The "Next Chapter" starts on Sep 7

Friday, October 2, 2015

"If you're a Christian, stand up." - the shootings in Oregon.

Another gut-wrenching, traumatic national tragedy, a shooting at a school in Oregon. As of this morning, 9 lives suddenly, horrifically ended by indescribable evil and malice. 

Early, eye-witness reports indicate that many, apparently not all, of those singled out for execution were self-identified Christians. Those who did not confess their faith apparently were intentionally wounded instead of fatally shot. 

I'm sure we will hear many stories about what happened in those classrooms as the shooter entered. Legends will arise, some of the accurate, some of them embellished, some of them proffered on social media to such a great extent that they become the accepted truth without anyone bothering to verify their accuracy. Early this morning, it's already started. 

Meanwhile, the immeasurable grief and agony of those who lost someone close in such a heart-breaking manner will take many years to heal, if ever. Many, many lives will be touched permanently and painfully. Many more will walk in fear and trepidation today, fully aware of how fragile our grip on life really is. 

If ever there was an opportunity for the church to share the gospel, this is it. People need hope and healing. They need to see Christ in us, right now, more than ever.

How will the church respond?

In a day when it is painfully obvious that you may have to sacrifice your life  to be identified with Christ, how will we respond? Will we stand up? If we do, what will we say or do?

Indeed, many will stand up and demand their rights, condemn those who condemn us, malign the president, the politicians, decry the removal of prayer from the schools, blame planned parenthood, the anti-gun lobby, the Muslims, Harry Potter and any number of assorted flavors of the day. 

How many will stand up and proclaim the gospel, the forgiveness of sin readily available to all, even those who oppose, persecute and murder Christ and His followers? How many will stand up and become vessels of grace and mercy, reaching out to those who are disoriented, hurting and looking for answers rather than accusations and more debate? Will we respond to hate with more hate...or love. 

The day of persecution is upon us. Scripture is very clear that it would come (2 Cor 12:10). The only biblical response is blessing and compassion,

Romans 12:14–15 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

This is our hour, brothers and sisters, our hour to stand up and show the world Jesus Christ. Let that thought permeate our conversations, our social media, our thoughts and our prayers. 

Meanwhile, let us grieve and weep for those families that are in shock over such senseless and painful loss, remembering that some of them are our brothers and sisters in the faith, but not all. They all hurt. They all need prayer. They all need Christ. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Was Jesus Flogged Twice?

Our sermon series has been in the Gospel of John for well over a year now. It's been a fascinating look at how John tells the story of Jesus being the Messiah.

St John the Evangelist
Along the way, we've had to gain an understanding of the tools John uses to communicate his idea.  Some of them require a few perspectives that can be a challenge to a Western-oriented way of thinking. 

  • John does not always use chronological order in his story-telling. It is frequently more important, to John, that we get his point rather than understand the sequence of events. 
  • John uses some words a bit differently than other biblical writers. John frequently uses "world" (kosmos) as a description of the lost, in need of redemption. When John says, "Jews", he almost invariably means "Jewish leadership"
  • John, very often, mentions seemingly trivial details to reveal the irony of a situation, using that irony to teach an important point. This, at times, makes it easy to miss the point.
Needless to say, John requires careful reading. That type of concentrated study moves John's gospel form being a profound theological treatise (at which he does an excellent job) to be a key part of the big picture of the New Testament story of God's redemptive plan. This is one of the reasons we've tried to tell the story rather than dwell on the theological riches of John. 

All this makes it difficult to harmonize John with the synoptic gospels. John plays loose with chronology and is far better at filling in some gaps than he is at lining up with Matthew, Mark and Luke.  

So, when we get to chapter 19, it would be easy to write some events off as the usual weak order-of-events John presents. Particularly with the trial before Pilate and the flogging. 

Few folks have the time to line things up between the the
gospels and John, so the problem in ch 19 is not one most folks are familair with. 

But, vs 1 says this, 

John 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.
There were three degrees of flogging (scourging) during the 1st Century. (1) fustigatio -for minor offenses, usually accompanied with a stern warning. (2) falgellatio - fairly brutal, administered to criminals whose infractions were more serious. (3) verberatio -  brutal, inhumane in its scope, frequently fatal, usually administered along with other punishments like crucifixion, if the convicted survived the flogging. The verberatio only came after a death sentence was handed down. It was a way of weakening the condemned. 

In John's scenario, this is clearly prior to the official sentencing, which occurs in John 19:16. Even more importantly, the flogging ordered in vs 1 (emastigosen) is derived from the root word μαστιγόω (mastigo). Notice no sentencing has been issued. Pilate clearly does not intend to execute Jesus at this point (John 19:4-6). 

So was this the lighter form of flogging or the heavier one most of us are familiar with? We could write it off as all of them being the same, John doing what he frequently does, moving things around to suit his story. But Luke does something very similar. In Luke's gospel, we see Jesus, now before Herod, mocked prior to sentencing by Pilate.

Luke 23:11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.

Further more, both Luke (Luke 16:11, paideuses) and John (John 19:1, ematigosen) use words that denote the punishment of a trouble maker, not the execution required of a capital crime. Luke and John also record a humiliation at the hands of the soldiers prior to the formal sentencing. 

Mark, in describing his flogging, uses phragellosas (Mark 15:15), the same word used in Mt 27:26, the same word used in conjunction with the most severe form of flogging. Both Mark and Matthew depict their floggings and the humiliation of the crown of thorns and purple robe as occurring after the formal sentence of crucifixion is handed down. 

From all this, we can safely assume that there were two floggings, a light one given as a way to appease the Jews and a far more brutal one preparing Jesus for the crucifixion.

Why is this even important?

None of us can begin to imagine the horror and suffering Jesus went through on the cross or prior to it. Many of us have seen graphic depictions of the flogging and the nailing to the cross. Many find it hard to watch. All of us should understand the sheer physicality of the torture and be profoundly moved that Jesus Christ endured it all for you and me. I often wonder how far my torture would have progressed before I broke. Jesus never reached that point, never protested, never resisted. He absorbed it all...for us. 

Now, imagine ways to magnify the pain and suffering even further. One of the primary ways would be to prolong it, multiply it. Jesus is accused, refuses to defend Himself, then is flogged and humiliated. The flogging is not what they considered "severe" back then.  But He still emerges from it wounded, bleeding, weakened, spat on and in tremendous pain. As the "trial" progresses, He is finally sentenced to die the most horrible death imaginable on those days. Then He hears that, prior to that pain, He will be flogged again, this time far more brutally than before. He still goes willingly. He is weak, injured, painful and alone but He never hesitates, never protests, never asks for mercy. He absorbs far more than any of us would be willing or able to absorb. He allows Himself to be pushed beyond human endurance...because He want us to be with Him forever. 

Amazing grace, indeed.  

Sources: "Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John", edited by D.A.Carson, "The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John" edited by Andreas Kostenberger. "The Gospel According to John (XII-XXI): Introduction Translation and Notes (AYBC)" edited by Raymmond Edward Brown, "Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36: John (Second Edition)" Edited by George R. Beasley-Murray,

The Next Chapter - God's Big Picture, Ch 4

The Partial Kingdom

A long chapter and a long posting today. But, a great overview of the big picture so far. 

The kingdom of God is comprised of 4 elements, all of them revealed in the 1000 year period starting with Abraham through the time of Solomon. They are; God's people, God's rule and blessing, God's place/land and God's king. Each of these elements are revealed via supernatural/miraculous means. 

Abraham becomes the father of nations (God's people) through a barren wife, in spite of his stumbling and weaknesses. Clearly, people become God's chosen ones through His miraculous intervention, not by any quality or capability in them. The choice of Jacob, a scoundrel by any measure, over Esau to continue the lineage is another example of God's sovereign choice that has nothing to do with merit or value. We see God's miraculous intervention in a long series of significant events; Jacob becoming Israel, the story of Joseph, the subsequent migration and captivity of the Hebrews, the Passover (salvation by substitution, another pattern), the deliverance out of Egypt, the giving of the law and the arrival on the borders of the Promised Land. All of these events are impossible without God's divine intervention and enabling. Meanwhile, the children of God fail to be faithful at nearly every turn. They are clearly made His people by grace (Ex 19:4). Why? Because God is Who He is. He is "I am" (Ex 3:14).

We've already seen one profound but simple biblical principal in the Garden. When God's people obey Him, they receive blessing. In order to frame their obedience, they are given guidelines. The very first guideline is simple, "Don't eat from the trees." The guideline is given in order to be a blessing, not a hindrance. So it is with the Law (God's rule and blessing), not intended to be a way to gain favor but a guideline for blessing and peace. The Israelites are already God's people by grace (Ex 20:2). The Law insures God's blessing.

The people of God are redeemed and delivered out of bondage prior to receiving the Law, not by conforming to it. Their status of being God's people is not dependent on their obedience. But, their obedience is required to walk in His fullest blessing (Ex 19:5). 

The Law sets God's people apart, establishing them as a holy nation, all the while revealing their need for God to further purify them. If they are truly God's people, they should live lives that reflect His character and nature. The Law is there to show them where they need His help and presence to do that. Just like becoming God's people required supernatural intervention, becoming holy, living by the Law, requires the same. Their entire history shows that man is incapable of obeying the Law perfectly. In order to remain in relationship with God, they have no alternative other than to depend on God's grace. With this in mind, their desire for obedience becomes a measure of how thankful they are for that grace. 

The goal of all this is relationship with God, exemplified by His presence among His people as they travel to the Promised Land. The Tabernacle is the evidence of His presence. All the trappings and features of the Tabernacle point to Christ. The Sacrifice is further evidence that reveals the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. It is an imperfect sacrifice but it establishes another crucial biblical principle - a death is necessary for remission of sin. 

Once God's people are established (through Abraham) and His rule/blessing is made evident (at Sinai), He takes them to Canaan (God's place/land).  They grumble, groan and disobey along the way, delaying their arrival, delaying their blessing. This is all meant to teach us about God and our relationship with Him (1 Cor 10:6). Our failure to obey never disqualifies us from being chosen, but it can hinder our blessing. The Hebrews get to the border of the Promised Land and God pronounces incredible blessing if they obey and terrible hardship if the don't (Dt 28). In spite of their shortcomings and knowing they will continue to have them, God gives them the land. 

As they move into the Promised Land, Joshua is commanded, by God, to eliminate all the people living there. This is not an act of genocide. It is an act of cleansing, to remove evil and the influence of evil. It is a bloody process. The people of the land are wicked people and pay for their wickedness. 

Once settled in the Promised Land, judges are established. We witness a long series of sins, committed by His people, and grace, exhibited by God, another biblical pattern. The judges are, by and large, a motley lot, not really suitable leaders or representative of the people. So, God gives His people a king, first, the one they ask for (Saul), then the one He wants them to have (David, God's king). This too, happens miraculously. It sets another divine pattern, the king as representative of the people. 

David stumbles but remains king, by God's grace and mercy. We see in David, yet another pattern...a man who is aware of his sin and repents, truly repents, with a contrite heart. God honors David's heart and desire for holiness in spite of his occasional stumbles. But there are earthly consequences for his sometimes ungodly behavior. David's son, Solomon becomes king, building the Temple, a permanent home for God. 

By Solomon's time, God's people are in God's place, under God's rule and blessing, led by God's king, all of it happening by God's sovereign power and authority. We see the mighty hand of God moving among His people and in the surrounding nations as well. But this is not the perfect plan of God, not yet. These events are only the shadow of what is to come.    

Meanwhile, God is constantly revealing His character and nature, constantly revealing more about His plan for redemption. God is teaching His people about...Himself, moving them toward complete and eternal restoration. 

Here's a great article by D.A. Carson, of the Gospel Coalition, on  reading the Bible theologically.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Next Chapter - God's Big Picture, Ch 3

The Promised Kingdom

God's plan for the redemption of His people was in place before anything was ever created. 

Furthermore, He has exhibited grace in all of His dealings with the children He created; from clothing for Adam and Eve, to the mark of protection on Cain, to Enoch's intimate relationship with God. God does not abandon those He loves. There may be consequences for their rebellion, but the consequences do not mitigate His promises or His grace. He is faithful to his promises for His name's sake.  

As God patiently moves forward with His plan of redemption, He forms a covenant with Noah, promising to preserve Noah and his family as He destroys the rest of the human race, then promising never to flood the world again. God gives a sign as a reminder, the rainbow. Mankind has a fresh start. Grace is on display!
Note, all the covenants formed between God and man in the Bible are initiated by God, none by man. A covenant is an agreement between two parties with the dominant party setting the guidelines and conditions and the receiving party receiving the benefit, in many cases, if he meets the terms of the covenant. In some others, the covenant is initiated by God and completed unconditionally. A covenant is not a negotiation nor is it an agreement of two equals. Covenants are in effect until the initiating party dies. God never dies. So it follows that His covenants never end. Opinions on how this works out in history vary.
Another pattern of Godly character emerges. We see sin, then judgment, then grace. Notice, though, that God always chooses who receives grace (Rom 9:15-16).

We see this type of grace in God's choosing Abraham and making a covenant with him. We also see the grace-pattern in that the covenant with Abraham comes after the Tower of Babel incident. God judges the sin and pride of man in Babel but He does not destroy mankind. Instead, He shows His grace by forming a covenant with a nondescript individual, one that actually guarantees the survival of the human race. One of the blessings of that covenant is that it insures His people, God's own people, that they will become a mighty nation.  God will give them land (a home) and bless them while blessing through them as well. God's people are meant to be vessels of blessing to all nations and peoples of the world. This covenant promises an everlasting kingdom of God and a home for His children in that kingdom.

Yet another pattern emerges, Abraham accepts the covenant and the promises that accompany it by faith.  He believes God will do what He says He will do, just as Noah did. Both are imperfect men, chosen not because of any distinguishing characteristics or abilities,  by solely by God's grace. Grace is received by faith. Later, Paul will tell us the very faith that allows us to receive His grace...comes from God (Eph 2:8) .

Points to ponder
  • Is the manner in which Noah and Abraham were chosen pertinent to us?
  • What implications arise when we see that God's redemptive purpose and plan were in place prior to creation?
  • Here, in these early chapters, we see a number of patterns emerging. Do you see any additional patterns? How do these patterns reveal the character and nature of God?

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Next Chapter - God's Big Picture, Ch 2

Right off the bat, in ch 2 of our book, there in the Garden, we see another pattern that will repeat itself throughout the Scriptures, indeed through the history of mankind. Evil comes in the distortion of the word of God accompanied by faulty interpretations of it. The serpent misquotes the word, the woman embellishes it. The man joins in.

Ultimately, the woman and the man fall victim to their own inner desires, seeking to fulfill themselves by doing exactly the opposite of what God says. Another pattern is revealed, that of man acting on his desire to be in control and be self-satisfied, apart from God. Disaster ensues and sin enters into creation. 

The serpent is part of creation, part of what God has already declared as "good". Did God create evil? The text doesn't say.  However, and perhaps more importantly, what is revealed is that all creation is under God's sovereign authority. This is made clear when the curses for disobedience are pronounced. The man, the woman and the serpent are subject to the commands and judgment of God. None are exempt, none are beyond, none can contest.

With the advent of sin, the harmony of creation is destabilized. First we see tension between the man and woman (Gen 3:12-13). Afterward, we see murder and lies (Gen 4:8-9). Eventually, the depraved, self-centered
nature of man taints everything and God judges the human race, wiping it out with a flood, save a precious few (Noah and family), whom God declares righteous (Gen 6). In this we see yet another pattern that will repeat itself; God always preserves a remnant. 

However, man's nature is not changed by the flood. Noah gets drunk and behaves poorly. Other behaviors, revealing the ongoing fallen nature of man, continue to multiply. Nonetheless, God blesses, replenishing the earth. 

Man continues to reveal his fallen nature and his desire to supplant God by attempting to build a tower that will reach to heaven. God, instead of wiping mankind out, mercifully scatters him and varying his languages and preventing him for  bringing annihilation upon the human race. 

  • Do you see the same patterns of God's character mentioned above? Are there others?
  • Some people believe that man continues to improve and get better. What have we seen, so far, in Scripture that might support or deny that concept?
  • What do we learn about evil in ch 2 & 3?
  • Did you learn anything new from this chapter?
The exercises at the and of each chapter are thought provoking. It would be helpful to spend a few minutes pondering them.

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