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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What did Jesus sing? (Matthew 26:30)

The first worship song in the New Testament

Here’s the only record of Jesus singing:

Matthew 26:30 And having sung, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Singing would be unremarkable today. Churches spend lots of time doing it. But this (|| Mark 14:26) is the only time the Gospels mention Jesus or his disciples singing.

So, what would they sing? I mean, it wasn’t from a Wesleyan hymnbook or a Hillsong stream.

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With you in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29)

What was Jesus referring to when he spoke of celebrating anew with them in his Father’s kingdom?

Closing his Last Supper, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, from this moment I will not drink the vine’s produce with you until the day when I drink it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29).

What did he mean? According to some communion talks, Jesus was referring to the big banquet at the end of time when everyone is under God’s authority. But that doesn’t really work: within a few days, Jesus was eating with them again (Luke 24:30, 43; John 21:5-13; Acts 1:4).
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Joshua Jipp’s Messianic Theology

What does the word ‘Christ’ mean? Joshua Jipp shows that the New Testament’s message is that Jesus is the Messiah, the God-appointed king for humanity. That’s good news.

Over 500 times the New Testament refers to Jesus as the Christ. That’s twice a chapter! It must be important.

What are we saying when we call Jesus the Christ? Is it just an alternative name? Or is it making a statement about who he is and the authority he carries? How is the Christ the centre of the whole narrative, the one who reconciles earth to heaven’s authority?

You’d think that after 2000 years we’d have something this basic sorted out, but not everyone understands the Christ as a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah — the leader anointed by God so heaven’s reign is restored to earth.

Christology is the branch of theology devoted to studying the Christ. Understanding Christ as king is often just a minor point of Christology. That’s being challenged. For example, last year Joshua Jipp wrote The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2020) to show this:

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Zechariah: a kingdom perspective (free commentary)

Free commentary containing the 2021 blog posts on the Book of Zechariah.

Here is a free commentary on Zechariah for you to download (PDF, 1MB). It contains all our 2021 posts on Zechariah, including the introduction (below). Enjoy.

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The good shepherd (podcast) (John 10)

Podcast and mediation on John 10:1-18.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said.

Did he dream up this image? Or was it a widely used metaphor?

Why good shepherd? Were there bad shepherds?

Who were the thieves and robbers, trying to climb in some other way?

What makes Jesus the gate of the sheep?

This podcast (36 minutes, from Riverview Joondalup, 10 October 2021) will transport you from the children’s picture-book image of a little lamb in Jesus’ arms to a more expansive image: humanity’s true shepherd, the gate of the sheep.

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Zechariah’s vision of God’s reign (Zechariah 14:4-21)

The Lord will be king over the whole earth (Zechariah 14:9)

A restructure is common when a new leader takes office. Zechariah’s final chapter envisions a restructure of creation as it comes under divine sovereignty. The heart of the chapter is this: The Lord will be king over the whole earth (14:9). And changing the king changes the kingdom.

In an alien world, Star Trek’s Spock would say, “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” Zechariah is not seeing an alien planet; he’s seeing the removal of everything alien to God’s intentions for life on earth, the terraforming of our planet.

With impressionistic brushstrokes, Zechariah paints an image of God’s reign transforming everything:

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Happier than ever: what I heard from Billie Eilish

(Warning: explicit language)

She’s one of the most creative singer/songwriters of our time. Her mystic is the strangeness that never belongs to any genre, a feeling that things are never quite as they seem.

She’s chilled, with lyrics that can be chilling.

She’s a warm soprano, with the highs filtered out.

She’s the mellow whisper that draws us into her trance.

Complementing her voice are filtered electronic rhythms, smooth bass, edgy guitars and percussion, blended by the master-chef Finneas — the less conspicuous member of the duo. She may be a soloist, but it can take a symphony orchestra to create that sound.

That’s all part of the enigma that attracts us to her music. When things don’t quite match, we’re drawn to explore further.

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Holy Spirit as Advocate (podcast) (John 16)

Why did Jesus portray the Holy Spirit as his advocate from the Father?

In a previous podcast on John 14, we heard Jesus introducing us to the person of the Holy Spirit. In this podcast on John 15–16, Jesus introduces us to what the Holy Spirit does. Together, John 14–16 provide a theology of the Spirit (pneumatology): the person and work of the Holy Spirit, according to the founder of our faith.

So, what does the Holy Spirit do? What is his mission as the Advocate, the Spirit of truth? This 27-minute podcast was recorded at Riverview Joondalup, 26 September 2021:

My translation (compare NIV) highlights the courtroom metaphor that permeates these chapters, as Jesus was about to be put on trial by the powers that claim to run the world:

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How do you find God? (podcast) (John 14:8-17)

If God isn’t visible to our physical senses, so how do we see him?

Where do you look to find God?

This podcast (34 minutes) suggests the answer is relational — in the relationships that exist between Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, the people who recognize Jesus’ authority, and the world that doesn’t.

Spoken at Riverview Joondalup, 19 September 2021, it draws from this text:
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