Jesus’ rant against the Pharisees (Matthew 23) ends up revealing the struggle between life and death for the world. It’s the most detailed explanation he ever gave of the meaning of the cross.
The gospel is good news of peace. The world’s problems can’t be resolved while people take power over others. At every level — domestic violence, community oppression, cultural genocide, international war — the heart of evil is people claiming power over others, power enforced by death (or at least the threat of death). We won’t be at peace until we stop grasping power, and honour the One to whom it belongs.
That’s how Jesus announced it in Jerusalem. He shamed those who had taken on the role of community leaders, labelling them pretenders who were blocking God’s reign (23:13). He accused them of plundering (harpagē) without restraint (akrasia) (23:25). That unusual pair of words also turns up in Josephus’ description of Antiochus IV seizing Jerusalem: he plundered it and slaughtered people excessively, overwhelmed by an unrestrained craving for revenge (Wars 1.34). It’s true: those who grasp power plunder the community and destroy the sheep because they’re not answering to anyone (Ezekiel 34; John 10:7-11).
Continue reading “The power of life and death (Matthew 23:25-39)”
Could we explain the gospel as Jesus did?
Why did Jesus die on the cross?
Many of my friends would say he needed to die for me, in my place, for my sins. That’s called substitutionary atonement, and it’s one of the explanations of the cross found in Scripture. But it’s not the primary way Jesus understood his crucifixion.
Here’s how Jesus described the cross:
Continue reading “How Jesus explained the cross (Matthew 20:17-19)”
“Some standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
What do you think Jesus meant by this?
Matthew 16:27-28 (my translation, compare NIV)
27 For the son of man is about to “come in the splendour of his Father with his angels”, and then “he will repay each according to their actions.” 28 I tell you the truth: there are some standing here who will not experience death until they see “the son of man coming in his kingdom.”
We’re expecting Jesus to return in glory to judge the world. That sounds like verse 27, but then verse 28 doesn’t make sense: did Jesus really expect to return while some of his disciples were still alive? Whole books have been written to answer that question.
As every photographer knows, what you see depends where you stand. Come with me back to the first century to stand with the disciples and hear what they heard. Continue reading “Jesus’ paradoxical path to power (Matthew 16:27-28)”
A real win isn’t when you crush everyone; it’s when we all win.
Competition is the core of our culture. From politics to commerce to art and sport, it’s about being hungry enough to win. Katniss portrayed it in The Hunger Games: only those who deserve to win survive. Empires practiced it throughout history: only those who can assert their superiority deserve to be in power.
By that measure, Jesus does not deserve to be our Lord. A “crucified Christ” is a contradiction. The Roman procurator of Judea mocked the “King of the Jews.” Recently I saw a placard, “If Jesus returns, kill him again!” Continue reading “What are you living for? (Matthew 16:24-26)”
Easter won’t allow us to imagine God as aloof, beyond our pain.
Continue reading “God suffers with us”
The trouble with the cross is that it’s a counter-intuitive solution for the sin of the world.
The evil in God’s earthly realm is the rejection of his divine authority, people grasping power for themselves and using that power to deceive and dominate each other. It offends our sense of justice, so we want revenge. We can’t sit by and do nothing, but taking matters into our own hands and fighting back only perpetrates the cycle of violence.
We want God to act against evil, to put down his foot and crush it so it can’t continue. God doesn’t. God doesn’t act violently to overcome violence. God doesn’t use force against force. God does not control evil by doing evil against evil-doers.
So what does God do to deal with the injustice in his realm? He enters his unjust realm as one of us. He meets face-to-face with the rebellion against his reign, the people who will do anything to take divine power into their own hands. God confronts evil, from a position of powerlessness. Continue reading “The counter-intuitive wisdom of the cross”
Few people understand the way of the cross.
We think of Jesus’ cross as something that relieves personal guilt. We don’t realize the cross is the instrument for restoring God’s reign. We don’t see how the cross has power to free the world from what crushes it.
Continue reading “The folly of the cross”
How can Jesus establish his kingdom with an unarmed army?
Open Matthew 10:34-39.
A military career in the ancient world meant heading off with your regiment in search of fame and glory. Unworthy of the empire was any milksop who couldn’t leave his father and mother. A soldier marched where the army needed him, even if it meant his children grew up without him. Real soldiers didn’t run for cover to save themselves! They grasped their swords and gave their lives for the sake of the empire.
What about the kingdom of God? Do its people face struggles like the kingdoms of the world? Or is it an idyllic life of shalom: no life-threatening situations, no dilemmas of family versus kingdom, no conflicting priorities, no need to run to save your own life? Continue reading “A disarmed kingdom (Matthew 10:34-39)”
The tectonic plates of the moral universe ground together in the Middle East, producing this massive clash …
Open Mark 15.
This meditation on Mark 15 is from Tom Wright, Lent for Everyone: Mark, Year B (London: SPCK, 2012), 166–168:
How can this be the climax to the royal story, to Israel’s story, to the story of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven?
Perhaps we’ve made a mistake? Perhaps the ‘royal’ theme was only a feature of the earlier story, and perhaps Mark is now moving on to something else? No. Look through it again. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Do you want me to release for you “the king of the Jews”?’ ‘What shall I do with the one you call “the king of the Jews”?’ ‘Greetings, King of the Jews!’ ‘The inscription read: “The King of the Jews”.’ ‘Messiah, is he? King of Israel, did he say?’ And then—echoing all the way back to the royal announcement at the baptism—‘This fellow really was God’s son.’ No mistake. This is what Mark is telling us. This is where the king comes into his own, enthroned (as he warned James and John) with one on his right and the other on his left.
So what sense does it make? Continue reading “Good Friday meditation”