Friday, December 31, 2010

Already Misunderstood

Luke 2:50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.

50 καὶ αὐτοὶ οὐ συνῆκαν τὸ ῥῆμα ὃ ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς.

This is the end of one of the more perplexing stories in the gospels.  If I had been Joseph I can guarantee that Jesus would have received a spanking for what he did.  At the very least, I can tell you that when we got to "what do you want to tell God you're sorry for today?" I would have prompted him to mention staying behind from the rest of the caravan to hang out in the temple.  This is perplexing because we know that Jesus never sinned; therefore, this was not as sinful as it seems.

Like Joseph, I would not have really understood what He was doing and why.  Here we see that they did not συνῆκαν, which is an aorist active third-person plural.  There is nothing really special about the aorist mood here, in my opinion.  We just see that Mary and Joseph were confused.

Of course, we see this later on in Jesus' ministry.  We don't see any mention of Joseph, but we do see that Mary and His brothers tried to get Him to stop with all His crazy preaching.  They just didn't get it.  They knew that He was somehow special, but they didn't really fully grasp it.

I'm not sure how to apply this other than to exhort all of us to study Jesus.  Read the gospels.  Read what Paul had to say about Him.  Look at His life.  Read the stories in the context of what He came to do.  His job was to inaugurate the Kingdom.  He turned the Jewish world upside-down.  He turns out world upside-down too.  Jesus changes everything.

Personally, I am convicted by the fact that there are some parts of my life that don't seem to be too greatly affected by knowing Him.  At least they are not radically different from the way people who don't know Him live.  That is not to say I must become an Anabaptist, but I also want to give myself completely to Him.  He gave it all.  What else can I do?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Loosening the Tongue

Luke 1:64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.

64 ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν.

Something struck me about this verse today.  I normally read over this pretty quickly.  After all, I'm familiar with the story.  This is one of those times when having to slow down by reading in Greek really helped me.  I got to think about the phrase καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν.

This is a man who was mute for upwards of 9 months after he saw the vision in the temple.  It occurs to me that Elizabeth probably didn't mind having a mute husband while she was pregnant as he couldn't say anything stupid to her.  But that's not my point today.

I am struck by his reaction to regaining his speech.  What is the first thing that he did after he could speak?  He εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν.  That is a present active participle in the nominative case.  Put it all together and he was "one praising God."  Keep in mind that this is the same God who took away his speech in the first place because of his unbelief.  And yet this is how he reacts.  He doesn't shake his fist at the heavens.  He doesn't say anything banal.  Instead, he uses his regained voice to bless God.

I think that this is also a great image of what happens to someone upon salvation.  We go from being unable to bless God to being able to bless God.  And if we are truly saved and we truly understand what it means to go from bearing righteous condemnation to gracious freedom we cannot help but bless God.

This gives me pause in how I live my life.  I go through the motions very well.  I am disciplined and by most external measures doing pretty well in my walk.  But how much does my heart really bless God?  I am thankful for reminders like this that convict me and remind me of how I was saved from God's righteous wrath.  How else can I react but to bless Him?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Today was a big day for me because I memorized Colossians 4:18.  That puts me at the end of the book.  It's always great to reach the end, but now comes the long slog through the next 100 days of review.  Given the troubles I've had with Galatians I realize that I need to stay buttoned-up on this.

I know that I don't post personal stuff on this blog much anymore, but since this project is the reason I've been slacking here I thought I should mention it.  In a few weeks I should be able to recite all of Colossians from memory without helps and then be able to do it while stretching for a run, in the shower, etc.  That will free up more time for this blog.

If you're interested in trying this, you can check out this system.  And unlike the system that many are discussing now, you don't need a moleskine!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Big Stone

Mark 16:3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back--it was very large.

3 καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς ἑαυτάς· τίς ἀποκυλίσει ἡμῖν τὸν λίθον ἐκ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου; 4  καὶ ἀναβλέψασαι θεωροῦσιν ὅτι ἀποκεκύλισται ὁ λίθος· ἦν γὰρ μέγας σφόδρα.

I was thinking about writing on the longer ending of Mark, but I see that I already did that in my first pass through this book.  These two verses jumped out at me because they speak to something that is sometimes overlooked when we read the gospel accounts.  Gospel is a specific genre of literature because it is basically narrative, but is different than the book of 1 Samuel, for example.  The three synoptics combine to create what is sometimes called the "synoptic problem," in that details don't seem to quite match up.  There are ways to deal with that and still maintain inerrancy, but I don't want to get into that here.

My point is that the gospels are still heavy on the narrative.  Little details like this emphasize the reality of the accounts.  We don't really need to read this dialog between the women.  They could have just gone to the tomb and seen that the Lord had been raised.  Instead, Mark gives us this little insight into the reality of the situation.  These two women worried about how they were going to roll away the stone.  This was certainly a legitimate concern for them.

This is similar to how we read in John that John outran Peter.  This is not a necessary detail, but it shows us that the writer was chronicling real events.  If it was just an objective historical account of what happened we likely would not have these things.  But the little things give us a sense that we are reading eyewitness accounts of what happened or, as in the case of Luke, reading the compilation of eyewitness accounts.

In short, you can trust the gospels.  Just be careful about those passages that appear in [[ ]] in your Bibles.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

Mark 15:24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.

24 Καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν καὶ διαμερίζονται τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, βάλλοντες κλῆρον ἐπ᾽ αὐτὰ τίς τί ἄρῃ.

Here we are on the day after Christmas and I find myself in Mark 15.  This seems a bit macabre given all the sugar we have been consuming to remind us of the sweetness of our Savior.  We exchanged gifts to remind us that Jesus gave us the best gift we could possibly ever receive.  We sing songs like "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" as we contemplate that first Christmas.

I have always loved Christmas, but now that I am a parent of two small children I love the giving more than the receiving.  I never really understood that until the past few years.  I would still have trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve because of the anticipation.  Now I look forward to seeing how my children react to their gifts.  They rarely disappoint.

But here we see that, in contrast to the sweetness of Christmas, σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν.  There's nothing fancy about this verb.  It is simply a present active 3rd person indicative.  It means what it looks like it means.  They crucified Him.

My point is that there was a shadow of a cross hanging over the manger where He was laid.  He was born to die as a ransom for mankind.  So while we think about the wonder of Christmas let us be even more amazed as we consider that His death loomed over His whole life.  I don't think that His parents quite understood that, based on how they reacted to His ministry.  As a baby He didn't understand it either.  But as we look back at the gospel accounts we can see how He was born to die as a payment for sin.  What a Savior!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stay Awake

Mark 13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."

37 ὃ δὲ ὑμῖν λέγω πᾶσιν λέγω, γρηγορεῖτε.

This is the end of the parable about the doorkeeper who must stay awake because he does not know when his master will return.  Jesus is giving a very serious command to His disciples and, I believe, to us.  We are to γρηγορεῖτε.  This is a present active imperative.  Another way of thinking of it is that we are to "remain watchful."

What does this mean?  Well, at a certain level all the parables are an indictment against the Jews.  They did not remain watchful because if they had they would have connected the dots between the Old Testament prophecies and the coming of the Messiah in Jesus.

I think that it also applies to us.  How will you be found when Jesus returns?  Are you active and vigilant in your Christian life?  Or are you napping?  To make a sports comparison, the best players are the ones who never take an at-bat off.  They never take a down off.  They never stop playing defense every time the ball does down the court.  If they are in the game they are playing their hardest.

What about you?  Are you remaining watchful?  Or have you decided to take a nap with grace as your spiritual snuggie?  As with all of the parables, this convicts me because I realize just how much more vigilant I must be.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Prophet Has Come

Mark 9:13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him."

13 ἀλλὰ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι καὶ Ἠλίας ἐλήλυθεν, καὶ ἐποίησαν αὐτῷ ὅσα ἤθελον, καθὼς γέγραπται ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν.

This is something Jesus tells Peter and James after they witnessed His transfiguration.  They didn't know what to make of Elijah and Moses on the mountain with Jesus and they start asking Him questions.  They were trying to understand why it was written that Elijah must come first.  This is how Jesus responded to them.  He tells them that Elijah ἐλήλυθεν, which is in the perfect active indicative.  The most generic understanding of the aspect of the perfect is that it refers to a completed action with present effect.

Why do I quote this verse on a day when I am emerging from a blogging slumber?  I guess I'm in an academic mood, but it makes me think of hermeneutics, which is one of my favorite subjects.  It seems to me that Jesus could be referring to the fact that Elijah was with them at the transfiguration.  Or as is often supposed, it means that Jesus is referring to John the Baptizer.  For what it's worth, the ESV cross-reference points to Mark 6 which recounts why John was beheaded by Herod.

If Jesus does indeed refer to John the Baptizer here then this is something of a hermeneutical oddity for us.  It tells us that there is some sort of non-literal language being used here.  If we take this passage literally we are confused or perhaps we look for Elijah to come before the Messiah as the Jews do.  After all, if we take this passage literally then they are right.  But if we read this with an understanding to the symbolic language we see that not all is as it seems.  In fact, Jesus is explaining this with symbolic rather than literal language.

My point is that we need to be careful about being too literal.  The key is to figure out what should be taken literally and what should be taken symbolically.  It sure helps when the New Testament interprets it clearly for us, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Faith to be Healed

Mark 5:29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

29 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξηράνθη ἡ πηγὴ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς καὶ ἔγνω τῷ σώματι ὅτι ἴαται ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγος.

This is one of the stories that we cannot really grasp in our 21st century Gentile context.  Here was a woman who had some kind of discharge of blood.  Nobody is exactly sure what it was, but many think that it was menstrual.  This would cause both spiritual and physical problems for this woman.  Obviously it is not good if you bleed continually for years and years.  The spiritual problem is that the book of Leviticus makes it very clear that this woman was unclean.  The time of menstruation made a woman ceremonially unclean.  Therefore, she was constantly unclean.

She pressed through the crowd so that she could just touch Jesus' robe.  She did and as we see here the flow dried up εὐθὺς.  She instantly knew that she was better.  I cannot even begin to relate to how elated she must have felt at that time.

This story amazes me on a couple of levels.  First, it makes me wonder a little bit about relics.  Why was it that she had to touch Jesus' robe?  Was there any special power to it?  I don't think so.  I think that it demonstrates a practical outworking of her faith.  She knew that she needed Jesus and this was how she had to express it.  In other words, if we could somehow find that same robe I don't think we could take it to Duke and clear out the pediatric oncology ward.

The other amazing thing is that she could touch Jesus and He would not become unclean.  Anyone else would have become unclean, but not God.  The same goes for when He touches a leper to make him well.  The only time the stain of sin touched Jesus was on the cross.  We'll of course get to that in a week or two, but for now consider this.  Read through Leviticus if you have a few minutes and look at how exacting the laws for purification were.  Then consider that Jesus did not have to go through all those machinations.

We truly worship an amazing Savior.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Unbelievable Mercy

Mark 5:13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

13 καὶ ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς. καὶ ἐξελθόντα τὰ πνεύματα τὰ ἀκάθαρτα εἰσῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, καὶ ὥρμησεν ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, ὡς δισχίλιοι, καὶ ἐπνίγοντο ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ.

This may be my favorite story in all of Mark.  Jesus is dealing with a man possessed with many demons.  He has been relegated to living in a tomb and is not in his right mind.  The demons recognized Jesus immediately upon His arrival and they begged Him not to torment them.  What was the result? ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς.  There is nothing fancy about the Greek here.  Basically, Jesus permitted the demons to have their request.

I think about my attitude toward those who have harmed me.  If someone were to hurt anyone in my family I would have a hard time showing mercy.  I would want to see that person suffer.  It would be difficult for me to be content with them merely receiving justice.  I would also want revenge.

Jesus certainly had it in His power to make these demons suffer.  In fact, that's what they were worried that He would do.  Instead, He cast the unclean spirits into unclean animals.  We don't really know what happened to the unclean spirits other than that they were not bothering their original host anymore.  I have not given much thought to the doctrine of demonology so I don't really understand everything that happened here.

What I do know is that Jesus even showed mercy to demons.  This was sheer grace because they did not deserve any mercy.  How much more mercy does He show us when He saves us from our sins?  And as we live our lives and seek to be Christlike, how much mercy do we show others?  How much grace do we extend?

My inclination is to be vindictive.  Christ's is to show mercy.  Let's seek the better path, amen?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

We Are Family

Mark 3:34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."

34 καὶ περιβλεψάμενος τοὺς περὶ αὐτὸν κύκλῳ καθημένους λέγει· ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί μου. 35  ὃς [γὰρ] ἂν ποιήσῃ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, οὗτος ἀδελφός μου καὶ ἀδελφὴ καὶ μήτηρ ἐστίν.

This is Jesus' response to the statement that His mother and brothers were outside and looking for Him.  One would think that a good son would simply go out and see His mother and His family, even if they were trying to have Him committed.  Instead He does something surprising.  He asks a rhetorical question in verse 33 wondering who are His mother and brothers.  Then He answers it here.

This is one of those Greek constructs that does not translate perfectly.  Jesus tells them ὃς [γὰρ] ἂν ποιήσῃ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ.  It would read terribly, but very woodenly this would be, "If there is a person who does the will of God."  The verb ποιήσῃ is in the aorist subjunctive.  The aorist tense gives it an undefined aspect.  Basically, Jesus is saying something to the effect of, "Find me someone who does the will of God and I will call that person family."

This has two applications I can think of right away.  The first is doctrinal.  This passage and its parallels in the synoptics tell us that Jesus' mother and family held no special sway over Him, despite what Roman Catholics teach.  He takes care of His mother at the end of John's gospel and He does obey her in John 2, but otherwise she seems to have no special place in His ministry.  I don't think that having her ear gains us any special favor with Jesus.

The other is that doing God's will is something that we really should be doing.  We do not do God's will to earn favor with the Lord.  Rather, we do God's will as a result of our salvation.  This helps me in the area of assurance.  My salvation is not contingent on doing God's will, but if I am doing God's will I have a deeper sense of assurance.

How do we know God's will?  We read His Word and apply it.  This really is not very complicated.  It's easier to write about at 6:30 in the morning than it will be to live at 2:30 this afternoon, but this is the heart of the matter.  How am I living?  Do I act like part of Jesus' family or don't I?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Devotional Time

Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

35 Καὶ πρωῒ ἔννυχα λίαν ἀναστὰς ἐξῆλθεν καὶ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς ἔρημον τόπον κἀκεῖ προσηύχετο.

This is a verse that I have had in my email signature because I think that it underscores something that is vital to Christian living.  Today is the first time that I really looked deeply at the Greek.  I think that is because last time I read this I went through it pretty quickly since it is such a familiar verse.

The phrase πρωῒ ἔννυχα λίαν ἀναστὰς does not translate literally into English very well.  The word πρωῒ means "morning," but the word ἔννυχα means "night."  However, it also can be used as a modifier.  The word λίαν means "greatly," so this adds force to a modifier.  The word ἀναστὰς  is an aorist active participle in the nominative case.  The ESV captures the overall sense of this very well.  Basically, what we get is Jesus getting up at what they call "oh-dark-thirty" in the military.  He was awake to see the sky turn from black to deep purple to deep blue to blue.  He heard the first birds chirping.  You get the idea.

This verse starts with Καὶ, so we need to ask what this is tied to.  The previous verse describes His healing and exorcism ministry.  He was extremely busy healing people and casting out demons.  This was His response.  He got up very early in the morning to pray.  He didn't feel like He owed Himself a good lie-in.  He did take some time to Himself, but not to play video games, watch TV, surf porn, or drink Himself into oblivion.  Rather, He sacrificed sleep to spend time with the Father before the pressures of the day started up.

How do we deal with the pressures of life?  Obviously I was making an illustrative point in contrasting Jesus' way with the way that I and so many others have dealt with stress.  He spent time with the Father.  He found that to be refreshing.

This of course should make us question our own practices.  Do we even consider time with the Father to be refreshing?  Do we even think it will be worthwhile to sacrifice some sleep to spend time with Him through prayer and the Word?  Or do we think it is more important to leap out of bed and start the day?  I know that I feel off-kilter if I don't have a little time to myself first-thing every morning.  How about you?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Time is Fulfilled

Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

14 Μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ 15  καὶ λέγων ὅτι πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.

One of the great things about the book of Mark is that it is all about action.  It leaps from one story to the next and there is rarely much time for background material.  Here we see a lot of time condensed into two verses.  We learned about the John the Baptizer's ministry and then we see the transition to Jesus.

Jesus says something pretty striking to His listeners.  He tells them that πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς.  The verb πεπλήρωται is a perfect passive, which means that it would most literally be translated something like, "the time has been fulfilled."  What time is that?  Jesus continues with καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, which is a perfect active.  Here we see that the kingdom is near.  What does this mean?

It means that everything that the prophets wrote about were coming true in Him.  They predicted His coming and here He was.  They didn't have to keep looking through the prophets and they didn't have to keep watching and waiting.  He arrived to fulfill the prophets.  He emphasized this by explaining that the kingdom of God is near and therefore, they had to repent and believe right then.

What does this mean to us?  I think that it is a key to understanding Old Testament prophecy.  It points forward to Christ.  He is the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy.  This puts our focus on the cross and not anywhere else.  Frankly, I think that is where it should be.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Torn Curtain

Matthew 27:51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

51 Καὶ ἰδοὺ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη ἀπ᾽ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω εἰς δύο καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐσείσθη καὶ αἱ πέτραι ἐσχίσθησαν,

I picked this title because it is also a good Hitchcock movie that is worth seeing, if nothing else because it so perfectly captures how you can get a scientist to give you a secret.  Much more importantly, it represents an incredible truth.  If you have spent any time in the Pentateuch you will know how important the Tabernacle was to the life of the people.  This was then continued with the temple.  It was vitally important to have the curtain to keep the Holy of Holies separate from the people.  Legend has it that when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies for the annual sacrifice on Yom Kippur they would tie a rope to his ankle in case he made the offering in an unworthy manner and the Lord killed him like He did with Uzzah and the ark or with Nadab and Abihu and their "strange fire."  That's how serious it was.  There was a barrier between the people and God.

But as Christ yielded up His spirit this curtain was torn.  Not only was it torn, but it was torn ἀπ᾽ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω.  There was no way that a person could do that.  It had to be God who tore the curtain.  Imagine the violence of the moment.  Anyone who has ever lived through an earthquake knows how unsettling it is.  When rocks start splitting it is extremely serious and terrifying.  All of this happened as Christ yielded up His spirit.

What does this mean for us?  It means that because of Christ's atoning death on the cross we have access to God.  There is no longer a barrier between us and God if we go to the cross.  This would be simply unthinkable to Matthew's Jewish audience, but they could look at the torn curtain for all the proof that they needed.  God gave them a physical illustration of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  I can only imagine the spectacle as Jews went to the temple to get a look at what was in the Holy of Holies.  I know that I would have wanted to see.  That was unimaginable access for them.

And yet we have more than that with God.  What do we do with this?  Do we spend time in earnest prayer enjoying this intimate fellowship?  I don't know about you, but I find that I sadly do not do that as much as I'd like.  Instead, I find myself wasting time on frivolities and trying to entertain myself.  Why do this when we have access to God?  This passage reminds me of the access that we do have.  Let's take advantage of it, amen?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on Matthew

I was thrilled to be deemed worthy of receiving a copy of one of the new exegetical commentaries from Zondervan.  I got the one on Matthew.  My thesis is on the relationship between Matthew 2:15 and Hosea 11:1, so I could use the resource anyway.  Plus, I'm always a sucker for free books.

My first impression is that this tome means business as it weighs in at 4.5 pounds.  Of course, Matthew is 28 chapters, so it takes some space to cover all of it.  The binding is outstanding.  I can open the book up to any page and it will stay open to that page.  This may not seem like a big deal until you try to type notes while reading.  It's a little thing that I've grown to appreciate with well-made books.  The paper has a nice thickness to it with very little ghosting.  The serif font used for the majority of the text is very readable, even in the footnotes.

The book begins with an introduction explaining issues of authorship, sources, Matthew's use of the OT, etc.   It also has an exegetical outline of the whole book, which is very handy if you plan on preaching through Matthew.  The rest of the book is broken up into 122 chapters that are subsets of this major outline.  It ends with a section on the theology of Matthew.

Each chapter begins with a paragraph on the literary context of the pericope, though chapters before major passages have an introduction to the whole section.  For example, at the start of Matthew 24 there is an introduction to the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:1-25:46.  After the literary context there is a chart showing where this passage falls in the major outline with a good use of bold type.  A few sentences describe the "main idea" for the passage, which is of course important if you plan to preach expository sermons.  Each section is translated into English, but what's really nice is how this is done.  The English translation is given in block outline form so you can follow the flow of the passage.  On the right are labels for each clause in each verse.  In a light shadow font are descriptions of each clause such as "Scene #1 setting" or "Objection" and then "Answer."  Naturally, these are all subject to debate, but they really provide a great help in determining how the pericope flows.

Next is a section on the structure and literary form of each passage and this is a paragraph or two.  Following that is an exegetical outline of the passage, which is yet another aid in preaching.  Basically, Osborne has done what my Greek teacher taught me to do.  I would still want to do this myself, but it is nice to have a scholar's work to check mine against.

After all these preliminaries are the meat of each chapter -- the explanation of the text.  The explanation starts with a brief introduction and then goes through each clause.  The clauses are presented with the English translation in bold type followed by the Greek in parenthesis.  The Greek font is extremely readable, which I have learned is not a given in books that print Greek text.  The text describing each clause also includes Greek in parenthesis where appropriate.  For example, the note on Matthew 3:13 begins with, "The 'then' (τότε) here shows that..."  This is very helpful in thinking through the issues in each clause.

The book is heavily footnoted.  It took a little digging for me to find the bibliography at the front of the book rather than the back.  I appreciate that the footnotes are in the full SBL text note style rather than Author-Date citations in the text.  This is superior to the system used in the Baker commentaries where it is more difficult to figure out each source for each citation.

The footnotes are my only real quibble with this resource.  The 1/2 inch margins make the text feel a bit crowded.  I cannot imagine how much the book would weigh with larger margins, so I understand why this had to be done.  As this book becomes a staple in seminary libraries students are going to have a tough time making photocopies of the pages they want because the thickness of the book creates a deep gutter and the small margins give little tolerance for error.  The good news is that text never disappears into the gutter when reading it.

I am not fond of the two-column format for the majority of the text.  Again, given the way this book is designed there would be a lot of line breaks as the author moved from clause to clause.  Nevertheless, the text ends up with too many hyphens for continued words.  A quick glance through the book shows that most pages have a footnote broken between the two columns.  Since this is not a book you're likely to curl up with in front of the fire, I don't think that this is a huge problem, but it is still a bit distracting.

Finally, each chapter ends with a section called "Theology in Application" where the author gives his opinion as to how one can apply what he just read.  Again, this is a great aid in preaching.

I am hardly a Matthean scholar, so I do not feel qualified to offer much criticism of the substance of the work.  I am working on a thesis regarding the connection between Matthew 2:15 and Hosea 11:1, so naturally I went there first.  I found that Osborne presents the majority opinion, but also gives some information about other largely-held views.

Another passage I examined was Matthew 16:18-19.  Osborne presents the various ideas of what "the rock" was to which Jesus referred.  He explains a few views, but lands on the natural reading of Peter as "the rock," and also explains that is the majority view as well.  Again, Osborne lands on the majority view, but has good reasons to do so.

Finally, I took a look at some of his comments around the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.  He lays out four views of how to interpret it from the classic dispensational view to reading it all as apocalyptic language.  None of his descriptions are exhaustive, but the descriptions and the footnotes combine to give the reader plenty to work on if he wants to do further research.

Overall, I am glad to have this in my library.  I look forward to when this is included with Logos as well.  I suspect that this is a commentary series that I will use quite heavily as I prepare NT sermons.  You will not be sorry if you purchase this.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Was the Crime?

Matthew 26:65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.

65 τότε ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς διέρρηξεν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ λέγων· ἐβλασφήμησεν· τί ἔτι χρείαν ἔχομεν μαρτύρων; ἴδε νῦν ἠκούσατε τὴν βλασφημίαν·

(Note: I apologize for the long time between posts.  We were out of town for Thanksgiving.  Also, posting has been less frequent because of a memorization project I'm working on.)

If anyone wonders about whether Jesus claimed to be divine you don't need to look any further than the sham trial that the Jews put Him through.  We can debate some of the phrases He used until the cows come home.  We can wonder how He would have been understood in first-century Palestine.  But here we don't have to wonder.  The text tells us.  The high priest said that He was guilty of blasphemy.

Frankly, if He truly had blasphemed then He would have deserved death based on the Law.  If anyone claims to be God who is not God then He has blasphemed.  This is why the high priest could confidently say τί ἔτι χρείαν ἔχομεν μαρτύρων.  They did not need any further witnesses if the accused basically convicted himself.  But Jesus was not guilty of anything because He was God.

I tend to gloss through these parts of the gospel because they are quite painful to read.  The injustice done to my Lord disturbs me.  I hate seeing examples of injustice anyway, but when it comes to my Lord it is just intensified.  But I think that we need to slow down here a little bit because we get Christology from these passages too.  Jesus is God.  Let's worship Him accordingly, amen?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Heart Matters

Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

23 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι ἀποδεκατοῦτε τὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ τὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον καὶ ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν· ταῦτα [δὲ] ἔδει ποιῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἀφιέναι.

Jesus is on a roll in this passage.  He has been proclaiming a variety of woes on the scribes and Pharisees.  This probably goes without saying, but the scribes and Pharisees were the serious religious players of the day.  Imagine someone proclaiming a woe on the Pope.  Or, in Protestant circles, imagine someone proclaiming a woe on Billy Graham.  This was simply unthinkable to the people who heard this.

Why did Jesus give them such harsh words?  He told them that they ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου (of course, the verb is 2nd person plural, but you should get the idea).  Translating τὰ βαρύτερα as "weightier matters" is a bit of an interpretive decision, but it is necessary because Greek doesn't have a comparative sense like English does.  Very literally it would be something like, "you neglect the weighty things of the law."  But given the context in how Jesus lists what those matters are, I think that the comparative sense is certainly a valid translation.

When I read these woes my first instinct is to think about who else they apply to someone else.  But as I think more deeply I wonder how they apply to me.  Where am I obeying the superficial things, but neglecting the weightier matters?  Yes, I read my Bible daily, pray daily, memorize Scripture, tithe, etc.  The Pharisees did all that.  But does God have my heart?

I think He does, but this passage still gives me pause.  Is there more I could give Him?  I think so.  How about you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Entering the Kingdom

Matthew 21:31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

31 τίς ἐκ τῶν δύο ἐποίησεν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός; λέγουσιν· ὁ πρῶτος. λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οἱ τελῶναι καὶ αἱ πόρναι προάγουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. 32  ἦλθεν γὰρ Ἰωάννης πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ὁδῷ δικαιοσύνης, καὶ οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ, οἱ δὲ τελῶναι καὶ αἱ πόρναι ἐπίστευσαν αὐτῷ· ὑμεῖς δὲ ἰδόντες οὐδὲ μετεμελήθητε ὕστερον τοῦ πιστεῦσαι αὐτῷ.

This is the conclusion to a parable that I always find compelling.  Jesus is trying to make an illustration to the Pharisees about grace.  He tells them about two sons whose father owns a vineyard.  The father asks the first to work in the vineyard.  He initially refuses, but later changes his mind.  The second one initially says that he will, but then never does it.  Here is Jesus' conclusion.

The application of this for today should be obvious, but of course the blindness of the Pharisees afflicts us all to some degree.  I think that you can mesh this parable with that of the four soils.  How eager we can be when we first hear a teaching or a command!  But then what do we do with it?  Do we apply it and obey it?  Or do we ignore it?

Of course, whenever I read a parable I like to cast myself as one of the "good guys," meaning one of those who are painted in a good light.  But I know that is not always so.  It is much easier for me to read Scripture with an academic or even pastoral eye than a devotional one, particularly the gospels.  Yet here is where God uses His Word to transform us.  My prayer is that I would be broken and obedient.  May I never be one of those people who gives verbal assent, but puts no hands or feet to the application.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Matthew 18:34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

34 καὶ ὀργισθεὶς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν τοῖς βασανισταῖς ἕως οὗ ἀποδῷ πᾶν τὸ ὀφειλόμενον. 35  οὕτως καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ οὐράνιος ποιήσει ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ ἀφῆτε ἕκαστος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν καρδιῶν ὑμῶν.

This comes at the end of a parable Jesus told the disciples in response to a question Peter asked.  Peter thought he was being really spiritual by offering to forgive his brother seven times.  Then Jesus told him that he was to forgive his brother seventy-seven times.  In other words, Jesus was using hyperbole to say that we must forgive as many times as we are wronged.  Then He told this parable about a wicked servant who was forgiven an unpayable debt but would not forgive a much more minor one.

This one always gets me because I know how vindictive my heart can be.  I do not default to grace, even though I often try to remind myself of just how much I have been forgiven.  It's convicting because of the construct ἐὰν μὴ.  This can be translated "unless."  In other words, this verse makes it seem like our acceptance before God is contingent upon how we forgive.

However, I don't think we should interpret this as a works-based salvation, though it would be natural to do so.  Instead, we need to see this as the natural result of grace.  If we have truly been forgiven for our sins by a holy God then forgiving our brother will not be that big of a deal.  It is something that we will be able to do.  In fact, how could we not do it if we truly believe in God's grace?

How are you doing with this?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Don't Follow Men

Matthew 15:8 "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

8 ὁ λαὸς οὗτος τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ· 9  μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων.

Every time I read through the gospels I am amazed at how Jesus' teaching applies so well to today.  In other words, people have not fundamentally changed.  Although the writers could not have imagined that we would communicate to each other with telephones, blogs, twitter, etc, what they wrote applies today as much as it did 2000 years ago because the human condition has not changed.

When I read this passage I immediately put my "team" mode on and think how great it is that Jesus is sticking it to the Pharisees again.  Way to call out those hypocrites!  I'm so glad that my heart is close to Jesus!  I'm glad that I don't follow the commandments of men.  After all, I have no real creed but the Bible, right?

This attitude is problematic for a couple of reasons.  One is that my heart is not as close to Jesus as I would like to think it is.  I realize how easily distracted I am by the world.  I give lip-service to Jesus, but I don't stay as close to Him as He commands.  I've addressed this in numerous posts and I'm sure I will again.  I know how easily my heart strays since it is an idol factory after all.

The other is that the idea of "no creed but the Bible" is impossible.  We say that, but ultimately we follow the traditions of men.  Suppose that we think church should only be on Sunday mornings at 11:00 AM with wooden pews.  That's fine, except pews did not exist in the first-century.  So we've already started following a tradition of men.  It's not a bad one, but it's naive to think that we don't.

Then there is how we read Scripture.  We're all informed by our lives.  We all bring certain prejudices to the text.  For example, when Luther read Galatians he saw it as a condemnation of the Catholic Church.  I suppose it can be used that way, but that's not what Paul had in mind since the Roman Catholic Church was not invented yet.  He read his situation into the text.  We may say that we don't want to do that, but we all do it to some degree.

This is not necessarily wrong as long as we don't change things to suit our moods.  That's what happens when we read a feminist understanding into 1 Timothy 2:12, for example.  We are all in a hermeneutical spiral.  Let's just be honest about it rather than pretending that we truly have "no creed but the Bible."  And let's obey this passage by not elevating those secondary matters above the clear teachings of Scripture, amen?

Friday, November 12, 2010

What is it Worth?

Matthew 13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

44 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν θησαυρῷ κεκρυμμένῳ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, ὃν εὑρὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔκρυψεν, καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς αὐτοῦ ὑπάγει καὶ πωλεῖ πάντα ὅσα ἔχει καὶ ἀγοράζει τὸν ἀγρὸν ἐκεῖνον.

This is another of Jesus' parables about the kingdom of heaven.  He is trying to explain to His disciples what it is all about.  I think what we're supposed to get out of this is that it is something extremely valuable.  He does this with a parable that we can relate to very easily.

Let's suppose that you were given an offer where you could have fifty million dollars if you could come up with $150,000.  Obviously you would be skeptical of the offer because get rich schemes are too good to be true.  But then let's say that you got this offer from a source that you considered entirely trustworthy.

Looking around my house, I think I would do everything I could to come up with the money.  First, I'd mortgage my house as far as I could.  I'd sell both of our vehicles.  I'd sell my guitars, my pool table, our fine china, our TV, our computers, the Wii, the PS2 and all its games, and all our furniture.  I would do whatever it took to raise the money.

Why would I be so eager?  I would know that ultimately the payoff is much greater than the loss of stuff.  So it is also with the kingdom of heaven.  If there is something that we won't give up then we don't really understand what the kingdom of heaven is all about.  We may give lip-service to it, but really we don't believe the promise.

This is not to say that we have to become monks.  But if that is somehow God's call on our lives then we need to be ready for that.  Of course, discerning that call is another story, but the point is that we need to be willing to leave it all for the sake of the kingdom.

How about you?  Writing this is difficult as it convicts me.  I can come up with this nifty illustration, but am I living it?  Probably not as much as this parable would dictate.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How is Your Soil?

Matthew 13:23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

23 ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν καλὴν γῆν σπαρείς, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τὸν λόγον ἀκούων καὶ συνιείς, ὃς δὴ καρποφορεῖ καὶ ποιεῖ ὃ μὲν ἑκατόν, ὃ δὲ ἑξήκοντα, ὃ δὲ τριάκοντα.

I would maintain that this is one of Jesus' more misunderstood parables in the evangelical church.  It is very well-known, but I'm not sure that we get it because we read this through American eyes.  To us, we see three soils that are Christians and one that is not.  But I don't think that is what Jesus is getting at here.

You don't have to read very far in the gospels to see that Jesus sets the bar very, very high.  The expectation is that we will bear fruit.  In fact, He tells us that a tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  I think the same goes for the parable of the soils.  There are those who will just reject the gospel as seen in the first soil. There are those who will immediately receive the gospel with joy, but will reject it when trials come. And there are those who seem to receive the gospel, but they don't bother to remove the weeds in their lives and they cannot grow.

It is difficult for me to reconcile how the shallow soil and the thorny soil could indicate someone who is saved.  The Christian life is one that bears fruit.  We may not always bear a ton of fruit, but we should be bearing fruit.  Weeds may come in, but as we notice them we pull them.  We may sometime need deeper soil and fertilizer, so we spend more time in the Word, in prayer, in fellowship, etc.  We all go through some ups and downs, but the Christian life should be a fruit-bearing one.

How is yours?  Do you need to pull some weeds in the garden?  Do you need to put a few yards of topsoil down?  Or are you bearing fruit?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Too Smart?

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;

25 Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· ἐξομολογοῦμαί σοι, πάτερ, κύριε τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς, ὅτι ἔκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν καὶ ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις·

Here Jesus is talking about how the people reacted to John the Baptist.  He notes how they are not satisfied with anything.  They think John is demon-possessed because he doesn't eat or drink like they do and lives an ascetic life.  They think Jesus is a glutton and a drunkard because He does eat and drink like they do and they think that a religious leader should be more restrained.  He then explains how John came to prepare the way for Him.

This verse is particularly poignant for me.  There was a time when I was sure that I was too smart to believe in God.  I figured that religion was just an emotional crutch for the weak.  It was invented to keep people in line.  After all, they needed something to hold on to and they weren't smart enough to see the folly of believing in an invisible God with no proof.  Of course, I have since changed my mind, but that's where I was in high school.

Jesus prays a remarkable prayer here.  He thanks the Father for hiding Himself from the wise of the world and revealing Himself to the νηπίοις.  That word refers to children that would be my son's age (3) or even younger.  Think toddlers.  I'm not sure that He means literally to the toddlers, but given the contrast and based on some other verses I think He means that those who would accept the gospel with a simple faith.

This of course is folly to the wise of our time just like it was 2000 years ago.  It's also folly to folks who say that the gospel is more than just good news.  At its heart that's all it is.  It is the good news that Jesus Christ came to earth fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, and died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.  We need to accept the gift.  Are you going to accept it or reject it?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Found Worthy

Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

38 καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.

There is a trend started by men like Charles Finney and DL Moody to hold "revival meetings."  They are different in style today, but the underlying form is the same.  You get a bunch of people together, have them sit under a charismatic speaker, and get them to make a "decision for the Lord."  You then count up the incredible harvest and feel good about the work you're doing for the Lord.  Of course, some have perverted this for selfish gain, but I believe that in general the folks who have meetings like this mean well.

The problem is that "making a decision" is antithetical to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus.  In a few weeks we're going to get to the commission with which Jesus left the church.  There is nothing easy about any of this.  Becoming a Christian is easy in the sense that it is all about grace.  But it is difficult in the sense that we need to repent of our pasts and turn to the Lord.

There is no mystery in the Greek here either.  Jesus calls us to radical discipleship.  It is not a matter of simply filling out a card or raising a hand during a corporate prayer time.  No, Jesus is serious about this.  We are to follow Him with all we've got.

Where are you?  Are you playing games with the Lord?  Or are you pursuing Him with all you've got?  Understand that we will still do this imperfectly.  We will have times when we feel like we aren't even Christians. I am not saying that Jesus demands perfection.  However, He does demand that we take up our cross and follow Him.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Are You Sick?

Matthew 9:12 But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

12 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας εἶπεν· οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ᾽ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες.

The Pharisees didn't like the company that Jesus kept.  It made no sense to them that He would associate with prostitutes and the hated tax-collectors.  After all, a good teacher would not do such things.  They certainly wouldn't.  Then Jesus hits them with this saying.  He did not come for ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες, which literally means having "strong" or "able," but He did come for οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες, or the ones having badness.

This is a message that I think the American church needs to consider today.  I am all for the principles of Fundamentalism.  We should stick to the text, though of course we all have traditions that color our hermeneutics.  If the Bible says so then that should be enough for us.  These are good things about Fundamentalism.

But the bad is the isolationist tendencies.  In one sense, Jesus does set up an "us vs them" world.  However, He also makes it clear that we are to evangelize.  That's hard to do when we refuse to spend time with οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες.  It's also hard when we think ourselves to be ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες.  Until we identify first as being sick or sinful we will never ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες.

Where are you?  Are you resting in your own righteousness?  Or are you resting in the care and ability of the Great Physician who came to heal the sick?  I urge you to repent of your self-sufficiency and rely solely on the work of Christ.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

True Authority

Matthew 7:28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

28 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους, ἐξεπλήσσοντο οἱ ὄχλοι ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ· 29  ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν.

This is the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has finished rocking the worlds of His hearers.  He took what they knew about the Law and intensified it.  He also made the point that salvation is not something that comes easily or universally.  It is a narrow door and only a few will walk through it, despite what they think.  In fact, there will be those who seemingly bear fruit, but He still does not know them.  These are difficult things to hear.

This passage really sums it all up though.  It tells us that the crowds ἐξεπλήσσοντο.  This is an imperfect passive.  Basically, what we get is that His teaching blew them away.  Why were they so surprised?  He taught ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων.  The word ἔχων is a present active participle.  This gives us a sense that they realized that Jesus had authority as He spoke.  He was in the state of one having authority.

What does this mean?  It means that unlike those who simply regurgitated the Law back to them, He had the authority to change things a bit.  He explained that they had got it wrong all this time and that God really wanted their hearts, not just their behavior.  Adultery was not just a matter of the physical act, for example, but was also about the eyes and the heart.  Murder was not just the actual taking of another life, but it was also having hate in your heart.  And so on.

Who could do this?  Only God.  This is why they were so amazed.  They realized that they were in the presence of the Divine.  This shocked them, but that was what they needed to hear.

How about you?  If you know Jesus are you amazed at your relationship with the Divine?  Do you submit to His Word with the understanding that it has true authority?  Personally, as I read this passage I am stirred to prayerfully pursue more depth with the Lord.  He is God and He loves me.  I have a relationship with Him through Christ's life, death, burial, and resurrection.  How could I have any reaction but to ἐξεπλήσσοντο?

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Matthew 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.

How to blog in the Sermon on the Mount?  Unlike some folks, I think that this passage applies to us today rather than simply to Old Covenant Israel.  This passage comes right at the end of what is known as the Beatitudes where Jesus says "Blessed is..."  He kind of turns the world upside-down by saying that it is a blessing to be poor in spirit, humble, etc.  Here He talks about rejoicing when you are persecuted for His name's sake.

Note that Jesus does not give a suggestion.  He uses the imperatives with χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε.  He could have used a future which has a wear imperatival sense, but He didn't.  He used the imperative here.  What does that mean?

First, it means that we are to rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted.  This seems rather paradoxical.  Persecution is no fun, yet we are commanded to rejoice.  Even those who say that we should preach the gospel of Jesus rather than the misogynist Paul have to acknowledge this.  These are words that are quoted from the Lord Himself.  We can't take this lightly.

Second, it means that we are to have a future perspective.  The word translated "for" here is ὅτι, which gives the sense of "because" or "for this reason," though translating it "for" here makes for smoother reading.  In other words, when we ask ourselves "Why should we ever rejoice and be glad in persecution?" the answer is, "Because your reward is great in heaven."  Then He mentions the prophets.  When you read through the stories of the prophets you realize that they had pretty rough gigs here on earth.

But those of us who have a hope of eternity with God can indeed rejoice and be glad when persecuted.  We realize that everything on this earth is but a moment compared to eternity.

What kind of perspective do you have on all of this?  Do you know of any other way to make sense of this seemingly paradoxical command?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Kingdom

Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

17 Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς κηρύσσειν καὶ λέγειν· μετανοεῖτε· ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

There is a lot of talk about "kingdom" in the circles in which I run.  What is the "kingdom?"  Some focus more on an upcoming thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth with the saints.  I have a hard time seeing that in Jesus' statement here.  Very literally you could translate μετανοεῖτε· ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν as "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  The verb ἤγγικεν is in the perfect, so that generally has an aspect of "has come near" since the word means "to come near."

There are those who would then take this passage and say that there is a near/far aspect to what Jesus is saying. But it seems to me that taking this verse in its obvious sense it would mean that Jesus is telling the Jews that all of the Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom are currently being fulfilled.  And, in fact, in a few years you will see it all come together with my death, burial, and resurrection.

That seems to be the simplest sense of the text.  Maybe I'm applying Occam's Razor too closely to it, but I think that is a good rule of thumb for hermeneutics.  Jesus is telling His listeners that He represents the kingdom of heaven.  It is fulfilled in Him.

What does that mean for us?  It means that we need to repent and believe.  Jesus is sitting on the throne in heaven.  He has inaugurated the kingdom of heaven.  It means that we need to give Him the worship He is due.  We can't simply acknowledge Him as someone who can save us.  We need to acknowledge Him as Lord.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unworthy to Untie

Matthew 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

11 Ἐγὼ μὲν ὑμᾶς βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν, ὁ δὲ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἰσχυρότερός μού ἐστιν, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι· αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί·

This is one of those verses that is strange for a native English speaker to read in Greek.  The phrase ἰσχυρότερός μού ἐστιν is translated "mightier than I."  But quite literally you have "mighty is me."  This is because Greek does its comparative adjectives differently than English.  Greek doesn't do "good, better, best, " or more regularly, "strong, stronger, strongest."  Again, you can trust your translators here.

While that is an interesting linguistic note, I think that John's statement is worthy of reflection.  Later on Jesus will say that no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptizer.  And yet here we have John's statement.  He did not consider himself worthy to do the most menial servant work for Jesus.  John understood his place before the Lord.

Do we?  Here in America we try to turn Jesus into a vending machine or a cosmic genie.  We want Him to give us the lives that we want.  Yet this verse makes it clear that we are always going to be subordinate to Him.  If John the Baptizer was not worthy to carry Jesus' sandals, where does that leave us?  It is true that Jesus is that "friend who stays closer than a brother," but He is also God.  We say that He is worthy of praise and honor and glory, etc.  But do we act like we believe that?

This verse helps me remember just who He is.  Let's respond accordingly, amen?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

He Has Called His Son

Matthew 2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."

15 καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἕως τῆς τελευτῆς Ἡρῴδου· ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος· ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ἐκάλεσα τὸν υἱόν μου.

Matthew is making a very clear reference to Hosea 11:1 which reads: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  If you look at Hosea you see that he is clearly referring to the Exodus.  The nation of Israel was still relatively young, but God graciously called Israel out of Egypt and we have the record of that in Exodus.  You don't have to read the Old or New Testaments very carefully to find that the Exodus is a major theme used to explain what it means to be a Christian.  We are previously in bondage to sin and through Christ we are set free.

Even though this is a repeated theme, Matthew's use of this verse is a bit puzzling.  After all, Hosea was referring to the nation of Israel.  Matthew is clearly referring to the child Jesus.  Although some disagree, I find it highly unlikely that Hosea was thinking of Jesus when he wrote Hosea 11:1.  So what was Matthew doing?  Was he using a Jewish hermeneutic where you can take any language you want from the OT as long as it suits what you want to say?  I don't think so.

I think that Matthew was using typology here.  You also could think of it as sensus plenior, if you mean that Matthew was adding meaning that the original author could not have intended.  I come to this conclusion based on the research I'm doing for a thesis on this topic.  When I have it done I will certainly post it.

But what difference does this make?  I think that Matthew is identifying Jesus with Israel.  Just as Jesus is the better Adam, the better Moses, the better Aaron, and the better David, He is also the better Israel.  He is the consummation of the Old Testament.  Certainly the Old Testament spoke to the nation of people known as Israel.  However, in a greater sense it was leading them to Messiah.  Here Matthew is telling his Jewish audience that in this boy they had the fulfillment of their search.

Every Bible reader needs to decide what is at the center of his Bible.  Is it Israel?  Or is it Jesus?  Israel is certainly important, but I would maintain that Israel points us to Jesus, not the other way around.  I believe that at Christocentric hermeneutic is the way to go.  This verse is a large part of why I come to that conclusion.  Seeing Christ throughout the Old Testament without resorting to ridiculous allegorizing magnifies my view of God and gives me great hope.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

20 Λέγει ὁ μαρτυρῶν ταῦτα· ναί, ἔρχομαι ταχύ. Ἀμήν, ἔρχου κύριε Ἰησοῦ.

Here we are at the end of the Greek New Testament.  This is one of the great promises of Scripture.  Jesus is coming back.  But it is also a little confusing to me.  He says that He ἔρχομαι ταχύ.  The word ταχύ means "quick" or "swift."  This is why it gets the translation of "coming soon."  The idea is that there will be a short period of time before Jesus comes.

The problem is that Jesus has not come back.  He had already come and gone by the time this was written.  It's possible that this was written from a past perspective regarding his first coming, but that seems unlikely.  John affirms it with Ἀμήν, ἔρχου κύριε Ἰησοῦ.  He is saying that he really looks forward to seeing the Lord very soon.

It is also possible to see ταχύ as describing the manner in which Jesus will come.  We know that it won't be a gradual thing, but that He will just be here.  The anticipation that John shows really makes me lean toward the classic translation, but it is also possible that he is just excited about the second coming in general and does not necessarily expect it to be very soon.

One way to reconcile this would be to see it in more of a spiritual than a physical sense.  That is also possible, but it is hard to reconcile that with the Olivet Discourse.  I'm just not quite sure what to do with this.  I'm not satisfied with the idea of "soon" meaning 2000 years.  That just doesn't make sense.

What do you do with this?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

No More Hippie

Revelation 19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

15 καὶ ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ ἐκπορεύεται ῥομφαία ὀξεῖα, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῇ πατάξῃ τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ αὐτὸς ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ, καὶ αὐτὸς πατεῖ τὴν ληνὸν τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ παντοκράτορος,

Although I'm not sure that I subscribe to the futurist view of Revelation, there is still much to be gleaned from it.  Folks of every millenial persuasion agree that Christ is going to return in glory.  This passage in Revelation 19 is one of my favorites because it describes just that.  Sadly, much of the church has the image of Jesus as a hippie in a pink dress.  He is Jesus meek and mild who doesn't get mad about anything and just accepts everyone with open arms.  Of course, He does accept repentant sinners with open arms.  But He does not say that "it's all good."

Here we get a glimpse of how it will be when He returns.  He will come back as a judge.  It is not going to be pretty.  Think Aragorn riding in to deal with orcs.  Quite literally, He is going to kick ass and take names.  There are no two ways about it.

I love this because as a man I like having a hero.  Our culture has made many men into heroes.  They could be suave and tough like James Bond.  They could symbolize raw strength like a character in a modern action flick.  They could be intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson.  They could be complete goofballs like Tim Carrey.  We all have our role models and our ideas of what a man should be.

Let's look to Jesus.  He showed incredible grace and compassion while He walked on the earth.  But He did not just sit quietly while detestable things happened.  He cleansed the temple with whips (perhaps twice).  He pronounced woes on the Pharisees.  He did not back down from fights when it was time to fight.  And He will ultimately come back in glory to judge the world.  Are you ready for that?  Are you going to be part of the nations that He strikes down with the sword or will you be on His side?  You'd better decide now before it is too late because the mercy runs out at the day of judgment.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Babylon the Great

Revelation 18:2 And he called out with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.

2 καὶ ἔκραξεν ἐν ἰσχυρᾷ φωνῇ λέγων· ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, καὶ ἐγένετο κατοικητήριον δαιμονίων καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς πνεύματος ἀκαθάρτου καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς ὀρνέου ἀκαθάρτου [καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς θηρίου ἀκαθάρτου] καὶ μεμισημένου,

I don't want to comment on this verse too specifically other than to use it as an example of the troubles I've had with Revelation over the years.  For the most part, my churches and other teachings I've been exposed to have had a Dispensational bent to them.  This is supposed to mean that we champion a literal interpretation of Scripture.

However, that seems to go out the window when we get to the apocalyptic genre.  We see all kinds of things that aren't there.  Some folks see the plague of locusts as huey helicopters.  They read the passages about swords being beaten into plowshares and they figure those passages must refer to weapons in general being used for peace.  Of course, not everyone is guilty of that, but both have been done.

When I read through Revelation and I read about the fall of Babylon I can't help but think of New York City.  There are plenty of parallels.  But if I am committed to an authorial-intent hermeneutic I really can't go there.  I can't apply Jeremiah directly to the USA, even though there are parallels there too.

I still don't claim to have everything sorted out, but I do know that Babylon has indeed fallen.  I understand that Saddam Hussein wanted to rebuild it, but we got in his way.  So as I read this passage I have two choices if I refuse to engage in speculation:

  1. Babylon will be rebuilt and fall again
  2. This refers to something that already happened
Otherwise, I am as guilty of speculation as those who see the cross in every reference to wood in the OT, baptism in every reference to water, etc.  I don't think I'm ready to go there.  I've set foot in that land, but am not comfortable pitching my tent there.  What does a faithful futurist do with this passage?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Holy Fear

Revelation 15:4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."

4 τίς οὐ μὴ φοβηθῇ, κύριε, καὶ δοξάσει τὸ ὄνομά σου; ὅτι μόνος ὅσιος, ὅτι πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἥξουσιν καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν ἐνώπιόν σου, ὅτι τὰ δικαιώματά σου ἐφανερώθησαν.

I'm sorry for not blogging much lately.  I've been quite busy in the mornings and, frankly, there hasn't been a ton in Revelation to blog about.  We're getting to the really interesting stuff soon though.  This is another one of those unambiguous passages that needs mention.

Here we read about the folks who did not worship the beast and remained faithful to the lamb.  They make this great statement here about the Lord.  Everyone will eventually worship the Lord.  Some as their Lord and others as their Judge.  But everyone will worship.

The fact is that after the final judgment there will be no atheists.  They will see the majesty of Christ and will not have anywhere else to go but to acknowledge Him.  The problem is that for most it will be too late.  No one knows when He is coming back.  Are you ready for it?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

True Authority

Revelation 13:7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

7 καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ποιῆσαι πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ νικῆσαι αὐτούς, καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία ἐπὶ πᾶσαν φυλὴν καὶ λαὸν καὶ γλῶσσαν καὶ ἔθνος. 8  καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν αὐτὸν πάντες οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, οὗ οὐ γέγραπται τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.

It's tempting to get sidetracked with interpretive questions here.  Who is the beast?  Is it the President?  I don't think so for a lot of reasons.  Some thought it was Kennedy.  Others thought it was Hitler.  Pope John Paul II was another candidate.  We can speculate forever about this and in fact there are many folks who love to do just that.  I do not want to venture any guess about that.

But what I do know for sure is that any evil only exists through authority given by the Lord.  The phrase ἐδόθη αὐτῷ (literally translated "it was given") is an aorist passive.  In other words, all of these abominations could not happen apart from God's will.  He does not necessarily will each specific evil act, but He does give authority to this beast.

We've seen this before in Scripture.  The same thing happens in Job, which makes some skeptics see the whole book as little more than a bar bet between God and Satan.  But where we see this most significantly is at the cross.  There are references throughout Scripture that it was God's will for Jesus to die on the cross.  Therefore, in a sense God willed the most heinous act ever committed.

Does this mean we should throw in the towel when it comes to God?  By no means!  Instead, it should comfort us that nothing happens beyond His control.  I can't speak for you, but I always like to have a sense of what is going on.  I can handle a certain degree of chaos if I know that the important things are taken care of.  Knowing that God is ultimately in charge gives me great comfort.  All sorts of terrible things happen to Christians every day.  Yet God is in control and has a plan to make it all work out for His glory.  Therefore, if we focus on the Lord and the glory of His name as our greatest good then we can weather anything that comes our way.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On the Throne

Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."

15 Καὶ ὁ ἕβδομος ἄγγελος ἐσάλπισεν· καὶ ἐγένοντο φωναὶ μεγάλαι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ λέγοντες· ἐγένετο ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ κόσμου τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ, καὶ βασιλεύσει εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.

There are some questions around this verse that I'm not sure if I can handle in a blog post.  But I do know that these Christological passages fascinate me.  We know from Ephesians 1 that Christ is indeed on His throne and that He is indeed in control of everything.  So what does this passage mean?

Getting back to what I wrote way back in chapter 1, it would seem that John had a very close fulfillment of these passages in mind.  Yet I know many who take this to mean that Christ is not currently ruling earth, but that Satan is now (i.e. the god of this earth).  So what do we make of this?  Ephesians 1:22 tells us that all things are under His feet.  I would consider the world to be part of "all things."  This means that there is a contradiction (which is impossible) or we're reading something wrong somewhere.

As a rule, I like to use a clear passage to help interpret a more difficult passage.  Ephesians 1 is crystal-clear.  Meanwhile, here we are dealing with apocalyptic literature that is rich with symbolism and is ambiguous as to the time of its fulfillment.  This forces me to say that this has already happened.  I may later regret writing this, but it's where I am now.  I also realize that there may be other passages I am not considering.

Theology geeks may find this conversation interesting, but I do want to keep this blog fairly devotional.  I focus on these Christological passages because I like thinking about Jesus and His reign over all of creation.  It amazes me that this God who created everything (and Colossians tells us all things were created through Him and for Him) also knows me personally and I can know Him as well.  He condescends to humanity by giving us special revelation through His Word.  It's an incredible blessing to know the Living God.

Does this fill your heart with awe and wonder?  It should certainly empower your life.  Not in a health and wealth kind of way, but in a way that encourages you to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh.  Does it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Worship

Revelation 7:12 saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

12 λέγοντες· ἀμήν, ἡ εὐλογία καὶ ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ σοφία καὶ ἡ εὐχαριστία καὶ ἡ τιμὴ καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ ἰσχὺς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.

This is likely a favorite chapter for more hardcore dispensationalists because of the reference to the great tribulation.  I don't want to go there now because I don't have the time or expertise to dive deeply into it.  But what I do know is that I like for this blog to be more devotional.  This is a great verse to ponder as I go about my day.

Here John quotes angels that are around the scene with the central throne, the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures.  The multitude of 144,000 from the twelve tribes (though I'm not sure what's up with mentioning Joseph since he didn't have a tribe) shout about how salvation is from the Lord and this is the response of the angels.

Do you really believe that salvation is from the Lord?  Or do you think that He just provides a means of salvation and we need to take it?  The image of God I get so far from this book is of an omnipotent, sovereign God.  He saves people.  He doesn't just make them able to be saved.  He actually does the saving.  What an awesome God!

And do you really believe that all these things are ascribed to Him?  If so, how does that change the way you live?  Do you operate in a state of awe of this incredible God we serve?  Or do you try to relegate Him to a part of your life while the rest of your life is spent on other pursuits?

God will not be put on a shelf.  It's clear that if we are in Christ then we have an eternity of worship to look forward to.  If that doesn't sound appealing then perhaps you don't know Him after all.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Great Day of Wrath

Revelation 6:17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

17 ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ μεγάλη τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτῶν, καὶ τίς δύναται σταθῆναι;

Many folks like to paint an image of God as a cosmic Santa Claus.  Or maybe he is like your grandfather who managed to overlook all your faults and love you anyway.  He still gives you treats even when you're naughty, unlike your parents who try to keep rules in place.  Death is a massive campfire with us all singing Kum-Ba-Ah in the sky.

Revelation paints a different picture and that is something we will get into as we go through this book.  Here we get a glimpse of what God's final judgment on the world will look like. It won't be pretty.  There is a rhetorical question at the end of this verse.  τίς δύναται σταθῆναι;  The answer is simple -- nobody.

Christ is going to come back as a righteous judge.  Of course, we naturally think of ourselves as basically good people.  We're certainly not as bad as that person over there.  However, ultimately every sin is going to be judged.  There are two possible outcomes for this.  The first is that you will get what you deserve and you will be judged for your sins for eternity.  God is perfectly holy and cannot abide sin.

The second is that we do not get what we deserve because Christ bore God's wrath for our sins.  However, you need to repent and believe before that can be true for you.  He will wipe your record clean if you acknowledge Him for who He is.  

Salvation is much more than escaping judgment, but it is also that.  When every knee bows at Christ's coming will yours bow to Him as your Lord or as your judge?

Friday, October 08, 2010

He is Worthy

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

9 καὶ ᾄδουσιν ᾠδὴν καινὴν λέγοντες· ἄξιος εἶ λαβεῖν τὸ βιβλίον καὶ ἀνοῖξαι τὰς σφραγῖδας αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἐσφάγης καὶ ἠγόρασας τῷ θεῷ ἐν τῷ αἵματί σου ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς καὶ γλώσσης καὶ λαοῦ καὶ ἔθνους 10  καὶ ἐποίησας αὐτοὺς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν βασιλείαν καὶ ἱερεῖς, καὶ βασιλεύσουσιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

We're starting to get into the visions now.  I don't claim to know what they all mean beyond what John interprets for us, but I do know that there are plenty of doxological passages in here.  This is one of them.  John has a vision of a scroll with seven seals.  The problem is that no one can open the seals.  This grieves John because he desperately wants to know what is in the book.

Fortunately, there is one worthy to open the seals.  He is the one seated on the throne.  Based on the description here, this person can only be Jesus.  Or, if you prefer, King Jesus.

I really don't have any profound truths to draw from this.  I think the proper response is the same as the living creatures and the 24 elders.  All we can do is bow in reverent awe of who He is.  Jesus alone is the one worthy to break the seals.  Jesus alone is able to set us free from our sins.  Jesus is the reigning Lord on His throne right now (see Ephesians).  He is the beginning and the end.  Everything in history points to Him.  Everything in the future points to Him.

Yes, He is worthy of our praise.  In fact, only He is worthy of our praise.  What or who else are you praising?  My list is too long to count sometimes.  Let's give Him the praise only He deserves, amen?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I Don't Have to Imagine

Revelation 4:9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

9 Καὶ ὅταν δώσουσιν τὰ ζῷα δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ εὐχαριστίαν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, 10  πεσοῦνται οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι ἐνώπιον τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων καὶ βαλοῦσιν τοὺς στεφάνους αὐτῶν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου λέγοντες· 11  ἄξιος εἶ, ὁ κύριος καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν, λαβεῖν τὴν δόξαν καὶ τὴν τιμὴν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν, ὅτι σὺ ἔκτισας τὰ πάντα καὶ διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου ἦσαν καὶ ἐκτίσθησαν.

This chapter has to be one of the greatest doxological chapters in all of Scripture.  As you read about these τὰ ζῷα or living ones, you can't help but think of the living creatures in Isaiah 6.  It seems that these have a similar role in that their whole existence is dedicated to praising the glory of the Lord.  What a job!

Earlier in the chapter we saw 24 elders on thrones around the main throne.  They have gold crowns on their heads, so they are clearly not just random people.  The gold crowns symbolize authority.  What do they do when they are before the throne?  βαλοῦσιν τοὺς στεφάνους αὐτῶν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου.  They recognize that they are not God and, therefore, need to bow before the throne.

There was a song a few years ago called "I Can Only Imagine."  It's pretty catchy and became a hit on stations like K-Love.  It even got covered by at least one country singer.  In the chorus the singer wonders what he will do when he gets to heaven and is surrounded by God's glory.  Will he dance?  Will he in awe be still?  Will he stand in His presence?  Will he fall to his knees?  Will he sing hallelujah?  Will he even be able to speak at all?  He can only imagine how he will react.

I can only imagine that the writer of that song never read Revelation 4, Isaiah 6, or many other passages where someone has a theophany.  It's pretty clear what happens when we're in the presence of the divine.  We fall down and worship.  There can be no other reaction.

Now you may think that is fine for the future, but what about right now?  We're not standing in the physical presence of the Lord in the sense described here or in Isaiah 6.  Yet if we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ we have come as close to this as we can while here on earth.  To suggest that we can have any reaction besides worship is preposterous.  To call Jesus one's Savior and not Lord is a contradiction in terms.  To say that is to say that we do not understand who Jesus is.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Slice of Laodicea in America

Revelation 3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

17 ὅτι λέγεις ὅτι πλούσιός εἰμι καὶ πεπλούτηκα καὶ οὐδὲν χρείαν ἔχω, καὶ οὐκ οἶδας ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ ταλαίπωρος καὶ ἐλεεινὸς καὶ πτωχὸς καὶ τυφλὸς καὶ γυμνός,

Here Jesus rebukes the church at Laodicea for being neither hot nor cold.  They were simply lukewarm.  Here He condemns them with evidence of why He would spit them out of His mouth.  It's a pretty indicting list, isn't it?

I think of the American church today.  It is clear that we are rich, we have prospered, and we don't seem to need anything.  We forget that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  And why wouldn't we forget that?  We have built grand edifices to house our "ministries."  We have top-notch sound and video systems.  Our preaching is polished and we could hold our music up against anything published by any label.  It's quite a system we have going on.

The more theologically-minded of us may decry the pomp and money spent by the Roman Church.  The Vatican Museum is something to see and it makes the Protestant wonder how many mouths could be fed with the riches contained therein.  But the same could be said for our megachurches today.  Just the heating and cooling costs alone could feed a village of orphans in Uganda.

I do want to make clear that I think there should be excellence in what we do.  We should preach as well as we can and we should strive to have a gifted preacher delivering the sermon.  Someone with my singing "abilities" has no business trying to lead corporate singing.  But somewhere I think we've crossed a line.  My prayer is that I can be part of a reformation in this area.  Will you join me?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Your First Love

Revelation 2:3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

3 καὶ ὑπομονὴν ἔχεις καὶ ἐβάστασας διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου καὶ οὐ κεκοπίακες. 4  ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες.

I recently heard a fantastic sermon on this passage that really cut me to the heart.  The church at Ephesus was basically a model church.  Note that Christ compliments them in verse 3.  However, they had a problem.  They forgot the love that they had at first.

What a stinging rebuke to a seminarian like me!  I remember the love I had for Christ when I started seminary.  Frankly, it went through some serious ebbs during my seminary career.  I have recently felt the fires rekindled, but it is not an easy journey.  It is so much easier to keep it hot then to try to reignite it.  It is so easy to let the cares of day-to-day life as a student, husband, father, and employee pour water on the coals.

The good news is that, like the fire Pilgrim saw, Christ stands in another room adding fuel to the fire.  He will never let the fire completely die for His saints.  That is a huge comfort to me, but I also know that I cannot quench the fire either.  I need to keep enjoying fellowship with Him.

I encourage you to keep fueling the fire if you are white-hot for the Lord right now.  And if you're going through a season where the wick seems to only be smoking without a trace of orange, remember the love you had at first.  Christ will get the fire going again.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Time is Near

 Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

3 Μακάριος ὁ ἀναγινώσκων καὶ οἱ ἀκούοντες τοὺς λόγους τῆς προφητείας καὶ τηροῦντες τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ γεγραμμένα, ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς.

Here we go.  It's time to spend 22 days in Revelation.  Unlike many folks, I've never known quite how to take this book.  I find it intriguing that Calvin never wrote about it.  It is full of apocalyptic imagery.  In fact, a good book on hermeneutics will treat apocalyptic as its own literary genre.  We're going to meet strange beasts and visions.  We're going to see Jesus as the complete opposite of the modern "hippie in a pink dress" as He is often portrayed.  And, I think it's safe to say, I'm going to get a little confused.

Now I suppose that should not be the case given that I go to a soundly Dispensational school.  Some there would tell me that it all fits together quite nicely if I just read Daniel and some other OT prophecies correctly.  But then you have this verse before the book really gets going.  Here John tells us that ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς.

Anyone who has had even one semester of Greek can tell you what this means.  It means what the ESV translates it to mean.  It could also be read "the time is at hand."  In other words, it seems that John is telling the reader that what he is describing is going to happen very soon.  The typical way a good Dispensationalist reads Revelation is that it speaks of the future when Christ returns in glory.  But I don't know how to deal with this phrase if that is the case.

John could not have been mistaken because He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Is it possible that these things have happened in some symbolic way?  Can we tie this book to the sacking of Jersualem in 70 AD (c.f. Mat 24)?  Perhaps.  I'm not sure if I'm ready to go that far.

What I do know is that there are still some wonderful devotional gleanings to be had from Revelation.  Tomorrow will be much more edifying to the soul.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Great Command

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

21 Τεκνία, φυλάξατε ἑαυτὰ ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων.

This verse seems sort of tacked-on to the end of 1 John.  John has spent five chapters talking about what it means to be a Christian.  Basically, if we know Christ we will obey Him.  If we don't then we won't.  Or perhaps it is better to say if we won't then we don't.  Either way, John spends a lot of time talking about how the Christian life should look.  But then he ends with this verse.

I think that this verse sums up the whole book.  The word φυλάξατε is an imperative.  You could also think of it as a command to guard yourself from idols.  But why make this point about idols?  We aren't making golden calves, are we?

No, we aren't putting our jewelry into a fire and making a calf.  But we are making idols out of everything.  I went to a university where 100,000 people make an idol out of watching 22 men fight over some pigskin filled with air.  We live in a country where millions do that on Sundays instead of Saturdays.  We live in a country where we have elevated the dollar to god status.  Not to mention the way we look for the praise of men.

We have no shortage of idols.  John Calvin said that "The human heart is a factory of idols."  If we are honest with ourselves we will agree with this statement.  That is why John ends this book with what appears to be a disconnected verse.  If we do this then we can obey the rest of the commands in the book.

So how are you doing with this?  Are you guarding your heart from idols?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


 1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

18 Τεκνία, μὴ ἀγαπῶμεν λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἀλλὰ ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.

As I go through the system of ten chapters a day I am fascinated by the contrast in the style of writing throughout Scripture.  John's writing is notoriously simple.  But simplicity does indicate a lack of profundity.  There are several penetrating truths in 1 John if we pay attention.  This is a fairly obvious one.

John spends a lot of time talking about love.  This is particularly true in chapters 3 and 4.  Here he tells us what real love looks like.  We are not simply to love in word or talk but ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.  He uses the strong adversative ἀλλὰ here too.  There is a stark contrast between simply talking about love and actually showing love.

This is an area where I think that many conservative folks like me really come up short.  At least I know that I do.  I'm pretty good at getting my theology straight, but does that spill over into action?  How often do I help someone who has less than I do?  More importantly, how often do I share the gospel with someone who needs to hear it?  Not very often.

I see the book of 1 John as a reality check.  We can talk about what we believe, but how we live is a much stronger indicator.  This relatively simple book is beating me up yet again.  But I still have to ask myself what I'm going to do about it.