person can either choose one or the other, but not both.

It is also important to note that the Gospels are NOT the earliest writings in the New Testatment; instead, Pauls’ epistles (aka letters) are the oldest writings in the New Testament. Paul wrote between the 50s and 60s CE (his earliest epistle only being written about 25-30 years after Christ’s death). The earliest Gospel (which is the Gospel of Mark) was written in about 70 CE (about 40-45 years after Christ’s death).

Why is this important to note? Because many people will argue that we ought not to take Paul as seriously as the Jesus’ teachings. The problem with that line of thinking is that Paul’s writings get us the closest to the earliest Christians and to what their theology was. What’s more, the Gospels are very much influenced by and, sometimes, in reaction to Paul’s teachings. Plain and simple, Paul cannot be dismissed.

The challenge for us is this, when we approach the Gospels, let us not look at them as one story told by four different people of the same mind; rather let us see them as four separate accounts, sometimes playing off of one another, teaching us different aspects and angles on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us not look at the Gospels as a mere historical account telling us facts and figures, but let us see it for all of the rich depth with which it was written.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If you would like to read the Gospels in the order they were most likely written, start with Mark (ca. 66-70 CE), then Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), then Luke (ca. 80-110 CE) and finish with John (ca. 90-110 CE)

PRAYER
Lord, enrich my life and my faith through the account of your Son, Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. I believe and put my faith in Christ and Christ alone. Amen.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

TheFourGospels“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head; one to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” There is nothing quite like children’s nursery rhymes, is there? Especially religious ones that point to a God that all little children had better fear. I grew up reciting this rhyme as young boy, subconsciously digesting it’s grim and rather creepy message. This rhyme basically says that you had better be in line with the four Gospels if you would like God’s protection when you sleep, and it doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you could die in your sleep. So if you would like angels to guard you and/or carry your soul to heaven, you had better be blessed by the Gospels. That’s rather funny being that the word gospel literally means “good news” and is the “good news” of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

It is amazing to me that so many people claim to be Christian in this country and, yet, few people are literate to what the Gospels actually say. We recite quaint little rhymes, we remember the Sunday School stories taught to us at young ages, and we even watch movies that are, when you think of it, only loosely based on the Gospels; however, most people do not pick up the Gospels and read them for themselves. And, when people do pick up the Gospels and read it, they read it as if they are a cohesive, singular story that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who were sitting side by side and consulting with each other on what they remember the Lord saying and doing. Here’s an example. Tell yourself what you know about Jesus’ birth. You will probably think of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, being forced to sleep in a manger because there was no room at the inn, and being visited by 3 wise men who brought gifts, as well as by shepherds who got a full choral performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir of angels.

Yet, I bet you didn’t realize that Mary and Joseph only get put in a manger in Luke, not Matthew. And the Wise Men are only mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke, not to mention the author of Matthew (we don’t actually know his real name, as he never actually gave it) never numbered the wise men to three. What’s more the shepherds only show up in Luke and not in Matthew. Let me also point this out, the birth narrative is ONLY found in Matthew and Luke. It is absent in Mark and John. Is your head spinning yet? What do we make of this? Should we question the accuracy of the Gospels?

The answer, in short, is absolutely not! If the authors were looking to write a 21st century, scientific, history textbook, then we should definitely question their accuracy; however, that is not what they were writing. They were writing a Gospel which combines loosely recorded historical figures and events that are combined with narratives woven around what were the known sayings, teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, who they witnessed and experienced as the Christ. To simplify this a bit, what the authors were writing was a THEOLOGY on WHO JESUS IS and WHY THAT IS GOOD NEWS. That is what these authors were concerned with, reporting the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST to their communities.

My challenge to you is for you to read the Gospels. Read them in the order they were written Mark (ca. 68-70 CE), Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), Luke (ca. 80-90 CE), and John (ca. 90-100 CE). Read them separately, taking each one on its own terms. Get a feel for what truths each author would like to convey to you about Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. Let them inform you, rather than you trying to inform them, and be amazed at the dynamic, living, and powerful Christ that will meet you in the process. There are no books in the world more influential that the Gospels and there is a reason for that. Read them as they are and be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“While facts are beholden to truth, truth is not beholden to fact.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, speak the truth of your good news to my heart so that I may see you as you wish to be revealed to me, through the faithful witness of others as well as through my own experience. Amen.

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.

A New Kind of Normal

Read Mark 1:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“When we were at Mount Sinai, the LORD our God said to us, ‘You have stayed at this mountain long enough.” (Deuteronomy 1:6)

leaving-normal-signNo matter how many times people talk about change, we never really seem to ever get to a place where we feel comfortable about it.  I have heard so many different sermons on the topic of change, and I have attended seminars on change, and have even preached on and taught the merit of change myself; however, change always seems to get us anxious and uneasy. We just don’t want things to change, do we?

I am certainly know stranger to change. When I first entered into community college, I was determined to get into web development. I focused on all of the things I needed to in order to attain an associates degree. Yet, before I could finish, my wife and I  ran into financial issues, as we were both in school, and I ended up having to leave school and pick up a full-time job, working as an Iron Worker with my father-in-law, in order to support our young family.  Boy was that change! Going from college to being an iron worker was a tough change to deal with, yet over time it all worked out.

When my wife finished nursing school and was able to pick up a full-time job as a nurse in a hospital, I left iron working to go back to school. I went to a technology Institute and earned a degree in business programming, was placed in a job and things all seemed to be going as planned; however, less than a year later, the company I worked for owed me $5,000, went bankrupt and left me home without a job. I tried desperately to get a job, but every company wanted at least five years experience before they even looked at your resume, and most of the IT jobs had been outsourced.

Boy, that was a tough change to go through as well. I had gone from a working man to being at home watching my children. I had to constantly endure questions of whether or not I was looking for a job, and if any progress had been made in that search. I had to come to terms with the fact that I could not get a job and I had to go through a period of soul searching before being able to see that staying home with my children was actually a blessing.  It was during that period that I also came to terms with the calling God had placed on me as a young boy…and then the CHANGE really began!

Jesus was no stranger to change either.  The Gospel of Mark purposefully starts of with Jesus down by the river Jordan. Many people were getting baptized by the prophet John, and Jesus went to be baptized just like the rest of them. Yet, as he was coming out of the water, he had a divine vision of not only his calling, but of his true identity as God’s beloved Son. There is no doubt that the theophany (or appearance of God) at the Jordan River profoundly changed the course of Jesus’ life, as well as the course of human history.

What gets us through change is the realization that things are always changing and there is nothing can do to stop it. In fact, when I look back at those times of change in my life, I wouldn’t “change” a single a moment! I would keep everything exactly as it is because it is each and every one of those moments that has helped to shape me into who I am. I’d imagine that if you take the time to look back on the moments of significant change in your life, you will see the value those moments have had. God has worked through those moments in our lives to promote growth and cultivate faith. So thank God for change, and when change comes embrace it as a new kind of normal!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

PRAYER

Lord, I have changed in order to become who I am today. Help me to embrace the change that is shaping me into who you want me to be. Amen.

 

Freedom From Within

Read Romans 7:14-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13, NLT)

Freedom

One of my favorite film portrayals of Jesus is the one found in the 1961 film, “King of Kings”. While it is true that Jeffery Hunter perpetuates the Anglo-Saxon image of Jesus with his blonde hair and blue eyes, it is also true that Hunter delicately balances the human and divine aspects of the Christ. Too often, portrayals are either of an extremely divine Christ, or an overly earthly Jesus, but Hunter finds the balance and runs with it.

In one of my favorite moments in the film, Jesus comes to the prison to see his friend John the Baptist.  After being told by Lucius, a Roman Centurion, that John isn’t allowed to have any visitors, Jesus said, “I would see John.”  Curious, Lucius asked him why. “I have come to free John,” Jesus calmly proclaimed.

“And just how do you propose to break him free from his cell,” the Roman Centurion interrogated? Jesus responded, “I come to free him within his cell.”

Half curious, Lucius sarcastically and rhetorically asks, “Freedom from behind stone walls?”

“You are free to come and go as you please,” Jesus responded, calmly walking toward where Lucius was sitting, “and yet you are still a prisoner because you place no faith in anything but your sword.”

The power of those words resound throughout my mind.  How true it is that we all find ourselves to be prisoners of one thing or another.  Some people are prisoners of hatred, while others are prisoners of fear.  There are some who are prisoners to various addictions, others who are prisoners to their pride. Some people are prisoners to their ideologies and political affiliations, and others are prisoners to their religious beliefs.  Some people are prisoners to their social lives and status, others are prisoners to isolation and perpetual feelings of being alone.

The fact of the matter is that we often find ourselves placing our faith in tons of different things. The world is like a huge buffet with a plethora of different plates to choose from. There are so many different things for us to place our faith in that we find ourselves imprisoned by all of the things that are competing over us.

Yet, Christ is seeking to come into our lives and flip the prison image upside down.  Christ comes to free us from within our prisons by giving us hope, healing and wholeness. But notice, that Christ has not necessarily removed us from the prison. Life doesn’t just become peaches and cream because we have put our faith in Christ. What does happen though, is that our outlook on this life, and on our struggles within it, changes. Rather than seeing defeat in our failures, we see growth and victory. Rather, than seeing life as a series of dead ends, we will start to see that the ends lead to new beginnings.

Christ has come to make all things new again. So, no matter what prison you find yourself in. No matter what in life has caused you to trip and stumble. Take a moment to stop and breathe. Take a moment to see the foot prints behind you and realize that in your darkest moments God has been carrying you.  See the light that comes from Christ and embrace it. Place your faith in it and praise God that you have been freed from within! Experience the freedom that comes from God’s hope, healing and wholeness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER

Lord, free me from the things that imprison me and use me in a way that bring your freedom to others. Amen.