Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Jesus and Politics, Part III

Jesus could have chosen the course of a political movement--He recruited two men of that ilk to follow Him.  

But He clarified His ministry to Pilate, by declaring that He came to testify to the truth.  (John 18:38)  Not just another truth--Rome had plenty of those by way of emperor worship, adopted foreign religions and philosophies in abundance.

No: The Truth, embodied in Jesus and demonstrated by everything He said and did.

So, Jesus did not politicize His movement, because the Truth is not reducible to a political cause or a platform.  Politics is the art of compromise.  Give a little, take a little.  But if the Truth is at stake, compromise can be extremely dangerous.  The lesser of two evils is still evil.  

British historian Niall Ferguson calls slavery in America "the original sin."  Here we had a new government being formed out of the Enlightenment principle of reason, with the words of the Declaration of Independence declaring a new dawn of freedom and equality, all derived not from the caprices of the government, but bestowed on us by God Himself.  Beautiful, stirring and a lovely foundation upon which to build a new government which honored human beings and their freedom to choose their way of life. 


In order to ratify the Constitution, there were two states that might have not ratified it if it had explicitly abolished slavery in the new Republic.  The states were South Carolina and Georgia.  We don't have detailed records of the conventions where this was debated, but with their deep investment in slavery, it is a good assumption they would not have ratified the new constitution, thus aborting the new Republic.  So, a compromise was reached in the spirit of political process.  In order to not count slaves to increase the number of representatives in the House (much to the dismay of the non-slave holding states) a slave was counted as 3/5th's of a person.     

The compromise worked.  The Constitution was ratified.  The slave states were satisfied that their slave population was not ignored for representation and the non-slave holding states didn't feel that the slave states had an unfair advantage.  As an additional compromise, the importation of slaves into America was banned by 1808--a date far enough away to allow for a gradual withdrawal from the odious slave trade. 


Thomas Jefferson lamented at the end of his life about slavery, comparing it to a "fire bell in the night."  Here is a quote from the US Capitol website:

"When Missouri petitioned to be admitted as a slave state in 1819, it ignited a dispute that Thomas      Jefferson compared to 'a fire bell in the night.'  But this was one fire Congress could not put out completely.

Representative James Tallmadge of New York proposed an amendment to Missouri's statehood bill gradually ending slavery there. The Senate defeated the bill because of Tallmadge's amendment. The next year, Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois devised a compromise: simultaneously admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, while banning slavery in most of the Louisiana Territory. Speaker Henry Clay used his popularity and parliamentary skill to win House agreement. The solution ended the immediate crisis—but only postponed a final showdown.

If you persist, the Union will be dissolved. You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish. —Representative Thomas W. Cobb of Georgia, 1819"

Here is some more information: 

"In January, 1820, Congress passed two bills that, together, became known as the Missouri Compromise. Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state. Missouri was admitted as a slave state, although slavery would be prohibited north of a 36-30 line (southern border of Missouri) in the western territories of the Louisiana Purchase—Missouri would be an exception to the line.

Thomas Jefferson in a 4/22/1820 letter to John Holmes had this to say: '…but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated, and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.'” (2)

Jefferson realized that the compromise that allowed the states to ratify the Constitution had led only to more compromises and that the fundamental immorality of slavery had not been addressed nor dealt with, only set aside.  For now. 

Sadly, these compromises led ultimately to our Civil War, where over 600,000 Americans died.  Jefferson could not have imagined such a horror, but I am sure he would have hung his head upon the news and said, "I saw something terrible coming some day."

This is why Jesus would not compromise the truth of who He was, what He did, what He said, or of His mission.

In a fallen and sinful world, compromise may be the only way to get things done, I fear.  But if sin is left alone, it is a cancer that metastasizes in the body politic and leaves us reeling with its results.  So we compromise to get things done, only to find that sin is still present, infecting everything we do. 

That is why, I believe, Jesus did not use the political arena to effect change.  Truth cannot be compromised.

Think if Jesus had compromised:  No cross?  No salvation, no eternity with Him and a hopeless world filled with hearts unchanged by the Spirit of God.

In other words, Rome before Jesus came. A place where a leader could ask, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) while infant children are discarded, life is cheap, women are degraded and men are free to pursue their endless lusts.  

In other words, post-Christian America. 

The truth of Jesus is the only rock upon we can stand to face the storm that is coming:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matt. 7:24-9)

The crowds were amazed because Jesus was so uncompromising in His assertion that His words alone were the only sure foundation to build upon, whether it be for a person or for a society.

In our mega-churches, with our feel-good-Jesus-is-your-life-coach-and-wants-you-happy messages, we have compromised the very One Who would not stoop to compromise.  


We gotta reach people!  Bring them the Gospel!  Get 'em into church so that they won't go to hell!

But do we take these noble ideas and compromise them as to make them more palatable to our modern age?  

Now, we live in a "What is truth?" kind of society and our compromises in our churches have left people skeptical and wary of church.

So, what do we do?

Instead of hunkering down, preaching the Word in an uncompromised way and allowing the Spirit to work on people's hearts, we compromise the message and ignore the deep sin infecting our country.

The fire bell is ringing again. 




Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Jesus and Politics, Part II

If you consider Jesus selecting a group of men who were typical of the surrounding culture, then the disciples had to include someone who was nationalistic, with a political solution to Israel's problems.

I discovered there were perhaps two such men; these men were "Zealots," who were part of a radical political movement to remove Rome from Israel, by any means necessary.

Jesus didn't ignore this particular group; He picked these men to join Him as He proclaimed the Kingdom of God.  Interesting, huh?  These men were, by their membership in the Zealot movement,  proclaiming the same thing.

Or were they?

Their very name, kana'im, signifies a person who is zealous on God's behalf. As the article in Wikipedia puts it, 

Josephus' Jewish Antiquities states that there were three main Jewish sects at this time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Zealots were a "fourth sect", founded by Judas of Galilee (also called Judas of Gamala) in the year 6 CE against the Census of Quirinius, shortly after the Roman Empire declared what had most recently been the tetrarchy of Herod Archelaus to be a Roman province. According to Josephus, they "agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord." (18.1.6)(1)

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Zealots:

Judah of Gaulanitis is regarded as the founder of the Zealots, who are identified as the proponents of the Fourth Philosophy. In the original sources, however, no such identification is anywhere clearly made, and the question is hardly raised of the relationship between the Sicarii, the upholders of the Fourth Philosophy, and the Zealots. Josephus himself in his general survey of the various groups of freedom fighters (War 7:268–70) enumerates the Sicarii first, whereas he mentions the Zealots last. (1)

So, it would appear that there was a defining moment when the Romans took Israel over completely.  Herod and his family were not exactly pious Jews (far from it) but they still had some connection to Judaism, however slim.  But Rome had none.  The Romans, with their emperor worship, infanticide, homosexuality, child brides, and abortion, (2) made them despicable in the eyes of the Jews.  In fact, Romans 1 is an extensive list of their sins, and yet Paul also takes the Jews to task in the second chapter of Romans.  The Jews weren't perfect, but they could at least point to their special status with the one true God and His word spoken to them by His prophets.  

Who wouldn't be angry to have such rulers?  The Romans were the ultimate nationalists; they were proud of who they were and made no bones about their status as the rulers of the world.  They could point to their mighty buildings, roads, conquered lands and peoples, wealth, luxurious lifestyle (only for the rich and famous, of course), their entertainments (with their astonishing venues), their art, literature, their architecture (still standing) and their Pax Romana--a peace secured and maintained by a superlative military force and infrastructure. 

What's not to like?

To the Jews, well, everything.  So, enter the Zealots with their uncompromising stance against Rome.  The other groups in Israel at that time--the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes--took a more measured approach.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees accommodated the Romans; the Essenes exited  into the desert and waited for the end of days. 

Enter Jesus, who confronts Rome through Pilate in His own way:

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die. 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
(John 18:28-40)

At first, Pilate doesn't wish to get involved: It is a Jewish matter, pure and simple.  But, the Jewish leaders have a problem:  They cannot execute anyone, and yet their law calls for death, for Jesus has committed blasphemy, by making Himself equal to God. (Matt. 28:63-66)

I would love to have been in the hall, witnessing this encounter between the King of the Kingdom of God and the power that is Rome.  Pilate wants to clarify who Jesus is, by His own words, not just the from the hearsay of the religious leaders.  Yet Jesus wants Pilate to clarify who he thinks Jesus is.  Pilate quickly distances himself from the Jewish leaders--he is not a Jew and doesn't interact with them unless he has to--and he wants Jesus to state His case.  

Jesus is saying in effect, that His kingdom is not here--the proof of that would be that His followers would rally and fight on His behalf.  That's the model for earthly kingdoms:  Loyalty to the leader with war and violence to maintain the stability of the kingdom, and to uphold the leader.  

In other words, Rome.

But what do we have here?  

Jesus says that if He were the type of king Pilate understands, His followers would have fought to prevent His arrest.  That's what earthly kings and their people do:  Fight.  But Jesus says His kingdom is of an entirely different kind.  His is a kingdom built on His testimony of the truth:  the truth of His Father and the truth of His words.  This kingdom is built and maintained not by violence and human pride, but by His words, and soon, His life, pouring out for sin.  

Pride is the seed of destruction sown in all human kingdoms:  It starts in the human heart and manifests itself in human deeds:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:13-18)

Jesus is very clear to Pilate why He is here: not to build yet another earthly kingdom based on human pride and will, but on the truth, on Himself as the Truth.  

Pilate shoots back the classic response:  "What is truth?"  I hear Pilate saying,

Truth is relative, Jesus.  Rome is the truth.  The Emperor is the truth.  Our coins even say on them that he is the son of god.  Truth is might, power, the sword and whatever the Emperor says it is to keep the peace and spur Rome on to mightier heights of glory and power.  We are the truth, Jesus.  We have a mighty empire, wealth beyond measure, a beautiful flowering of the arts and an army that is taking over the world.  Who are you?  A ragged, arrested, trouble-making preacher whose own people have brought you here into Rome's mighty courts.  They want you dead.  You angered them so much that they are petitioning us--the very ones they despise--to have you executed.  And you dare talk of truth?

Jesus choose truth over politics, alliances, policies and civic debates.  He knows that the only basis for a just society, where the weak are protected, the poor are assisted, and power has limits on it, is the truth:  the truth of a transformed heart, cleansed and made new in the Son.   

Paul distills Jesus' work and truth into a brilliant verse in Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (2:20)

But the Zealots, like the Romans, took the human way of building a kingdom, and the Jewish people (even those who were not Zealots) paid dearly for their belief that changing the society (i.e. getting rid of the Romans) would bring about a better people and a better life:

The Zealots had the leading role in the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE). The Zealots objected to Roman rule and violently sought to eradicate it by generally targeting Romans and Greeks. Another group, likely related, were the Sicarii, who raided Jewish habitations and killed Jews they considered apostate and collaborators, while also urging Jews to fight Romans and other Jews for the cause. Josephus paints a very bleak picture of their activities as they instituted what he characterized as a murderous "reign of terror" prior to the Jewish Temple's destruction. According to Josephus, the Zealots followed John of Gischala, who had fought the Romans in Galilee, escaped, came to Jerusalem, and then inspired the locals to a fanatical position that led to the Temple's destruction. They succeeded in taking over Jerusalem, and held it until 70, when the son of Roman Emperor Vespasian, Titus, retook the city and destroyed Herod's Temple during the destruction of Jerusalem. (3)

Jesus' message to the Zealots amongst His disciples is this: Change your heart, then you will see clearly enough to change society.  It must be based and maintained on My Truth:  My words, My blood, and My power in you to do the work of My Father's kingdom, with its values.  

Any other basis (no matter how well-intentioned it might be) will not end well, for the human heart is not to be trusted:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. (Jer. 17:9)

In our highly politicized world, are we like the Zealots, well-intentioned at times, but ultimately driven on by hearts that will lead to our destruction?  

Or, are we already there? 




Saturday, July 10, 2021

Jesus and Politics, Part I

We all know the disciples' names, right?  

Peter is called from being a fisherman, to a fisher of men, (Matt. 4:18-19) to a man who preaches a sermon where 3,000 people come to accept Jesus (Acts 2:41).  Wow!

We also know all the in-betweens with Peter:  how he declares that Jesus is the Messiah and how Jesus commends him for it. (Matt. 16:16-19)  Then Peter then turns around and reprimands Jesus for telling His followers of His impending death at the hands of His enemies. Jesus rebukes Peter for being a pawn in Satan's hands with his fear for Jesus' life (despite Jesus being very honest as to where His ministry is leading. ) (Matt. 16:21 & 23) 

Then, of course, there is Peter's famous denial of Jesus, his utter shame, and later his breakfast with the Savior who forgives Peter the exact number of times he had denied Jesus.  Peter looms large in the Gospel narratives, for he is large of heart and mouth.  I love Peter:  blurter, heart-felt follower, bosom buddy and dedicated warrior for his Lord. He's an inspiration to all of us who battle with our heart and head in following Jesus.

Andrew, Peter's brother and James and John are all called by Jesus to leave their nets and follow Him and work for another kind of catch.   

Then there's Thomas.  I love him too, for he will not live a life centered on Jesus based on others' encounters.  The disciples happily tell Thomas of Jesus' appearance after His resurrection.  Thomas was absent.  He responds by saying he has to personally touch Jesus where death left its mark on Him.  Thomas' experience has to be his own, not borrowed from the other disciples.  Jesus meets Thomas on his terms by appearing to him and allowing him to touch Him.  Jesus then encourages him to not be doubtful, but believe. Thomas' declaration of faith rings down powerfully through the ages:  "My Lord and my God!"  (John 20:24-28)

Then there's Philip, who wants an answer from Jesus, once and for all: Jesus, please show us this Father You are always talking about, and attributing to Him everything You do.  Philip is the spokesperson on this occasion; is he exasperated inside, a kind of let's-cut-to-the-chase kind of guy, or is he trying to clarify one of Jesus' more powerful teachings:  What exactly is this relationship between You and the Father, Jesus?  Jesus responds with a simple but profound truth:  See Me, see the Father.  I do only what He tells me to, and you too, will someday work the kind of miracles you have seen Me do. (John 14:8-12)

We all know about Judas.  He is the outsider:  the only Judaen in a group of men who are from around the Galilee.  Judas seems to care about the waste of money when Mary uses the spikenard to anoint Jesus before His death.  But John reveals Judas' real motive by calling him a "thief." John then comments that Judas helps himself to the money purse. (John 12:4-6)  We will see him betray Jesus by giving the church authorities details on Jesus' upcoming whereabouts, and how he will regret having taken the money for this betrayal. He later realizes Jesus is innocent, and this shame (along with Satan's whisperings) will drive him to hang himself. (Matt. 27:3-10)

Then there's Matthew, the Jewish man willing to work with the Romans (who are unclean, uncouth and downright abominable) and collect money to support a regime that tolerates the Jews only as a conquered people, and will lash out at them mercilessly, without a moment's notice, if the peace is disturbed in any way.  The Romans see him as a necessary evil (he collects their taxes but also probably pockets some of the money) and the Jews revile him, for he takes their hard-earned money and gives it to those people.  But Jesus calls him, and he will write the most Jewish of all Gospels, reveling in his heritage and how the Hebrew scriptures have found their fulfillment in Jesus.  

The Gospel writers briefly sketch out the lives of the disciples.  Let's go over the list of their names, and the comments are from the article whose reference is below:

Simon ("Peter")

Andrew ("his [Peter's] brother")

James ("son of Zebedee")

John ("his [James'] brother"; "disciple whom Jesus loved" )


Bartholomew ("Nathanael in John's Gospel")


Matthew ("the publican"; "Levi")

James ("son of Alphaeus")

Thaddaeus (or "Lebbaeus"); ("called 'Judas the Zealot' in some translations"; "not Iscariot")

Simon ("'the Canaanite' in some translations; "the Zealot')

Judas Iscariot (1)

Hmmm...We have fishermen, provincial laborers--in other words, men who are the salt of the earth.  Wait a minute! There are two political figures here!  Thaddaeus and Simon!  Why would Jesus pick two very politicized men to join His group, whose mission it will be to go out into the world and do work for the Kingdom of God?

I had to inquire just who the Zealots were:

Zealot, member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in ad [sic] 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation.

Extremists among the Zealots turned to terrorism and assassination and became known as Sicarii (Greek sikarioi, “dagger men”). They frequented public places with hidden daggers to strike down persons friendly to Rome. In the first revolt against Rome (ad [sic] 66–70) the Zealots played a leading role, and at Masada in 73 they committed suicide rather than surrender the fortress, but they were still a force to be reckoned with in the first part of the following century. A few scholars see a possible relationship between the Zealots and the Jewish religious community mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls... (2) 

Hmmm... So, if I am interpreting this correctly, we have two radical, fiercely nationalistic men, who despise the Romans (so easy to do) and want nothing short of their violent overthrow.  

In fact, the Zealots will get the war they want thirty years into the future.  Despite Jesus' warnings (Matthew 24-25--the first "End Times"), they will rebel against Roman rule, each other and after a horrible conflict, the Jewish people will be kicked out of Israel from 70 AD onward.  The Jewish people will not return to their beloved land until 1948 AD.  The Great Revolt (AD 66-70) ends up causing the destruction of their beloved Temple and a diaspora to faraway lands, among people who will welcome them, revile them, expel them and will one day largely collaborate with a new kind of Roman to exterminate them.  

Why would Jesus include men of this ilk? Men who have politicized the Torah, who have crafted a warrior Messiah (could there be any other kind of deliverer to these men?) and who look for any opportunity to insert violence into public life?  These men seem diametrically opposite of the other men Jesus picked, and yet, He did included them.


Let's dig into this the next time.  





Saturday, June 26, 2021

Jesus and the Church, Part III

I am using the book of John to explore how Jesus dealt with the contemporary church of His day.  I love how John, in the first three chapters, underscores four new church inaugurating events:

1.  He is the Word Incarnate:  Moses came down from the mountain with the very words of God inscribed on stone.  Jesus came down from Heaven as the very Word itself: 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

So, for the church, the people of God, we have a fulfillment of what Moses did all those years ago:  he brought the word down to the people, and now Jesus brings down the Word as Himself.  Wow!  We are being presented with a "new and living way": 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let’s approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let’s hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25)

He called His disciples and He is calling us to embark as ambassadors of this new and living way.

2.  He Calls Us as His Bride: His first miracle is at a wedding in Cana.  By turning water (ordinary) into fine wine (extraordinary), He is reinforcing God's view of His people: His Bride will be made into something extraordinary under His touch.  

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:8-11)

His Bride will be made new miraculously quick, but she will also take time to grow and be His partner on earth.  God truly saved the Best until last:  His Son. 

3.  He Clears Out the Temple:  This is where Jesus is seeking to do a major makeover of His church.  By casting out the worldly practices and compromises with the world, He seeks to cleanse His church and bring the holiness of God back into full view of His Bride.  He so identifies with His Father's House that He calls Himself the temple in response to the leaders demanding He show His credentials:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22)

God wants His Bride clean and pure, and only the blood of His Son, shed on the cross, will accomplish this. 

4.  He Calls Us as Individuals:  Jesus sees His church, His Bride, not as one big mass of people whose faces blend into the crowd, but as precious individuals.  The work of the church will be done by individuals, saving those, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who come seeking truth. So, now John narrows the scene down to Jesus talking with one person, a Jewish leader who comes to Him after the sun goes down:     

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2)

Nicodemus is a leader in the Sanhedrin, and clearly is moved by the teachings and actions of Jesus.  I find it fascinating that Nicodemus comes after the Temple incident; he could just stay put, utterly offended as his compatriots certainly are by Jesus' egregious action against their sanctioned practice in the Temple courts.  

But no.  He comes, when it is dark (Is John possibly commenting that not only was Nic using the darkness to secretly meet with Jesus, but that he himself was in the dark as well?)

Nic is curious.  He is seeking, asking, knocking.  Good start.  He is coming from a very august body:   

"According to the Talmudic sources, including the tractate Sanhedrin, the Great Sanhedrin was a court of 71 sages that met on fixed occasions in the Lishkat La-Gazit (“Chamber of the Hewn Stones”) in the Jerusalem Temple and that was presided over by two officials (zugot, or “pair”), the nasi and the av bet din. It was a religious legislative body “whence the law [Halakha] goes out to all Israel.” Politically, it could appoint the king and the high priest, declare war, and expand the territory of Jerusalem and the Temple. Judicially, it could try a high priest, a false prophet, a rebellious elder, or an errant tribe. Religiously, it supervised certain rituals, including the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) liturgy. The Great Sanhedrin also supervised the smaller, local sanhedrins and was the court of last resort."(

So, for Jesus, anyone, rich or poor, great or ordinary, is welcome to come.  Nic acknowledges Jesus as someone extraordinary.  He sees Jesus' miracles as coming from God.  (This is a far cry from later on when the leaders will accuse Jesus of being possessed by the devil.) 

Jesus cuts to the chase.  Time is limited in this encounter.  Nic could skitter out at any time, fearing he has been seen.  He wants Nic to get on board quickly:

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[born from above]” 

"How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)

Central to Jesus' church, to His new and living way, is a new spirit, born from the work of God in a person's life and taken from the very words that Nic and his ilk are so expert in:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh... (Ezek. 11:19)

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 36:26)

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jer. 31:33)

Nic knows these verses.  He's a learned elder of Israel, well-versed in the sacred writing of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Yet he reacts as if he's never heard them, or maybe he is so fearful of being seen with Jesus, his mind is shutting down with anxiety.  Jesus responds that being born of the Spirit is the new and living way, the new church (really, it's the old one being fulfilled, longed for by the prophets) and that human works are never going to be sufficient to fully engage with God.  Only a new spirit can do that.  

Nic is stunned.  He cannot fathom what Jesus is saying, and asks Him, "How are these things possible?" (John 3:9)

Then Jesus gets down to business.  The new and living way is Him.  He is the ultimate fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures: 

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:10-14)

Jesus' use of the name, "Son of Man" is an Ezekiel reference and Moses and the bronze snake is from the Torah specifically, so Jesus is effectively covering the Hebrew Scriptures with His references. Nic knows these very scriptures, yet he seems to not realize what God is doing in Jesus.  

Now Jesus tells Nic and us the very essence of Who He is, His mission, and the church that Jesus is building upon Himself as the Foundation:  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21)

This what I hear Jesus saying to Nic and to us:

You search the Scriptures, Nic, and they point to Me.  I have come not to condemn, but to save everyone who is willing to seek Me.  But be aware that disbelief in God's Son has its consequences: Your rituals will not save you as this new and living way comes forth.  One day the Temple, of which you are so proud, will be destroyed by an army, to punish and decimate the children of Israel.  What then?

You and everyone else who accepts My offer to be born from above will have new life and will be God's temple, not built of stone, but of a heart made right with God.  This person will run into the light, be forgiven of his or her sins, and live in the truth of Who I am and what I am doing.  

Come out of the dark, Nic.

You have to choose.  Yes, you will lose your posh position and receive the condemnation of your peers; but you will gain eternal life with Me!

John does not record Nic's answer.

Jesus awaits our answer. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Jesus and the Church, Part II

One of the greatest struggles Jesus had, as I look into Scripture, is with the leaders of the church of His day.  

I know all of us, at one time or another, have had to face a disappointment with someone who, as a Christian, seemed to have acted contrariwise to that claim.  We leave that church, perhaps, and then go to another fellowship, looking to restore our faith in those who walk in Jesus.

And yet...we run into another disappointment, and wonder if there is anyone we can call a role model?  I left church for a year, because Covid brought out some very prideful and divisive attitudes and behaviors in my brothers and sisters.  

I have recently found a fellowship, but I approach it with guarded optimism. 

We look to those who lead church as role models; we are not wrong to do this.  Think of the rabbinical tradition.  People gather around the rabbi, looking to learn from him, not only knowledge of the Torah but how to live it out.  

It was no different in Jesus' day.  I find it interesting that John introduces his gospel from the eternal perspective:  Jesus as the Word of God, incarnated and sent to the very earth He created to redeem us.  He is the Light; the Lamb of God; and the Beloved of the Father.  All of these designations are introduced to us in the first chapter, in the first 34 verses!  

Then in verse 35, we see Jesus as Rabbi.  He selects his disciples, His talmidim, and He calls Himself the Son of Man, and "the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth." (1:51)  They agree to follow Him.

So, now the Rabbi must face the three most important institutions of His day:  The family, as demonstrated by the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) and John comments that this is the first time "Jesus revealed His glory."  How beautiful.  It is a metaphorical return to Eden, where man and woman had been created to love with no sin.  Originally, they had been partners with God, created for fellowship with Him, with each other, and to bring forth life as they came together.  

Jesus came to redeem the broken family, the perversion of sex, and the stony hearts of men.  

Next, He confronts the second most important institution of His day: the Temple.  The Jewish people saw it as God's House, a place of worship and sacrifice, a place of meeting the One Who is sovereign over all.  Yet, what does John show Jesus doing?  Clearing out His Father's House of its corrupted conversion to a place of commerce.  He turned over tables and the money went flying.  He angrily says, "Get these things out of here!  Stop turning my Father's house into a marketplace!" (John 2:16)  The disciples, well versed in the Torah, "remembered this prophecy form the Scriptures: 'Passion for God's house will consume me.'" (John 2:17).  

The Rabbi then confronted the religious leaders, whose have financially benefited from this arrangement and who were adamantly wanting to stay in control and not attract any attention from the Roman authorities.  Any disruption in the Temple courts could have brought the soldiers.  The religious leaders were furious and demanded a miracle to prove Jesus had the authority to have done this.  

Jesus then struck at the very heart of how far Judaism had fallen from what His Father through Moses and the prophets had revealed to the nation of Israel:

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:18-25)

Let's see how this passage illustrates the issues Jesus confronted with the church of His day, and how those same issues plague us.  

1.  The Demand for God to Reveal Himself:  No, we are not as brazen as the leaders were in their demands, but in many churches the tacit demand for signs is there.  Jesus showing up as the gentle Good Shepherd or the Spirit coming down upon us as a gentle Dove doesn't appeal to our need to have God be there, in signs and wonders, in vocal manifestations--He must prove His presence by showing up in a kind of "holy"chaos.  In other words, many churches conduct their services on sight, not faith.  Faith is replaced with presumption, and we are like the leaders, demanding God show Himself according to our demands, and He must fit our theology.

2.  Not Using the Scriptures as the Sole Guideline for Our Conduct: Instead of saying to Jesus, "Let's see what the Word says about our conduct here in the Temple: Does it align with God's instructions?  Have we failed Him or are you in the wrong for doing what you just did, Jesus?"  No.  They demanded a sign.  They didn't use the Word to evaluate Jesus' actions; they went to their own standard to judge Him.  

How many churches apologize for what they see as the uncomfortable passages in Scripture, or ignore them altogether, in their effort to be relevant, relational and real?  As if God's Word is not relevant (every generation needs the Savior); relational (God commands us to love Him as well as our neighbor) and real (God's ways are not our ways, but they are a "new and living way" that meets us at our deepest need).  We have lost confidence in our Savior and His Word to really transform lives, so we dress Him up in cultural gear and send Him out to do our bidding:  to be our Life Coach, our Guide to our Best Life, and make His work all about me, me, me.  The church is there to make us feel good about ourselves, and woe unto anyone who confronts us about our sin as outlined in His Word.

3. Jesus Came to Redeem Us: Tying back into the earlier names for Jesus in the first chapter of John, Jesus' response to leaders about being Him being the Temple are an allusion to Him being the Light (to drive away the darkness in the religion of His day); being the Lamb of God (The Sacrifice for the people's sins, the final offered Lamb for all sin, for all time) and the Beloved of God (Who will give the people the ultimate proof of Who He is:  He will rise from the dead).  

We have forgotten the original purpose of the Word: It reveals that we are sinners and that the Messiah will redeem us. He comes not to redo our hearts, but give us new ones. The Father then seeks to conform us to the image of His Son. We live now in the Son and by the Son: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."(Gal. 2:20)  

The leaders were protecting their interests in the Temple and missed the true essence of their faith: "You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!" (John 5:39)   Do our churches get lost in the marketing of Jesus and lose what His original mission truly was and is?

4.  We Bloviate, Opine and Not Ask the Essential Questions, Waiting for the Essential Answers:  The leaders just seem to stop in their interrogation of Jesus.  He stumped them with His analogy to the Temple; no more questions. The disciples only later will realize what He was referring to; at least they got it--thank You, Holy Spirit!  But in the meantime, Jesus goes out to minister to the people, with His signs underscoring His claims.  His primary mission was to come and seek and save the lost, not entertain them, or appeal to their fleshly desire for spectacle.  

Why didn't the leaders pursue Him with a greater hunger for answers?  Because Jesus knew what was truly in their hearts, and He was not about to engage in a debate as to His authority with those with hardened hearts.  He also knew how fickle people can be--to quote a Janet Jackson song:  "What have you done for me lately?"   

We have not because we ask not.  We don't give a vigorous sincere knocking on the door, because like the leaders, we may be afraid of the truth on the other side.  We'd rather talk than listen, opine rather than learn and leave rather than be confronted with the truth.  Why is that?  Jesus told Pilate (and us):

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

"What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him." (John 18:37-8)

Jesus tells us why His light is so disconcerting:

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.  And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants." (John 3:18-21)

The church in Jesus' day ran from the truth, ran from Him, and ultimately put Him to death.  Do we demand our churches downplay the truth of the Word (by getting angry at those pastors who preach the full counsel of God?) and do we church consumers demand a kind of shadowy mixture of dark and light that makes us feel comfortable and good about ourselves? 

But Jesus meets us as individuals, wanting us to ask the hard questions, for He is the answer.  Next time, we will walk with Jesus to explore the third most important institution of His day: Those who lead and influence others in the faith, with His encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. 

Do we come in the dead of night, seeking Him too?

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Jesus and the Church--Part I

We are examining how Jesus' struggles are our own and how He understands what we are going through more than we know.

A little back story here.  I became born-again at age 14, back in the 70's.  My family was Christian because that was the general atmosphere in the 40's and 50's in America.  When I was little, we went to church but once I grew a little older, our family stopped going.  

I met Jesus in Hawaii.  After a long and arduous search for meaning in this life, having watching a Holocaust film in the 8th grade, I prayed one night and a warmth permeated the room.  I had met God and began this walk.  I still am a seeker of truth in all things.  I believe there are two reasons for this.  First, I grew up in an alcoholic home and that remained our family's secret.  My dad told me that my mother was slowly committing suicide by drinking; her own mother had committed suicide and she never recovered from that trauma.  That was her family's secret.  So, we had one also.  Truth was not at a premium in my home; keeping the domestic peace was. 

The second reason I seek out the truth of things is that justice is rarely meted out in our world; people literally get away with murder and the Holocaust proves that.  How many people were convicted after the war versus the number who participated and snuck off into history?  If this world is it, and there is no transcendent Court, then evil won. then and still wins now.

But if God will one day sit in the ultimate Supreme Court and will not send people to hell, but sadly watch them receive the logical result of their choice of having lived without Him in their lives, then goodness wins.  Live without God now, live without God in eternity.  Choose Him here, choose Him for eternity.  It's quite simple, and I find peace in knowing that eternity is the final righting of wrongs.  That is why the Word declares:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev. 21:1-8)

Wow.  What a lovely vision of the future.  This is a future where justice and mercy has prevailed.  

So as a new born-again Christian, I walked up to a little neighborhood church and spent eight years there, being discipled.  I had wonderful role models of how to walk in the Lord, with people who really cared about this awkward teenager.  I was well grounded in the Scriptures and enjoyed church as my second home, because mine was falling apart, with my father leaving us when I was 16.

Only until recently had my church experiences been anything but positive.  Yes, there were a few skirmishes here and there, but nothing to make me doubt church altogether.

Then, in 2015, our church saw our pastor retire and a new one came on board.  This was the beginning of my slow but sure disenchantment with the church.  

This new pastor knew his Bible extremely well and that inspired me to dig deeper.  We studied the Word in a group and studied the art of preaching.  I preached a few times and loved it.  He didn't.  I led worship, which he appreciated, but at times, when he felt threatened, he would put me down.  So, I was praised then punished.  This roller coaster started getting to me, but being a codependent person, I kept adapting and making mid-course corrections.  His displeasure triggered me because I had that same dynamic with my dad.  Then this pastor blamed me for something I did not do, and he was furious with me.  Despite my effort to reconcile and clear the air, he maintained his anger.  When I got an opportunity to lead worship at a new church with my daughter and son-in-law, I took it.  The church had decreased significantly in size and I wanted a change after serving there for eight years.  This pastor never spoke to me again.  

Strike one.

I then went to a new church and served on the worship team.  My life at home was having its challenges but I enjoyed the pastor there, and sought to expand my service.  The pastor's wife had me teach a Bible study, but wanted to critique how I was doing it after each session.  It's hard for me to stay on script if I feel led to share something.  She was not supportive of this, and wanted me to limit my personal input.  So now church and home were pulling me down.  My depression had been increasing and my tolerance for any kind of conflict was very low.  I left.  

Strike two.  

A few months later, Covid hit.  This church opened back up way too soon, even allowing an inside  wedding in the middle of the pandemic.  So, sadly, my days were numbered there, because I would not have supported the pastor in his conduct during the pandemic.  Later on, I did attend one more time, and I was able to reconcile with the pastor and his wife.  But because I just couldn't bring myself to trust their judgment in some areas, I left for good.  

But this church was not alone.  An angry line was drawn in the sand by many churches in Idaho.  Many Christians here were divided over wearing masks.  We went to another church wearing our masks, and one woman sat in the sanctuary while we waited for the service to start talking loudly about people who wear masks in less than supportive terms.  The pastor was a keen young man with a love for the Word, but the church folks were so unfriendly that we stopped going after a few visits. That was last summer.

Then I watched over the course of the year the accusations, angry and acrimony waged in the Body of Christ.  Wow.  I was stunned and stopped going to church altogether, even watching ones online.  I just couldn't watch, in good conscience, those churches who were acting as if nothing was wrong, while many people were dying here in America and around the world. 

Strike three.  I was out.  

I was so disenchanted with how the Body responded to the pandemic in Idaho and in many states that I deeply questioned Church altogether.  For a long time, I have had serious misgivings about business models informing the creating and running of a church.  The rise of the mega-church with all eyes on a charismatic preacher and an emphasis on branding and production has bothered me as well.  But when Covid hit, and some pastors mocked the pandemic, along with many Christians who took umbrage with the government, going so far as to call it a hoax, I was flabbergasted.  To add to the excitement, we saw secular news reports of several prominent pastors who were called out for immoral behavior. 


To walk away from church has been hard.  I will not be a hypocrite and sit or watch online a church where I cannot agree with their course of action or current attitudes.

Yes, to be forgiving as a Christian is central; I have really struggled to be so.  Forgiveness is especially hard when it's your brother or sister in the Lord, because you expect them to know better, right?  They stand on the same ground won for them by Christ as I do.  They have built their lives on the Word--so when the world starts yet another storm (and it will) we all stand tall together, right?

I am not proud of how I responded at times, with a lot of pride mixed with hurt and utter bewilderment.  At times, I felt like that Pharisee; at other times, I felt like that publican, in Jesus' parable.  

Jesus gets it all too well.  His biggest challenge was not those who did not believe; His biggest challenge was the "Church"--that organization erected by men in the name of Judaism with a mixture of all-too-worldly values and a serious desire to uphold the Torah and serve God.  


I would like to, in my next blog, look at His encounters with religious leaders and see how He responded.  I would like to understand His Body better, and I am praying His Spirit will give us insight as we look at Jesus' life.

Blessings to you.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Jesus' Family

Ah, family.  We love, we laugh, we loathe.  

Did Jesus suffer with His family, and knows and shares our grief?  Yes.

Jesus knew all too well the vicissitudes of family.  Here are just a few examples of the complex family life Jesus had.  We will look at several verses recounting the same story. 

From Mark:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-22 & 31-35)

From Matthew:

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:46-50)

Can you imagine?  Maybe you can:  Being misunderstood by others is one thing, but to be misunderstood by your own family, to the point where they come to take charge of you, is devastating.  Hadn't he told his parents that he had to be about his Father's business, all those years ago?

Perhaps his family was afraid.  The religious leaders were accusing him of being possessed by Satan.  Scary, scary stuff.  (Later on, Jesus will heal a a man and the man's parents are questioned by the authorities.  They tell them to ask the man himself, for they are afraid of being put out of the synagogue, John 9:22.)  Was Jesus' family afraid of being put out of the synagogue?  Was his family terrified of having his reputation so impugned that they would all be adversely affected? 

From Luke:

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:19-21)

In Mark and Matthew, Jesus is being accused of being in league with Satan.  Luke has him teaching in parables, and his disciples clamoring for an explanation.  The essence of this teaching is, by listening sincerely to him, you will understand more and more.  Jesus finishes up by saying that for those who do not listen, even what little they know will be removed from them.  Then Jesus family shows up, wanting to see him  You get that they have a sense of urgency, and have missed what he has been teaching. His words seem to indicate that even those who think they know God and His ways could be walking in the dark.  A true disciple, related or not, follows and obeys Jesus.  

How often does our family not understand us?  When I was searching for truth, and I was seeking God, I told my family.  My parents were silent and my brother mocked me.

How often have our families thought they knew what is best for us?  How often did they ignore our vocation, and sought to impose on us their own vision of what we should be doing?  

How often do those who are closest to us do not really know us?  

Let's look at one more incident involving Jesus and his family.  

From Mark:

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.  "Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:1-3)

From Matthew:

Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. (Matt. 13:54-57)

From Luke: 

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. (Luke 4:22)

Mark's version seems to catch the rather upset mood of the crowd at the synagogue.  Look at the jab that they take at Jesus:  They refer to him as the son of Mary.  In Jewish tradition, you are known by your father.  Your name is frequently marked with bar- and then your father's name. But noooo.  Jesus is being referred to as Mary's son, thus calling into question his paternity.  Uh-oh.  We have a word for that:  a bastard.  Father unknown. 

Can you imagine Jesus' childhood?  The whispers, the gossip spoken just loud enough for his mother, him and his other siblings to hear?  The looks, the avoidance, the questions.  Nazareth was a small town and small towns, without a lot to keep the people busy, tend to use gossip as a way to add excitement to a rather routine kind of life.  Mary's story, the one we tell in cute Christmas pageants with little kids in makeshift costumes with awed voices, was a scandal in Jesus' day.  

Matthew's version has the people flummoxed by the wisdom of a "carpenter's son."  Still a jab.  How could the son of a carpenter possibly possess such wisdom?  Hmmm.

Again, look at Jesus' childhood.  Joseph was a poor, hard-working father, trying to provide for his family (which seems to be rather large--there are five boys, including Jesus, and any number of sisters.)  Everyone can be poor in a town, but people still make distinctions between "us and them." Here you catch a whiff of "Who does Jesus think he is?  We all know what his father does.  Isn't Jesus stepping outside his station?"

The Scots have an expression:  "I know your faither."  It means that if you are trying to reach above your station, don't.  We all know who your father was, and consequently, you need to stay put.  I think this captures the attitude of Jesus' hometown folks pretty well.

Luke knew his largely non-Jewish audience wouldn't catch the insinuation of "Isn't this Mary's son?" or may not be too concerned with the crowd's reaction to his father's line of work or Jesus' wealth of knowledge.  I detect that Luke is setting the scene here with a positive response to Jesus' teaching, and how the people here know him, his father and his family.  Perhaps this fits with Matthew's take on this, but why then would Luke have used the words "gracious" to describe Jesus' teachings?  Well, if you read the rest of the passage, the crowd explodes in fury, and takes him to a cliff to throw him off!  Wow.

One more time, think of Jesus' childhood.  People thought they knew him--who his father was, the people in his family, and how Jesus should have simply taken on the family business.  He certainly should not be doing what he is doing, right?

His paternity, his station in life and how quickly people who thought they knew him, turned on him with a vengeance and sought to destroy him.

Sound familiar?  How many of us grew up amidst whispering neighbors, innuendos, criticisms for who we were trying to be, feeling held back by our family or being tormented by those who thought they had a right to control us?

Jesus' family probably at one point in his ministry started living in fear.  How could they not after Jesus steps away from the family and their business, only to become an admired, polarizing and scorned public figure?

So, Jesus gets us, our families and our mutual struggles.  One last note.  James, Jesus' brother, did not become a disciple right away.  We meet him in Acts, where he is esteemed as a pillar of the church.  Interesting.  He finally understood who his brother was.  It took awhile though, and James probably went through a lot of soul-searching. 

There is hope for our family members as well.  Jesus showed us the way:  to seek Him first and trust God with the rest.   

One final note:  We who love Jesus is his family now.  And what a family!  He understands our frustrations, but models utter patience and grace.  Amen to that!

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