Tag Archives: wholeness

God’s People, part 141: Baby John

Read Luke 1:57-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”  (Luke 9:23, 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.

JohnTheBaptistPart 141: Baby John. One may be scratching their heads and asking why on earth would someone be writing about baby John? After all, there really isn’t anything in the Bible about baby John, is there? John isn’t really talked about until he’s a full grown, hairy, sweaty, locust-eating adult, right?

Well, that is mostly correct. John isn’t directly spoken about in the Nativity story with brief reference to him leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. In fact, it is only in Luke where we hear anything at all about the John’s family or his birth. In Mark, the Gospel starts with John baptizing folks and in Matthew, we first hear of John when Jesus shows up at the river’s edge. In the Gospel of John, we again first see John at the Jordan river baptizing people.

It is only in Luke, where there is any back story on John’s birth, on his family, and on his connections to Jesus. In fact, we find out in Luke that John is the cousin of Jesus, as both of their mothers are cousins. This fact is never even hinted at, let alone mentioned in the other three Gospels. Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, John is not just the forerunner crying out for people to repent and heralding the coming Messiah and his Kingdom, rather, he is also a blood-relative of Jesus’ and is a part of the extended Holy Family.

What’s also important to note is that, because of the miraculous nature of his conception and birth, John is seemingly dedicated by his mother to be a Nazarite. While the word Nazarite is not to be found in any of the accounts on John the Baptist, there is evidence in the Scriptures to back this up.

First, a Nazarite was someone who was dedicated to the service of God. They were not to cut their hair, or drink intoxicating liquors of any sort. Nor were they to handle or consume anything made from grapes. They were also to avoid becoming ritually impure. The Nazarite was someone who was considered holy unto God, and thus filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 1:13-15, Gabriel announces to Zechariah: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”

Thus, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is to raise his son as a Nazarite from birth. At the end of chapter one, the author confirms that John’s family raised him according to God’s wishes as expressed through Gabriel: “John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel” (vs. 80, NLT).

What if  Zechariah and Elizabeth decided not to follow through on that? What if they thought it unfair and even wrong of God to demand that their child be forced to follow the strict Nazarite code? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you have listened to Gabriel and forced the Nazarite vow upon your child?

Would you never give him grapes, never let him attend funerals of family members, never let from getting married (sex ritually defiles a person due to the contact with bodily fluids), etc.? Would you send him off to the wilderness to live so that he has no temptations to live like the other kids in his neighborhood?

The challenge for us is to recognize the kind of commitment God is looking for from each of us. That’s not to say God is calling all of us to be Nazarites, but that God is calling all of us to be committed to Christ. Are you willing to forego all things for the sake of the Gospel? Are you willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow the Lord of all Creation, even if it costs you your very life? Reflect on these questions honestly, and draw yourself closer to the Christ, who denied himself, picked up his cross and died so that we might have abundant life in service to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How willing are we to follow Jesus Christ and how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom?

PRAYER
Lord, I am far from being as committed as I should be. Work within me so that those parts of my heart that are hardened to you and your call, may be softened bent toward your will for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 140: Zechariah

Read Luke 1:5-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24, 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.

Zechariah 1Part 140: Zechariah. In the Gospel of Luke, we receive a unique Nativity account to the one that is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is important to realize some facts about the Nativity before talking about Zechariah and his story. First, out of the four canonical Gospels, only two included the Nativity story. Mark does not, nor does John.

Second, Matthew’s account is quite different than Luke’s account. In Matthew, we have Mary, Joseph, King Herod, and the Wise Men as the predominant characters. There are no choirs of angels, shepherds, Wise Men, and certainly no manger in Matthew’s version. In fact, there’s not even a mention of Nazareth or any journey to Bethlehem. Rather, it reads as if Joseph and Mary were from Bethlehem and only ended up in Nazareth because they fled to Egypt from soldiers carrying out Herod’s villainous orders, later returning and settling in Nazareth.

In Luke, on the other hand, we have Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, August Caesar, Quirinius, Shepherds, Choir of Angels, Simeon, and Anna the prophet. It is Luke’s account that is most familiar to us as the Nativity story, but our typical picture also includes pieces of Matthew’s account blended into the story.

Zechariah, according to Luke’s account, was the husband of Mary of Nazareth’s cousin Elizabeth. He was a priest and a person who had status, power and authority in terms of the religious life of Judah. In fact, he was in the temple performing his priestly duties when an angel spoke to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child and name that child John.

Unlike Elizabeth, Zechariah had a powerful voice in society. He was someone of prominence and religious leader in the community. If someone wanted spiritual advice, they would go to Zechariah or other priests, not his wife. He was someone who was supposed to be in tune with God and someone leading the people of Israel in the act of repentance, sacrifice and worship. Yet, Zechariah did not believe what God was telling him was going to happen.

To be fair, who would believe that two older people, past the age where childbearing is a possibility, could bear a child? But Zechariah, steeped in the Jewish religious tradition must surely have known better, right? He knew the account of Sarah, of Rebecca, and other women who God blessed with children. Yet, he vocally refused to believe what he heard from the angel Gabriel that day.

As a result, God took away his ability to speak. I guess one could say God gave Zechariah a time out. In fact, Zechariah would not get his speech back until after his son, John, was born. We must keep in mind that Zechariah had no way of communicating to his wife, or anyone, what he heard that day in the Temple. As such, we can deduce that Elizabeth probably had no idea that she was going to get pregnant.

This is important to note because, when she did conceive a child, she went into seclusion (probably to protect herself from the community who would be marveling at such a miracle) and spoke the following words: “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children” (Luke 1:25, NLT). Did you catch that, Zechariah’s pride rendered him speechless, yet Elizabeth, in her humility, found her voice. What’s more, she instantly recognized, believed and gave credit to God for her miraculous pregnancy. Her reaction to the news, as it were, was on the complete opposite spectrum from her husbands.

The challenge for us is to reflect on our own faith in God. Do we have faith? Do we believe God is God? Do we believe, for instance, Christ’s words when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”  (John 14:12, NLT). The challenge for us is to reflect on our own belief and to grow in our willingness to TRULY believe that God’s power is not only at work within us, but THROUGH us as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

God’s People, part 139: Elizabeth

Read Luke 1:5-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed…when I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”  (Luke 1:42, 44 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.

elizabeth-and-johnPart 139: Elizabeth. Here, in the New Testament, we come across a familiar tune as we saw with women such as Sarah in the Old Testament. Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin according to Luke, is an older woman who is married to a priest named Zechariah. Luke says that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in God’s sight; yet, he also records that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child and, thus, her and Zechariah never had a child. On top of that, Elizabeth and Zechariah were both very old.

We don’t know very much about Elizabeth other than that she is the much older cousin of Mary of Nazareth. I think, for that reason, it is important to pause and add some perspective to this story. In the end, the perspective will help us to look inward at ourselves and so that we might find areas in which we, as God’s people, can grow.

First, it must be noted that there is a trend in the Bible to paint the women as being the ones who are barren. It must not be passed over that the Bible was written mostly (if not entirely) by men, and the society in which it was written was very much a patriarchal society. What does that mean? Patriarchy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Thus, the focus is centered much more on Zechariah than it is on Elizabeth.

With that said, Luke is somewhat aware of that in his Gospel, for he tells how Zechariah ends up as the one who is silenced and Elizabeth becomes the one who has the voice. In fact, one cannot fully appreciate that until they realize that the society in which this Gospel was written was patriarchal. With that said, the Bible is filled with accounts of barren women, but there are no accounts of infertile men.

This was not necessarily intentional, but it does reflect the way that their society looked at men versus women. If a couple could not have a child, it was the woman paid the social price. She was considered “barren” and not able to have a child. If you stop and think about it, it is quite possible that Elizabeth was fertile and it was Zechariah who was infertile. Luke records that Elizabeth was barren, but how did they really know it was her and not her husband who was unable to reproduce.

I state this not to counter what the Bible says, but to make us aware of how easily we can scapegoat and stereotype people in way that are not so healthy. Regardless of who was infertile or not, God caused a miracle to happen and Elizabeth and Zechariah conceived and gave birth to a child. The challenge for us to reflect on how society informs who we are, both positively and negatively. In what ways do our social norms, rules and regulations form in us biases that are not of God? In what ways do we judge people based off of our social standards as opposed to God’s? Let us reflect and tweak where God is call us to change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is our footing, our foundation, our structure, our walls, our ceiling, stairs, windows, and doors. Make Christ your home, not society.

PRAYER
Lord, immerse me in your presence and help me to make you my home.

God’s People, part 138: Joseph

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”  (Luke 2:4-5 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.

JosephFatherofJesusPart 138: Joseph. One of my favorite Christmas films, a must watch annually on Christmas Eve, is The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, the story chronicle Mary’s betrothal (aka engagement) to Joseph, her becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph’s initial reaction and final acceptance of her. It follows them as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and concludes with what everyone is there to watch: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

This is my favorite portrayal of the Nativity because the actors really pull off their roles convincingly. The vulnerability that both of the actors bring out of their characters helps the audience to connect with them on a most personal level. This is especially true for Joseph. Oscar Isaac takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he falls in love with Mary, is broken by her seeming betrayal when she comes home pregnant, to accepting her story as truth, to supportive husband caring for Mary on the journey to Bethlehem (even to the point of short changing himself.”

Of course, Joseph was a flawed individual, just as we all are. It would be easy for us see the final result of Jospeh, rendering him to a two-dimensional character. It would be easy for us rush to the Joseph who was by Mary’s side in the manger. Yet, the reality is that Joseph almost broke off his engagement to Mary because he could not believe that she had conceived of a child through the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, which one of us would actually believe that if someone came to us and said that they got pregnant by God without having sex with anyone. Most of us would have a hard time believing that. So, we cannot judge Joseph for his disbelief; however, he did struggle to believe Mary.

That left him with two options, to keep Mary as his wife and take her shame upon himself. If he stayed with Mary, people would think the two were sexually active, which would put both of them in a bad light socially speaking. The other option would be to break off the engagement and distance himself from Mary. That would keep the shame from falling on him; however, it would put Mary in a dangerous situation. If that became public she could have been stoned to death for adultery. This was serious business.

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a just (aka righteous) man and did not wish to disgrace her publicly. So he was going to quietly break the engagement off. How he would have pulled that off without others knowing, only one can guess; however, he came very close to ending the relationship with Mary for fear that her “shame” would fall upon him and his “good name”. In other words, he was putting his own “name” and reputation in society before the woman, the human being, he was engaged to.

It took an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that he need not fear taking Mary as his wife, for all that Mary had told him was true. Thankfully, Joseph listened to the voice in that dream. The question for us is this, how do we let fear take control of our lives? Do we allow fear to dictate our actions and do we allow fear to make our decisions for us? The challenge for us is to listen to God’s voice over the many voices of fear. Let us seek God’s voice out in all things and allow God, not fear, guide us in our lives and in our decisions.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from allowing fear to take control. I put my trust in you. Guide me in your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 137: Mary

Read Luke 1:26-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said…Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them.”  (Mark 3:21, 31 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.

the_nativity_story_15Part 137: Mary.

Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum. Benedícta tū in muliéribus, et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus. Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus, nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae. Ámen.

You may be scratching your head and saying, “Well, that’s Greek to me.” Actually, it’s not Greek, but it is LATIN. It is the traditional Ave Maria prayer that has been set to some of the most beautiful music. My favorite rendition is Gounod’s setting of the prayer to his own arrangement of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846.

The prayer reads in English as follows. “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. It is a prayer to the Jesus Mother Mary, who is seen by Roman Catholics as set apart from other women because she is the Mother of God Incarnate. Some protestants like to state that this is idolatry; however, it really is NOT idolatry but rather an expression of reverence to Mary who did, Biblically speaking, who was set apart and chosen by God to bear God’s incarnation into the world. As a Protestant, I do not believe praying to Mary herself is necessary, or even effectual, but I do understand what is at the heart of it even if I believe it to be unnecessary and misguided.

The issue I have with this prayer, and our general image of Mary, is that it paints her as someone who is too holy to be human. We imagine her as a reverent, quiet, compassionate, loving woman. We think of her as having a halo over her head and as having guided Jesus from childhood to adulthood and preparing him for his ministry.

Roman Catholics, in fact, have the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which lies the belief that God removed Mary’s sin at the moment she was born. In other words, she was born untainted by sin due to God’s divine will. This doctrine officially came about under Pius IX during the 12th century in order to explain how Jesus was born without sin. If his mother was without sin due to divine intervention, then that makes the explanation easy.

Sadly, it also takes away the divine mystery of the Incarnation. What’s more, the Gospels do not all agree on how much on board Mary was with Jesus or his ministry. The power of the song, “Mary, did you Know?” (one of my all-time favorites), lies in the Biblical possibility that Mary did NOT know. For instance, while in Luke Mary clearly knew what was going on, in Matthew it is less clear how much she knew. In Mark, she seems to not only be ignorant to Jesus’ teachings and methodology, but to also be disapproving of him doing ministry in the first place. Don’t know what I am talking about, read the today’s suggested Scripture.

The challenge for us is to recognize that each of us is human. We must not put anyone on a pedestal as if they are holier than the rest. Whether it be Mary, the apostles, our pastors/priests, etc., each human being is just that: a human being prone to wander and sin. The only one who was and is sinless is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Let us put our trust in Jesus and show the kind of humble faith that Christ is calling for.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ in John 14:1.

PRAYER
Lord, I place my trust in you. Have mercy on me when I don’t and guide me toward trusting you again. Amen.

God’s People, part 136: Theophilus

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach”  Acts 1:1 (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.

BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, from left: George Carlin, Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, 1989, © OriPart 136: Theophilus. “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught”  (Luke 1:1-4 NLT).

These are the opening four verses of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. In Luke’s Gospel, he is clearly writing to someone named Theophilus an account of Jesus’ life, teachings, betrayal, torture, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. In fact, Luke is not just writing the Gospel to Theophilus, he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles to him as well. Actually, the Gospel of Luke and Acts were two back-to-back volumes, that got split up by the Gospel of John when the Biblical canon was put together.

Scholars are not entirely sure who this Theophilus actually was. Some believe that it may be a person whose name was Theophilus. The name Theophilus (Θεόφιλος, pronounced Theh-of’-il-os), literally means lover or friend of God. In more plain words, it means one who loves or is a friend of God’s. While it would be hard to imagine Theophilus’ Gentile birth-name was Theophilus, many early Christian converts changed their names as they were reborn into a new life in Christ (e.g. Saul became Paul, Simon became Peter, Levi became Matthew, etc.).

Still, it is quite possible, maybe even likely, that Theophilus was not the name of a person at all. It could be that Theophilus was a code word for a wealthy, prominent patron of Luke’s who did not want to be outwardly named and risk persecution. It is also possible that Theophilus wasn’t a single person, but perhaps a codeword for a group of people (e.g. Luke writing to a church and calling them, collectively, Theophilus).

Whatever the actual answer may be to that question, I believe that Luke was not intending his Gospel letter to go to merely one person; rather, he wanted it shared with the entire Christian community in the region he sent it. Therefore, one can accurately say that whatever Christian heard Luke’s Gospel read was Theophilus.

To carry that one step forward, anyone in any part of the world at any time who hears or reads Luke’s Gospel is potentially Theophilus. Why potentially you might ask? Simple. Because the name means friend of God and not all people who read the Gospel are “friends of God”. Everyone, on the other hand, has the potential to be friends of God and, certainly, all who are receptive to the Gospel message ARE friends of God.

The challenge for you today is this: are YOU Theophilus? Are you a friend of God’s? Are you receptive to the Gospel message? Or are you not? If you are receptive to the Gospel message, then you are Theophilus. This does not hinge on how perfectly we live out the Gospel, it hinges on our hearts and on our willingness to change direction when we fall out of line with the Gospel. It is my prayer that you are, indeed, most excellent Theophilus. It is also my prayer that you share this message with others who can also receive the Gospel and become friends of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”  – Jesus Christ (John 15:15 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, friendship with you is my heart’s deepest desire. Draw me close to you and never let me go. Amen.

God’s People, part 135: You

Read James 1:22-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:20 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.

MirrorBiblePart 135: You. Yes you, the one who is reading this devotion. When one thinks of the Gospels most people do not think of themselves as one of the main characters. One thinks of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the disciples/apostles, Herod, and the Romans. Heck, one even thinks of the devil and his demons; however, most people do not think of themselves.

I believe that this fact points to a major reason there is such a disconnect between most people and the Gospel message when/if they read the Bible. The Bible, Old and New Testament alike, is being read as a bedtime story filled with two-dimensional characters who bear little to know resemblance to us. At best, the Bible may be read as a work of history, something to look back upon and imagine what it must have been like to be there. Still, we read the Bible as if there is a distance between us and the characters within.

The truth is, however, that there is less of a distance between us and the books of the Bible than we think. It is true that the authors lived in a different time period than us as well as in a different culture and different part of the world. It is also true that the authors wrote with their own contexts and audiences in mind. With that said, the authors also wrote with YOU in mind. The New Testament authors, especially, wrote to all who would be reading them. Thus, YOU are very much a character in the New Testament.

YOU are the one who needs to hear and learn of the Good News about Jesus Christ. YOU are also the one who is being called to follow Jesus and become a disciple. YOU are the one the author intended to teach what the Rabbi/Teacher taught and YOU are the one to whom the author witnessed about Christ’s miracles.

The reader should not, nay, MUST NOT distance him or herself from the Bible. We are the people the authors are writing to. Mark starts off his Gospel cluing YOU in that he is writing about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. In the very first sentence, YOU are given a clue that the people in the accounts did not have. Then Mark lays before you the accounts of Jesus, not just to tell a neat and fanciful tale, but so that YOU might believe and become a disciple yourself.

The same is true for the other Gospels. Luke has something else going on as well, but we’ll touch upon that next time. Suffice it to say, the Gospel writers, Paul, the other letter writers, and the writer of Revelation all write for YOU, so that you might come to know the truth about Jesus Christ, become a disciple and carry on sharing the Good News with others.

The challenge for us is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, from a fresh perspective. We need to learn to read it without reading our own contexts into it (because it was not written in our context); conversely, we need to learn to read it as if it were speaking directly to us and as if we were among the characters within it. The truth is WE ARE among the characters in this narrative. What’s more, every time we share the Gospel with others and bring them into a direct relationship with the risen Lord, they too become a character in this ongoing unfolding of God’s redemptive, salvific work in the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, illumine me through the Bible and allow me to see that it was not just written about others, or merely for others, but that it was also written for me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Categorical Imperative

Well, it is Thanksgiving Week and I am busy preparing for an Ecumenical Thanksgiving service and lots of time with family over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. Thus, I have selected two devotions from the past. Both are as relevant now as they were when I initially wrote them. I pray they speak to you and challenge you to grow in your faithfulness. Click here for today’s devotion. HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

A LOOK BACK: Ixnay the Cliché

Well, it is Thanksgiving Week and I am busy preparing for an Ecumenical Thanksgiving service and lots of time with family over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. Thus, I have selected two devotions from the past. Both are as relevant now as they were when I initially wrote them. I pray they speak to you and challenge you to grow in your faithfulness. Click here for today’s devotion. HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

God’s People, part 134: The Jews

Read John 8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’”  (John 19:7 NRSV)

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.

Roberts_Siege_and_Destruction_of_Jerusalem

Part 134: The Jews. In the last devotion we discussed the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While all of them tell the account of Jesus of Nazareth, they do differ on the details within their accounts. Often times, we read the gospels as if they are ONE story told four different times; however, the reality is that they are four separate accounts of Jesus of Nazareth told to different people at different times for different reasons. Thus, not all of the details within the accounts match up.

Still, Matthew, Mark and Luke are very similar to one another and a majority of the events in their accounts are parallel to each other. Certainly, they follow the same basic chronological structure: 1) Jesus was born (Matthew & Luke), 2) Jesus’ ministry began following his baptism in the Jordan, 3) his ministry was based in and around Galiliee, 4) at the end of his ministry he went to Jerusalem and stirred up trouble, 5) he was betrayed, arrested, crucified, 6) and resurrected from the dead.

The Gospel of John, however, followed a different chronological structure. Jesus was seen in Jerusalem throughout his career and, in fact, the cleansing of the Temple (which happens at the end of Matthew, Mark & Luke’s account) takes place at the beginning of John. Also, John’s Gospel is different theologically too. All of the Gospels claim that Jesus is the Christ (aka the Messiah) and the Son of God; however, John’s Jesus is barely touching the ground (though his humanity is still on full display, just differently).

One of the biggest differences in the Gospel of John is the distinction between Jesus and “The Jews”. Sadly, this distinction has wrongly been interpreted in anti-Semitic ways; however, it was not written to be anti-Semitic. The community from which this Gospel emerged was inherently a Jewish community. They were not anti-Semitic as they themselves were Semites.

The distinction between Jesus and “the Jews” is actually, in context, and intra-Jewish distinction. In other words, it was a distinction happening within Judaism among differing Jews. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed all of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple. The further away from that event one gets, the more one can begin to see a distinction being drawn up between traditional Jewish groups and those who followed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

First, the traditional Jewish sects wanted nothing to do with those Jesus followers because Rome crucified Jesus as a traitor of the Empire. To align with this criminal, following a time when Rome had already quelled a major Jewish uprising by destroying all of Jerusalem, was to risk losing the remaining religious leniencies that Rome still granted the Jewish people. Second, while Jews looked to the following of the Torah (the Law) in response as to how to remain faithful to God without a Temple to sacrifice in, the earliest Christians (with an increasing number of Gentile members) saw faith in Jesus as the answer.

Thus, the more pushback that the early Christian communities received, the more they began to identify as a community different than “the Jews”. They were Jewish, but they were pushed to see themselves as being counter to what the mainline Jewish sects were advocating. This was not, again, because they were anti-Jewish, but because they were being expelled from synagogues and rejected by mainline Jewish leaders. Compound that fact with the reality that Gentile Christians began to outnumber Jewish Christians toward the end of the first century, and one can begin to see how this identity metamorphosis took root.

Still, it is important for us to realize that “the Jews” in Jesus’ day were not a monolithic group that altogether were antagonistic toward Jesus or his followers. In John, that language was more representing his time period than it was Jesus’. Some of the Jews did believe Jesus was the Messiah, others did not see him that way. What’s more, while some of the Jewish leadership and the Roman rulers had Jesus put to death, the common Jewish person would not have wanted any Jew to be crucified by the Romans. “The Jews” as a whole were not responsible for Jesus’ death. The Roman Empire, under the leadership of Pontius Pilate, was responsible for that.

The challenge for us is to begin, if we haven’t already, to stop viewing Christianity through an “us” versus “them” mentality. In God there is no “them”, there is only “us”. God created us all and loves us all and calls us all to be in relationship with God. Jesus Christ did not come create more divisions than already exist in the world; rather, Jesus came to unite us all to God through him. Let us be reminded of that and live into it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Be reminded of Christ and begin to model Christ in your lives and in the world around you.

PRAYER
Lord, draw me in closer to you and empower me to witness to others your love and grace. Amen.