That taxing question (Matthew 22:17-22)

No, Jesus wasn’t promoting two kingdoms with divided loyalties.

Matthew already told us this was a trap. Pharisees and Herodians buttered Jesus up to ask this:

Matthew 22:17-22 (my translation, compare NIV)
17 “So, tell us what you think: should we pay tribute to Caesar or not?”
18 Aware of their evil intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you play actors? 19 Show me the tribute coin.” They offered him a denarius. 20 He says to them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Return Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
22 His response astounded them. They took their leave and departed.

If you don’t understand what this question meant in his culture, you might misunderstand Jesus’ answer. We often separate life into two domains: the physical world includes the country where you pay taxes to your rulers, and the spiritual world includes the church where you pay tithes to God. This separation of the physical and spiritual worlds (church and state) has been so common in recent centuries that it has a name: the “two kingdoms” view.

That’s not the Bible’s framework. Earth is not divided into two domains, with God ruling part of life and humans ruling the other. God is sovereign over everything, and the problem with the world is humans resisting his commands, controlling each other through violence, taking power into our own hands (Genesis 1 – 11). God did not tell the Hebrews, “You’re to live in two kingdoms, serving Pharaoh and me.” He told Pharaoh, “Release my people so they may serve me.”

Continue reading “That taxing question (Matthew 22:17-22)”

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“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” (NIV)

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)”

Who’s in charge? (Matthew 21:23-27)

Jesus’ authority is at the heart of the gospel.

If Jesus intended to confront Jerusalem’s leaders by overturning the temple, he succeeded. Priests claimed to be God’s representatives. Elders claimed authority over the people. They pushed back against God’s Anointed:

Matthew 21 23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (NIV)

In Israel, God’s authority was present in three main roles:

Continue reading “Who’s in charge? (Matthew 21:23-27)”

Jesus did refer to himself as a king (Matthew 17:22-27)

If death and taxes are the only certainties, you don’t want to offend those who charge taxes. Taxation was not part of the created order. In the beginning, God only gave humans authority over the other creatures — fish of the sea, birds of the sky, animals and insects of the land (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8 etc).

So, there’s something seriously wrong when representatives from the temple expect tribute from God’s anointed king:

Matthew 17:22-25 (original translation, compare NIV)
22 Travelling back to Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The son of man is about to be handed over to the hands of men. 23 They’ll kill him, and on the third day he will be raised up.” They were deeply grieved.

24 When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter: “Your teacher pays the temple tax, doesn’t he?”

25 “Yes,” Peter said.

Peter didn’t even stop to think. He’d seen Jesus pay the temple tax each year.

But something is different this year. Peter just declared Jesus to be God’s anointed king (Christ), the Son appointed to rule the earth by his Father in heaven (16:16). And Jesus explained that the temple leaders in Jerusalem will kill him (16:21; 17:23).

Peter needs to stop and think. Why should God’s anointed king pay tribute to the rebels? Continue reading “Jesus did refer to himself as a king (Matthew 17:22-27)”

See a glorious king? (Matthew 17:1-8)

Dress for the job you want, they say. But Jesus didn’t. Except for this one time. Far from the cities of power, three trusted friends glimpsed him dressed in regal glory.

They had just declared him as God’s anointed ruler (16:16), and he said they would see him rise to power in his Father’s glory (16:27-28). For a brief moment they saw it: Continue reading “See a glorious king? (Matthew 17:1-8)”

Declaring Jesus king (Matthew 16:13-16)

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” — Apostle Peter, first century

“Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?” It’s the question I often ask when baptizing believers. Our faith is in a person, and Peter nailed it with his declaration. So, what did Peter mean by this great confession?

There’s a temptation to invest Peter’s words with later theological meaning and miss what he said. His phrases have snowballed with significant theological freight:

  • Christology is the study of the person and work of Christ. His person embodied two natures (fully God and fully human), so his work reconciled God and humans (atonement).
  • Son of God is a term we associate with trinitarian theology: the relationship between Father and Son who, with the Spirit, exist eternally as one God (trinity).

All of that is true and important, but this developed theology was not in Peter’s mind. Rather than treat his words anachronistically, let’s hear them in their context.

Continue reading “Declaring Jesus king (Matthew 16:13-16)”

The apostles’ gospel explained

In our previous post (the apostles’ gospel), we surveyed 16 samples of the gospel in Acts. What phrases did you find recurring?

The heart of the apostolic gospel is a person: Jesus. They used these phrases to say Jesus is good news:

  • Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)
  • Jesus is Lord
  • Jesus is resurrected
  • Kingdom of God

Are those the phrases you would use to explain the gospel to someone? How are these four things the gospel?

Let’s enrich our understanding of the gospel by unpacking what the apostles said. It turns out to be the same gospel Jesus announced.

Continue reading “The apostles’ gospel explained”

God’s gift to the world (John 3:16)

The gift that’s exactly what we need.

We’re reading John 3:16 as the story of the kingdom of God, the lens Jesus used. God is sovereign. The world resists him. The sovereign persists in loving his resistant realm. He does so by sending the most amazing gift.

Queue the questions:

  1. What does it mean to say God gave his Son?

Continue reading “God’s gift to the world (John 3:16)”

Introducing Jesus (John 1:1-5)

I woke up this morning meditating on how John introduces the person who is good news.

John 1:1-5 — a meditation

1 In the beginning was the Word —
the decree of the heavenly sovereign bringing shape and significance to a formless void,
the decree bringing light into darkness,
the decree bringing life into barrenness,
the decree that makes life productive,
the decree that makes humans his regal agents.

This Word is not other than God; he has his being in relation to God.
The Word was God:  God revealed, God expressed.
2 We’ve heard him only recently, but the Word has always had his being in relation to God, from the beginning.

3 Everything exists because of this divine Word;
not a single thing exists apart from him, the ground of our being.

4 Life sprang forth from him.
His life lights up humanity.

5 Resisting the Word leaves humanity with a dark side, but his light shines in the darkness.
The darkness has not grasped God’s decree that there be light.
The darkness has not held God’s Word in the grave.

Continue reading “Introducing Jesus (John 1:1-5)”

Zenos on Son of Man

If you want to know how Jesus understood himself, you have to ask why he kept referring to himself as son of man. More than any other term. On more than 50 occasions.

Scholars offer opinions ranging from “it just means a human” (as it did in his language) to “it means Jesus is the divine figure of Daniel 7.”

You can imagine how exhilarating it was to find an author summarizing my own conclusions of what Jesus meant, especially one who wrote 100 years ago!

Continue reading “Zenos on Son of Man”

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)”

Put the Christ back in Christology

Calling Jesus “the Christ” is declaring him the ruler chosen by God to restore heaven’s reign to the earth.

Christology is the study of Christ. Well, that’s what it would be if it focused on the Christ bit.

These days, Christology is a branch of theology, the study of God (theos means God). Systematic theology starts with God, so Christology usually fits in as the study of the second person of the trinity. It discusses how Jesus could have two natures without his divinity messing with his humanity and vice versa. It rehearses how early Christians struggled with wrong ways to talk about God (heresies) and eventually found the right language (the creeds and Symbol of Chalcedon).

That’s all important, and I’m truly grateful for these great summaries of what we believe. But along the way, the emphasis shifted. Christology lost its focus on the Christ.

That word has a specific meaning in the narrative of the kingdom of God. The Christos is the anointed person. Continue reading “Put the Christ back in Christology”