What Time is It?… (John 2)

In John 2:1-5, Jesus and His disciples make their way to Cana to attend a wedding. While they are there, the hosts run out of wine. In Jesus’ day, having the wine run out was a big deal. Weddings were multi-day events and usually were large social gatherings.

When his mother brings the situation to Jesus’ attention (in v. 4), He gives an interesting response,

“Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”

John intersperses into his gospel several allusions to Jesus’ impending “hour”. It is through these allusions that the reader begins to anticipate the arrival of that hour. 

Mary may have hoped He would take this opportunity to make Himself known. She may have been imagining a king and His kingdom! 

… but Jesus knew everything His “hour” would bring en route to His throne and glory. Continue reading

A Unique Invitation… (John 1)

The first chapter of John’s gospel is a brilliantly planned invitation.

John wanted to invite both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish groups) to read his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. To do this, he literarily connected Jesus to concepts from both cultures. In this way, the beginning of John’s gospel is a unique invitation to read beyond the introduction into the heart of the story.

How did John invite a Jewish audience to read his gospel? Here are some examples from the first chapter.

  • John 1:1 – “In the beginning…” 
    • this wording has obvious ties with the Old Testament story of Creation in Genesis 1:1 that opens with the same phrase.
  • John 1:14 – “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
    • The Greek word translated as “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled” (lived temporarily). The tabernacle/temple was the center of Jewish worship.
  • John 1:29, 36  – “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
    • Lambs were often used as offerings in Jewish worship ceremonies.
  • John 1:51 – “Truly, Truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” 
    • This recalls a dream that Jacob (a father of the Jewish faith) had in Genesis 28:10-13.

Continue reading

The Magnificent Sevens… In the Book of John

In the movie, The Magnificent Seven, a selection of otherwise unrelated mercenaries  prove to be more effective as a group when defending a village against a gang of thieves. These seven people were able to accomplish far more by working together than they would have as individuals. The movie had a promotional tagline, “Justice has a number.” And that number was seven!

In a similar way John, Jesus’ disciple and author of the gospel, organized information into groups of seven. He knew that information grouped into categories accomplishes more working together than the same information randomly presented on its own. For instance, readers may notice that, in his gospel, John includes seven miracles of Jesus. He organizes these into a related group by referring to each of them as “signs” or “attesting miracles”.

  • John 2:1-11 – turning water to wine
  • John 4:46-54 – healing of a royal official’s son
  • John 5:1-15 – healing at the pool of Bethesda
  • John 6:5-14 – feeding of the 5,000
  • John 6:16-24 – walking on water
  • John 9:1-7 – healing of a blind man
  • John 11:1-45 – resuscitation of Lazarus from the dead

Continue reading

What’s the Value of our Talents? (Matthew 25)

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a parable about a man who embarks on a journey. But before he leaves, he entrusts his possessions with three slaves that stay behind. Many readers may be unaware… but there a problematic translational switch-a-roo that happens in Matthew 25:15. It concerns the possessions the man entrusts to the slaves… the talents.

“To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” – NASB (’95 update)

It turns out, the word “talents” is an unfortunate translation. Well actually, it’s not a translation at all… it’s a transliteration. What’s the difference? Translation conveys the meaning of words from one language to another, where transliteration simply conveys the sound of words between languages.

How does that play out in this passage? There is a Greek word “talanton” that’s an ancient Greek unit of weight and, at the same time, a measure of monetary value. It’s kinda like the British “pound”. On one hand, a unit of weight, but also has a specific monetary value in that society. Continue reading

Signs of the End of the Age (Matthew 24)

Have you ever been wading in a river, or a lake, and one moment you are doing just fine, walking along and able to touch bottom. Then, for whatever reason, the next step takes you into a deep underwater hole. One step earlier you felt like you were some sort of “Aqua Superhero”… and the next you feel like you might drown. 

Theologically, that’s what some people experience when they step into Matthew 24. You might feel pretty confident of your footing in the chapters leading up to this one… then all of a sudden you are treading in deep theological waters and feel like you are about to go under.

Why do I say that? 

There are so many ways people read Matthew 24. This is the type of passage that inspires charts… and diagrams… and long extended analogies to explain. So many charts… and at least potentially (from this chapter)… so little time. 

The chapter begins with a comment about nice buildings… and then a promise of destruction of those buildings.

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Then the real question… the one where the theology suddenly get deep. What exactly do the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 24:3? Continue reading

Where’s the Beginning of the End (Matthew 23)

Throughout his gospel, Matthew organizes large segments of Jesus’ teaching into five major discourses. That just means there are a whole bunch of red letters… all scrunched together… in five different places.

The author does this on purpose… because he wants us to think of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament character, Moses. Moses was that person who lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and on towards the land that had been promised to their family. Moses wrote 5 major discourses (the first five books of the Old Testament). To help connect Jesus as “the new Moses”, Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching in five distinct settings.

Today, it’s the last discourse I’m interested in… and where it might begin. Those familiar with the Bible at all have probably heard of “The Olivet Discourse”. It’s found in Matthew 24:3-26:1 and is named after the location Jesus was when He taught it. He was on the “Mount of Olives” in Jerusalem.

We know the discourse ends in Matthew 26:1 because the Matthew includes a clue for the reader that signifies the end (“When Jesus had finished all these words…”). But there is no equivalent marker used for the beginning of the discourse. Continue reading

What Three Questions Would You Ask Jesus? (Matthew 22)

Matthew 22 features a set of three questions that the religious leaders bring to Jesus in an attempt to trap him and end his ministry. Jesus answers each question brilliantly… which only serves to further frustrate His questioners.

In Matthew 22:15-22, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” This seems like a political question… but it certainly has religious undertones.  

This reminds me of a role I played in a high-school production of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. Those familiar with that story know that the main character has several daughters. The story largely focuses on the daughters falling in love and getting married. I played Perchik, a religious and political radical that fell in love with one of the daughters. When it came time for my character to propose marriage I said, 

“There’s a question I wish to discuss with you. It’s a political question, the question of marriage.” She responded, “Is this a political question?”

 It was a fair question. I went on to explain that the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base that must be founded on mutual beliefs, a common attitude, and philosophy towards society.”

What a romantic! The world certainly doesn’t need more poets like this character. Continue reading

Was the Fig Tree Really a Temple? (Matthew 21)

Jesus’ ministry has been described in terms of a comparison of two temples. One temple, a physical building in Jerusalem, was supposed to be a visible example of God’s purity and forgiveness. But at the time of Jesus’ ministry, that temple was not a clear picture of these attributes. In fact… it was exactly the opposite. People were visiting the temple and often leaving with a distorted picture of God and how He works.

In contrast to the Jerusalem temple, Jesus was a clearer example of God’s purity… and His forgiveness. Jesus’ ministry began a transition away from the temple in Jerusalem… to a new temple. The temple of Jesus and those connected to Him through faith. It is a temple of believers.

It was this new temple that Jesus came to inaugurate… and that old temple, the one in Jerusalem, that he put on notice that its time was done. 

This factors greatly into Matthew 21:12-22. In those verses Jesus makes his way to the temple in Jerusalem and drives out those who were buying and selling. The forgiveness of God had become a profit making business, but forgiveness from God is available to everyone. It’s not a money making transaction. 

No matter who you are… no matter how much money you have… God’s forgiveness is available to you. That picture wasn’t being truly represented in the temple in Jerusalem. Sometimes I think we forget that simple truth.

The cleaning of the Jerusalem temple is followed by this strange and cryptic “cursing of a fig tree”. There’s a fig tree… it has leaves on it… but no fruit. Jesus says, “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you” and at once the fig tree withers and dies. Without a broader context… this certainly seems like a strange event to include in the narrative of Jesus’ week leading up to the cross.  Continue reading

The “Dimmer Switch” of Faith

The Bible talks a lot about faith. Some people seem to have it, some don’t. Sometimes, the people that have it in one story, seem to lose it in the next. Faith is the stuff of salvation and everyone seems to have an opinion about what it is and how to understand it.

One common theme regarding faith is that people tend to see faith as an “all or nothing” commodity. Do you have faith? Yes… or no. In one sense, I suppose you can talk about faith in those terms, but I think faith is much more complicated than that.

Jesus talks about faith in terms, not only of existence (Yes/No), but of quantity and quality as well.

Sometimes He refers to “little faith”…

You of little faith! – Matthew 6:30b

He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” – Matthew 8:26

… Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” – Matthew 14:31

Jesus said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?” – Matthew 16:8

He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith… if you have faith the size of a mustard seed…” – Matthew 17:20

and sometimes “great faith”…

(Jesus) marveled and said… “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” Matthew 8:10

Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great…” – Matthew 15:28

IRUBThe Bible seems to present faith more like a dimmer switch. You know… the light switches some of us have in our homes that allow us to regulate, on a sliding scale, the amount of light in a room.

Continue reading

Will the Last Really Be First? (Matthew 20)

The chapter and verse numbers weren’t included in the first manuscripts of the Bible. They were added to the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament texts in the 16th-century by a man named Robert Stephanus (his son, Henri, is famous for introducing the pagination numbers still used today in many of Plato’s writings).

While Robert’s Stephanus’ work has long been the gold standard for quickly finding Bible references according to “chapter and verse”… some of his organizational decisions are not as helpful for studying the Bible as a piece of literature. Matthew chapter 20 is one such “unfortunate chapter break”.

Matthew chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Grammatically, that word suggests that the statement that follows somehow relates with information that came before. It organically ties back to the statement in the last verse of chapter 19.  Continue reading