Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pre-Rabbi Jesus

Jesus lived with his mother Mary and his adoptive father Joseph and he grew to be a good man.  He had a good reputation with everyone and he increased in wisdom.  Above all else, he desired that God’s will be accomplished.  He obeyed his parents and God’s command in everything he did.  And he studied God’s word to know what God’s will was. 

But Jesus also saw that God’s will was not being accomplished on earth.  He saw God’s people disobeying God in important areas.  And he saw that God had made many promises that were not yet fulfilled—God’s spirit had not yet descended upon his people to cause them to do His will; a righteous king had not been chosen to lead his people and to bring justice; God’s people still suffered in need.  God’s will was not accomplished.  And Jesus determined to do all he could to change that.

John the Baptist was a powerful man of God.  He lived in the wilderness at the Jordan River, eating wild honey and locusts.  He wore rough clothing and preached.  Perhaps at first he preached to the twigs and flowing river, but soon he had many people listening to him.  He told them to repent, for God’s promises were going to be fulfilled.  “God is going to quickly judge his people—get ready for it!  You are all doing wicked deeds—change your ways and God will forgive you!” 

Those who committed themselves to repent John brought to the Jordan river and led them across it.  He was reenacting the crossing of the Jordan and of the Red Sea long ago.  If they were going to repent, they needed to be swallowed by the destructive water and be made alive again by God.  In this way, God was making a new people, a new generation that would be obedient to him.

Jesus came to John in order to be led across the Jordan.  John saw Jesus and said, “You don’t need to be drenched by water.  You are already righteous.”  Jesus replied, “We must do it in order to accomplish God’s will.”  So John led Jesus across the Jordan and caused him to be drenched by water, as a repentant one of God’s new people. 

Just as Jesus was baptized, a revelation from the spirit world came upon him.  The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and filled Jesus.  And the voice of God came from heaven, saying to Jesus, “You are my son, whom I love, the king of my people.  I am pleased with you.”  No one heard this but Jesus and John and the powers of the spirit world.  They all knew that Jesus was selected by God to lead God’s new people.

Immediately after this, Jesus left the Jordan and the Spirit lead him into the wilderness.  While Jesus had water in the wilderness, there was no food, so Jesus fasted for forty days, relying on God for his needs.  After many days of waiting before God, Jesus became very hungry.  At this point, Satan visited Jesus, in order to test him and to get him to disobey God and so become disqualified from being God’s king.  Satan told Jesus, “If you’re hungry, why don’t you turn these stones into bread?  You’re the Son of God, the king of God’s people—surly you can do that if you want.  Why go hungry?  God certainly wouldn’t want you to be hungry, would he?”  Jesus was weak and could only respond with Scripture he had memorized.  He weakly but firmly replied, “Scripture says, ‘Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word which comes from God.’” 

Satan was determined to cause Jesus to disobey God, so he said, “So you are the king of God’s people. But who is going to acknowledge you?  Certainly no one will pay attention to you.  Let me help you.”  Satan transported Jesus to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem.  “Here you go.  If you throw yourself off of the temple, you won’t be hurt—aren’t you the Son of God?  The Scripture says, ‘He will command his angels to keep your foot from being harmed by a stone.’  So throw yourself down, the angels will assist you and all of Jerusalem will acknowledge you as having come from God.”   Jesus replied, weakly, “Scripture says, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”

Satan was running out of ideas.  So he said to Jesus, “Here, let me show you something.”  And he showed Jesus all of the great nations of the world—the civilizations of India, China, the Aztecs, the Huns and powerful Rome. “Do you want to rule all of these powers?  Look, I’m in charge of them all.  They gave me their authority when they rebelled against God and God handed them over to Death.  Aren’t I in charge of death?  And when they worshipped their gods instead of just acknowledging their authority, they were placed under my judgement. Do you want to rule over them? Look, I can give them all to you.  They are all yours—just bow before me and I’ll give them to you.”  Jesus replied with strength, “Scripture says, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God alone and serve him only.’  Satan, get lost!”  And Satan left Jesus until a better time.  God, meanwhile, sent angels to feed Jesus after his ordeal.

After Jesus gained his strength back, he began to visit synagogues in Galilee.  Every time he visited a synagogue, he was given an opportunity to tell news or to say something of significance.  Jesus stood in front of each synagogue and proclaimed, “God’s government is coming!  Get ready for God’ revolution.  Repent from your sins.  Obey God.  And be faithful to God’s victory that is coming soon.” 

From Luke 3-4, Matthew 3-4 and Mark 1

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blessing for the Giver

Agrapha 1: Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Although this is a passage of Jesus not found in the gospels, it is as famous as many of his other sayings, although most people do not know it is referenced to Jesus.  Scholastically, it is a doubtful saying: the writer of Acts is quoting Paul in one of his frequently rewritten lectures, and this lecture is quoting Jesus.  On the other hand, this saying fits Jesus’ other teachings about giving and humility.

What is important to know is that in the context of Jesus’ teachings, it doesn’t have the meaning we usually use it.  Let’s say it’s Christmas day and parents are both giving and receiving presents.  They take such joy in watching their children open the presents they have carefully selected and wrapped.  But when it comes to their presents—a tie, or perhaps a sculpture of one of their kid’s hands quickly produced at school—let’s just say there isn’t as much joy.  So they look at each other and knowingly say, “It is better to give than to receive.”

Yeah, that.  That’s not what Jesus meant.

We need to think about the reason why Jesus would say it is better to give.  Not because there is simply more joy in giving—although that can be true.  But rather because of the eschatological reversal.


Jesus taught that whatever we gave to ourselves or from others on earth, we would receive the opposite from God on the final day.  This is why he said “Blessed are you who are poor”, because God would give them great wealth in the end.  “Those who humble themselves will be exalted” because God would grant the humble the opposite of humility in the kingdom.  And, on the converse, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled” because God, on the final day, will reduce the great to nothing.

So Jesus is simply applying this principle to giving.  The one who gives no longer owns what they surrender.  And that act of giving humbles them.  And the humbled—the poor, the meek, the persecuted—will be granted great things by God on the final day.  Even so, the giver will BE the receiver—eventually.  And what they receive will be greater than what they give.

This is stated more explicitly by Jesus in other sayings: “ Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure-- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your measure it will be measured to you in return." (Luk 6:38)  And also, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” (Luk 12:33).  In other words, whatever you give, you will obtain what you gave and more from the Lord.

This is in agreement with the book of Proverbs, which says, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” (Proverbs 19:17) and with Psalms which says, “How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble. The LORD will protect him and keep him alive, And he shall be called blessed upon the earth; And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies. The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health.” (Psalm 41:1-3)

The only caveat to all of this evidence of the giver’s blessing is that it must be to someone in need that we give.  Someone must be poor or in humble circumstances or in great need—if we give to them, then the Lord will give to us, in abundance, on the day we need it.

So give!  Give to the third world, give to the homeless, give to those who have nothing to give.  And God will not forget you, even if it is only a cup of cold water. 

Agrapha: The Jesus You Haven't Met

What is an “agrapha”?

Literally it means “unwritten”, but in context it means a saying of Jesus that wasn’t written in the four canonical gospels, but copied down elsewhere.  Some of them are copied in other early Christian documents, some in alternative gospels or "acts" which aren't found in the New Testament.  Many of them were written in gospels we no longer have complete copies of.  This is what used to be the case for the Gospel of Thomas, a sayings gospel, which for centuries only bits of the gospel was available.  But in the last century, a complete copy of this gospel was found and so it presented a fun argument for scholars.

If there are sayings that are given by the resurrected Jesus to Christian mystics or prophets (such as chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation), these are not included as agrapha.  Only sayings that are stated or implied to be given by Jesus while on earth are included.

Are agrapha from Jesus originally?

This is a tricky question.  Many scholars deny the accuracy of Jesus' statements even in the gospels.  Almost all agrapha, we suppose, were written down at least 70 or more years after his death, which makes their accuracy suspect, at best.  However, since many of the agrapha could be dated even earlier than the earliest canonical gospels (like John D. Crossan dates the Gospel of Thomas), then they might be considered just as or more accurate than the canonical gospels. 

For our purposes, we will be looking at the agrapha as important sayings of Jesus that aren't usually discussed and yet need to be taken into account.  I don't honestly think that any scholar can truly assess the accuracy of any of the sayings of Jesus.  There isn't any reliable supporting evidence for their accuracy or inaccuracy.  So let's just look at them and make some comments and see what we got. 

So I will be offering the occasional post on an agrapha with my own thoughts.  I am not a scholar of agrapha, so don't take my thoughts as authoritative.  But think about them yourself and make your own assessment. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jesus on the Bad Guys

Jesus taught,
The ancient Scriptures taught eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  Th ey said that if an evil person attacks you, justice is getting back at them.  Many people today have taken this to mean to rebel against authorities who attack you.

But I'm telling you, don't rebel against evil authorities.  In fact, give them exactly what they want.  If a judge sentences you unjustly with 30 days, recommend that he make it 90.

If a debt collector clears out your account, send him a check for more.

If a cop rips up your tent and sleeping bag, give him your shoes as well. 

If they insist on taxes you can't afford, give them more.

In doing this, they will incur the wrath of God who demands justice for every oppression.  Give your revenge to God, who is the greatest advocate of the oppressed, and the final court of appeal. 

The ancient Scriptures also taught, "Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy."  They advocated care for those like you and war for those who oppose you.

But I say to love your enemies-- to do good to those who do evil to you.

Pray that those who oppose you will be benefited. 
Give food and presents to those who hate you
Help and listen to those who irritate you
Restore those who tore you down
Work on establishing peace to those who warred against you

This is what God the Father did with us all-- fed, restored and brought peace to us whether we were God's supporters or His enemies.  Although we often opposed God with our actions, He acted in good faith, helping us on every side.  So if we are to truly be God's children, we need to be like God. 

Look, anyone can love those who love them.  Even gangsters do good to those who do good to them.  Even  the most evil cultist is friendly with those in his own group.  Why do you expect some reward from God for doing what everyone does? 

Instead, let your love be mature, like your Father's is: love everyone without exception.

SKV of Matthew 5:43-48