Tuesday, March 29, 2011


John 7:48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?

48 μή τις ἐκ τῶν ἀρχόντων ἐπίστευσεν εἰς αὐτὸν ἢ ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων;

This is the question the Pharisees asked the "officers" who they sent as something of a goon squad to arrest Jesus. The officers refused to do this because they heard the power of Jesus' preaching. They understood something that the Pharisees could not grasp. Jesus was special and His preaching demanded a response.

The problem of course is that Jesus threatened the Pharisees' way of life. If He was right then they were clearly wrong. You don't just take a group of people who have made it their business to be the most right of all the people in society and then expect them to gracefully step aside. The Pharisees weren't going down without a fight. In a couple of chapters we will see how it all comes together.

This is clearly evident in the church today. It started with Rome and the Reformation. You expect to take a corrupt Pope like Leo and threaten him with the Bible? I sincerely doubt that he cared about anything beyond his own glory if the history about him is even partially true. But if Luther was right then that would destroy his whole way of life.

And lest we get on our Protestant high horses about this, take a look at the average megachurch. I just heard a story about a megachurch that could only offer $350/month to a church-planter because of budget issues. This was coming from a senior pastor's office that had a glass wall with a view of the Rockies. I suspect that most megachurches have the same problem. A severely obese person's heart works as hard when he is sitting as mine does when I go out for a run. Because I'm in decent physical shape I can push my body a little bit to run up a hill, climb stairs, etc. The obese person is always in a state of being pushed, so there is nowhere for his body to go.

I hope that the illustration is clear. To embrace the ideas in David Platt's Radical or even Francis Chan's Crazy Love is a threat to the way of life set up by today's churchianity. Why should we have small churches focused on discipleship? Does Mark Driscoll do it that way? How about C.J. Mahaney? John Piper? James MacDonald? No! They all have big churches with home/life/fellowship/small groups. Why should we do small churches.

Well, despite the success of these men's ministries (and I do think that they are all doing great works) I think that we need to let the New Testament guide us instead. Please hear me that I do not think that they are Pharisees either. My point is simply that the leaders and authorities of the day should always be trumped by Jesus. There is just no other way to look at it.

Who is your authority?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Emptied Teaching

John 7:16 So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.

16 ἀπεκρίθη οὖν αὐτοῖς [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν· ἡ ἐμὴ διδαχὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὴ ἀλλὰ τοῦ πέμψαντός με·

Passages like this can put the Trinitarian into knots. I believe that this is a fairly good proof-text for the Jehovah's Witness view of who Christ is. Does this mean that Christ is of a different nature from the Father? If the teaching is not His then whose is it? How can it not be His if He is God?

These are the logical questions that come to my mind. But when I think of things like this I tend to gravitate toward Philippians 2:6-11. That is the great kenosis passage, so named because of the verb that describes how Jesus emptied Himself. By taking on the form of a man He humbled Himself from being simply deity.

When Jesus makes this statement in John 7:16 He refers to the fact that as a man He has no authority. But as God He does. And this ultimately came from the Father who sent Him. In other places we see how folks marveled at His teaching because of His authority. Here he explains it a bit more, but perhaps makes it more puzzling.

The fact is that if the Bible is held to be God's Word we need to live with the tension that Jesus was fully God and fully man as He walked on the earth. Maybe He chose this language because He knew that they could not conceive of how He could be God. What I do know is that it is certainly confusing, but if we accept by faith what Scripture says then we have to live with a little bit of confusion.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

No Alternative

John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

68 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Σίμων Πέτρος· κύριε, πρὸς τίνα ἀπελευσόμεθα; ῥήματα ζωῆς αἰωνίου ἔχεις, 69  καὶ ἡμεῖς πεπιστεύκαμεν καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ.

We went from people following Jesus as a mobile Jack In the Box and MASH unit to them walking away when He called them to commitment. Jesus then asked His disciples if they too wanted to leave and this was Peter's response.

I admit that I have times of doubt. I wonder if following Christ is really worth it. I wonder if it is all true. I have several personal apologetics that I go through that help me when I have those times of doubt. Ultimately it comes down to this statement. Jesus has words ῥήματα ζωῆς αἰωνίου. I have come to know that He is the Holy One of God. What else is there?

Sure we could follow Allah. We could follow the god of the Jehovah's Witnesses. We could follow the god of Joseph Smith. We could follow our hearts like Oprah tells us to. We could pay homage to nature like the Wiccans. We could worship a myriad of gods like the Hindus. There are other options out there.

But who else has the words of eternal life? Only Jesus. Therefore, let's draw near to God through faith to Him.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


John 6:2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.

2 ἠκολούθει δὲ αὐτῷ ὄχλος πολύς, ὅτι ἐθεώρουν τὰ σημεῖα ἃ ἐποίει ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενούντων.

Jesus did a great job of attracting crowds through His ministry because He dealt with their needs. He helped them in practical ways such as healing them. Later in John 6 we will see how Jesus fed 5000 with a kid's sack lunch. This got to their base desires. After all, who doesn't want to be fed and made well?

The thing is that they were following Him for the wrong reasons. There is a school of thought in the evangelical world that we should attract people based on their physical needs. Or at the very least we should do it based no their felt needs. If they feel like they need help with their marriages then we should preach a series on marriage and challenge them to have sex for a certain number of consecutive days. If they are having financial problems then we should preach a message on stewardship, along with some Scripture-twisting to convince them that 10% is the minimum that a New Testament saint should give. And so on.

Jesus met people's needs, but that was not why His true disciples followed Him. They followed Him because He met their deepest needs. He filled their hearts as in John 4. This is what people need rather than a MASH Unit.

Why are you following Jesus, if you are? Certainly we should enjoy the fact that He does meet our needs, but hopefully we follow Him because He is God.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The New Temple

John 2:19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

19 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· λύσατε τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἐγερῶ αὐτόν. 20  εἶπαν οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι· τεσσεράκοντα καὶ ἓξ ἔτεσιν οἰκοδομήθη ὁ ναὸς οὗτος, καὶ σὺ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἐγερεῖς αὐτόν; 21  ἐκεῖνος δὲ ἔλεγεν περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ.

It's funny that when I went through Acts I really struggled to find things to write about each day, but now that I'm in John I have more than I know what to do with. There are great things to write about the wedding at Cana, but I think that this passage after Jesus cleared the temple is worth discussing too.

One of the big hermeneutical bones that Dispensationalists pick with Covenantal folks is that they claim that they are more literal when they read the text. In other words, they take passages literally unless there is a good reason not to. That's certainly commendable as it demonstrates a very high view of the text. However, it is problematic when our Lord does not do the same thing.

If we did not have verse 21 we would think along with the Jews that Jesus referred to the physical temple. However, here the text tells us that Jesus was speaking in a figurative way. He was referring to His own body, which in context would have been completely unintelligible except for the clarification of verse 21. This does not mean that we should look for figurative allusions all over the place, but it does serve to point out that we need to be careful about how we define "literal interpretation."

If we take Jesus at His words then it seems to me that He became the new and better temple. There was no need for the old one because He would do away with the sacrificial system. This seems to imply that the temple described in Ezekiel cannot be a new temple set up in a millenial kingdom with real animal sacrifices on it. Otherwise, that would be going backwards to the types and shadows of the Old Covenant.

Matthew 2:15 shows us that Jesus is the true Israel. Here we see that He is the true temple as well. In short, Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament. He did it in a way that the Jews did not really understand and won't understand until God opens their eyes. Let's be careful about how literal we are and make sure that we are consistent. That's my goal. I'm sure that I'm inconsistent elsewhere. Hopefully this slow systematic approach to the New Testament will help me to see where.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Word Became Flesh

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

14 Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

Now that I've finished slogging through Luke's Greek in Luke-Acts it's time to go back through John. As a preview of what is to come, I plan to go through John, 1-3 John, and Revelation. Then I'll go back to Paul. I believe that John wrote those five books, so I want to get a sense of how it all ties together. Plus, I think it's good to mix things up once in a while.

If you've been around church for any length of time you're probably familiar with at least the clause Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν. This is a clause that maybe gets a little bit overpreached, but let's break it down a little bit. The verb ἐγένετο is an aorist. That means that at some point in time the Word became flesh. Aorist doesn't necessarily mean puncticular as some older preachers may have learned, but what we do know is that at some undefined past time the Word became flesh.

The word ἐσκήνωσεν is also an aorist. This has the idea of putting up a tent to settle down. You may have heard it preached as "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." I think that may be overtranslating it a bit, besides the fact that "tabernacle" is not a great expression to use in 21st century America. Basically, I think that we can understand this as saying that Jesus became flesh and for a time made His dwelling with us people.

What can we use to illustrate this? Let's say that you felt called to help the homeless. Since you're reading this on a computer I'm going to assume that you are not too badly off in your personal finances, even though you probably don't feel particularly rich. Would you be willing to grab a tent and live with the homeless in the woods near the highway? Let's take it a step further. I have a great box that we got from our new mattress. Would you be willing to take that and live with the homeless on the grates in the city?

To be honest, I wouldn't do either for various reasons. One big one is that it would be really inconvenient. I have a wife and children to love. I have work to do. I have schoolwork to complete. I have grass that needs mowing. I can't spare the time from what I consider to be really important.

Another is fear. Generally-speaking, the folks who are homeless are there for a reason. It's not always true, but there are often stories of addiction or other problematic behaviors. You're telling me to live with these people? I can't sleep with one eye open.

That leads to perhaps the greatest, but most shallow. It would be uncomfortable. These people stink. They aren't pleasant to be around. Camping in the woods would be great yesterday and today. The weather is beautiful. What about two weeks ago when it was raining sideways? I think you get the idea.

Now take all of those reasons and look at Christ and what He did by leaving heaven and coming to earth to be with us. I don't want to leave my comfortable house in Cary. He left heaven. I don't want to endanger my body. He came to die on a cross. I don't want to leave the comfortable sights, smells, and relationships I have at home. He left perfect fellowship with the Trinity to spend time with people who would all leave Him at His most difficult hour. We truly worship and awesome Savior.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fully Committed

Acts 27:40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach.

40 καὶ τὰς ἀγκύρας περιελόντες εἴων εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, ἅμα ἀνέντες τὰς ζευκτηρίας τῶν πηδαλίων καὶ ἐπάραντες τὸν ἀρτέμωνα τῇ πνεούσῃ κατεῖχον εἰς τὸν αἰγιαλόν.

This is a verse in the shipwreck narrative. Paul gave the sailors a little "told you so" and then watched as they resigned themselves to the destruction of their ship. Some tried to escape, but he explained the need for everyone to stay on the ship. The rest of the sailors agreed with him and they stayed on board. Then as their plight went on for a full fortnight they eventually realized that they had to just let the ship run aground.

I'm no sailor, but I would think that in general you would not just cut the anchors unless you had given up on ever using the ship the same way again. You would reel them in. But once you realize that your ship is lost then there is no need for an anchor.

I understand that the point of this text is not to teach us about being fully committed. However, as I read this today I was struck by the resignation of the sailors. They realized what was going on and they became intensely practical. I am reminded of the movie "The High and the Mighty" where the passengers had to get rid of all unnecessary weight so that the plane could make it through the rest of its flight. One woman kissed her fur coat goodbye before throwing it off the plane. But she still threw it off.

I am just struck by the intense practicality of the sailors. In a previous verse they had thrown all the wheat into the sea. There was no reason to hold on to all the stuff because it was unnecessary.

So what are you holding on to? Again, I would not preach this as an application to this text, but as I read it this morning this occurred to me. This blog is meant to be something of an online journal as I read through some text every day. I think my question is certainly biblical. How do you answer it?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Working the System

Acts 25:11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar."

11 εἰ μὲν οὖν ἀδικῶ καὶ ἄξιον θανάτου πέπραχά τι, οὐ παραιτοῦμαι τὸ ἀποθανεῖν· εἰ δὲ οὐδέν ἐστιν ὧν οὗτοι κατηγοροῦσίν μου, οὐδείς με δύναται αὐτοῖς χαρίσασθαι· Καίσαρα ἐπικαλοῦμαι.

I admit that I am always looking for ways to work the system. It doesn't matter which specific system it is. I just want to squeeze out the most efficiency and benefit that I can. It may be a trip for work where I can find a way to do something else on the side. It may be something as simple as an errand where I realize that I can do something else besides what I originally meant to do. The point is that I always like to find a benefit, particularly when it does not cost me anything.

I believe that is what Paul was doing here. He wanted to go to Rome so he could preach the gospel there. He could have simply been acquitted of the false charges brought against him, but instead of doing that he worked the system of Roman law. As we'll see going forward, he had a very rough journey to Rome. He traveled as a prisoner and nearly died. But he realized that he could get Rome to pay for his passage to the city of Rome so that he could preach the gospel there.

The point of this is not so much about the value of working whatever system in which you happen to find yourself. The point is that we must be opportunistic about the gospel. Pay attention when you talk to people. Can you work the gospel in to the conversation in a non-forced way? Is there some way that you can get a platform to preach it? If so, take it. But you have to pay attention if you are going to seize these opportunities.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

By Any Means Necessary

Acts 24:26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.

26 ἅμα καὶ ἐλπίζων ὅτι χρήματα δοθήσεται αὐτῷ ὑπὸ τοῦ Παύλου· διὸ καὶ πυκνότερον αὐτὸν μεταπεμπόμενος ὡμίλει αὐτῷ.

The "he" in this verse is Felix. He had Paul imprisoned and this is what he did with Paul during that time. He had selfish motives, but he still talked often with Paul. What do you think Paul talked to him about?

I suppose that Paul probably made small talk with him. They probably were able to talk about current events and other mundane things. But I would be shocked if Paul did not regularly turn the conversation to the gospel. After all, Paul was all about the gospel. It didn't matter to him if Felix's motives were wrong, he was going to take every opportunity he had to preach the gospel.

Yesterday I was blessed to have a spiritual conversation with an unbelieving coworker. He is a theist, but just likes to dabble in various religions. I had a chance to talk to him about the uniqueness of Christianity, the historicity of the resurrection account, and various other matters. He hardly bowed his knee in repentance at that time, but I think it was a good chance for me to sow seeds.

I am not very good at bringing conversations to the gospel, but when a good opportunity does arise I try never to shy away. That is something I can almost always make time for. How about you? Do you share the gospel when you have a chance? Do you look for those chances? If not, why?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Good Infamy

Acts 19:15 But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?"

15 ἀποκριθὲν δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ πονηρὸν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· τὸν [μὲν] Ἰησοῦν γινώσκω καὶ τὸν Παῦλον ἐπίσταμαι, ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνες ἐστέ;

I have pretty much always read this passage the same as Matt Chandler's take on it.That is well-worth 2 and a half minutes of your life to watch as he unpacks this quite well. I too have been fascinated by this brief dialog. The evil spirit actually speaks to these itinerant Jewish exorcists with this great line. They acknowledge the power of Christ (they kind of have to) and they of course know about the problems Paul caused them, but they had no idea about these guys.

Why is that? Well, part of the problem is that they were Jewish and not Christian. They did not have the Holy Spirit so they were really no threat at all to these demons. Why should the demons listen to them? I am sometimes reminded of a scene from one of my favorite vampire movies where the vampire tells a terrified Peter Vincent, "You have to have faith for that to work, Mr. Vincent."

In other words, these men had no power because they did not really believe. They just wanted to ride the coattails of what they saw happening in Jesus' name. They wanted the effects without the cost of discipleship. That should sound familiar to anyone paying attention to the American evangelical scene.

What it tells me is that I want to be known among the evil spirits. I want to be doing enough for the kingdom that at least I'm someone that they recognize. Of course, whether they do or not I still have the Holy Spirit indwelling me. But the point is that I would not want to be a complete nobody to them. I don't want to leave the fight bloodied and naked either. Basically, I want the name of Christ to be glorified in me.

How about you? If you were one of these men would any evil spirits know anything about you? I'm not talking about doing spectacular miracles in the name of Christ, but just for the work you do for the kingdom of God which will naturally oppose the kingdom of Satan. What are you doing to advance the kingdom?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Leading Churches

 Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting cthey committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

23 χειροτονήσαντες δὲ αὐτοῖς κατ᾽ ἐκκλησίαν πρεσβυτέρους, προσευξάμενοι μετὰ νηστειῶν παρέθεντο αὐτοὺς τῷ κυρίῳ εἰς ὃν πεπιστεύκεισαν.

One of the problems I have with blogging through Acts is that I am not always struck by devotional moments to write about. But even when I don't have one of those I can speak to what I believe is a strong doctrinal matter. 

There is of course disagreement about whether Acts should be read descriptively, prescriptively, or both. The more strongly charismatic see Acts as being both throughout. Of course, we can debate the matters of the sign gifts like prophecy and tongues. However, I think that this passage pretty clearly shows us how Paul meant for church leadership to work.

He appointed πρεσβυτέρους at the churches. Note that this is plural. He did not appoint pastors to be kings at the churches like bishops. He appointed multiple elders at the churches.

What does this mean? We should follow his model. We do not want to go down the road of the pastor as the king. Instead, we want to follow with having a plurality of elders to run the churches. For more information, this is a great resource.