Posts Tagged With: Historicity

Good, Better, and Best: A Meal with Martha, Mary, and Jesus

Good, Better, and Best: A Meal with Martha, Mary, and Jesus
Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself ? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

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Usually when we hear about Mary and Martha, we hear human-centered moralisms that exhort us to be more like Mary, because it says Mary chose the wiser. But that misses the more transcendent point. Ultimately, this text isn’t really about Mary or Martha, but is instead mostly about Jesus: The most overlooked aspect of this text is the astonishing fact that God himself is WITH them there in their home. The creator and sustainer of the entire universe (Col 1:15-20) is sitting in their humble Bethany home WITH Mary and Martha; and enjoying their company no less. Astounding!

In this devotional, we will take a look at these three main characters: The good (Martha), the better (Mary), and the best (Jesus).

1. The GOOD: Martha

Martha typically gets a bad rap in this story as an overly-anxious worker bee, but Jesus doesn’t admonish her for her service. He’s not angry or critical at all; in fact, his tone is quite empathetic and his emphasis focuses on the internal anyway.

"Martha"; Velazquez

“Martha”; Velazquez

So to roll up our sleeves, put on an apron, unlock a homeless shelter or soup kitchen door, or grab a Bible and to get to work for Christ is not a bad thing at all. Of course not. On the contrary, each of us is an integral part of the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor 12), and we are each given spiritual gifts at the point of our regeneration (Eph 2:10) for the building up of and service to the community, in Christ’s name. It’s our calling as Christians.

It’s not that Martha chose a bad thing, it’s that she just didn’t choose the better thing; the better option available at the time. Instead she became annoyed and resentful about her sister Mary who was sitting at the feet of Jesus.

2. The BETTER: Mary

Mary adored Jesus from the depths of her soul. She had much to be thankful for because she had much which was forgiven.

Case in point: Let’s rewind a few chapters in the gospel of Luke. Back in chapter 7, there is a different account about another meal where once again Martha was serving (especially noted in John 12:2) and Mary* was at Jesus’ feet. And in this earlier text, Mary the ex-prostitute (“woman who lived a sinful life” 7:37), is seen pouring out her alabaster jar of expensive perfume, mixing it with the sobbing tears of repentant joy, and figuratively anointing Jesus for (future) burial. That she would even be allowed to worship Jesus in that extravagant way, in the presence of men, in the home of a Pharisee (one who made decisions based on clean and unclean; staying AWAY from religiously unclean people), and using the tainted perfume a prostitute uses to mask the odors of her male customers is nothing short of amazing; an unabashed exhibit of new life.

"Christ With Martha and Mary"; Vermeer 1654-55

“Christ With Martha and Mary”; Vermeer 1654-55

And now to return to our meal in Bethany (ch.10), the biographer Dr. Luke describes that Mary was sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (vs.39 logos = λόγος). Let’s stop for a moment and make it clear that Mary isn’t merely sitting and looking up at Jesus’ face all doe-eyed while he smiled on. No! Jesus was talking, it says. As per usual, he was always teaching about himself; the Kingdom of God, and here was Mary listening, learning, and worshiping.

There are some who would say that “being” with Jesus means just to sit blankly and meditate quietly and while there is certainly the place for that type of contemplative prayer, this is NOT what’s going on here in our story. Instead, Mary is listening intently to Jesus’ Words.

We who also follow Christ would do well, when we sit prayerfully with Him (either in group or individual worship settings), to have the focal point also be his words; the Word of God: The scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments which all testify to Jesus; from beginning to end: To talk less and listen more.**

Any more about this story, we just don’t know. We aren’t privy to the behind the scenes about whether Mary ever helped serve or whether the sisters took turns serving and listening; the gospels don’t tell us. But what they do tell us is that God himself, Jesus Christ, was in their home, in their midst, enjoying their company. Wow!

3. The BEST: Jesus

The simplistic and moralistic message of “Mary chose better… go and do likewise” completely misses the opulent and vital theme of grace. This story, and all of the Bible, is really not about them, you, me, or us at all. It’s all about HIM.

The takeaway of this narrative is that we have a Lord who adores his people so much that he was willing to leave his comforts and throne (as well as his pre-existing intimacy with his Father) and let all those things go (for a time) in order to draw Mary, Martha, you, and me into that similar sweet place of intimacy with himself. That is a life-changing notion.

The most important lesson to learn from this narrative is that the God of the universe loved his people so deeply that at a historic place and time, he became a man and was (and is) content to sit in our midst and enjoy our company as we worship him with our repentance, thankfulness, and attentiveness.

Our Lord Jesus is worthy of all our sincere service and our worshipful adoration.

~Wade

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From the gospel reading for July 29th, “The Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany”.

*Not all commentators agree that the “sinful woman” in chapter 7 is the Mary of Bethany of chapter 10. To me, there are enough clues across all the gospels to make that significant connection. The John 12 account that has Martha again serving is one piece of strong evidence. The Luke 8:1-2 passage following immediately on the heels of Lk 7 which starts off “after that” (though not necessarily immediate and chronological) and lists Mary continuing as traveling companion in Jesus’ entourage is another piece. Ultimately, I like to stay close to the text and let the text speak.  With this issue, I’m playing analytic detective a bit.

**Martha was the more vocal sister (seen also in the death of Lazarus narrative in John 11) and wanted Jesus to listen to HER words where Mary was the more quiet sister and listened to HIS words instead. Today, in our devotional lives, we often give God our complaints and requests far more than we let his Word (the scriptures of both the OT and NT) speak powerfully into our minds and hearts. There should be a balance.

***vs.40 “help me”, the Greek συναντιλαμβάνομαι is only used one other time in the NT. In Romans 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness ; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words ”. Interesting and spiritually uplifting to ponder the connection between Martha’s request for help and the Holy Spirit’s intercessory help in our time of weakness and need.

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Categories: Bible, Blessed Life, Christian Service, Devotional, Mary & Martha, Repentance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ascension Day

Luke 24:44-53 44 Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

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There has been a renewed emphasis recently about the descent of Jesus (and what that means both theologically and practically) and while that is vital, the ascent of Jesus, that returning back to where he originally came from, back to the Father’s side, back to the heavenly throne, that ascent is just as crucial as well. It informs us about essential things we absolutely must know.

Dosso Dossi

Dosso Dossi

The ascension story only occurs in the Luke gospel (and in his companion book “Acts of the Apostles”) and is curiously succinct. It has been noted that the book of Luke is lengthy for the typical papyrus writings of his day so we can almost imagine Luke running out of room on that particular gospel scroll. What a quandary! He had interviewed so many witnesses, had personally traveled with the Apostle Paul on many journeys, and therefore had so much to say and yet precious little room left to say it; so here Luke finds himself, at the very end, running out of papyrus to write on. Consequently, Dr. Luke’s telling of this story is very brief.

Despite being so concise, however, this Ascension of Jesus narrative is dense and packed with details for us to learn both about Jesus and also about us. In this devotional, we will break down this passage into seven segments (as they occur in order in this storyline) and we will see why this passage is so important.

1. The Resurrected Lord (v44).

The first item to notice, right away in verse 44, is that Jesus has indeed been resurrected as he had promised: This Jesus here talking to his disciples has a changed body that can now walk through walls and yet also eat fish. Ultimately what we should notice is that Jesus is undeniably alive; thusly confirming the authenticity of his life, ministry, and teachings, and he is now appearing to his friends a final time with something very important to say before he ascends to the Father.

This is not the first post-resurrection appearance; other apostles have spoken and written about other group appearances (the women at the tomb, the two men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples on the boat, the crowd of over 500, to Saul/Paul, etc) but this is the last time they see him in his post-resurrection pre-glorified state.

Jesus is Lord, the power of God has been majestically displayed in the reality of his resurrection, and that which he said would occur has already taken place: He is now ready to ascend to the Father.

2. The Revealed WORD (v44-46)

In verses 44-46, Jesus continues the theme found earlier in this Luke chapter 24 where on the Road to Emmaus the newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ walked beside two disheartened disciples, teaching them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course (so to speak) as he explained how all of those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM. They didn’t get it at first.

Here in this narrative, much like earlier in the Emmaus episode, Jesus speaks of the major categories of Old Testament scripture (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) and this is a synecdoche; where one part stands in for the entire whole. Our Lord Jesus has a high view of scripture, quoting it with the prefatory “it is written” (64 times), and his gist is that the Bible isn’t so much about the Jews or even mankind in general, holy or otherwise. Instead it is all about him.

It is not about us, nor about them. It is all about HIM!

Where this teaching may have been initially misunderstood (or at least not fully comprehended) by his disciples before his death, now they’re starting to get it. After the resurrection there comes a spiritual clarity that is bestowed upon them. How does this happen? Verse 45: “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures”.

This word “opened”, the Greek dianoigo, refers to a thorough opening of something that had been previously closed (never before opened). It is used 8 times in the all the New Testament where 7 of those 8 times is by Luke in his gospel or Acts. Some enlightening instances are found in Mark 7:34 (the ephphatha healing) where he opens the ears of the mute, and in Luke 24:31 in Emmaus where he opened the two men’s eyes so that they could recognize him. Then also in Acts 7:56 where Stephen being stoned saw the heavens opened as he was being martyred. And then additionally in Acts 16:14 where the Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to believe Apostle Paul’s evangelistic message.

The Apostle John writes that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Jesus is the revealed word of God and these disciples are now starting to get it as their minds have now been opened.

3. The Repentant Heart (v47)

Jesus connects repentance with forgiveness of sins in the next verse 47. In all honesty, this concept of repentance makes our modern (and postmodern) minds uncomfortable, so we like to sweep it under the rug. Why? Because repentance, the Greek word metanoia, means a changed mind, attitude, and behavior: We are called to be changed.

This distresses us as we don’t really want to change. Our self-centeredness kicks in here. We want everyone else to change, just not ourselves; but in order to be formed more and more into the image of Christ, we must.

This repentance, this internal (and ongoing) change, is intricately linked with the forgiveness here in this passage. Not that we work it or earn it in any way, but that instead we receive it; for our repentance signifies and proves that the Spirit is sanctifying us; changing us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. All by grace and fueled by his love.

This speaks to a major aspect why Christ died on the cross: To forgive sins. Not simply our individual pet sin actions and behaviors, but our comprehensive foundational sin nature that works itself out (often at inopportune times) into regrettable sin actions.

And lest we fool ourselves that sin only signifies the large obvious negative categories like murder, war, adultery, and robbery, we must be aware that it also denotes the small subtle positive categories like family, church work, community involvement and acceptance; basically every way (especially these positive “good” ways) where we link our identity to anything outside of Jesus Christ.

4. The Responsibility of Witness (v47-49)

The good news of God’s love was never meant to be hidden or selfishly contained; it was always meant to be generously shared with all peoples everywhere. It is for every nation, tribe, tongue, and generation; everyone. To both the religious and to the irreligious; to the self-important and to the humble; to the leadership and to the outcasts: To all nations.

Because of this, his disciples are others-centered. We are called to be evangelizers; sharers of the great news of new life in the risen and ascended Christ; both in word and deed. This witness must proceed to the easy crowds who accept the message quickly, and also to the difficult crowds who do not; those who persecute and attempt to destroy the life of Christ within us.

Since the initial disciples were with Jesus as he walked the streets, teaching and healing, there is a double meaning in the word witness here in that they were not only called to go as witnesses (Great Commission), but they were also received as eyewitnesses; of his life, death, and resurrection. Luke himself gives us a peek into how he gathered the reports to include in his gospel (and Acts) in the first two sentences of his gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1-2)

To Dr. Luke, the historian, these accounts are historically accurate in that he has investigated and interviewed eyewitnesses who have testified to their experiences. So these initial eyewitnesses are also the witnesses who are called to propel the message forward: To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and they did go on to do exactly that: To witness to the reality that the Messiah did suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (v46).

This was a great responsibility culminating in the martyrdom of many of those early apostles and disciples; the story of the early church is the story of the good news going forward despite the dangers and bloodshed that awaited them. This too is our responsibility and our joy.

5. The Remaining for Power (v49)

What the disciples were called to do would be absolutely impossible without God’s active intervention so Jesus instructed those disciples (verse 49) to wait in the city for what was promised; that they would become clothed with power from on high. This concept becomes clearer a bit later in Acts 2:33; Pentecost: The powerful arrival of the promised Holy Spirit who would rest upon and live inside each believer.

But all this would have to wait until Jesus ascended back to the Father, and then together they would send the Spirit to fill and empower the disciples for life and ministry.

What does this mean? That this life of the Spirit of Christ who is active inside our hearts is both a seal and stamp of our adoption as sons/daughters of God, but is also the energizing force for life and ministry.

So as promised, this power would indeed come at Pentecost and would then propel the disciples to spread across the known world (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and beyond) sharing the good news of the suffered and risen Christ.

But as for now, in verse 49, Jesus called the disciples to wait. They could not carry on without this gift. Earlier, they had tried to heal diseases and perform miracles in his name and often failed (Mt 17:16); they needed to be empowered by the Spirit first before going forward.

6. The Rising to the Father (v50-51)

Upon blessing his disciples, and after teaching them what he had wanted them to know, it was now time. Jesus’ earthly work had come to a conclusion and he was ready to return to the Father; back to heaven. He had accomplished redemption on the cross (for both mankind and the cosmos) and with his resurrection had proven that his kingdom had indeed arrived.

Marc Chagall - Zurich

Marc Chagall – Zurich

Interestingly, this short text tells us very little about this ascension event. Luke simply says in verse 51 that Jesus “withdrew from them” and then that he was “carried up into heaven”. Very little description or detail accompanies it.

We do read a bit more about the ascension in the book of Acts where Luke launches into his second volume with a quick recap: In Acts 1:1-11 it is recorded that Jesus was “taken up to heaven”, that “he was taken up before their very eyes”, and a “cloud hid them from their sight”. Not much detail beyond that. Why might that be?

Perhaps there is a reason for this lack of detail. Perhaps it’s because it’s less important that future readers see an exciting Hollywood screen-reel in our minds and more important that we see the significance of the reality of what the ascension truly means.

And the ascension means that Jesus’ work on earth is done:

  1. Jesus could now send the Holy Spirit to empower us and would no longer be limited in location anymore.
  2. As Great High Priest, he performed the once-only perfect sacrifice for sins that all of the previous atonements from past millennia only partially accomplished and pointed towards; he had fully atoned for the sin and brokenness of both mankind and our world.
  3. As the spotless Lamb of God, he was sacrificed for sins, shedding his innocent blood for our redemption.
  4. As Advocate/Lawyer extraordinaire, he argued the case for justice (as it were) before the judgment seat of God and won; his case was airtight because the penalty had already been paid for, by Jesus himself.
  5. As Supreme Ruler, Jesus returned to and now sits on the very throne of God in heaven.  He holds together all things in the cosmos and is king and ruler of every realm.

The most quoted text in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’.” Jesus is Lord and King over all.

Jesus had to ascend in order for this redemptive chapter to come to its final conclusion (from God’s perspective) and it allowed for his presence to be spread abroad in all our hearts and not just remain proximally with that small group of disciples there in Judea.

7. The Repetition of Praise (v52-53)

The narrative (and Luke’s gospel) ends with the disciples in perpetual praise. As Jesus has ascended back to the heavenly throne to be with the Father, ruling and reigning over all things forever, the disciples responded in the only way they could: They worshiped him, they were filled with great joy, and they stayed in the Temple blessing and praising (Greek word eulogeo) God.

If the resurrection and ascension are true, then it changes everything. It validates Jesus’ teachings and his atoning death and proves that our redemption has indeed been accomplished. This is not only good news but fantastic news and should change every aspect of our lives.

To go forward rather with a lukewarm attitude towards Jesus (and the cross) would be absolute nonsense. To go forward with continued self-reliance, self-centeredness, and all accompanying idolatry would also be a ridiculous response.

Those initial disciples knew all these events to be true, as they were eyewitnesses (having been with Jesus from the beginning), and it changed them completely. They were propelled forward with joyful and repeated praise in spite of the dangers, persecution, and martyrdom that awaited them.

To summarize, the understanding about the ascension of Jesus Christ is vital and therefore should be given the rightful place in our minds and hearts. In a figurative sense, Jesus’ ascension was the very spark that ignited the towering timber pile: The logs had been chosen, cut, then placed in array, the tinder has been perfectly and strategically situated, and that spark initiated the brilliant and glorious fireworks of the next chapter in the life and growth of the Church.  The ascension was the event that proved to be the accelerant.

#Wade

Categories: Ascension, Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Holy Spirit, Repentance, Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Shocking and Offensive Death (pt.4) — The CIRCLE OF WOMEN

GOOD FRIDAY : The CIRCLE OF WOMEN (pt.4 of 4)

MARK 15:33-41 (also Mt 27:45-56; Lk 23:44-49; Jn 19:29-30)

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

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In a time, place, and culture(s) where women were genuinely viewed as inferior and secondary, and where their testimony was not even admissible in court, the gospels are truly counter-cultural; not simply in ideology, but in practice.  To base the perceived credibility of the authenticity of the post-death and resurrection accounts of Jesus on the testimony of women is nothing short of shocking and offensive; almost absurd.  Nobody in their right mind would have written this detail into these accounts unless, of course, it was completely true.

The Circle of WomenThis begs the question why would Mark (as the scribe/amanuensis under the watchful eye of Apostle Peter) highlight this circle of women as primary witnesses?

Even today there exists significant gender discrimination towards females within Middle-Eastern cultures, and back then the testimony of women wouldn’t even stand up in court.  So why not be more protective of the precarious fledgling church, and write about the men in the crowd instead?

The only possible answer is that perhaps it is because these events were exactly what took place on that day, that Good Friday, and also that there was something about the liberating kingdom of God which would become evident in the retelling of the story highlighted and focused that way.  Women are no longer secondary but are instead liberated by the Lord Jesus into full equality in the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is the great liberator.

What we discovered in the previous episode of this devotional series (regarding the Centurion) was that Jesus levels the playing fields in terms of socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds (and so on); but the good news does not stop there.  It’s not just Jesus’ inclusivity as opposed to the exclusivity of the religious and political cultures back then, but it’s about the true liberation of all people within the construct of following Christ as King and Lord.

The gospels are replete with stories showcasing that the group of disciples that followed Jesus included women.  And though they differed in gender, they followed and were accepted even to the point of holding important roles within his group of followers. Verse 41 says that these women …had followed him and cared for his needs.  The English word “followed” is translated from the Greek akoloutheo meaning one who “joins as a disciple”.

The phrase “cared for his needs”, which is also translated “ministered to him” comes from the Greek word diakoneo where we get our word “deacon”.  These women were more than secondary servants to Jesus.  They weren’t just doing dishes and watching babies in the background; this circle of women were full disciples that participated in diaconal ministry in a time and place where this was absolutely taboo.

Jesus Christ is the great liberator.

What we learn from these gospel accounts, as well as from the epistles, is that Jesus frees people up from culturally-determined limits and bondage to human rules, roles, and expectations.  This was very true for the circle of women who stood “at a distance” with the other disciples that Good Friday on that hill at Calvary.  And a few days later, it was some from that same circle of women who were first on the scene to witness the empty tomb and the newly resurrected Lord Jesus.  Those women were the ones who reported to the other disciples (including the future apostles who would go on in power to spread the good news across multiple continents).  This circle of women was integral to the account.

Stepping back to summarize this four part devotional series, it’s important to review that these narratives would have come across as shocking and offensive; almost the direct opposite of what would have been expected. The gospel writers, these first century biographers, include and even highlight aspects of the story (the CRY, the torn CURTAIN, the CENTURION, and the CIRCLE OF WOMEN) which would make sense strategically only if these accounts are reliable and true.

Otherwise, if these accounts were fabricated we would expect Jesus’ crying out in the Garden to be heroic not weak; the Temple elevated in importance not torn asunder; a Temple leader ascribing divinity to Jesus but certainly not a Roman guard; and by all means the primary witnesses to the final death and resurrection accounts would have be trustworthy male religious leaders instead women!  But instead the Gospel writers apparently reported simply what happened, come what may.

All four of these elements could have been counter-productive in reaching the culture with the message of Jesus, but they weren’t; quite the contrary took place.  In spite of enormous odds (including the martyrdom and torture of the faithful), this new fledgling fragile church grew and expanded beyond the borders to become a large force in the world and a testimony to the divinity, love, and grace of Jesus; by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was truly good news: The best news ever.

Jesus, the liberator. Our Savior, Lord, and King.

#Wade

Part 1: The Cry (vs.33-37)
Part 2: The Curtain (vs.38)
Part 3: The Centurion (vs.39)
Part 4: The Circle of Women (vs.40-41)

Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Good Friday, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Shocking and Offensive Death (pt.3) –The CENTURION

GOOD FRIDAY: The CENTURION (pt.3 of 4)

MARK 15:33-41pp (also Mt 27:45-56; Lk 23:44-49; Jn 19:29-30)

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

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Imagine that you were that centurion, that Roman regiment commander who oversees 100 soldiers, that military leader who has orders to stand guard at the crucifixion of Jesus that day.  Public executions like this took place often enough that likely it was not your first or your last crucifixion, so in a way it had gotten to be routine for you, but something about this one transfixed you in a deeply emotional way.

Though the Jews had clearly missed the Messianic expectation, here was an outsider, a Gentile Roman centurion, who became unexpectedly sparked towards making a faith proclamation about Jesus.  So we will investigate by answering three questions: Who was this centurion, what did he say, and what can we learn?

1.   Who was this centurion?

There seem to be two views regarding the identity of this soldier.  The first view, held by Church tradition, was that this man was Longinus, from the 4th century apocryphal “Acts of Pilate”.  Since then, he’s been regarded as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition.  Can this be proven?  No, and the late date (4th century) which was hundreds of years after all eyewitnesses had been dead can be viewed as potentially suspect.

good friday the centurion longinusThe second view is that we don’t know the exact identity of this centurion as he is not named in the narrative, and possibly this could be purposeful.  There are other centurions mentioned elsewhere in the gospels (Mt. 8, Lk. 7 displays the faith of another centurion), and in Acts (Cornelius in Acts 10:22, another named Julius in Acts 27:1), but we don’t know anything else about our centurion standing guard here at the cross; whether he’s the same centurion named in other New Testament narratives, we just don’t know.  Most likely, he is not.

This centurion is not named and that lack of information possibly tells us something.  Current scholars like Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) have done extensive investigation into the gospel narratives (and their history/culture/etc) and they have something fascinating to say.  Bauckham’s thesis, which he argues convincingly, is that the gospel narratives were written based on eyewitness accounts; they are 1st century biographies (different than modern/postmodern biographies; another topic altogether) and therefore when an eyewitness was known within the early church, their name was attached to their account.  An example like this is that Cleopas was the only one of two disciples named in Luke 24 and therefore he would likely have been the “source” because others would have known his name, known of him, and could go and question (or even challenge) him about his testimony.

With that in mind, since this centurion in Mark 15 is not named, he was most likely either not alive, not around the vicinity anymore, or not known within the christian community; possibly because he had not become part of the growing group that were following Jesus.   This would tell us something of the faith depth of his declaration about Jesus in verse 39.

2.  What did this centurion say?

Having been stationed at the foot of the cross, this centurion clearly had seen and heard Jesus.  Something about Jesus’ words, behavior, and demeanor were other-worldly.  This was obviously a crucifixion unlike all the others so this centurion was deeply moved to the point of verbally proclaiming, “Surely this man was the Son of God!

Though it seems like there might be a conversion taking place, we must stay close to the text and not read anything into the text that’s not there.  It would be easy to run with verse 39 and proclaim something to the effect that this centurion was the first Gentile converted after Jesus’ death, how exciting that is and so on, but that would be assuming too much.  Instead, we must not presume anything beyond what we know, for we only know what we’re told plus what we can accurately determine from context along with other clues.

All we know is that this man standing guard, this Roman military centurion, a Gentile, made the public declaration that Jesus must have been a son or the son of God (or of the gods); the Greek article o (otou o) has some flexibility depending on context.  We could make much more of a statement of faith than what’s really there, but that would be improper because the text doesn’t give us any more than that.  Regardless, the centurion viewed the powerful death of Jesus as signifying a certain level of divinity and he bravely vocalized that in spite of his professional allegiance to Caesar as his Roman god and lord.

Now, if the centurion was indeed Longinus, then he did make a valid profession of faith, or at least the beginnings of a life of faith culminating in his sainthood.   If the centurion was left purposefully unnamed in the gospels because he was not enfolded into the new and growing movement of Jesus, then maybe it was not a profession of faith, but rather simply a declaration of awe and intensity over the events and uniqueness of the dying Jesus.

3.  What can we learn?

Regardless the centurion’s identity and the intended meaning of his public statement, we must grasp that this is a seminal moment that broadcasts an important topic:  Jesus is an includer who brings people together from all national, socio-economic, geo-political, generational, and racial backgrounds of life into his glorious kingdom.  This especially as the gospel of Mark was aimed towards a Roman audience.

As the great includer, Jesus’ kingdom, his merited redemption (earned via his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross) is available to people from every corner of the earth, from every hue of skin color, cultural background, and generation.  As we read in John’s Revelation 5:9 “…you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…”

This was (and continues to be) an enormous issue.  Up until this point, the kingdom of God seemed (falsely) to be only for the Jews.  There were some from other backgrounds who came into Judaism, but only if and when they jumped through judaistic religious hoops, and even then were not considered as full and equal to those who could trace their ancestry back to the original twelve tribes of Israel.

This was incorrect thinking on the part of the Jews because from the very beginning God did indeed make it clear that his kingdom should spread out across all nations.  We get this in early seed form all the way back when the Covenant was instituted with Abraham.  In Genesis 12:2-3, God initially calls Abram/Abraham and commits, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.  The Prophet Isaiah expands on this in Is.49:6 “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.  In the New Testament, as this theme became much more clearly understood (and, over time, more faithfully instituted), this is expanded upon by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:8 “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”    All nations!  ALL!

Certainly this was one of the topics that infuriated the religious leaders of Jesus day and, after his death, in the new and growing “Way” as observed in the book of Acts as well as many of the epistles.  The life and message of Stephen, Peter, James, John, and then Paul, Barnabas, and Silas were all about the Great Commission of preaching Christ Crucified beyond the religious and national borders out to Judea, Samaria, and beyond.  Far beyond to all nations.

In this “Death of Jesus” account in Mark 15, we get a glimpse of this very first Gentile who was strongly compelled to publicly proclaim Jesus’ death on the cross to be significant in a divine way.

So how might all this be shocking and offensive to the 1st century culture to hear and read these reports? The answer to this question should be self-evident.  The religious establishment from the very beginning has dragged their feet even to the point of violently opposing this idea of including outsiders into their inner circle.

The good news of God, however, is that Christ Crucified wasn’t only for the Jewish people (who rejected him), but for all nations.

Jesus: The great includer; to Jew and Gentile alike.

#Wade

Part 1: The Cry (vs.33-37)
Part 2: The Curtain (vs.38)
Part 3: The Centurion (vs.39)
Part 4: The Circle of Women (vs.40-41)

Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Good Friday, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Temple Curtain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Embodiment of Scripture (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.2)

The EMBODIMENT of Scripture

LUKE 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ “ 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ “ 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “ 12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

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tempt-in-desert-stained-glass-chartres-cathedral

In the second part of this three-part Lenten series, the focus will be on the cryptic interchange between Jesus and the devil, specifically relating to the quoting of scripture back and forth.  What exactly was the point of that and what can we possibly learn? In this devotion, we will see that Jesus spoke the Word and that the Word spoke of Jesus.

1.  JESUS SPOKE THE WORD.
Fascinating, this interplay between good and evil.  Considering the crucial nature of this cosmic battle, one might think Jesus would have instead tapped more fully into his divine nature and zapped the devil right off the face of the earth.  But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t, because that would have short-circuited his mission which would inevitably lead him towards the cross; thereby sealing the redemption of creation and mankind.

Instead, Jesus simply quoted scripture.  Three times he quoted the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, and 6:16) to thwart the devil’s attacks.  Strange as it seems on the surface, of all the potential debate tactics that could have been used, this turned out to actually be the most powerful and efficient; it did the trick.  As the Apostle Paul writes, the sword of the spirit is indeed the Word of God (Eph 6:17).  So like any instrument or weapon, to be most effective, it must be most properly comprehended and wielded.

Something very interesting to note in all of this is that the enemy knows the scriptures too; very well indeed.  This is obvious from the fact that he also quotes scripture back at Jesus, but something is missing:  Though the adversary knew the scriptures, he didn’t “know” (in the fullest worshipful sense) the God of the scriptures; the God who would complete his redemptive plan out of love for his people.  The New Testament (Jas 2:19) informs us that even the demons “believe” (and shudder) so there is evidently quite a difference between intellectual assent to theological doctrine and deep heartfelt worshipful faith.  Out there in the lonely wilderness, we get a quick snapshot of that distinction.

About Jesus:  Jesus knows the scriptures, he understands them, and his conversations and teachings are infused with them. He is so saturated with the Old Testament scriptures that he drips them, so to speak, whenever he opens his mouth.  This specific phrase used three times in our narrative, “it is written” (to refer back to the Old Testament scriptures), is used by Jesus 63 times directly in the New Testament.  63 times!

This is a large relative percentage of what the Bible has recorded him as saying!  And not only that, there are many more times Jesus referenced (and inferenced) the scriptures without prefacing with that specific three word phrase.

It needs to be reminded that our Lord held a very high view of scripture.  Let’s allow the full-orbed consequences of that to sink in deeply.

In our present day, there’s a movement towards emphasizing only the “red letter” words of Jesus; downplaying the history of the gospels and Acts, minimizing the teaching of the apostles, and especially discarding the reliability and relevance of the Old Testament.  But that wasn’t Jesus’ approach at all.  He taught as if the Old Testament scriptures (“Law and Prophets”, “Law and Writings”, even “Moses and Elijah”, being synecdoches; a part standing for the entire whole) were both reliable and authoritative.  He built and based his life, works, and teachings on that certainty.  [More on this in a moment].

If this was not true, if the divine Son had not thought the Old Covenant scriptures to be reliable and authoritative, we could only deduce that his numerous references to the Old Testament were then insincere and even deceitfully manipulative, making Jesus out to be quite a deceiver, even a liar; thereby not a perfect teacher, not a perfect savior without sin, and therefore not a redeemer.  But we know much better.

About the enemy:  It’s not just Jesus quoting scripture in this narrative; the Satan does it as well.  And this isn’t the first time either.  Think back:  We’ve heard the devil quoting scripture before, and in doing so, twisting it to mean something OTHER than what God had intended (Genesis 3:1-7).  Back in the Garden of Eden, earlier in Genesis 2, the Father had created the perfect paradise and set only one rule for the first man and woman: “…you must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”.  When the devil, in the form of a serpent, came to tempt, his approach was crafty as he provoked with his sly twists in order to heighten doubt about what God might have meant in that (presumably, to them, unfair and unreasonable) rule.

“Did God really say you would surely die”?  We can almost imagine the private dialog playing out where the skeptic/mocker/tempter played on Adam and Eve’s human emotions.  “Maybe the serpent is correct” Adam and Eve might have said privately to one another, “If Father was really a God of love, he wouldn’t hold back from us anything… he’d certainly let us follow ALL our innate desires and allow us to eat of ALL the trees including THAT one”.

Satan used that weak moment to coerce; to lead them in erroneously believing that there was some mistake in their interpretation or understanding of God’s Word to them.   And so it went.  And so it goes.  And so it still goes, even today.

Sometimes just a slight word change or spoken inflection can cast major doubt, and if we don’t know the full context of the redemptive story of God in Jesus or the smaller grammatical-historical contexts (along with etymology) within the texts themselves, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of confusion, doubt, and potential misunderstanding.

2. THE WORD SPOKE OF JESUS.
It can be said that Jesus held a “high view” of scripture.  To more fully understand this, let’s think back to the narrative in Luke 24 where Jesus walked along the Road to Emmaus.  The newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ was walking with two disciples (one named Cleopas1) and in essence gave them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course as he explained how all those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM.

The Bible isn’t about “us” (or even about “them”);  It’s all about HIM.

Everything in the scriptures is about Jesus.  From the Old Covenant ceremonial laws describing priestly duties and innocent sacrificial lambs, from the prophetic foreshadowings of the prophets about the coming Messiah, on to Wisdom literature speaking of the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge.  From the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Passover lambs of the exile, the manna bread in the desert, the tabernacle, the temple, and all the symbolism and typology we discover in Adam, Noah, Abraham (with Isaac), Moses, Jonah, Boaz, David, Nehemiah,  etc, etc, etc.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about HIM.

To take it a step further, we realize it comes around full circle when we recognize that Jesus spoke the Word that spoke of Jesus.  Think about his first recorded homily in the synagogue “Today this scripture IS fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21) along with the Road to Emmaus narrative (Lk 24) and many more examples.

The apostles recognized this much more clearly afterwards.  In fact, the Apostle John launches his entire gospel biography of Jesus by writing first verse first chapter that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  Jesus Christ:  The Embodiment of the Word.

Jesus himself not only held a very high view of scripture and frequently spoke and taught it to his hearers (followers and detractors alike), but he himself was and is the very embodiment of the Old and New Testament scriptures himself.  We catch a strong glimpse of this concept in this sword fight battle of words out in the desert.

Watch this short YouTube clip for an animated quick summary on this topic.  It’s a MUST WATCH 🙂

#Wade

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Other parts in this series:

Previously: Part 1: The Empowerment of Approval
 (What was the nourishing “food” that Jesus feasted on during his 40 days of fasting, and how does this help us see his relationship, and ours, to the Father?)

Next: Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)

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POSTSCRIPT:  The reader can clearly see I’ve taken a high view of scripture in this devotional.  Two thoughts for later development:  (1) I do not subscribe to a literalist hermeneutic, but rather view scripture through the lens of historical-grammatical-cultural context, genre, and big picture Christological typology.  (2) If or when “perceived” problems or contradictions arise, I most properly interpret/understand that potentially difficult text by weighing it in light of other more clear relevant texts, that along with the big picture redemptive story of God in Christ.  Personally, I find Prof. Darrell Bock’s chapter on “precision” –vs- “accuracy” (for instance, the very words of Jesus –vs- the voice of Jesus)2 to be far more convincing than Prof. Bart Ehrman’s skepticism in this regard.  But all that for some other posted musing down the road.

1 Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans 2006) is a fantastic treatment on eyewitness accounts related to the biblical gospels.  He handles the reason why the one Cleopas (out of two) disciples on the Road to Emmaus is named and the other is not, as well as many other important details and examples of eyewitness testimonies.

2Darrell Bock’s Chapter on Precision and Accuracy in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Crossway 2012). A very helpful treatment especially when we are dealing in this series of devotionals on three synoptic narratives that each deviate from the others, but all three written by gospel writers with differing purposes and some more concerned with “words” -vs- “voice” in the texts.

Categories: Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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