Sibling Rivalry, 1st-Century Style

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As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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 all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:38-41

A friend and I had an argument a long time ago over this story. I’m Mary all the way and she was 100% Team Martha. I was the right one, of course. I mean, honestly! Jesus himself is in the room, teaching. What else is there to be done but listen to him? None of these people were in imminent danger of starving to death. If Martha had chosen to sit and listen like Mary did, then once Jesus was done talking how long would it have taken to knock together some pita and beans? 

Jesus chides Martha, but very gently. Did he feel sad for her? Martha wasted a rare opportunity to just be with Jesus. She was obsessed with something that would be forgotten the minute it was over. Mary, on the other hand, has a memory she will treasure throughout eternity.

People sometimes imagine where in history they would go if they had a time machine. The very first place for me would be right there, that day, that little house in Bethany. Sitting like Mary, just drinking Jesus in.

To be fair to Martha, when Lazarus dies it is Martha who shows the most faith in Jesus, not Mary. So I wonder if she took the lesson of that day to heart.

This story also illustrates Jesus’ view of women. None of the Pharisees of that day would have allowed a woman to sit right in with the men and listen to a rabbi. Women were little more than chattel then, treated much as women in Shariah-ruled countries are today. 

Finally, the story gives us another glimpse of God’s character, of what he values. I think he longs to enjoy just being with us. That day, Jesus and Mary gave us all a glimpse of what our relationship with God is supposed to be like.

What the hell was the devil thinking?

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Luke Chapter 4 gives another version of the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The devil’s attempts remind me of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but without the successful results. “Kingdoms! Power! Glory! And All Free Today!”

What I can’t figure out is if the devil really thought he had any chance. Once upon a time he was the greatest angel in heaven, a cherub (Ezekiel 28:14). He stood in the very presence of God. He knew who and what God was. He knew Jesus. He worshiped at the altar of God Almighty. If anyone should have a good idea of what they are in comparison to God it should have been Lucifer. But his utter audacity at trying to get God to worship him is a testament to the power of self-delusion. 

I wonder if part of his testing Jesus was to discern if he actually was the Messiah or not. I think we give the devil more credit than he deserves for foresight and wisdom (I don’t think he is wise at all; I’ll get to that next week). Even John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus. First he says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), but later he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus really is the Messiah or should they be looking for someone else (Luke 7:20). This Jesus of Nazareth, with his humble birth, unassuming appearance, working class family, country accent, and ragtag group of friends, would be a far cry from the King of Kings that Satan once knew in Heaven. 

The first temptation in Luke 4 is, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v 3). It sounds like a taunt. I can hear the sneer in his voice, but also some wondering. Perhaps he was thinking, “IF you are the Son . . . Is he? Could he be? I sense his presence and shudder. But a peasant? From Galilee? So common! So ordinary! He can’t be! Yet, he must be. …Is he?”  The lesser demons didn’t seem to have any doubts (see verse 33), but their leader may have done what a lot of clever people do, that is, overthink everything. That is pure speculation, though. Scripture offers no details.

Jesus answers him with Scripture. “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.” (v. 4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus 1, Satan 0.

In the second temptation the devil seems to throw all caution to the wind, like he just can’t contain himself anymore.  The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 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. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” (v. 5-6)  Where I heard a sneer in the first temptation, I hear desperate desire in this one. He is betraying what he wants more than anything, to be God himself and see God humiliated at his feet. If he had a physical body he’d have been drooling at this point.

Jesus answers with Scripture again. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (v. 8, quoting Deut. 6:13)  

Jesus 2, Satan 0.

As exhausted, hungry, and thirsty as Jesus was after 40 days of fasting in the desert, could he really have been tempted by these things? My NIV notes say that Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to world domination, thus avoiding the necessity of the cross. Maybe, but I doubt if the devil really understood what the cross was all about at that point. If he had, he might not have been in such a hurry to see Jesus get strung up there after he failed here.

And the devil doesn’t seem to have noticed that he betrayed his own dependency upon God in that second temptation. He says that all authority has been given to him. That implies an authority higher than Satan which gave him that authority. Satan doesn’t own the world. He just somehow (Genesis 3) has been given authority over it, like the owner of a building giving the authority to run it over to a property manager. 

By the third temptation, the devil seems to be losing his temper. 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. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (v. 9-11, quoting Psalm 91:11-12.)

It’s like the school bully trying to pressure someone into doing something stupid. “C’mon, just do it. Do it! DO IT!” If Jesus WAS God and jumped, then the devil would have tricked God into defying his own word about tempting God. If Jesus WASN’T God, then he at least would have the fun of watching some pathetic loser plummet to his death. 

But Jesus just answered him with Scripture one more time. “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (v. 12, quoting Deut. 6:16.)

Jesus for the Win! Three to Zip.

I’m left wondering if the devil really was self-deluded enough to think he could pull off the ultimate coup and make God worship him. We see from Isaiah 14 that he certainly thinks he deserves the job of ruling the universe. And when is evil ever logical? When we look at all the great tyrants in history, we see men whose lust for domination leads usually to madness and always, inevitably, to their ruin in death. Yet, men still become tyrants. History be damned. 

Matthew’s version of this story ends with Jesus rebuking Satan and sending him away, and the devil having no option but to leave, once again showing who the REAL boss is here. 

This meeting of pure evil and pure good, face to face, got me to thinking about the character of God versus the character of the devil. In the next two weeks I am going to compare and contrast the two. I think anyone who considers the scriptures would find it impossible to believe that good and evil are opposites, two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t so. One is the real thing, the other just a cheap counterfeit. SPOILER ALERT: Shame on anyone who thinks Jesus and the devil are equals/brothers.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  Acts 10:9-13

You are Loved! Psalm 139

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Man, there’s a lot of crap out there right now. If I never hear the words “Covid-19” or “Coronavirus” or “social distancing” ever again I will be perfectly happy. Besides this global pestilence thing there were the fires in Australia, the hordes of locusts in Africa and the Middle East, whatever disaster hit California this year, and there was a 6.5 earthquake in IDAHO today. Nothing ever happens in Idaho, so part of me is thinking maybe the sh*t really IS about to get real. 

Who knows. I do think that God may be trying to get our attention. But even if he is, or if all this is happening just because we live in an unpredictable, dangerous, fallen world, we don’t need to be afraid. Just take a deep breath, step away from the media horror hype, and remember how dearly you are loved by God. He’s in control. If you are his, you are going to be okay.

Psalm 139 is a favorite pro-life psalm, with good reason, but it applies to all of us. It applies to me and to YOU.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. (verse 1-4)

Why is this comforting? The creator of all the universe and the sustainer of all life not only made you but he knows you intimately, better than you know yourself. He is beyond time, so he has an infinite amount of time to devote to you individually. He knows everything you’ve ever done, everything you’ve ever thought, yet you’re still alive! So he must really, really love you.

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your right hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (verse 8-10)

We can never be away from God’s loving care. Even if we’ve sinned so badly we think we’re beyond hope, he is right there beside us. Remember the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). He messed up about as much as anyone could, yet when he finally slithered back home he found his father was watching for him, and his father ran to him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Dad didn’t wait for Junior to come groveling and then humiliate or chastise him. That is so hard for us to understand! A judgmental, distant, displeased God, that is easy to imagine. But the creator of the universe, loving us so much that HE runs to US? For some reason that is hard to wrap our heads around. But it’s true. You are loved by God so far beyond anything you could ever ask or imagine. He gave you everything, literally. Not only did he give you life, but Jesus gave his life to pay the sin-debt that none of us can ever pay on our own. I am loved, you are loved, we are LOVED!

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I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (verse 14)

It is always a good time to give thanks to God for our many blessings. Did you wake up today? Have enough to eat? A job to go to? Someone to talk to? That’s enough to give thanks for right there; everything else is gravy.

Verse 17 has two possible phrasings, according to my NIV notes. First one: How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

I interpret that as being amazed at the vastness of God’s thoughts, at how all-encompassing they are. A praise of God’s greatness.

Yet, according to NIV, the other possible phrasing of this is: How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

This makes the meaning quite different. It is then far more intimate, and illustrates how consistently God thinks about us. He can do that. He is beyond time, remember, so not limited Iike we are. He has eternity to devote to you. Being concerned about the other 8 billion people on the planet does not take away one moment of the time he has for you. 

I encourage anyone who reads this to take time to contemplate this psalm. Contemplate how you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Take five minutes just to look at your hands and be amazed at what incredible things they are. What magnificent little machines, more complex than any man-made machine could hope to be. Then contemplate the one who made you. Who has eternity to devote to you. Who knows you better than you know yourself. Who loves you more completely than you could ever hope for. Who proved that love by setting aside his glory and becoming a human being, by dying on a cross 2000 years ago and then by rising from the grave so you could rise with him. God is in control of even these crazy times, and if you are in Him you are safe, even if you have to go through really hard times. This life is short, Eternity is forever. And you are loved so dearly.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … for all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:9-13

 

Jesus calms the storm.

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this?” Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41, NIV version

I always thought that if the boat was full of women, not men, this would have been a different story. They would have been nonchalant about even the waves crashing over the boat. One person to steer, one to help, and the rest would have enjoyed a nice nap just like Jesus. “The Lord is here! What could we possibly have to worry about?” And Jesus might have actually been able to get a much-needed good night’s sleep.

…Maybe not…??

Verse 36 is a line I never noticed before: “leaving the crowd behind they took him along, just as he was…” Since there are no wasted words in Scripture, what is the significance of “just as he was”?

Well, earlier in the chapter we see that the crowds were so big he had to get into a boat and teach them from the water. Back in Chapter 3 there was such a throng around them they couldn’t even eat (3:20). That is the same chapter where Jesus’ own family thought he had gone mad, and came to “take charge of him.” (3:21) And the Pharisees were calling him demon-possessed (3:22). 

So maybe it just refers to him being hungry and tired, and maybe even hurt in his heart because of his family.

I love this small, intimate portrait of Jesus, exhausted and sleeping with a storm raging all around. It is like for a moment we get to look back through all the centuries and actually see him lying there, sleeping. The Lord of all Creation, but also a man; hungry, tired, and desperately misunderstood.

But what a lesson! We will always have storms in our lives, pretty much nonstop. But we can safely rest; there is no need to fear. HE is in our midst.

Note: This is just my unstudied thoughts on one specific sentence of this passage. If you would like to hear an excellent in-depth study of the whole passage, Pastor Mike Winger of BibleThinker.org is doing a YouTube series on the Gospel of Mark. This study, called “Why Jesus Calmed the Storm,” can be found here: https://youtu.be/GzA1ru6BBWA

 

Mark 1:40-42 Jesus & a man with leprosy

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Totally irrelevant to the post but it’s all I’ve got and I think it’s funny.

Feb 16, 2020

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Two things get me about this. One is my own impression, one is a point I heard somewhere (can’t remember where to give credit where it’s due).

My impression is that this is a glimpse into the caring and loving nature of Jesus. He was filled with compassion. This poor guy was sick with a highly contagious, incurable disease and no one else would have dreamed of touching him. Jesus didn’t hesitate. Do you realize this may have been the first time in YEARS that this man was touched by another human being?

James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask God. I wonder about the leper. Going by other passages in the Bible, like the Jewish leaders berating the formerly blind man and accusing him of being steeped in sin from birth, it is likely the leper believed his disease came about by sin. It is almost certainly true this is what others believed about him. He might easily not have approached Jesus, thinking, “I don’t deserve to be healed,” or, “He won’t want to talk to me.”  

I know from reading the gospels that Jesus NEVER just went up to people and healed them (My only beef with Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but that’s another story). He healed in response to either someone coming to him, or someone coming to him on someone else’s behalf (the only exception I can think of is the soldier in the garden but that is a totally different context). So that guy could have sat around wishing Jesus would heal him until the cows came home and nothing would have happened. He was risking public humiliation and maybe worse by approaching Jesus when lepers were generally shunned from society. But what he got from Jesus was love, and kindness.

I pray for other people all the time but have a hard time praying for myself. Not because I’m so angelic and selfless but because I don’t think I have any right to expect God to listen to me. Even after all these years—all the things he’s done in my life, all the times he’s proven his love for me, individually, I still don’t approach him with confidence. I’m in a lather about taxes this year because of the health insurance tax credits. I’m expecting a big tax bill and have no clue how to pay it. I’m seeing my tax person tomorrow and I’ve been in knots over this for weeks. It only occurred to me this morning to lift it to the Lord in prayer. Why? Because I’m a sinner who deserves to get a mammoth bill when I don’t have the money to pay it. I deserve whatever I get.  . . . Oh, wait, I forgot: His blood washed away my sins, the temple curtain has been torn, and I’m allowed into the holy of holies. I get to talk to my Heavenly Father one-on-one.  I was missing my earthly dad this morning, then remembered I have a heavenly one who is far more capable than even my own excellent father was. 

Maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe if you’re reading this you feel the same way — unworthy. Just talk to him, anyway.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – James 5:7.

I’ll get to Part 2 next time.

The Visit of the Magi

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I’ve read up through Matt 5:12 (the Beatitudes) so far. Can’t believe how much happens in just a few pages when you’re paying attention.

Matt 2:1-2: Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East [or: when it rose] and have come to worship him.”

Okay, fodder for a million Christmas pageants, but listen to what’s going on here! We take from this that GENTILE scholars read the HEBREW scriptures (Daniel 9, Jeremiah 23:5, Numbers 24:17), did the math, and knew that the time of the Messiah was at hand. These Gentiles not only read the scriptures but believed them, so when they saw the “star” they knew what it was and traveled a great distance to greet the King they knew would be there.

But then read on to verse 3: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  A) Why were they disturbed? And B) Why weren’t they looking or expecting for their own scripture to be fulfilled?

A) Well, why Herod was alarmed is obvious—he would hate and fear what he saw as a threat to his throne. We know that he was an Idumean (Edomite) and so had little if any Jewish blood, so he wasn’t a descendant of David and had no real right to the throne. He was really just a puppet king installed by Rome for their own purposes. So he wouldn’t feel secure on his throne, and we know from history he was paranoid and even murdered his own sons.

Why was all Jerusalem also disturbed? My guess is it wasn’t because they loved Herod so much. More likely they feared what Rome would do if it caught wind of a possible uprising. But we also see here that they weren’t looking for prophecy fulfillment and were taken by surprise. The chief priests and scholars hadn’t pointed out the star or what it meant, and did nothing until Herod asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Herod found out about the star from the Magi, not the Jewish scholars.

Side note: This ain’t no ordinary star! It moved ahead of them and stopped over the place where Jesus was (2:9). Reminds me of the presence of God in Exodus, that moved ahead of the Israelites in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, leading them where it wanted them to go and stopping when it wanted them to stop. Whatever the star was, it likely wasn’t a giant ball of gas billions of miles away.

The Magi — foreigners — were overjoyed. They worshipped Jesus and gave him expensive gifts. Up to this point no one had worshipped or felt joy at the presence of Jesus, except Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her unborn baby John.

The history of the Jewish people is, in my opinion, a reflection on all of humanity at our best and our worst. And especially about how thick, stubborn and even ridiculous we can all be. We see it here. The entire history in the Bible of the Jewish people follows this same basic path: Rescued by God>Prosperity>Rebellion>Punishment>Repentance>Restoration. Repeat ad nauseum. After the return from the Babylonian exile the Jews were no longer idolators, but they got so caught up in obsessive observance of every letter of the law that they missed the big picture. They were for the most part oblivious to the greater truth of God in their midst, his purpose, and what he really wanted for them.

Which, if they had only realized, was more beautiful than anything they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.

January 1, 2020: Matthew 1

January 1, 2020: Matthew 1

What my NIV notes say about Matthew: Most likely written by Matthew (Levi), the tax collector and disciple of Jesus, somewhere between 15-40 years after the Resurrection (how they got these dates I don’t know).

Nabeel Qureshi, Christian apologist and former Muslim, on the first time he opened the Bible for guidance: “I went to Matthew Chapter 1. The first thing I saw was a bunch of genealogies, so I skipped ’em! Don’t judge me, Christians, I had an excuse!”

I don’t have an excuse and have come to believe that every word in the Bible is there for a reason, so I did read the genealogy. My favorite is “Ram the father of Amminidab.” That just sounds great. Wonder what their story was.

What I take from the genealogy:

1) It is demonstrating the undeniability of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.

2) Jesus is a descendant of David, from the kingly line through Solomon. That would make him a rightful king of Judah, so why is Herod–an Edomite–on the throne? (Side note: I wonder how many other descendants of David were alive at that time? Just curious. David and Solomon both had like a gazillion kids each).

3) Women are mentioned in this genealogy, unusual since women in Jesus’ time were regarded about the same as women in strict Shariah-ruled Islamic countries are today. We see Tamar, who tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her, Rahab the prostitute, Bathsheba the adulteress (although she is only mentioned as the wife of Uriah), and, of course, Mary.

4) Comparing Matthew and Luke (Spoiler Alert! They’re not the same.) I’ve read from different sources that scholars generally agree that one genealogy traces Jesus’ line through Joseph, and the other through Mary. Matthew traces the Davidic line through Solomon while Luke traces it through Nathan. Both were sons of Bathsheba, not one of David’s other wives.

Now we get on to the story — Mary is already expecting by the Holy Spirit. Engaged but not yet married to Joseph. He finds out she’s pregnant. We aren’t told his personal feelings on the matter but we do know he isn’t about to go through with marriage to a girl he now considers an adulteress. But he’s a decent fellow and doesn’t want her exposed to “public disgrace” (i.e., stoned to death), so plans to divorce her quietly.

Then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, gives him the scoop, then assigns him the task (privilege?) of naming the baby. …”you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21).  “Jesus” is the anglicized Greek form of the Hebrew “Yeshua,” which means “Salvation.”

Matthew is all about showing how Jesus fulfilled OT Messianic prophecy, and here is the first one: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’– which means, ‘God with us.’ “  (Mt 1:22-23, referring back to Isaiah 7:14)

So what do I take from this? Matthew is establishing the basis the rest of his book will be built on — Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and Jesus is God.

Not a bad way to start out the New Year.