The way of transformation (podcast) (2 Timothy 3)


2 Timothy 3 tracks the transformation that takes place through Christ, turning us inside out, from living for my own self-focused story to participating in God’s astounding story.

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Which Jesus do you want? (Matthew 27:15–26)

“Jesus Barabbas? Or Jesus called Christ?” What’s your response to Pilate’s question?

The governor was not convinced Jesus had done anything deserving death (27:23). He knew it was out of self-interest that the leaders had handed him over (27:18). He moved to pacify the crowd by offering a prisoner release, giving them the choice.

It seems both men were named Jesus (though this detail is omitted from some ancient manuscripts of Matthew). Pilate offered the people this choice (27:17):
Who do you want me to release to you?
– Jesus son of Abba (Bar-Abbas), or
– Jesus called anointed leader (Christ)?

Jesus was a relatively common name, meaning The Lord saves (compare Matthew 1:21). It’s the Hebrew name Joshua. But these two Jesuses have radically different views on how to save God’s people.

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Are you the king of the Jews? (Matthew 27:11–14)

How did Jesus respond as Pilate asked the ultimate question?

Pilate’s question goes to the heart of the gospel: Are you the king of the Jews?

From the very start, Matthew described Jesus as the anointed leader descended from King David (1:1). But Jesus has been less direct in claiming the regal title. Not until his crowning statement at the end do we hear the Christ claiming all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18).

Matthew treats this question as the focus of the investigation. The Jewish trial demands, Tell us if you are the anointed ruler (26:63). The gentile trial begins, Are you the king of the Jews? (27:11)

Jesus’ authority is the issue at stake. Seven times Matthew underscores Pilate’s official status as the governor (27:2, 11, 14, 15, 21, 27).

So how are we to understand the governor’s question and Jesus’ reply?

Matthew 27:11 (my translation, compare NIV)
Jesus was placed before the governor and the governor questioned him, “You are the king of the Jews?”
Jesus responded, “Your words.”

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God and Guns

Not just what to think but how to think on a controversial topic.

My first degree (B Th) was from a Bible college in the American Mid-West. One of the things I wasn’t prepared for was how many church people owned guns and said they would use them to protect themselves.

Guns are a big topic in the US, so it’s refreshing to see some good scholars engaging this debate. Two professors from Fuller Theological Seminary have collated the work of seven others in a new book called God and Guns: The Bible Against American Gun Culture published by Westminster John Knox Press in November 2021.

Now another NT scholar is blogging his responses. Ben Witherington III is someone I consult regularly (most recently 2 days ago). His understanding of how rhetoric functioned in the social setting of the New Testament is second to none. That’s why it was such a thrill to tour Israel with him back in 2014.

So, if you’re interested in how some good American Bible scholars think about this topic, Ben’s blog posts are your way in:

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Gospel encouragement (podcast) (2 Timothy 1)


The gospel will transform the world. The good news that God’s anointed (Christ) is our leader (Lord) changes everything.

So how do we live in a world that is not fully transformed yet? What’s our role? How do we participate in this big story? That’s what Paul discusses in his final letter to Timothy.

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How do you value Christ? (Matthew 27:1-10)

The tragedy of Judas was how he valued Jesus. Whatever his reason, he chose to hand Jesus over to the temple leaders, accepting whatever they offered (Mark 14:11 || Luke 22:5).

The chief priests set the price (Matthew 26:15). Thirty silver coins was a small price to be rid of the prophetic voice that exposed them as mere actors (23:13-29), rulers relying on death (23:27-32), leaders leading the city to destruction (23:33-39).

Jesus was heaven’s life-giving leader for the earth, and Judas was the leading example of trading Life for something less:

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Most popular posts of 2021

Did you miss any of these?

So much is beyond our control, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men.” It shatters our illusions of being in control, triggering mistrust of our leaders. Turns out neither they nor we know where we’re going, let alone get there.

I’m finding encouragement from a guy whose life was ebbing away in isolation, yet kept his vision on the one who has our destiny sorted:  I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able … (2 Timothy 1:12).

There’s only one King of Kings. Serving as his agents in a suffering world is the meaning of our lives.

If you’d like something full of hope about where he’s leading us, these were our most-read posts in 2021:

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The gift of Christmas

Considered Christmas from God’s perspective?

Santa hanging out of an inflatable caravan? Our neighbours in the next street had a sense of humour. At least, I hope they did, because the next morning Santa and his caravan were lying on the grass looking very deflated.

Maybe that happens to our childhood dreams too. My Dad would cut branches from the Athol trees and bring them inside for Christmas. Grandma’s house was filled with relatives, festive food, songs around the piano, presents under the tree. But it never feels quite the same when you grow up to find yourself making the preparations, cooking the food, and cleaning up the wrappings. Santa got lost in the transition from what you might get to what you might give.

Have you considered Christmas from the Giver’s perspective? What was it like for the Father of humanity? For unto us a son is given (Isaiah 9:6).

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Wonderful Counsellor (podcast) (Isaiah 9:6)

Why did the wonderful counsellor begin with the place that went dark first? Can his mediation resolve the violence and oppression to restore peace to God’s world?

From cards to cantatas, Isaiah 9:6 is part of Christmas. The child who is born, the son who is given is recognized with throne-names like Wonderful Counsellor.

What did wonderful counsellor mean in Isaiah’s time? How does it relate to Jesus?

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The Lord’s Supper challenges culture (1 Corinthians 11:17–34)

Why were the Corinthians “doing more harm than good” when they met?

Why do churches meet? If we’re not clear what we’re meeting for, we may do more harm than good:

1 Corinthians 11:17-21 (NIV)
17 Your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you …
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.

The heart of what’s wrong here is competition instead of community.

This isn’t unique to the church. From the Parents and Citizen’s committee of the local school to the political parties that want to run the country, competing groups are always after the best outcome for their faction. It’s how the politics of power works.

But the church embodies the culture of a different kingdom. We’re doing more harm than good if our gatherings reinforce existing culture instead of the king whose authority comes from the cross.

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The new covenant meal (podcast) (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)

A new covenant? How did Jesus’ bloodshed establish a new covenant? Who are the parties? Why a new covenant? Could a previous covenant shed light on this one?

In the Ancient Near East, a national covenant defined who was in power. That’s what the Sinai covenant achieved: a people rescued from slavery became the first nation on earth to live under God’s reign, and the covenant that was celebrated with a meal (Exodus 24:7-11).

How did the new covenant establish God’s reign in Christ? What is it we’re proclaiming in this meal?

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The covenant meal (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)

Communion is a new-covenant feast. How does the body and blood of the Christ create a covenant between heaven and earth?

If your church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, you’ll be familiar with this:

1 Corinthians 11:23–26 (NIV)
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

We hear this so often we may not see how counter-cultural it is. When we celebrate our Lord, we’re proclaiming the king who gave his life to re-establish the covenant relationship between heaven and earth.

Those verses begin and end by proclaiming Jesus as kyrios — Lord. A kyrios in Greek culture was a master or a ruler. The head of a business was the kyrios: the master, the lord of the business. The head of the Empire was a kyrios: Caesar expected you to call him your lord.

But if you saw a convicted criminal hanging on a cross beside the road, you would not normally call him kyrios. The crowd would be more likely to call him Loser than Lord.

In what sense is Jesus our kyrios, the Lord?

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When the last man falls (Matthew 26:69-75)

Seeing no alternative, Peter disowned his king. Jesus never gave up on him.

Why did Peter deny Jesus? Was he just sitting at the wrong fire, in a crowd where he didn’t have the gumption to admit he was Jesus’ follower? That isn’t how this story works in Matthew’s Gospel.

Peter was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, God’s anointed leader (16:16). Jesus blessed him, but realized Peter had no idea of the conflict ahead. Peter’s denial began when he said, No Lord! This will never happen to you! Denying that Jesus would die at the hands of the Jerusalem leaders placed Peter on the enemy’s side (16:21-23). Peter could understand taking up his sword and kill to save his king (26:51-52), but he could not understand taking up his cross to follow the king into death to save his realm (16:24-28).

Once Jesus removed fight from the agenda, flight was the only option his followers could see. That’s why, All the disciples deserted him and fled (26:56).

Peter could make no sense of what was happening, but he couldn’t stay away either. Peter followed him from a distance … to see how it would end (26:58). That’s the reason Peter was there, trying to blend in with Jesus’ antagonists. That was never going to work, of course. A lumbering fisherman sprouting Galilean phrases was as inconspicuous as an Aston Martin in a spy movie.

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Wenham shows us how to approach the Psalms (free book)

Gordon Wenham’s excellent book “The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms” is free this month (Nov 2021).

Gordon Wenham’s ebook, The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms is free this month (November 2021).

I’ve learned heaps from Wenham about understanding the Old Testament in context. Particularly, his commentaries on Genesis (2 volumes, WBC) and Leviticus (NICOT) and Numbers (TCOT) are so insightful, and Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically (T&T Clark, 2000) makes sense of difficult passages.

In this book, he guides us to the Psalms, showing us how to:

  1. celebrate the God revealed in the Psalms
  2. present our needs to him
  3. read Psalms in the context of the whole story of Scripture
  4. understand Psalms in light of the Messiah
  5. apply the ethics of the Psalms
  6. handle the imprecatory Psalms

He then pulls it all together with a specific example from Psalm 103, before the final chapter on how the other nations fit with the Psalms.

Do you treat the Psalms as stand-alone songs? Or were they assembled in a meaningful way, so that one Psalm relates to the others around it? How do you read them in context?

Chapter 7 shows how. From Psalm 103: The Song of Steadfast Love:

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Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? (Matthew 26:59–66)

How could Jesus be tried and condemned for the sin of blasphemy?

“Speak against me, and you speak against God!” That kind of manipulation is common from cults to Catholicism, from micromanagers to megachurches. That’s what motivated Caiaphas to tear his garments at Jesus’ trial with the accusation, He blasphemed! (26:65)

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“Tell us if you are the anointed ruler” (Matthew 26:57–68)

Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin was all about whether he claimed to be king.

Why was Jesus called to stand trial before the Jerusalem Council?

It won’t do to say, “Well, Jesus claimed to be the second person of the trinity (Son of God), and the high priest thought that was blasphemous.” The notion of a triune God was not formulated until much later. The high priest was not investigating a Christian dogma when he said, I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. (26:63 ESV).

Peter had used those titles: Christ, Son of God (16:16). We saw that the Gospel writers treat the two phrases as meaning the same thing (epexegetical). The Christ is the anointed ruler who represents on earth the reign of the heavenly sovereign. In that sense, he is the son proclaimed by the eternal sovereign. That’s what son of God meant to the high priest. It was the language of kingship (Psalm 2:2, 7), the language of God’s promises to David (1 Chronicles 17:13).

But the kingship had failed. The final Psalm in Book III laments the disconnect between God’s amazing promises and their experience of the failed kingship:

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Why did Jesus have to die? (Matthew 26:47-56)

How did Jesus’ death “fulfill the prophetic Scriptures?” Here’s the explanation he gave in Gethsemane.

Fight or flight? Many kings have faced that choice. In a field just outside his capital, the true king rejected both options. Neither would bring peace to a divided world.

If you don’t flee and you don’t fight, you could die. Not very attractive, but it is an option: stay and die.

Instead of taking flight, Jesus stayed in Gethsemane, consulting his Father, the architect of human history. He triple-checked for any other alternatives (26:36-46). When the crowd with swords and clubs arrived to take him, he rejected the fight option too.

Matthew doesn’t name Peter as the disciple who unsheathed a dagger. It’s too late for flight. He sees no option but to fight for his king. He swings his sword. The high priest’s servant sees it coming and drops his head to one side. The blow aimed at his neck slices off his ear.

The king orders him, Put your sword back in its place! All who take the sword will destroy themselves with the sword.

What astounding insight! Jesus wasn’t merely saying that those who rely on weapons for survival probably won’t. He said the very act of choosing weapons to kill humans destroys our own humanity (ἀπολοῦνται = future indicative middle).

Ask returning soldiers who’ve seen killing whether Jesus is right. Ask them how many friends they’ve lost to the spectrum from shellshock to suicide. War destroys more than the enemy.

But what sort of option is stay and die? Is that what the Scriptures required of him? It’s not what previous kings had chosen.

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Dark night without answers (Matthew 26:36-46)

Gethsemane isn’t the end, but it sure can feel like it.

Every fibre of his being wanted to run. He wouldn’t last twenty-four hours if he stayed. Grief, anxiety, debilitating distress was killing him.

One of his friends had turned traitor, agreeing to hand him to his enemies (26:20). His other friends didn’t understand, asleep while he faced the dark night of the soul. Though he felt like running for his life, Jesus spent his last moments of freedom facing his Father.

When I’m depressed or distressed, the Psalms advise me to hope in God … my Saviour and my God (Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5). We’ve heard that nothing is impossible with God. Facedown in the dirt in abject submission, Jesus prayed, My Father, if it’s possible, let the cup pass me by (Matthew 26:39).

Why was God handing him a deadly chalice? It was tearing him apart as he prayed, If it’s what you want, I’ll take it.

Silence.

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Unjustly struck down (Matthew 26:31-35)

How did Jesus handle the rejection he faced?

My feelings affect what I hear from others. When we feel guilt, we hear condemnation. Even from Jesus.

“You will all desert me” is the New Living Translation of Matthew 26:31. It sounds like committing apostasy, and it has been heard that way since the second century.

But desert is an active word, and Jesus used the passive voice. He didn’t say they would fall away from the faith; he said they would be felled by the events of that night.

Jesus wasn’t blaming them. He was blaming God:

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