Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bible verses you're least likely to hear ...

Bible verses you're least likely to hear at a Proposed New Building meeting:

Go, sell the oil, and pay your debt, and you and your children live on the rest. (2 Kings 4:7)

Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another. (Romans 13:8)

Our church is considering adding a new building to our existing facilities. There are some things that are closer to "needs", and some that are closer to "wants". The proposals on the table range, in my mind, from "too much" to "way too much" to "way, way too much." Recently our church scheduled a series of small-group meetings to discuss the proposed plans. The thing that bothered me most about the meetings was that they were framed as Bible studies, and the verses on the table were things about commitment and dedication. The fairly clear implication was, "If you aren't with our proposals, there's a problem with your commitment or dedication. Agreeing with the plans is the only Biblical thing to do." Meantime, even the least of the proposals would mean asking for a 20% increase in offering receipts at a time when many people are struggling to hold steady. Without going into details, there are also some issues about the stewardship of the land.

A couple of us proposed a "just enough" plan (again, from my point of view). The daggers shooting out of the eyes of the person hosting the meeting were impressive.

In the words of a member who has taken a turn as congregation president: "Whenever there are people and money in the same room, there's nothing holy going on."

I know that everyone gets caught up in the excitement of "Think what we could do if ...". But a recession is the modern-day equivalent of a famine. I think it's a fair question -- not an inappropriate one -- whether it's good stewardship to take on large new debt burdens, especially when the question arises during difficult economic times.

I wonder whether anyone else has ever had the same type of experience -- where questioning the wisdom of a large new debt was seen as a sign of lack of Christian commitment?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Silencing Iago

Do you remember the story of Othello? He had a good marriage -- until Iago, who had an axe to grind, started whispering in his ear. He told Othello not to trust his wife. He planted seeds of doubt and suspicion. He sowed discord in the family. By the end, Othello had killed his wife and then himself.

I submit to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, that almost every news outlet and a good many political blogs fulfill the role of Iago in our society. It is absolutely routine to see big name news outlets slanting the news; I can't think of one that doesn't put their thumb on the scale. In my mind, I have begun to think of news outlets as Democratic-affiliated and Republican-affiliated; on controversial stories, it's fascinating to check both sides to get some perspective. But it's eye-opening how routinely both sides are spinning party propaganda and presenting it as news. The blogs that present political news are frequently at least as bad as the old-style media outlets.

Again I submit to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ and particularly here my fellow bloggers, that we should not fulfill the role of Iago in society. We should not be the ones to sow discord among brothers. We should be the peacemakers, not the ones fanning the flames of distrust, closed-mindedness, and resentment. Someone who distrusts the motives of "the other side" is, by definition, closed-minded against whatever they may have to say.

And one last thing: I also submit to you that the proper response to Iago is "Be quiet!" And the proper way to identify Iago is to check when you are incensed against other people, and who made you that way. Then you'll have found Iago.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The prevalence of dishonest scales in political conversation

You shall not have in your pouch alternate weights, larger and smaller. You shall not have in your house alternate measures, a larger and a smaller. You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures if you are to endure long on the soil that the LORD your God is giving you. For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to the LORD your God. (Deut 25:13-16)
In business and commerce, it used to be a problem for people to have two different measures: a big one for friends, a little one for other people. So if you bought a measure of grain, not everybody got good treatment. Somebody got shortchanged.

Jesus made sure we understood that this applies to our social dealings with people too. In Luke 6, we see Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies as part of the same conversation as not having a double-standard. "If you love only those who love you ... if you do good only to those who do good to you ... even sinners do that. Be merciful ... Do not judge or condemn ... Forgive ... For with the measure you use it will be measured to you." It's all of the same train of thought; it forms a cohesive whole.

I think the most prevalent area in which I see double-standards is when people talk politics. Time after time, each group points out the other group's wing-nuts and claims they are representative; each group looks at its own wing-nuts and claims they are by no means representative. Each group points fingers at the others; each group quietly gives its own a free pass. Transgressions of the other group must be discussed today; our own group's problems ... well, maybe we'll get around to that someday. If someone in the other group does something wrong, their group identity must be pointed out and made partially to blame. If someone in our own group does something wrong, the group identity is not mentioned; it's clearly irrelevant. No matter what the other group is doing, the meanest and lowest motivations are assumed. No matter what a person's own group is doing, the best and highest motivations are assumed. And the odd thing is, a certain percentage of people could probably manage to read this paragraph and suppose that kind of thing mainly happens on the other side of the fence.

I can't help but wonder: What would happen if we didn't have a false measure, a dishonest scale, a double standard? What would happen if the problems of our ideological enemies were treated as kindly and charitably as our own? What would happen if we treated our enemies with the same benefit of the doubt and willingness to forgive that we reserve for our own side? If we treated others as we would want to be treated, would we still have true enemies?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The missing superego: removing religion from the public square

I should say from the beginning that I am not advocating for or against Sigmund Freud's theories of how to understand the human mind. I am borrowing his language because it does a good job of this, at least: capturing how we experience the human mind. Freud talked about three aspects of the mind: the id or animal part of the mind with the passions and lower instincts; the ego or our proper selves that we identify with, and the superego as the ethical or moral side. We see the ego as ourselves, the id as the lower part of us that gets us into trouble, and the superego as our consciences. In cartoon terms the person is the ego, the devil whispering in one ear is the id, and the angel whispering in the other ear is the superego. The picture of an angel whispering in one ear while a devil whispers in the other has become a commonplace in our culture because it captures something of the feel and experience of the struggles we all have at times. Freud pictured stages of psychological development in which the person, as he matured, learned to tame the animal-like id with the help of the superego. Healthy human development would result in the ego no longer being enslaved by the wild and powerful impulses of the id.

The superego, in one sense, consists of the expectations of the society or culture. These expectations inform our consciences. In some sense, our thoughts about society's expectations and religion's expectations form our consciences or superegos. Again, regardless of whether you are a fan of Freud or an outspoken critic, he gives us a language to use for discussing how the conscience forms and how cultural expectations shape an individual's ethical reasoning.

So what happens when cultural expectations for ethical behavior are largely removed? What happens when a number of leading voices say that the ideas of "right" and "wrong" are meaningless or even destructive? What happens when prevailing voices say that morality is solely a private matter? In terms of our inner struggles, it means that the person can no longer enlist the help of the culture in taming his lower instincts. It means that the person develops a less-controlled animal side than would have developed otherwise. It leads to a stunted conscience. It leads to a culture where each individual person has not developed as much as she would have in a culture that had higher expectations. It leads to more people being enslaved by their animal natures, unable to muster enough resources to break free or gain self-control.

When morality is solely a private matter, many of the resources for private morality are lost. And as cultural expectations become lower, as each person's conscience develops less than would have happened otherwise, the entire culture begins to see the effects of our untamed lower instincts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Overview of the Bible

I suggested this overview of the Bible to my Sunday school class. While there are individual variations within each section, I think it captures the big picture:

Old TestamentHow did we get into this mess? Does God care? Will he help us out of it?
GospelsFour biographies of Jesus. God's response to the questions "Does God care?" and "Will he help us?"
ActsWhat did Jesus' followers do to carry out his work?
EpistlesWhat just happened with Jesus? What does it mean?
RevelationThe grand finale, bringing together "Does God care?", "Will he help us out of it?", and what Jesus really means to the world.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The hedge around the law ... how should we think of morality?

The "hedge around the law" or "fence around the law" is how some people refer to the safety margin that some people put around rules in order to make really sure that they do not break them. For example, the Torah commands the Jewish people not to boil a young goat in its own mother's milk. But what about its grandmother or its cousin? And how do you know if two animals are related? And what about just a cream sauce or cheese? So before long, the rule became that meat and dairy products weren't consumed together, and kosher homes even kept separate dishes for dairy products. There was a hedge or fence put around the law. It's easy to think of this hedge as keeping the law safe, or even keeping us from trespassing on the wrong side of the law.

But as much as I can understand how you might get from Point A to Point B above, I think we need to look at another angle as well. It's not that we were meant to devote our lives to putting a hedge around the law; in fact, the law exists largely to put a hedge around us and our lives. When we consider the Torah or Jesus' teachings, most of God's laws are ethical and community-building laws. Rather than the law being the garden that we need to protect with the hedge, our lives and communities are the garden to protect with the hedge. The law keeps us from being uprooted, trampled, or broken. It makes us more peaceful, happier. It makes our lives and cultures flourish in a way they never could without the protection it affords.

It is a shield for us against many of the troubles of life. We should no more go into the world without God's law than we should walk into a battle unarmed and unshielded.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How would you structure a New Testament Intro course?

This continues the thread of "comments I don't want to lose" that I've made either on discussion boards or other peoples' blogs. Some time ago on Chris Tilling's old blog, he asked:
Let us imagine you could teach a NT introduction course to 1st and 2nd year undergraduates in 10 sessions. In this imaginary scenario there is already a really superb looking syllabus, but you simply want to think through different options.

What would you suggest should be covered? What themes, NT books, background matters, exegetical approaches, etc. would you want to see discussed? Especially if you preach regularly, what have you found to be of the most enduring help when you look back on NT introduction courses?

Now, have you ever heard a question that a programmer like me is less qualified to answer? But it's a discussion forum so I gave out my thoughts anyway, whether they're worth the two cents or not.

When you asked "if you preach regularly" -- it made me wonder about the intended audience.

If the point of the class is to prepare a pastor for a lifetime of drawing water from the well for himself and for others, my first sketch would be this:

1. What is the Gospel? Jesus as Christ and the human condition. How hearing the message of Christ plants the seeds of faith, hope, and love; how knowing Christ anchors and nurtures the same.

2. "Who do you say that I am? - Part 1" Different identities/roles that Jesus fulfills according to his own words and those about him in the NT.

3. "Who do you say that I am? - part 2" The struggle over the identity of Jesus: through the development of orthodoxy, the canon, through to the Enlightenment and on to modern efforts to reinterpret Jesus. Criteria for evaluating various interpretations.

4. Major teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount: proclaiming the God who blesses. The primacy of love: from the Torah to Jesus to Peter, Paul, and John.

5. The parables. Broken down by major themes: the God who plants a seed, the God who seeks, the God who gives justice, the God who forgives, the God whose kingdom comes.

6. Baptism and new life: Baptism, and repentance; baptism and forgiveness; baptism and the cross of Jesus; baptism and the cross we take up.

7. Jesus' death and resurrection.

8. The Holy Spirit: (you could teach a whole class on this easily, but in an intro I suppose only 1 session)

9. New creation and the coming kingdom: doctrines of hope.

10. Encouragement for pastors: the pastoral letters.

Chris did comment back:
Thanks for your list! There is a lot there on Gospel related issues. But I like the practical, ministry orientated nature of it.

Odd, the "But" at the start of the last sentence implies that "There is a lot there on Gospel related issues" was seen as a problem or drawback. To a Lutheran like me, it's a compliment. Though I wonder if he just meant I could have been plainer that the whole NT would be involved in the discussion on quite a few of the points.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A game of theodicy?

This is the second in a reasonably short series of debate/interactions I've had recently where I wanted to keep track of the answers.

To me, theodicy is not a game. The problem of evil is personal. The right response to evil may be to love your enemies or it may be to oppose the evil some other way. When someone show no signs of being bothered by the evil itself, when they ponder it from a safe distance, it becomes less than a life-and-death struggle, and more of a debating game. Early in March, I ran across one such argument from someone who was pondering evil from a safe distance. Her argument went like this:
So, right now I'm trying to reconcile the goodness of God in relation to the problem of evil, so I had written down some things I thought about this and some other questions. Tell me what you think.

Things I don't understand:
Original sin, morality, and salvation (in relation to each other)

1) Original sin: I think Rand summed this one up nicely. How can I be corrupted before I exist? If that is the case - that I'm born guilty or have "tendencies," then I am not free. If that is determined by outside forces, I am not free. If I am not free, but merely acting under compulsion, how can I just be held responsible for anything I do, good or bad?

This leads into the next question, which will lead to the last one:

2) Morality: certain moral issues arise when considering the idea of creation. If God is all-knowing, he would know what we would do, whether he determines it or not, through that knowledge he could (should?) select certain people to exist or not exist. In this sense, God would have to be not omniscient (can he be God w/o omniscience?) or evil, not merely by "omission" but by actively creating people he knows will do evil. For instance, inventors of weapons. If the latter, there is no reason to worship him except maybe fear. If the former, why is he God? Though, the lack of omniscience could be a product of pure freedom, in which case, I suppose that could work or it could work depending on whether or not the future exists.

Mildly unrelated: Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing God want relationships with people? This seems to be some sort of desperately lonely God or people who decided to raise themselves up to be friends of God. The first seems illogical, the second, petty. However, this only deals with God's morality, what of that of the people? In many cases, it would seem to be irrelevant: God picked them to do certain things [Leibniz: best possible world] and therefore they deserve no credit or blame.

3) Salvation: how can a moral, just, omniscient God create people who will reject his truth? Isn't that the best definition of evil - rejection of truth? Furthermore, how can he punish them if he created them to do just that? It doesn't make sense. How would he pick those who would go with him, those he would call?

Possible resolutions:
1) Determinism is true and God is evil
2) We are free and God is not omniscient
3) We are free/physically determined and there is no God

So, that's what I was thinking about earlier. If there are other resolutions, do tell, but I haven't been able to think of them.

It had been awhile since I'd read someone who was viewing theodicy from that angle. This particular argument hinges on two premises:

1) God is omniscient; AND
2) The speaker is more knowledgeable than God.

Most arguments from God's omniscience to atheism hinge on the premise (usually unstated) that the arguer is more knowledgeable than the omniscient God. This debater just has that a little closer to the surface than most. And I don't mean to bash her for that; the idea that we know better than God -- that for all his omniscience he isn't to be trusted -- goes at least as far back as whoever penned the story of Adam and Eve. It strikes a chord with all of us at times. So here's what I suggested for an answer:
Bless her. Once she works through her questions, may she be closer to God than ever before. Her questions will take her awhile, if she decides to pursue the truth fully.

I hope you don't mind too much if I put her questions in an order more suited to explaining the answers.

Her tangent is where I'd want to start: "Mildly unrelated: Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing God want relationships with people? This seems to be some sort of desperately lonely God or people who decided to raise themselves up to be friends of God."

I think she has reasoned from the characteristics "all-powerful, all-knowing" to the idea that God is -- or even should be -- snooty and arrogant. She overlooks the possibility that God is by nature humble and by nature loving. When God determined himself to be creator, he determined that He would love the world. Love is a joyful thing, and in creation he multiplied the goodness that existed by creating. I suspect the ultimate reason for creation is that creation is good, and life is worth living. Genesis implies that God created humanity in order to bless us: it's the first thing he does after he creates us.

On original sin: I hope to start with common ground: I have never met anyone who did not have (as she says) "tendencies" to sin. I sure have my "tendencies". "To err is human" -- so I'm sure she does too. Most of us recognize that struggle inside ourselves. Some people struggle with pride and arrogance and vanity (whether it's about beauty or intellect or any other thing in which we are gifted), some struggle with the assumption of superiority over others, some struggle against coldness and do not recognize the value of love, some struggle with the greed for recognition and admiration. Some use what gifts they have to dominate others rather than help others. The list goes on.

I think it's a little bit of a red herring to say if we have "tendencies" we're acting under compulsion. Do we always act on our tendencies? It seems not, so it's not quite compulsion. There's a lot to say on this, but I'll start here: to reason from "tendencies" to "compulsion" is oversimplifying.

The real question of original sin is: Am I basically good? And the follow-up question she asks is: Is God basically good? Because of Christ, I believe that God is good and that we are created to be like him, good; for this reason Christ came into this world to restore us and transform us to be like God again. We've already talked about our "tendencies" for various kinds of evil; Christ intends to save us from that so that we can cling tight to God and answer truthfully that, thanks be to God, we are again becoming good.

As far as God picking certain people not to exist, I'm going to tell you a true story that I'm not proud of: just a few generations back in my family, one of my ancestors was a murderer. Should God have arranged things so that he never existed? But then my great-grandmother would never have been born, and my grandfather would never have been born, and my aunt and mother would never have been born, and my brother and I would never have been born, and so on for all the generations that will come after us. When it comes to her suggestion to pick people who should never have existed, I'm not saying "separating good from evil isn't simple" -- I'm saying "separating good from evil isn't always possible" -- because good and evil can be inside the same person. It is with me; I've done things I regret. Most people have. So it may be that God, if omniscient, knows more than us about the interplay between good and evil, and whether or not a person should have ever been born. If she's a sci-fi fan at all, she may have thought about the complexities of changing things, and how there may be unintended consequences of what she suggests as a solution for God.

On salvation -- on whether God should have created people who will reject him (and truth), remember my great-great grandfather the murderer, without whom several generations of my family would not exist. On salvation itself: it is the blessing of God through Christ Jesus because of his love for us. God created us for good not for evil; he calls all of us.

Her possible resolutions are missing something:
4) She takes at least a beginner's course (Theology 101, however it's called where she is) before deciding she has considered all the possibilities.
5) If she's not quite ready to pursue her answers that far, then maybe she could read Thomas Aquinas. Now, I offer this last with some hesitation because Aquinas shares some of the same assumptions (possibly mistaken assumptions) that she does, and in that sense there are areas where Aquinas cannot help her. But on the other hand, it may be helpful to her to have someone who shares some of those assumptions from the outset. And there's the advantage that Summa Theologica is available online ...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

If you had told me yesterday ...

If you had told me yesterday that today I would think the internet itself had a hole in it, I would have thought that was nonsense. But it's true. Today, the internet has a hole in it. I expect most of you have already heard that Michael Spencer has died. God bless your final rest, and see you upstairs in a few years. But until then, I will miss you.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A game of "the sinner and the saint"

Back in January I had a little free time and was on the CARM discussion boards. One of the non-Christians there wanted to play a popular game for skeptics: a game of "the sinner and the saint". I've played before. Basically, the anti-Christian asks the Christian how in the world it is defensible that a good non-Christian might be lost and a bad Christian might be saved. One variant is "Gandhi and Hitler". I wanted to keep a few notes for next time I play, so I thought I'd pass along my answer here. The game was laid out like this:
So a guy kills a bunch of people, burns their house down, robs a bank, all on Friday. And then Saturday repents and becomes a Christian. Will this fella go to Heaven? Will Jesus save him?

What about an old Buddhist lady who has lived a pious life without committing any crime or serious offense, and was otherwise a kind and caring person. Someone who was familiar with Christianity but didn't care for it. Will she go to Hell?
My answer:
You know Christianity is one of the most diverse religions -- if you have 10 Christians in the room, you'll have 12 opinions among us.

As far as your murderer -- he's not beyond the reach of God's love. There's always hope. There's always redemption. There's always a way back. Even if he realized his soul was messed up. Maybe that's why he became a Christian.

As far as the pious lady, I'm glad I'm not her judge but I have a couple of questions:

Why isn't she fond of Christianity?
  1. Does she not think "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is part of the right path?
  2. Does she not think "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you" is part of the right path?
  3. Does she take offense at Jesus' claim to *be* the right path, to *be* the source of light she seeks in Enlightenment? ("I am the way ... I am the light.")
  4. Did she hear some sort of form of Christianity that had nothing to do with the Christ of the New Testament, so she had a false idea of Christianity?

What kind of "pious" was she?
  1. Did she fast twice a week, pray/meditate regularly, give 10% of all she had to the poor, and thank God / the gods that she was better than people like guy #1?
  2. Did she do her good works in public to be seen and admired, or did she help people in secret that God alone might have the praise?
  3. Did she see someone hungry and feed him, thirsty and give him a drink? Did she see someone a stranger and welcome him, or without clothes and clothe him? Did she see someone sick and in prison, and visit him? If so, she may have already met Christ, and believed in him, and loved him, without recognizing him. Jesus says there will be a lot of that going around on the last day.
The original questioner replied:
You can personally define pious however you like. In this hypothetical scenario, the lady is aware of Christianity but has no want or desire to convert and is perfectly happy the way she is. She has never committed a crime, been arrested, murdered someone etc, and is a caring person.

The scum bag who murders and steals, however, is just that... a scumbag. However he "finds Jesus" after committing his crimes.
My next round went like this:
The scumbag who murders and steals, who is just a scumbag, is exactly the kind of person Jesus would have had dinner with. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." He was fond of outcasts and sinners. Not so fond of the people who told him he was wrong to love them. Does it offend you that, in Christianity, an absolute scumbag has hope of redemption?

About what it means to be pious: Bingo! We can all personally define pious however we like; so that makes it fairly meaningless to say someone is "pious", if each person can tailor the word to mean what they want and it could just mean the person says "I approve of myself". Jesus said that not all kinds of piety are alike. The "holier than thou" piety was actually obnoxious to him. The piety that saw the face of God in the outcast stranger was precious to him; he said he himself was the outcast stranger. So the question was: when our undefined "pious" lady saw Jesus, the outcast stranger, how did she react? Love? Hatred? Indifference? Did she define "piety" as recognizing God in the face of the stranger (i.e., being loving), or did she define "piety" as improving herself and being impressed with her progress (i.e. spiritual narcissism)?

And we haven't quite determined how someone can be "pious" and have no interest in Jesus, whose most distinctive teaching is the primacy of love. It becomes a very pressing question how she defines "pious" if "love" does not seem like a good path to her. Remember, it was the "pious" people who were lining up to kill him, because they didn't like the picture of God he was painting ... the kind that would be interested in the fate of scumbags, and in second chances.
That one didn't get a reply, unfortunately.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Resurrection Texts: Harmonization

I first put this together a number of years ago (in the late 1990's, I think). A skeptic had put forward what was supposed to be an unanswerable challenge: to take all the passages in the Bible beginning with the day of Jesus’ resurrection and continuing to the day of his ascension, and without omitting anything write a simple narrative that is chronological and leaves out nothing. For years this article had been hosted on some ftp space provided by my ISP ... but the ISP has since removed the ftp space from their service, leaving the articles formerly hosted there homeless unless you count a flash drive. So I thought I'd repost here in honor of Jesus' resurrection.

Here are the texts requested, every requested verse included and every account with the verses still in their original order, with the verses from each account placed with the corresponding verses from other accounts. What follows is the texts you specified with the verses grouped so as to reconstruct the events from the resurrection to the ascension from the existing accounts. On a few occasions when one account has an event recorded in a single verse while another account has the same event recorded in more detail over several verses, the more condensed version is shown half a verse at a time, followed by the detailed verses from the other account. I've added headings such as are common in modern narratives, and one or two comments in brackets. I've also made four introductory remarks separately, so that it doesn't interfere with the text below.

Introductory remarks:

  1. The women's visits to the tomb. Because of the way the names are listed and the comings and goings are presented, I suspect that the women came in more than one group. They may have agreed to meet at the tomb around dawn. If memory serves, Mary Magdalene lived in Bethany, while some of the other women lived in Jerusalem. It's reasonable to think the women may have come in two or more groups.
  2. The timing of the earliest visits. The text of John begins with Mary Magdalene setting out for the tomb "while it was still dark". Since walking to the tomb, perhaps a couple of miles, would take some time, it's reasonable to think that the sun rose while the women were on their way to the tomb. The events recorded for that morning would probably take at least half an hour, perhaps over an hour, to complete.
  3. The location of the ascension. The original "challenge" presented the location of the ascensions as "variously given" being either in Bethany, near Jerusalem, or on the Mount of Olives. A detailed map of the area shows that Bethany, which is near Jerusalem, is on the slope of the Mount of Olives. If after reading this you're still interested in the other "challenges", go ahead and ask.
  4. Various things concerning the angels. Since the events at the tomb that morning may have taken half an hour to an hour, I am not going to concern myself with where the angels were when Salome came versus where the angels were when Joanna came, or anything of that sort. Even supposing all the women came together as a single group, if one woman reported to the disciples “we saw two angels, and they said such a thing” while another of the women reported “someone in gleaming clothes said such a thing”, those two statements are generally compatible.


I Cor 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
I Cor 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

Acts 1:3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

The beginning of the day

John 20:1 [first half] Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb

Matt 28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

Luke 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.

Mark 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
Mark 16:3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

Meanwhile, at the tomb

Matt 28:2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Matt 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
Matt 28:4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The women arrive at the tomb; Mary Magdalen runs to get the disciples

Mark 16:4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

Luke 24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

John 20:1 [second half] and [Mary M.] saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
John 20:2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

Meanwhile, the women are back at the tomb

Luke 24:3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Luke 24:4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
Luke 24:5 [first half] In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground,

Mark 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Mark 16:6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

Matt 28:5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
Matt 28:6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Luke 24:5 [second half] but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Luke 24:6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
Luke 24:7 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"
Luke 24:8 Then they remembered his words.

Matt 28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

Mark 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"
Mark 16:8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. [Hold your horses, Mark gets to the part where they tell the disciples in just a few verses. See Mark 16:10-11]

Matt 28:8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Luke 24:9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
Luke 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
Luke 24:11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

Peter goes to the tomb
Note: The time overlaps in part with the time some women were still at the tomb or coming from the tomb

John 20:3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.

Luke 24:12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

John 20:4 Both [Peter and John] were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
John 20:5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
John 20:6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,
John 20:7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.
John 20:8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
John 20:9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
John 20:10 Then the disciples went back to their homes,

Mary's second visit to the tomb; she meets Jesus

John 20:11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb
John 20:12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
John 20:13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

Mark 16:9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.

John 20:14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
John 20:15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."
John 20:16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
John 20:17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
John 20:18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mark 16:10 She [Mary M.] went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.
Mark 16:11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

Jesus shows himself to the women near the tomb

Matt 28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
Matt 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

The guards

Matt 28:11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.
Matt 28:12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,
Matt 28:13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'
Matt 28:14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
Matt 28:15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Jesus meets two on the road to Emmaus

Mark 16:12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.

Luke 24:13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.
Luke 24:14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
Luke 24:15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;
Luke 24:16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
Luke 24:17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast.
Luke 24:18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
Luke 24:19 "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.
Luke 24:20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;
Luke 24:21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.
Luke 24:22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning
Luke 24:23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.
Luke 24:24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
Luke 24:25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
Luke 24:26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"
Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Luke 24:28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.
Luke 24:29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.
Luke 24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.
Luke 24:31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
Luke 24:32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Jesus meets his disciples that evening

Mark 16:13 These [the two walking in the country] returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

Luke 24:33 They [the two in the country who had been on the road to Emmaus] got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together
Luke 24:34 and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon."

I Cor 15:5 [first half] and that he [Jesus] appeared to Peter,

Luke 24:35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

I Cor 15:5 [second half] and then [Jesus appeared] to the Twelve.

Luke 24:36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Luke 24:37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.

Mark 16:14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Luke 24:38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?
Luke 24:39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Luke 24:40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.

John 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
John 20:21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
John 20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Mark 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
Mark 16:18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Luke 24:41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”
Luke 24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,
Luke 24:43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
Luke 24:44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Luke 24:46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,
Luke 24:47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Luke 24:48 You are witnesses of these things.”

Jesus’ other appearances after that dinner. An exact timeframe for these is not given.

I Cor 15:6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
I Cor 15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

The first time Thomas sees the risen Jesus

John 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
John 20:25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
John 20:26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
John 20:28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus meets the disciples again in Galilee

Matt 28:16 [first half] Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee,

John 21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:
John 21:2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.
John 21:3 “I'm going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We'll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
John 21:4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
John 21:5 He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered.
John 21:6 He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
John 21:7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
John 21:8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
John 21:9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
John 21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
John 21:11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
John 21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
John 21:13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
John 21:14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
John 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
John 21:16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
John 21:17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.
John 21:18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
John 21:19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
John 21:20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?")
John 21:21 When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"
John 21:22 Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
John 21:23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"
John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Matt 28:16 [second half] to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
Matt 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Matt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Matt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matt 28:20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.""

Jesus’ ascension

Luke 24:49 "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Acts 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
Acts 1:5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Acts 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
Acts 1:7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Luke 24:50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Luke 24:51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.

Mark 16:19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

Acts 1:9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Acts 1:10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.

Luke 24:52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
Luke 24:53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. [until Pentecost anyway, but that is outside the scope of the request]


Mark 16:20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

I Cor 15:8 and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born.

John 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The faith once given and the Lord's Supper

Sorry, internet was down last night and most of this morning. So here's the Maundy Thursday post, backdated to when it was finished, if only my internet had been cooperating ...

Today is the anniversary of that day when Jesus first broke the bread and took the cup and spoke the words to his disciples that we still speak to this day: "My body, given for you. My blood, shed for you." Jesus commanded his followers, "Do this to remember me." It was the night of his betrayal, the night of his arrest.

How soon did the remembering start? Jesus did the first reminding. Only a few days later -- after his execution, after his burial. After his resurrection. Jesus walked with two people on the road to Emmaus. They didn't recognize him ... until he broke the bread.

A few weeks later at Pentecost, the disciples who had been at that Last Supper were boldly preaching Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Thousands of the Jews in Jerusalem for Pentecost were added to their number that day. And how did they practice their newfound faith in God's messiah? The immediately following passages mention the breaking of bread more than once, saying that they did it from house to house. It was a way the earliest believers -- just weeks after the resurrection -- were already connecting. "Do this to remember me" was put into action right away.

The dates of the New Testament writings are not known down to the exact year, but it's possible that the first written account is Paul's in his first letter to Corinth. Why Corinth? They seemed to be having some trouble -- and they had a close tie to Paul. When Paul went to Jerusalem for the council (Acts 15), he spent some time with some of the disciples. He met people who had known Jesus directly. And odds are, during that time, they broke bread together. Paul likely celebrated the Lord's Supper with some of the people who had been there in the upper room on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. When he left Jerusalem on his next missionary journey, he spent a large portion of that time in the city of Corinth. With the memories of his trip to Jerusalem fresh in his mind, he spent a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:12). It is important to keep in mind the length of his stay when we read his letter to them: "While I was with you I resolved to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2). That was not for just one or two weeks, or just a handful of sermons. It was his constant message for a year and a half.

There are two places where Paul, writing to the Corinthians, emphasizes that what he told them was the same thing that he himself was told. And the first thing of which he says it is the Lord's supper. Reminding them of what he taught them right after his visit to Jerusalem, he said:
For I received from the Lord what I passed on to you: That the Lord Jesus, the night in which he was betrayed, took bread. And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (I Cor 11:23-26)
It is likely that this reflects Paul's memories of his trip to Jerusalem, his meeting with the apostles, likely too his celebration of the Lord's Supper with people who had been in the upper room that night. The distance between us and them is not so large. We are all participants in the same act, remembering that night in the upper room.

That is one thing that has joined all Christians through time. You and I eat the same supper which Jesus first gave, which Peter and John took and ate, who in turn gave to Paul. All the saints and sinners of the church have shared the same supper, from Athanasius and Eusebius to Augustine to St Francis to Martin Luther King. They all have taken the cup and called on the name of the Lord along with us. For all our flaws as a church, we are joined to them in a way that cannot be separated. The church's divisions are tragic; but they are not eternal. When Christ comes, the imperfect will be gone. And the Body of Christ will remain.

I know I usually have a "special" article for 4/1 ...

I know I usually have a "special" article for 4/1, and in fact I'd picked a couple of promising topics. But that was before I looked at a calendar and realized that Maundy Thursday and 4/1 coincide this year. So the humor will have to wait for another day. I have a Maundy Thursday post that I'll put up later.

Take care & God bless