David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46)

Understanding the Bible is all about understanding the relationships. Jesus shows us how with his puzzle about the people in Psalm 110:1.

My wife loves relationships movies. She’s not looking for action scenes, spy plots, or superheros bringing everybody to heel. She loves stories that explore how people relate.

I think that’s how Jesus heard the Bible. Academics can focus on the form and structure of the text or making theology systematic, but for him it was all about relationships.

Matthew 22 gives example after example where his interpretation was relational:

  1. God’s people live because I AM. Knowing Scripture means knowing God, his life-giving power (see on 22:29-32).
  2. Loving God and loving people — those relationships are the whole Bible (the Law and the Prophets) (see on 22:34-40).
  3. To understand a Psalm, explore the relationships between the people (22:43-45).

Now, I know this isn’t how we usually read Scripture. Jesus’ approach sounded just as foreign to the Pharisees as it does to us. Can we learn the relational hermeneutic Jesus used? In this post, we’ll take the third example (based on Psalm 110) as our tutorial.

Notice the question Jesus asks:

Continue reading “David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46)”

Loving God and people (Matthew 22:34-40)

What’s the most important thing God ever told us to do? The answer describes kingdom life, what the king intends for his community.

The fight is on!

Jesus is in one corner. Opposing him is a tag team of Israel’s leading fighters. They’ve stopped fighting each other to bring down the people’s champion. Three rounds:

  1. Pharisees lead the attack by testing his support for Caesar. Jesus sends them back in their corner: give Caesar the currency in his name, but he’s not the ultimate authority (22:15-22).
  2. Next, Sadducees take a swing at his resurrection hope, but Jesus finds their vulnerability. They failed to factor in God’s power, the I AM, the life-giving Being (22:23-33).
  3. Then an unnamed hand gathers reinforcements to bring down God’s anointed.

This fight is the final week of Jesus’ life. It’s building towards the final assault on God’s anointed. He’s been in this fight since he was born, when Herod gathered together all the ruling priests and scribes of the people to investigate this king of the Jews (2:4). Now the leaders are gathered against him by an unspecified hand (same verb, passive voice):

Continue reading “Loving God and people (Matthew 22:34-40)”

The God who raises the dead (Matthew 22:31-32)

“I am the God of Abraham” proves the resurrection?

Like you, I want to understand Scripture better, so we can live it well. It matters, because we’re living in God’s story. One way to learn is to watch how Scripture handles Scripture (i.e. intertextuality informs hermeneutics).

For example, in Matthew 22:31 Jesus quotes this text to convince his opponents about the resurrection:
Exodus 3:6 I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

Huh? How does that verse prove the resurrection? I might have gone for something like this:

Continue reading “The God who raises the dead (Matthew 22:31-32)”

Is Israel God’s kingdom today? (Matthew 21:40-46)

How does the nation of Israel fit into God’s plans today?

They were God’s chosen people in Old Testament times. Now gentiles (non-Jews) are included in God’s people, for the Jewish Messiah is God’s anointed ruler for the world. So, what about the Jews: do they still have a special place, a special future?

For 2000 years, Christians have disagreed over this question. Some say the church has replaced Israel as the people of God, treating Jews as now irrelevant … or worse. Anti-Semitism reached its peak under Hitler, in a country that claimed to be Christian.

The holocaust tipped public opinion in favour of re-establishing Israel as a nation. After 1800 years with no homeland (2500 under foreign rule), some viewed this return as the fulfilment of God’s promise through Ezekiel when they first went into exile:

Continue reading “Is Israel God’s kingdom today? (Matthew 21:40-46)”

Tenants in God’s vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44)

Look through the window of Jesus’ stories, and you see the world framed as God’s kingdom:

Matthew 21:33-44 (my translation, compare NIV)
33 “Listen, another parable. This person was a landholder. He established a vineyard, set up a protective hedge, dug a winepress, built a lookout, leased it to tenants, and went elsewhere. 34 As harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

The earth is the Lord’s. We don’t own it. We rent a space for a few years, but ownership remains with the one who lives forever. That’s our security, our meaning. It’s where we belong, our hope.

Continue reading “Tenants in God’s vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44)”

How majestic! (Psalm 8)

Little voices make a world of difference.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1 ESV)

The Psalms proclaim heaven’s sovereignty over the earth. In effusive joy and struggling lament, they declare the reality of God’s reign over us all.

The more we recognize God’s regal authority, the more it develops us. Witness the word of praise expanding as ripples on a pond:

Continue reading “How majestic! (Psalm 8)”

Hosanna: the king who saves his realm (Matthew 21:6-9)

The Palm Sunday crowd declared the gospel: heaven and earth reconciled in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Jesus’ triumphal entry was the greatest recognition Jerusalem ever gave its king.

Matthew has been proclaiming Jesus’ kingship since the beginning: the son of David (1:1), born into their captivity (1:17), to save his people from their disobedience (1:21). Jesus has been announcing the good news of the kingdom and using his authority to release his people from their sufferings. Eventually his followers realized who was king (16:16), and others began to recognize him as the son of David (20:30-31).

A growing crowd streams into the capital from the east, accompanying the one they proclaim as the son of David, returning to reign in Jerusalem. They lay their garments on the road to honour their king, cutting branches to mark the festal celebration.

What they say is the most astounding declaration of the gospel. Matthew summarizes their joyful shouts with three statements that declare the reconciliation of heaven and earth in him:

Continue reading “Hosanna: the king who saves his realm (Matthew 21:6-9)”

The king who comes in peace (Matthew 21:1-9)

God’s king has a different authority to what we’ve known.

The king of peace is so different. When the disciples first recognized Jesus as God’s anointed, he told them to keep it quiet (16:16-20). Now others have had their eyes opened to the son of David, and they cannot be silenced (20:30-34). This growing crowd forms a festal procession, celebrating the return of the son of David to the capital in the name of the Lord (21:9).

Yet, this son of David does not look like the kings who came before him. Solomon had 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots to defend his kingdom (2 Chronicles 1:14). Jesus doesn’t even have a donkey. If he’s to be carried into Jerusalem, he must borrow a pack-animal for this occasion — the return of the king to Jerusalem after 600 years.

Continue reading “The king who comes in peace (Matthew 21:1-9)”

When did God wear armour? (Ephesians 6:11)

Armour of God? When did he wear it?

The armour of God: something God provides for us, or something God himself wears?

Isaiah 59:17 describes the Lord putting it on:
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head.

When did God put armour on? Understanding how God used it might help us to use it too.

Continue reading “When did God wear armour? (Ephesians 6:11)”

Why have you forsaken me?

If you’ve known rejection, you’ll appreciate this.

If you’ve felt abandoned, discarded by family and friends, you may understand this:

Mark 15 34 At three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachdthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

What was Jesus saying? Continue reading “Why have you forsaken me?”

Are the Psalms messianic?

Do the Psalms tell us about Jesus? Are these verses about Christ?

Psalm 22 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … 16 They have pierced my hands and feet.

Psalms 118 22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

The New Testament writers thought so. So did the church fathers. Were they right? Or were they bending texts to fit their beliefs? What did David intend? Does authorial intent define the meaning? Or is meaning in the ear of the hearer, whatever the reader wants it to mean?

When the church fathers used the Psalms this way, the Jewish leaders were mortified. They pointed out that no one read the Psalms like this until after Jesus died, so the Christians were merely imposing their own meaning on Jewish literature.

Should we be seeing the Messiah in the Psalms? Everywhere? Nowhere? In a few cases? What do you think?

Continue reading “Are the Psalms messianic?”

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.

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?

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?

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)”