Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning was physical, not just spiritual. Likewise, Christians do not live eternally as disembodied spirits, we will have perfect physical bodies.

During our recent trip to Athens, Anna and I wanted to see some of the key Greek places mentioned in the Bible. Philippi and Thessalonica were too far to travel during our stay, at least a six hour drive each way, but Corinth was close, just over one hour by auto.  About 12 miles west of Athens on the road to Corinth, however, lies another important Greek religious site, Eleusius and the site of one of the most renowned mystery cults.

Continue reading “Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection”

Seeking Signs

We look for signs to help us decide what to do. God faithfully provides them.

The US Presidential primaries are in full swing, and voters across the country are looking for signs. We want signs that a person is strong, signs that they can do what we want them to do, and signs that they can beat everyone who is running against them. We look for candidates with money, with an independent streak, and yet who agree with us. Our bizarre presidential election is the most vivid example, but races from sheriffs to senators feature the same drama.

Our need for signs is not only in politics; it is everywhere in life. Employers choose employees by looking at their training, experience, and ability to get along. None of these guarantee that the employee will be successful, but without a crystal ball or tea leaves to read the future, such signs are the best way a company has to choose the person with the best chance of accomplishing institutional goals. Patients seek signs that a doctor will make them well, and car buyers seek signs that a vehicle will make them happy. Interpersonal relationships are the same; men and women seek signs in choosing their friends and even their mates.

Continue reading “Seeking Signs”

The Weight of Sin

How could Jesus forgive the sin of the woman caught in adultery? It wasn’t just because He wanted to. 

One of the most famous passages in Scripture is the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53 to 8:11). The storyline is that the Jewish religious leaders hoped to trap Jesus. They caught a woman, whom they had probably set up, in the act of adultery. They brought her, but not the man involved, to Jesus to judge. The Law of Moses was clear; people engaged in adultery were to be stoned to death. If Jesus had said to release her, He would have been in violation of the Mosaic Law. If He had said to stone her, He would have lost popular support, and been party to an injustice because the guilty man was not present.

In an amazing display of compassion and wisdom, Jesus told her accusers that whoever in the group was without sin should cast the first stone. None of them, even the most sanctimonious, could claim to be sinless, and so they melted away into the crowd. Jesus and the woman were left alone. He asked the woman “where are they that condemn you?” and she replied that no one remained. Jesus then said “neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”

Continue reading “The Weight of Sin”

The Problem is the Soil

Whether in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower or in day to day life, God’s seed is perfect. When we don’t bear fruit, it is because our soil is bad. The problem is us. But God saves us even from ourselves.  

Last week I was writing a commentary on Matthew 13. Verses 1-23 contain one of the most famous parables of Jesus, the Parable of the Sower. In it some seed fell on a hard path, other seed fell on stony ground, part of the seed fell on thorny ground, and more seed fell on good ground. The seed which fell on the walking path was devoured by birds before it could take root, and that which fell on stony ground took root but the ground was so shallow that the young shoot was scorched in the hot sun. The seed which fell on thorny ground also took root but the young plant was smothered by the weeds around it. Only the seed that fell on good ground produced a harvest.

Continue reading “The Problem is the Soil”

Jesus at the Feast of the Tabernacles

Knowing ancient Jewish culture will help us know the Bible better, and know God better. The investment will pay off many fold. 

Modern Jews and Christians are far removed from the ancient Israelite culture. Our food supply in the developed world is relatively secure, while their food supply, and their survival, depended on each year’s harvest. “Feast” in rich modern nations usually means low food prices and “famine” means high food prices, whereas feast in ancient Israel meant life and famine meant death. Refrigeration and cheap transportation give us variety and reliability at the dinner table, while the lack of both made it frequently hard for the Hebrews to know where their next meal was coming from. In modern times we emphasize the role of technology in our prosperity and downplay the grace of God, while in ancient Israel they used existing technology wisely while recognizing that the hand of the Lord was the source of all things.

Is it any wonder that modern first-world Christians don’t understand how important the feasts were to the Hebrews in the Old Testament? Many Americans’ main worry surrounding the main cultural feasts, Thanksgiving and Christmas, is not putting on too much weight. Political and social leaders encourage people to enjoy family and friends, and maybe even thank others who grew the food, but say nothing about God.

To better understand the Bible we must have some understanding of the feasts that meant so much to the Israelites at the time.

Continue reading “Jesus at the Feast of the Tabernacles”

Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life

Jesus’ most controversial discourse stuns, shocks, offends, and has lots of other signs of good teaching. 

Jesus has often been called a master teacher, and the book of John illustrates the truth of that label.  Good teachers do not merely tell their students the material; they show them.  John 6 begins with Jesus teaching a multitude of people on a hillside on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in spring.   He taught for hours and when the disciples advised Jesus to let the people go to find food, He miraculously fed all of them, possibly more than 15,000 people.  The parallels between Moses giving manna to the Israelites (Exodus 16:1-21), Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44), the Lord hosting a magnificent banquet (Isaiah 25:6), and Jesus feeding the multitude were striking to the Jews, hungry as they were for a political Messiah to lead them out of bondage to Rome (6:14). As a result, they tried to make Him king (6:15).  Jesus escaped and allowed time for the fervor to abate.

The next morning Jesus gave His famous, to some infamous, Bread of Life discourse.  With the amazing miracle of the prior day, Jesus had shown the people, and His disciples, that He could provide bread for those who followed Him.  Now Jesus intended to teach them about greater bread. The greater bread is not the bread that perishes with the eating, but that which lasts forever.  It comes from God, and ultimately the bread, that which nourishes the people of God for eternity, is Jesus Christ Himself.  After showing the people His ability to provide physically for those who followed Him, He had then described how He Himself was the ultimate bread.  Finally, Jesus finished the lesson telling His listeners that they needed to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” to have eternal life (6:53-58).

Continue reading “Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life”

The Sanhedrin

No study of the New Testament is complete without a study of the government of Palestine in the first century AD, and no study of the government of Palestine in that period is complete without a study of the Sanhedrin. The term Sanhedrin is derived from the Greek phrase for “gathering place” and is not found in Jewish history prior to the periods of Greek domination under Alexander, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.

History

Though the term came late in Biblical history, the idea of a Hebrew or Jewish ruling council came early. In the time of the Exodus (around 1400 BC), God told Moses to bring together 70 elders of Israel to receive His spirit and lead the people (Numbers 11:16). During the reign of Jehoshaphat in Judah, the king assembled priests and heads of families to discern and convey the judgment of the Lord and to handle controversies (2 Chronicles 19:8).  After the exile (during the Persian period), Ezra (5:5, 6:7, 10:8) and Nehemiah (2:16, 5:7, 7:5) made extensive use of ruling councils to legislate and judge.

Continue reading “The Sanhedrin”

Jesus, an Example of Mentoring Leadership

How did Jesus mentor His disciples? How did He mentor others? How should we mentor those who look to us for leadership?

One of the greatest strengths of mentoring leaders is the ability to teach.  To reproduce himself, a man must teach, by words and by actions, those who are learning from him.  Jesus taught large groups and the people marveled at the wisdom and authority of His words.  He was doing His most important work, however, when He was teaching small groups of His disciples and other followers (Luke 24:32).

Mentoring leaders also use gifts of exhortation to mentor those entrusted to them.  Exhortation includes encouragement and instruction to do the right and wise thing.  After Peter’s proclamation of faith in Matthew 16:16, Jesus encouraged him.  After Peter denied Jesus in Matthew 26:69-75, Jesus encouraged him again (John 21:15-17).  Many times in the gospels Jesus exhorted His disciples.  Such gifts as exhortation and teaching are evidence of excellent communication, in this case sharing leadership principles and examples to the next generation of leaders.

Continue reading “Jesus, an Example of Mentoring Leadership”

What does it mean to abide in Christ?

We abide in Christ like a branch abides in a tree, but how do we do that in day to day life?

Paul Brand, the hand surgeon renowned for his discoveries in leprosy and his vibrant Christian faith, wrote often about the parallels between the church as the Body of Christ and the human body.   The metaphor Jesus used in John 15 about the relationship between Him and His people, that of a vine, is another powerful illustration of the intimate, dependent, and fruitful relationship we have with Christ our Creator and Sustainer.

As each organ, liver, brain, kidneys, and heart, is an integral part of the human body, so the branch is an integral part of the vine and each man an integral part of the body of Christ.  More precisely, as each human cell is vital to the life of man so each plant cell is to the life of the vine and each believer is to the body of our Lord.  To abide in Christ is, therefore, analogous to the relationship between a cell and the body and a branch and its vine.

Continue reading “What does it mean to abide in Christ?”

On the Physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ

No one on earth or even in mythology defeated Death, except Jesus. Life finally conquered death. Can you feel it?

Jesus physically rose from the dead. This statement, if true, is the most radical statement in human history. If there is one thing that seems certain about the human condition, even more so than taxes, it is death. This event separates Christianity from all other religions, and makes Christ unique among religious leaders. Islam does not make that claim for Mohammed, nor Judaism for Moses nor Buddhism for Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Yet the Bible makes that claim for Jesus Christ. Not only does it make the claim but stakes the truth or falsehood of Christianity, the religion founded by Jesus Christ, on that event (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). If Jesus physically rose from the dead, Christianity is true. If not, it is false. The most widespread religion in the world is thus founded on the most preposterous claim in the world.

Continue reading “On the Physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ”

On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ

Jesus died, there is no doubt, what happened next, is what the Gospel is about. 

Christianity is unique among the religions of the world for many reasons, but one of the most important is that it can be disproven. The fundamental event of Christianity is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). There is no claim in the Koran that Mohammed physically rose from the dead after his death; neither is there a similar claim for Moses, the Buddha, or any founder of a major religion in the world today. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, if they actually happened, separate Christianity from all other religions, and make Christ unique among religious leaders.

Anyone who wants to refute Christianity and make the Church wither and die simply has to prove that Jesus Christ did not die, at least not in the way that the Bible records, and did not physically rise again. In the two millennia since Jesus’ life, many skeptics have tried to disprove the Bible on this issue. None have succeeded thus far, but there are many theories about how Jesus did not really die as the Bible suggests.

Continue reading “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ”

Passion Week – The Intractable Conflicts that Sent Jesus to Calvary

Political tension, jealously, misunderstanding, fear, laziness, and all of the natural human sins and frailties led Jesus to Calvary. 

Jerusalem in the 1st century AD was an uneasy place.  A thin veneer of calm covered a seething cauldron of oppression, resistance, hatred, racial and religious conflict, and murder.  Palestine, known to all conquerors since antiquity as a hot bed of revolution, had by 30 AD been under Roman domination for nearly 100 years since Pompey conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the temple in 63 BC.

The political arrangement was simple.  The Roman conquerors wanted peace and taxes, the first to limit the expense in blood and treasure of holding Palestine, and the second to get as much as possible out of the province to finance their Imperial tastes and adventures.  Lacking a natural port like Greece, resources like Asia Minor, or major wheat harvests like Egypt, Palestine had little to offer their conquerors except for being an eastern outpost against the Parthians and a land bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa.  Many troops and lots of money were necessary to hold the land, so the Romans wanted the Jews to be quiet.

Continue reading “Passion Week – The Intractable Conflicts that Sent Jesus to Calvary”

Jesus’ Birth, Childhood, and Family Tree

What was Jesus’ background? Did God the Father arrange the Old Testament to prepare the way for Jesus as the Messiah? 

It is interesting that the one part of Jesus’ life that is most recognized in mainstream American society is His birth.  We celebrate Christmas, and despite the concerted and oftentimes angry effort to take Him out of Christmas, He remains an important part, even for many who may not believe much else about Him.  Both Matthew and Luke provide valid historical accounts.

Continue reading “Jesus’ Birth, Childhood, and Family Tree”

The Synoptic “Problem”

The Gospel of John is very different from the other three, and they are similar to each other. Is that a problem?

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar in many ways. They cover much of the same material, have the same general historical arrangement, and use many of the same words. Bible scholar JJ Griesbach named these gospels “synoptic” because they seem to “see together”. However, there are notable differences between these gospels. The presence of such striking similarities and curious differences causes Christians to ask “how can this be” and “where did these gospels come from”? This is the Synoptic Problem.

There are many possible solutions to the Synoptic Problem. First, it is possible that the Synoptics were all drawn from one source, possibly an original in Hebrew or Aramaic. This is a little hard to believe, though. If one gospel existed already, why write more, changing some of the material in the process? Who wrote it, and what was their relationship to Jesus? Why would such a source not be mentioned anywhere in Early Christian literature?

Continue reading “The Synoptic “Problem””