Sunday, January 15, 2017

Luke 22:14-23 The Shared Cup

14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 

15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 

17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 

19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. 

21 But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. 22 For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” 

23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Luke 22:1-13 Prepared to Believe

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people. 

I recently overheard a parent say, 'If my son just had the same opportunity to walk side by side with Jesus he would have become a believer.' We know, of course, that such a grand opportunity does not a guarantee coming to belief. Many walked with Jesus and then walked away (Jn 6). The most striking example of this is none other than Judas, not to mention God's former covering cherub (Ez 28:16), Lucifer. 

On the other hand, many are never given a choice to even become acquainted with God. Many die before birth, shortly after birth, or during early childhood - long before they could make a personal and reasoned choice to surrender their life to the Lord. The age old question remains, will they be saved even though they were never given the opportunity to choose to place their faith in God? Or, does the omniscient Creator know which ones, had they been given the opportunity, would have chosen Christ and which would not have? But, if the latter is true, are we all predestined for either heaven or hell? 

Some, like Judas and Lucifer, shun 'life eternal' despite having had grand opportunities to see the light in a way that few others have. So, was Judas created to fail no matter what? If we say 'no, because Judas intentionally chose to betray God,' then we must go back and ask about those who never had the chance to choose. Is personal choice really the deciding factor?  Are we truly saved through faith in God's grace, or not (Eph 2:8)? If we haven't had a chance to choose to live by faith, does God slip us in anyways because he knows what kind of 'heart' we were 'would have had' had we lived on? Are God's judgments based on the extrapolated potential of the heart or on the actual decisions made prior to death? If God judges by extrapolation, why do we so often worry about those on death row or those who died before being baptized, or those who commit suicide? 

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) celebrates God's grace for those who chose to  place their faith in his word. In their case, back in the days of Moses, God had given plenty of examples demonstrating that whatever he says, comes true. Regardless, many Egyptians chose to ignore the evidence and subsequently lost their first born. On the other hand, God's plague 'passed over' those (Jew or Gentile) who followed his instructions and painted blood on their doorposts. Yet, even those who were disobedient during the time of Noah, appear to have received a second change after death (1 Pet 3:18-20). How great is the grace of God?

Faith is not faith unless we act on what we say we believe. That being said, I imagine that many 'first-born' boys during the time of Moses were saved from the plague because of their parent's faith, not because of their own - maybe because they were still too young to believe or because they had chosen not to believe, yet just happened to be in their parent's home where the door posts were painted in blood. The scriptures appear to support the notion that the faith of the head of household exists as an umbrella of safety over everyone else within that home, making a parent a type of proxy 'savior' (1 Cor 7:14; Acts 11:14).

Back to our text and the question at hand. The priests chose not to follow Jesus. Instead, they chose to kill him. Did Jesus also die for these ungrateful miscreants? Or, did he only die for those who he knew would eventually come to faith despite their past evils? Does the love of Christ only extend to enemies he knows will later confess faith, like Saul/Paul. Does the love of God extend to those who he knows will be eternally lost, like Judas. 

What caused these priests to be so evil? Were they born that way or was there something in their religious culture that had conditioned them to be evil, despite no being pottered to be either good or bad? 

Romans 5:6-10 reminds us that Christ died for us when we were still his enemies. It doesn't say that he died for his enemies in general, but for those who 'were' his enemies, yet later came to faith - like Saul/Paul (2 Th 2:13). How do you put all these pieces together?

3 And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. 4 And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. 5 They were glad and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd. 

Was Judas 'pottered' to betray Jesus, as Paul appears to suggest in his letter to the Romans 9:13-23? In other words, did Judas no have a chance to choose any other course of life other than as one who would betray Jesus? 

"It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." 


"The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'why did you make me like this', will it?" 


"Does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" 


"What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?"

Could it really be so, that God pottered Judas to betray Jesus, that Judas had no choice? Did God create Judas to be a vessel that Satan would or could occupy? Was Judas designed to be 'faithful' to God by becoming the enemy of God? Is this the 'fidelity of betrayal' that many Christian authors have puzzled over and written about? Was Judas not able to choose any other way or did he chose to betray Jesus because that was what Jesus needed him to do or did he chose to betray Jesus because of his love of money? Was Judas intentionally molded to be thrown away after accomplishing what he had no choice but to accomplish or will he be saved because he accomplished the role that he was molded to perform?

What does it mean that Satan 'entered into Judas'? Does that mean that Satan shifted from being the 'backseat driver' in the life of Judas, to taking the wheel?  Was Judas out of his mind? Who, in their right mind, would betray someone like Jesus for 30 pieces of silver - unless they had lost their mind? When the scriptures say that Satan entered into Judas, was this simply a first century explanation that Judas had a nervous breakdown or that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, or...?

7 Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” 

Jesus, according to John (6:64), knew from the beginning who would betray him. Note, scripture does not say that Jesus suspected Judas could betray him, yet that He would make a grand effort to convert him. Rather, Jesus either knew that Judas was 'made' for this task or simply knew the future choices Judas would make despite other choices being freely available to him. Luke's words, 'the Passover lamb had to be sacrifice', suggests that a sacrificer had to be involved. There can't be a sacrifice without someone being willing to 'make' the sacrifice happen. Someone needed to bear the knife, to fulfill scripture (Jn 13:18). Judas appears to be the one 'chosen' by God, rather than being the one who chose. Or, is there another way to read this?

Jesus appears to have co-opted both Peter and John as unwitting participants in this Passover act. They were 'chosen' to prepare the Passover. In other words, they were the ones who set up the scene in which Judas would be told by Jesus to 'complete his mission quickly (Jn 13:27) and where Satan would enter Judas. Jesus was, it seems, complicit in fulfilling the scripture (Is 53:7), being "like a lamb that is led to slaughter."

9 They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?” 10 And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. 

Also, prepared ahead of time, was a place in which these scenes would be played out. Again, everything was planned, molded according to God's will from eternity past. That is our story. There is nothing past, present, or future that God is unaware of. Nothing happens apart from his permission (Job 1:10-12). Even Lucifer, we must assume, was 'created' for mischief making, if we accept the words of Is 45:5-7 and Is 14:24-27.

Note, though, God apparently creates for good and for evil, or at least this is how the ancients pictured God, that view permeates both the old and new testament scriptures. Our modern view of God dismisses such notions, preferring to view a God of grace, who sent his son to die for all mankind - including Judas - and who has sent his Spirit to lead all to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), without having molded anyone to be either good or bad apart from their own choices. Many now believe in universal grace, regardless of the multitude of statements in scripture that appear to present something quite different. Maybe, then, our questions can't be truly answered until we address the issue of the nature of inspiration.

11 And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 12 And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.” 

The scriptures teach us that God is preparation savvy (Lk 1:17; Mk 10:40; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:5; Heb 11:16; Rev 9:15). Should we ever worry about anything when we worship a well-prepared God, one who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves and who works to prepare us for that which he has prepared for us? Our task, as with the disciples who were sent to prepare for the Passover, is simply to choose to say yes as the Spirit leads us, knowing that all things will be 'just as' the Lord said they will be. Should it matter to us 'how' God accomplishes his will? Should the many disagreeable things of this world matter to the person of faith if we believe that our God will bring it all to a beautiful eternal end? 

If we are like the noble Bereans, examining the scriptures closely, day after day, to either confirm or dismiss the things we have heard - what if 'reason' leads us to a conclusion that differs from what we want to believe? Should we hope against scripture? Or, should we reexamine our notions of inspiration? Did the authors of the Bible write what God said to them or did they write what they believed at the time being moved by their love for God? If the latter, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that their love for God did not automatically excise all erroneous notions about God? Can a great person of faith also be theologically in error? For instance, is everything King David wrote in his psalm's an accurate portrayal of God's nature? If so, what about David's imprecatory prayers? Imprecatory psalms are those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist's enemies. To imprecate means to invoke evil upon, or curse. Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139 all contain prayers for God's judgment on the psalmist's enemies. 

For example, look at Ps 137:9 "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock." How are these 'little ones' enemies of God? Have they chosen to rebel against God? Or, does God judge them as evil because their parents have been preparing them to be enemies of God? Was their no hope for those raised as enemies of God? If so, what about Rahab (Jos 2, 6; Heb 11:31)?

13 And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

It was, as Jesus promised, 'just as He had told them'. The two disciples were able to accomplish their given task because the One who sent them had already prepared for their success. 

Thus the question remains. How thoroughly does God 'prepare' us for His (and our) success? Does God provide the opportunities for a life of faith and we either choose or reject the opportunities, or does God potter each person to be good or evil?

One final related thought from this week's study. Is it possible to have hope (trust in God's promises about the future - apart from any evidence about the future), without first having faith (trust in God's promises for the present - apart from evidence that God is present)? And, is it possible to have faith without having first personally experienced God's love? If we cling to hope having never tested God's love in the present, wouldn't that simply be another example of the suspension of disbelief that is so prevalent in our 'Hollywood culture'?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Luke 21 Trust in God

1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. 2 And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. 3 And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; 4 for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

Having warned the people about the scribes who 'devour widow's houses' (20:47), Jesus then pointed to a poor widow at the temple. We may be enamored with the rich and be a wannabe for their wealth, privilege, and power, but Jesus wanted his disciples to check their hearts by looking at the widow. With an ounce of critical thinking, one can see that what really counts is not the amount of the gift that is given, but the amount of heart sacrificed to make the gift. 

As we have noticed in the previous chapter, Jesus reads between the lines. He discerns the truth that is not always evidence in the explicit. In terms of mere numerical 'dollar' amount, the rich gave exceedingly 'more' than the poor widow. Image all that could be accomplished through their gift giving. This was not a bad thing, as far as the religious institution was concerned. 

But Jesus read the picture differently. This one poor widow, in his estimation, gave more than did all the rich folks combined. How could that be? The rich gave out of their surplus while the widow gave everything she had. In other words, she gave herself to the kingdom of God - fully trusting in the God of heaven - whereas the rich gave a whole lot more in 'dollar' amount, but not in an amount that suggested that they truly trusted in God for all their needs. They kept control of their lives. The widow gave complete control of her life to God. 

Why is this an important story? The remainder of this chapter tells us that our readiness for future events will be dependent upon our trust in the living God, not in ourselves.

5 And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, 6 “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down." 7 They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them. 9 When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”

All that the rich gave that permitted the Jews to build a beautiful temple would be destroyed - even in the lifetime of some of those living at the time. We are naturally enamored with wealth, power, and prestige. We envy those who have the means to build beautiful edifices and can purchase whatever they want in life. Yet, according to Jesus, spirituality looks for the beauty of the heart - that simple, humble trust in the Creator God. 

First, said Jesus, do not be distracted by physical beauty witnessed today. Second, do not be terrified when all that is physically beautiful today is destroyed tomorrow. These two points are vitally linked. If we cling to the things of this world today, our peace and joy will be destroyed when these things are taken away from us tomorrow. Loosen your grip on the things of this world. Cling only to the things of eternal value - a heart that fully trusts in the eternal God.

In the near future, Jesus said to his disciples, 'many' will pretend to be the returning Messiah. Do not believe them. There will be many terrifying wars, but don't panic and think that the the end of this world has come. In other words, don't trust what your eyes see and your ears hear. Trust in what I'm about to tell you. Let your heart believe and trust in Me - just as the poor widow believed and trusted in God. 

10 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. 16 But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives. 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Terrifying things will happen in this world. That is the nature of the world. But, if you trust in me - rather than in your wealth, prestige, and power in this life - you will be able to turn each experience, however horrible, into an opportunity to give witness to your faith - just as the poor widow did in giving all that she had.

In fact, if you fully place your trust in God, you won't even have to worry about tomorrow - what you will do and say during those terrible times - because God will gift you with the wisdom you will need, when you need it. Trust in God. 

Remember, though, your ability to trust in God tomorrow is built upon the foundation of your trust in God today. 

Let's be honest. The terrible things of tomorrow will include being betrayed by family and friends. Some of us will be martyred. Don't worry about any of that - if you trust in God's promise of resurrection to life eternal. Endure to the end through faith in God - even if the whole world despises you.

Jerusalem must first be destroyed, along with it's Temple. There must then be a 'time of the Gentiles' before the end of this world. In other words, the very ones who destroy Jerusalem will produce a people who will eventually become the 'chosen' new Israel.

Can we know 'when' the end really is upon us? 

25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Don't be distracted by the evil of man. Men will destroy one another, but evil at the hand of mankind, though daunting, is not the sign of the end. The actual sign of the end of this world will be supernatural - happenings completely out of the control of mankind. At that time the evil of mankind all around you will fade in comparison with what you will see arriving from beyond this world. Don't be misled by the power of man - either in the beautiful things man has created or by the things man has the power to destroy. Trust fully in God alone. 

29 Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 34 “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; 35 for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. 36 But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” 

'This generation' implies that the first generation disciples of Jesus would live to see the end of this world and his second coming. Yet, two thousand years later, they are all long dead and we are here. Was Jesus wrong? Or, have we misunderstood the meaning of 'this' generation? What if 'this generation' refers to the generation that exists at the time when the 'powers of heaven will be shaken'?

Whatever the case, the salient point is this: do not let your heart be distracted by wealth, prestige, or power. Surrender your whole heart to the God in whom you profess to believe and trust in. Keep alert so that your faith is not shaken. Keep alert by keeping your eyes upon God, not upon man. Be on guard against anything that will distract you from trusting in God. If you place your trust in man, in power, in wealth, or in worldly prestige today - you will not have what it will take to survive tomorrow when the Son of Man returns. Fully trusting in Jesus today is the only way to live by faith tomorrow. The truth is not found in earthly things, but in the Person of Christ.

37 Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.

The message of Jesus appealed to the people because it was a message that spoke to their hearts - whoever they were, rich or poor, free or bond, Jew or Gentile. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Luke 20:41-47 Reasoning From the Implied

41 Then He said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son? 

The Sadducees has just presented a cleverly conceived scenario (v. 28-32) to Jesus with the hope that they could catch him either in denying the Law of Moses or denying belief in the resurrection as taught by the Pharisees and believed by many of Jesus' followers. Jesus responded with a far more clever answer that did not force him to deny either option. 

He then went on to suggest that the resurrection was actually implied in the Torah, even if not explicitly stated as a fundamental belief. It turned out to be an interpretation that even some of the scribes accepted as reasonable. In his answer, Jesus assumed that God is only God to living people. So, if Moses could say - under the inspiration all Jews believed was occurring at the 'burning bush' - that the Lord is the God of Abraham who had been long since deceased, then Abraham must be alive since God is not God to the dead. That being so, then Abraham must have been resurrected. This is a strange argument and a particularly daunting one for those who believe in soul sleep (See 1 Th 4:13-18; Ps 115:17; Is 38:19; Job14; Acts 2:28,34). 

What do you think about that kind of reasoning - reasoning from what may be considered as implied by a statement that was not originally intended to be a statement about doctrine in general, and the resurrection in particular? 

Jesus, according to Luke's gospel, did not cease his argument even at that point. He went on to illustrate a manner of interpretation of the OT scriptures that does no sit well with many Christians who prefer to only accept the plain, contextual meaning of scripture. It is a type of reasoning that theologians might call eisegetical. Jesus often used this method to confound his enemies. (see Ps 82:6; Jn 10:30-36)

Here again, Jesus threw his enemies off balance by introducing another scripture that he had interpreted in a manner that was clearly within the realm of Jewish practice - because they apparently accepted his logic - yet it did not reflect the plain, contextualized understanding of the verse. How can the Messiah be the 'son' of David - as everyone assumed, yet David calls him Lord? (Ps 110:1)  We need to be careful to avoid glossing over this point.

42 For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 

So, the Psalmist wrote that God spoke to David's Master - the Messiah, as the rest of the Psalm makes clear. Thus, Jesus' question to his enemies, how can the Messiah be a descendent of King David, yet exist at the time of David, unless the Messiah is much more than a descendent of David? The Messiah would have to be like Melchizedek - without beginning or end (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:1-3). Was the psalmist not really inspired and thus wrong in what he wrote? Was the psalmist accurate in what he stated, but we have wrongly applied it to Jesus rather than to a contemporary of David’s - i.e. one of his sons who would eventually rule over David? 

43 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’ 

The Messiah would, according to the Psalmist, have enemies, yet he would eventually crush out all his enemies. In other words, according the the OT, the Messiah would not only be a savior of those who place their faith in God's grace, but he would also be a mighty king who would destroy those who act against God's chosen people.

44 Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord,’ and how is He his son?” 

All this, of course, once again begs the question - from the perspective of King David's psalm, how could the Messiah - as Christians believe Jesus is - be both the authoritative master of King David and yet also be his 'son' (descendant)? How is this logically possible, unless there is much more to existence than what humans commonly encounter? 

If David was simply saying that one of his own sons had exceeded him to the throne and effectively became David's master, then this might make sense. Yet, this 'Lord' was to 'sit at the right hand of God' and be the ultimate destroyer of all of God's enemies. This certainly was not true of any of David's sons, nor descendants - except... 

Assuming that Jesus was a descendant of King David, he did not accomplish this final victory either - at least during his lifetime - unless he conquered the greatest enemy of God's people - sin and the Devil - and is currently sitting at the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 2:33; 7:55; Rom 8:34; Heb 8:1). 

45 And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 

Though some of the scribes had concluded that Jesus' had 'spoken well' (v. 39), the bulk of the scribes were operating as a 'satan' to the people. They were obstructing their ability to see and know God. The scribes were so narrowly interpreting the scriptures that they were missing the salient point of all scripture - which was to lead us to see God. 

The scribes were far more interested in their positions of influence than in any efforts to turn the hearts of the people to God. Instead of discipling others to follow God, they conspired with one another to hoodwink the population into following the religious elite. The narrowness of their interpretations of scripture were, for all intents and purposes, totally self-serving. Jesus was, from their perspective, ruining everything they had built up. They didn't want a savior from what they had. They wanted a 'savior' from the Savior. So, they became in cahoots with the government. They wanted the secular powers to act on their behalf, to keep alive their religious realm. Clearly, they did not believe in nor trust in the power of the Almighty. In fact, they showed no fear of God, as if they did not really believe that God existed. 

47 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”

Jesus' condemnation of these religious elites was not over. Not only did they diss God and his Christ, they stole from the weakest among their people and then covered their tracks by the appearance of religiosity - long, tedious prayers. But, God was not listening to their prayers because their hearts were far from them. As Jesus said, these scribes were dangerous to the faith of the people and thus would receive the greater condemnation. 

Religious leaders who don't lead people to Christ, will become the footstool of Christ.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Luke 20:27-40 Rule of Law?

27 Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), 

According to Josephus, the Sadducees believed there is no such thing as 'fate'; that God does not commit evil - though man has been given the freedom to choose either good or evil; that the soul is not immortal - thus there is no resurrection to an afterlife either as a reward for faith in God nor a place of eternal torture as a penalty for not placing faith in God. Should these beliefs label the Sadducees as either liberal or conservative? Depending on what you read, you will find one or the other label applied to them.

As this text establishes, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection - at least not as the Pharisees did nor as most Christians do today. Though there are texts in the Torah that imply a resurrection, there are no explicit statements about resurrection. Later, particularly in the book of Daniel, the afterlife is explicitly stated.

In this confrontation with Jesus, the Sadducees legalistically point to the 'rule of law' - the precise words of the Torah - in order to undermine the authority of Jesus. The Sadducees apparently believed that the Torah was a guide to the here-and-now, not the here-after. Jesus challenged their interpretation of the law rather eisegetically. 

28 and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother. 

The Sadducees were interpreting the Torah literally. The passage is from Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’

For Jesus, this law was not in question, at least prior to the cross - which raises a question for those who do not believe that the New Covenant was inaugurated at the cross, effectively moving believers from being 'under the law' to being 'under grace'. In other words, we no longer abide by this, or any other, 'rule of law' as stated plainly in the Torah. Can you imagine Christians living by this law in 21st century American society?

What Jesus did question was the Sadducees legalistically narrow interpretation of this law.   

29 Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30 and the second 31 and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally the woman died also. 33 In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.”

Of course the Sadducees were playing to the belief in resurrection as taught by both Jesus and the Pharisees in the first century. If we assume there will be a resurrection, then 'whose wife would she be'? Will all 7 brothers be forever considered to be the husband of this one woman? 

It was, at least at first blush, a clever argument indeed - yet it unwittingly assumed too much. Confirmation bias is a common error. It assumed that there was one and only one way to interpret scripture the seemingly plain language of scripture. 

Jesus listened. He did not deny that the Torah did teach this practice. He did not even suggest that the practice was misguided or should be ignored or excised from the scriptures. But... 

34 Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 

The Message Bible translates verse 35-36 in this manner:

Jesus said, “Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there. Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. 

So, while Jesus confirmed the Mosaic 'Rule of Law' at that point in history, he undermined their argument from the law without actually arguing about the factuality of the resurrection. He did exactly what the Sadducees had done. If we assume, for argument's sake, that there is a resurrection, then...'  Jesus, at first, effectively sidestepped the whole debate about the existence of a resurrection simply by dismissing the basis of the argument as presented by the Sadducees. But he wasn't finished. He went on to establish the doctrine of the resurrection from the Torah itself, demonstrating that the Law could demand what it did AND there a resurrection could be plausibly assumed from the Law itself.

Though Jesus preached a gospel of grace, he also respected the law. When the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery (Jn 8:4) was thrown in front of Jesus with the demand that he condemn her according to the 'rule of law', Jesus didn't deny the existence or the value of the Law, but presented another way of dealing with the situation. The 'Rule of Law' is a political issue in our day as well. We need law, but we must - as Jesus always did - understand that the law is to help humanity. Loving our neighbor must always trump loving the law. 

37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” 

In other words, how could Moses truthfully speak about the 'God of Abraham' when Abraham was long since dead? How can God be God to someone who ceases to exist - or so Jesus' argued. Jesus was giving evidence for a resurrection, but was he also saying that when we die, 'we' don't really ever die - that our 'soul' continues to communicate with God? It is one thing to believe in a resurrection at the end of this world, when Jesus returns, as written in 1 Th 4:13-18, but quite a different thing to suggest that some intelligent essence of man remains in communion with God even after the body has died.

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Is only the physical body 'asleep', but the mind is not? Can there be a mind apart from the brain? Age old questions, right?

In Ps 115:17, though, we are told that the dead no longer praise the Lord (see Is 38:19). 

In Job 14, we read:

7 “For there is hope for a tree when it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and its shoots will not fail. 8 “Though its roots grow old in the ground and its stump dies in the dry soil, 9 At the scent of water it will flourish and put forth sprigs like a plant. 10 “But man dies and lies prostrate. Man expires, and where is he? 11 “As water evaporates from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dried up, 12 so man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no longer, he will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep."

"David ... is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day." "For David is not ascended into the heavens." (Act 2:29,34)

So, how should we understand Jesus' response to the Sadducees? 

39 Some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything.

Did the scribes merely acquiesce to Jesus' cleverness, knowing that the people sided with Jesus, or did they actually think Jesus' answer made sense? Does Jesus' answer make sense to you? If so, how do you reconcile old and new testament bible texts that appear to be saying something contrary to what Jesus implied in his answer? 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Luke 20:19-26 In The World, but...

19 The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. 

Fear led the scribes and chief priests to want to kill Jesus, and fear of the people led them not to act at that moment. Though 'fear' plays an essential and even natural role in human survival, we often fear the wrong things. We fear difference - difference in skin color, culture, religion, social status, education, ideas, gender, politics, and we fear facing the truth about ourselves. We fear reality, thus we attempt to preserve our preferred 'truthiness' rather than actual reality. 

Only an educated mind can choose to be enlightened by difference rather than become fearful every time we encounter something different. Society often chooses to regulate our fears through laws, but since the impulse to fear is rooted in our human nature, laws - secular and/or religious -  cannot erase our fear. For example, fear of punishment if one expresses a racist sentiment may squelch our desire to give voice to our thoughts, but not our thoughts. Our fear of punishment may outweigh our fear of difference, but does not change the fact of our natural fear of difference.

The chief priests and scribes feared Jesus. They feared that the truths he taught and preached would undermine their way of life - their position of power and the system of religion that had existed among the Jews for centuries. They feared change. Change requires thinking. The status quo does not. Ironically, they found themselves forced to think anyways, yet they channeled all their thinking on how to keep their world from changing rather than to try to understand why the change was not only necessary - but also prophesied in the very oracles they we charged with protecting.

20 So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor. 

Fear prompts the fearful to exaggerate, manipulate, and confiscate. Wherever we find an inordinate amount of lying, we will find excessive fear. We often attempt to disguise our fears with anger, hoping that our anger will legitimize our fears in the hearing of others. 

The leaders of the Jews angrily presented their fears to the governor in a manner that appeared as legitimate concern for the welfare of the nation. The teachings of Jesus would upset the apple-cart which may require Caesar to send in troops and blame the governor for allowing things to get out of hand. The scribes and chief priests just needed to find something - some act or statement - that could be used as proof of their claims against Jesus. So, they attempted to entrap him, as they had before (Jn 8:8). 

21 They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 

Flattery makes for a useful tool to manipulate others. Again, because of our nature, we love having our ego stroked. When we embrace flattery, we get distracted from the real issues, and can more easily be led to say more than we ordinarily would have if we had kept our wits about us. How did the scribes and chief priests know about this approach? Clearly, they had used it before.

The set up was to proclaim that the teachings of Jesus were always correct. In other words, whatever he said was exactly what he believed. Now, if they could just get him to say something that he believed, yet was contrary to what the governor believed was acceptable, they would have their evidence - evidence witnessed by all the people.

The issue of taxes, then as now, is always al touchy subject. Human nature is self-centered. We don't want to give up anything that we believe is rightfully ours. Paying taxes, no matter how wonderful their application for the good of society, is never what we prefer to do. The scribes and the chief priests were well aware of the fact that the followers of Jesus didn't like taxation, any more than we like it today. Humans will search for ways not to pay taxes, even to their own disadvantage. 

So, the question, 'Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?' In other words, we are Jews. We have our own nation. How can it be proper to support a ruler who is not one of us? This was a damned if you do, damned it you don't, type of question. The Jewish leaders banked on the fact that Jesus would pander to his crowd, just as they would do. And, as soon as he did, they would take his words to the governor. 

23 But He detected their trickery and said to them, 24 “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 

It was cleverly designed entrapment. Except, Jesus was not like other men. He was human and tempted as are all humans, but the locus of his decision making was not centered in himself, but in his Father. Jesus' mission was not to fix the kingdoms of this world, but to invite the people of this world into the heavenly kingdom. He distinguished between this world and the the heavenly. He was 'in this world, but not of it'. His heart was married to the heavenly, not the earthly. He wept over the earthly, not because he couldn't fix our kingdoms, but because so many of his own people were not interested in his heavenly kingdom. They not only lived 'in this world, but were fully of this world'. 

Having his heart firmly wedded to the heavenly while his feet carried him through the earthly, Jesus was perfectly positioned to give an unanticipated response to his enemies. What is of this world, belongs in this world. We live in this world, so follow the rules of this world. Yet, keep your heart pure by becoming a citizen of the kingdom of God. We are dual citizens. We are in this world and must live with the realities of this existence. Yet, our hearts do not need to embrace the motives of this world or even the impulses of our earthly nature.  

25 And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

We can, through faith in God's grace, choose to acknowledge this world without clinging to this world in heart. Abide by the laws of this world, while recognizing that there is something much better for those who enter the kingdom of God. Give to man his due, but give your heart to God. We can do both. We must do both. Jesus did both. It was with this in mind that the apostle Paul could give his counsel found in Romans 13.

26 And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.

Jesus' response not only silenced his enemies for the moment, but exposed the truth about who owned their hearts. It was not God.