Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)

Here’s an example of how asking good questions leads to a richer appreciation of what God is doing.

When you read Scripture, what are you looking for? It’s not enough to approach the Bible like a shopping trip, to pick up some things that appeal to you. The Bible changes us. It’s the revelation of the God who is reshaping us into community in his image.

Questions help open us to that transformation, beyond the way we currently think and live. Rich communal understanding and life grows from asking good questions together.

An example from a recent post. Ephesians 2:1 (NIV) says, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. We asked, “Who is the you?” The tendency is to assume it’s me, because our culture is individualistic. But you is plural, so perhaps it’s us? But two verses later, the writer switches from you to us. Turns out he’s using we to mean his own people (fellow Jews), and addressing people of other nations (gentiles) as you.

That leads to another question. What were the transgressions and sins of the gentiles? The sins of the Jewish nation could be any violations of the law God gave them at Sinai, but how were gentiles disobedient to God?

Continue reading “Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)”

Why parables? Jesus’ answer

In the previous post, I suggested two reasons Jesus used parables instead of plain talk. (a) He was inspiring imagination for how life could be. (b) He was announcing his kingship, without making the usual power claims.

When Jesus was asked why he spoke with cryptic stories, he quoted Isaiah’s frustration with people hearing but never getting the message, seeing but never comprehending (Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:11-17).

To understand why Jesus reapplied Isaiah’s situation to his own, we need to identify what they shared in common. As usual, it’s about God’s kingship.

Continue reading “Why parables? Jesus’ answer”

Humility (Exodus 10:3)

What is it, and why does it matter?

What is humility? C. S. Lewis said it’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. But what does the Bible say about humility? How would you find out?

You could use a concordance, or run a search at BibleGateway. You’d find 60 – 100 verses (depending on your version). But there’s more to it than sticking all those verses together as a collage of humility. There’s a development in the theme as the Bible’s story unfolds. When Jesus arrives on the scene as God’s anointed Messiah, King of the kingdom, he’s such a contrast to earth’s power-grabbing rulers. God-in-a-manger is humility we’d never known. Continue reading “Humility (Exodus 10:3)”

What does it mean to believe? (Exodus 4:27-31)

Open Exodus 4:27-31.

Did you notice this key moment in the exodus narrative?

Exodus 4:31 (my translation)
The people believed when they heard YHWH’s response to Israel’s descendants, seeing their oppression. They knelt and honoured him.

Jacob’s descendants could not be free from their slavery to Pharaoh until they begin to trust God to be their new sovereign. To believe the promise God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the promise that they would be his nation — they give their allegiance to YHWH instead of Pharaoh.

That’s why they knelt before YHWH and honoured him. That’s a declaration of their new loyalty, their change of allegiance.

Faith is much more than mental assent to a creedal statement. It is recognizing God for who he is: the rightful authority over humanity. Faith is fealty — allegiance to our sovereign, our Lord. Continue reading “What does it mean to believe? (Exodus 4:27-31)”

Parables help us get our bearings (Matthew 13:34-35)

Wisdom: learning from where we’ve been, to end up in a better place.

Open Matthew 3:34-35.

So why did Jesus speak in parables? He was revealing divine plans that had been confidential since the world was founded.

That’s how Matthew’s community understood him, based on Psalm 78:2:
I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world (quoted in Matthew 13:35).

But why did they think that Psalm was about Jesus? Was it just because the Psalm used the word parable? Continue reading “Parables help us get our bearings (Matthew 13:34-35)”

Calling all creatives (Matthew 13:10-17)

Why did Jesus teach in parables? Can his method inspire artists today?

Open Matthew 13:10-17. and Isaiah 6:9-10

Creatives know the struggle. How overt do you make your art? Do you feed people facts to change their minds, knowing the facts will drown in the data swamp? Do you inspire people with the seeds of what’s possible, knowing that most people won’t grasp your meaning?

There was a time I wished the Bible told it plainly. Just spell out what I must do instead of all that story and poetry. I was wrong, and Jesus knew it.

Jesus constantly went out on a limb, choosing the creative extreme. Not even his close friends understood his stories at times.

One day, they confronted him, “Why do you speak in parables?” Did you expect a straight answer? Here’s what he said:

Continue reading “Calling all creatives (Matthew 13:10-17)”

Who was the sower? (Matthew 13:1-23)

What’s the point of the sower parable? Is it about the soils, the seed, or the sower?

Open Matthew 13:1-23.

So what do you make of the sower parable? Is it a challenge to respond the way the good soil did? Don’t be like the hard path, or the shallow ground, or where things crowd out the word?

That’s okay as far as it goes, but it wasn’t what Jesus was saying. When he explained the parable, he didn’t say, “You are the soils, so make sure you’re the good one.” It wasn’t about you. It wasn’t even about the soils, although that was the setting of the story. The parable was about the sower and his sowing.

Continue reading “Who was the sower? (Matthew 13:1-23)”

Jesus’ most overt kingship claim (Matthew 12:42)

Did you know that Jesus claimed to be greater than the greatest king Israel had ever had?

Open Matthew 12:42 and 2 Chronicles 9.

Jesus was the king anointed to restore God’s reign on earth. That message was often so subtle that we miss it, but there was this time when he made an astounding claim to kingship. Continue reading “Jesus’ most overt kingship claim (Matthew 12:42)”

How Jonah inspired Jesus (Matthew 12:38-41)

How did Jonah’s story help Jesus pursue his mission?

Open Matthew 12:38-41 and Jonah 2.

Why did Jesus compare himself to Jonah? How could Jonah’s story have inspired Jesus and helped him understand his mission? Continue reading “How Jonah inspired Jesus (Matthew 12:38-41)”

Who is “the Servant of the Lord”? (Matthew 12:17-21)

What Isaiah said about Israel, Matthew says about Jesus. How can he do that?

Open Matthew 12:17-21.

Years ago, I ordered the plans to build a 2-seater kit plane. It was fun pouring over the plans, but I didn’t really have the time or resources to commit to such a project. I took on pastoring instead.

Building community is nothing like building an aircraft. You only get one chance to get the critical things right in a plane, but you can stress-test the parts and be mathematically sure it’s good to fly.

Human beings are nothing like that. They decouple mid-flight and fly off in their own direction. There can be no blueprints for building community: the “parts” are living and constantly changing. A leader is always adapting the plans, reshaping and redesigning. Mid-flight!

Continue reading “Who is “the Servant of the Lord”? (Matthew 12:17-21)”

A disarmed kingdom (Matthew 10:34-39)

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)”

Where did Jesus learn mercy? (Matthew 9:13)

Why did Jesus accept people when other leaders of his day wanted to cut them off?

Open Matthew 9:13.

One evening after work, a bunch of disreputable people were laughing and drinking shamelessly over their evening meal. It was exactly the kind of influence Israel didn’t need, so some Pharisees approached to name and shame them. Normally that would have broken up their unholy dinner party and send them slinking off into the darkness, but tonight one of these “disreputables” rises to his feet to defend his friends. It’s Jesus!

Continue reading “Where did Jesus learn mercy? (Matthew 9:13)”

Son of Man in Ezekiel

Why did God refer to Ezekiel as “son of man” 93 times? Is there any similarity between Jesus’ ministry and Ezekiel’s?

Open Ezekiel 2.

The Book of Ezekiel opens in devastation. Ezekiel the priest (a son of Aaron), Jehoiachin the king (a son of David) and the other exiles (sons of Israel) sit by the waters of Babylon. Everything has fallen apart. All the progress towards restoring the earth under YHWH’s rule has been lost.

Ezekiel isn’t called son of Aaron, for the holy temple is defiled and destroyed. He isn’t called son of Israel, for the nation established at Sinai no longer exists. He isn’t called son of Abraham: Abraham left Chaldea for God’s land, but the Chaldeans have taken God’s land. God addresses Ezekiel merely as son of Adam, or son of man (since the Hebrew word adam means man.) Continue reading “Son of Man in Ezekiel”

Son of Man in Enoch

Did any texts refer to a messianic figure as “the son of man” before the Gospels? There may have been.

Jesus designated himself “the son of man” more than 80 times according to the Gospels, even though this phrase was not a messianic title in Jewish literature before his time. But there may be an intriguing exception: a book known as 1 Enoch. Continue reading “Son of Man in Enoch”

Son of Man in Daniel

What does ‘son of man’ mean in Daniel 7? Does this help us understand why Jesus used ‘son of man’ to describe himself?

Open Daniel 7.

Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV)
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Was Jesus alluding to this text when he called himself Son of Man more than 80 times? Was Jesus claiming to be the promised Messiah who would restore God’s reign?

There is a connection, but it isn’t quite that simple. If you make a messianic leap without first understanding the richness of the Old Testament texts, the story falls apart. Ask: Continue reading “Son of Man in Daniel”

An unknown from nowhere (Matthew 2:17-23)

The baby of Bethlehem becomes the nobody of Nazareth. The rescued becomes the rescuer.

Open Matthew 2:17-23 and Jeremiah 31:15.

Grief had always been at home in Bethlehem. Rachel died there, giving birth to Israel’s final son (Genesis 35:19). Maybe a parent would give her life so her children could live. But Rachel’s hopes were dashed as empires invaded, killing her children. Assyria decimated the tribes of her older son Joseph. Babylon crushed the remnant of Benjamin.

Jeremiah imagined Rachel weeping inconsolably as God’s promises fell apart:

Jeremiah 31:15 (NIV)
This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Continue reading “An unknown from nowhere (Matthew 2:17-23)”