Matthew 23:33, The Authoritarian God

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

//Paul Froese and Christopher Bader published a book in 2010 called America’s Four Gods. It was based on a 2005 study that divided American believers into four categories, depending upon how they pictured God. These four types are the authoritarian God, the benevolent God, the critical God, and the distant God.

Of these four, the authoritarian God is the one which seems to me most spiritually harmful. This is the God of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. It is the God of war, the God who punishes America with 9/11 for its tolerance of gays, and the God of 43.5% of Southerners.

So now I ask: Which is your favorite gospel of the four? Would you say, like the early church, that Matthew is your choice? The gospel of hell fire?

Then here’s an interesting fact about Matthew: It is the only gospel which does not once mention the love or kindness of God toward us. Not once.

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Luke 6:20, The First to Enjoy the Kingdom

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

//I’ll shortly be reviewing a novel titled A Man Called Jesus by author Rick Herrick, and there’s a statement Jesus makes in his book that I haven’t forgotten. Jesus says that the first people to experience the new Kingdom of Heaven on earth will be the poor.

Readers of my own latest book, titled The River of Life, know that I emphasize how much Jesus cared about the poor, so I felt an immediate appreciation for Herrick’s Jesus. But why does Herrick think the poor will be the first to experience the kingdom?

Common sense, of course. The economic situation of the poor forces them to share. Sharing with love is the first step in creating God’s kingdom. That puts the poor in an advantaged position when it comes to creating a place where God’s love rules.

An interesting insight. Do you agree?

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Matthew 5:39, Matthew’s Unique Jesus

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

//Today’s teaching is found only in one book of the bible: The Gospel of Matthew. In fact, a good number of our Christian teachings come only from Matthew. A person, then, who rejects Matthew as not carrying apostolic authority would have a much different view of what it means to be a Christian.

This is exactly what Joshua Woodward argues for in his book, God of Fire: The Hope Reformation. He lists the following topics as unique only to Matthew among the gospel writers. I have not taken the time to research this list, but it definitely is interesting!

Kingdom of Heaven

Heaven or Hell theology

Eternal punishment

Keys of the kingdom of heaven

Primacy of Peter

Righteousness through the law

Jesus rejecting those who do miracles in his name

Separation of sheep and goats based on works

Lust as a precedent for self mutilation

Calling someone a fool or being angry endangers hell

Don’t resist an evil person

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Galatians 4:30, Cast aside the Law

Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.”

//One of the most interesting “arguments” that takes place in scripture is this matter of whether the Old Testament law is to be heeded or ignored. Scholars recognize Matthew to be the gospel most sympathetic to the Jewish law. It’s in this book that Jesus promises that “not one jot or tittle shall pass from the Law till all be fulfilled.” We also have sympathetic epistles, such as the book of James, which twice refers to the “Law of Liberty” (James 1:25 and 2:12).

But Paul did not think kindly about the Law. In a fascinating passage to the Galatians (4:22-31) Paul refers to the law as just the opposite as James does. He considers it a law of slavery, not of liberty. He uses the sons of Abraham as an analogy to communicate that the Law brings slavery. The mother of each son represents the two covenants: Hagar, the slave woman, represents the Mosaic covenant (the Law) and Sarah, a free woman, represents the Abrahamic covenant (the promise). Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is a child of slavery, but Sarah’s son, Isaac, is a child of the promise.

Paul’s argument concludes with today’s verse, reminding us that God wanted Abraham to cast out the bondwoman and her son, and choose instead Sarah and the son of promise.

Thus, we as Christians are called to cast out the Law, becoming righteous not by works but through faith.

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1 Corinthians 12:27, The Body of Christ

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular

//This is Pauline theology, and it’s an interesting concept. The Church, says Paul, is the body of Christ.

I’ve mentioned before that the word Christ is a greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, and both mean anointed, or “the anointed one,” named after the oil of anointing worn by kings. In Greek, oil for hair is Chrism, and the title for Jesus becomes Christ.

So we are the body of the Messiah in today’s world. Put another way, the Church is the current-day messianic reach of the kingdom. It is what the king is doing in the world today.

But what does this really mean? Do any of us feel like world leaders? I doubt it. Rather, we recognize the Kingdom of God as a grassroots movement, starting like a pinch of leaven in a loaf of bread, destined to expand and permeate the whole loaf with the fruits of the Spirit. We are an extension of the life of Christ, the man who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) as we seek to continue what Jesus began 2,000 years ago.

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Matthew 24:34, The Liberal’s Bible

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

//What does this verse mean to you? Should it be read literally–as a promise that Jesus would arrive in power within the lives of those he spoke to–or should we interpret the word “generation” to mean something other than the obvious?

I have a friend on a forum I frequent that often accuses me of hating the Bible. To him, much of what I say about the Bible is a loose interpretation–what he calls a liberal interpretation–and he feels I need to “read the Bible more closely.” Of course, it seems to me that he needs to do the same. To me, his beliefs about Jesus simply don’t match what the Bible says at all.

A while back I finished Richard Gist’s new book, and it was a fascinating read from cover to cover. He definitely reads the Bible differently than his conservative friends. But he reaches this unexpected conclusion about who reads the bible “liberally” and who does not:

“I slowly realized that, often, the more conservative the preacher, the more liberally was the Bible used. Such preachers created a Bible that did not exist to preach messages they wanted to convey. On the other hand, the more liberal the preacher, the more conservatively was the Scripture applied to preaching. In other words, people in the religious community misunderstood and misapplied the labels of conservative and liberal.”

I guess that means I’m really a conservative and my friend is a liberal? Uh-oh.

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Mark 1:1 The Messianic Secret

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

//Mark’s Gospel is known for many peculiarities, and one of them is this matter of the Messianic Secret. Mark begins his gospel with this verse, introducing Jesus. Then, throughout the story of Jesus, he portrays the disciples as dim-witted, unable to grasp that their master is the Messiah. The Son of God.

Everybody else knows Jesus is the Son of God. Demons knew. Evil spirits would shout, “You are the Son of God.” The madman of Gadara figured it out. The Centurion (Roman soldier) knew it. Heck, God said it twice, quite loudly I bet.

But the disciples never do reach this conclusion, even after Jesus died. This Gospel ends with three women coming to the grave and finding it empty, then running away and telling no one. *

* The original gospel ends with verse 15:8.

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Mark 3:32-33, The House Church

And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”

//The early Church met in homes, before the emerging Church structure, size, and political acceptance began to make dedicated church buildings practical. So here we find Jesus and his followers sitting together in a home (3:19). Mark 3:20 indicates that it was a “multitude” who met that day, so many that they could not share bread as was the custom.

To this home came Jesus’ mother and brothers. But they came not to join in fellowship, but to take Jesus home, because they felt he was “out of his mind.” They were not inside the home, and made no effort to be inside. So Jesus is told that they were waiting outside to see him, and here is his reaction:

And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

There is no hint that Jesus ever goes outside to meet his blood family. He prefers his new family, in the exclusive house church.

Did this really happen this way? What happened to the idea of an angel appearing to Mary, telling her she would give birth to the Messiah?

Scholars continue to disagree on just how estranged Jesus was from his family.

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Acts 14:14, Paul the Apostle

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out…

//I just read in Richard Gist’s new book that there are twenty two places in the New Testament where Paul is referred to as an apostle. Two of those places are in the book of Acts, written by Paul’s friend Luke.

I found one of the two. It’s today’s verse. Can somebody find the other one for me?

The other twenty verses? They’re all written by Paul, claiming the honor for himself.

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Matthew 3:2, Was Jesus a Disciple of John the Baptist?

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

//Many scholars suggest that before Jesus went out on his own he was a follower of John the Baptist. While there are many reasons for this conjecture, the most obvious is the way that Jesus adopted the language of John. Today’s verse was spoken by John, and then repeated by Jesus:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” –Matthew 4:17

Following are are some more examples:

John: Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? –Luke 3:7

Jesus: Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? –Matthew 23:33

John: And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. –Luke 3:9

Jesus: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. –Matthew 7:19

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John 13:4-5, The Suffering Servant

So [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

//This image of Jesus, kneeling, washing the dusty feet of his disciples, has haunted me a bit today. The Gospel of Luke tells us that at the last supper an argument arose between the disciples about who would be the greatest. John’s Gospel does not mention this discussion. It mentions only how Jesus resolved it.

Dinner had already been served, and the foot washing should have been completed long ago, but there were apparently no slaves to attend to the detail. The disciples had plenty of opportunity to humble themselves and perform the task, but they did not; loyal disciples would do for their teachers almost anything a slave would do except wash their feet, which was far too demeaning.

So Jesus took on the servant duties himself. He waited until Judas had left the room and then, knowing his fate was sealed, his execution was in motion, he nevertheless remained with his disciples.

Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. –John 13:1

Instead of fleeing, Jesus donned the uniform of a house slave: the towel. He was not only performing a service, he was making an identification. He was identifying with the image known from the prophet Isaiah.

The suffering servant.

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Deuteronomy 18:21, How To Know When God Is Speaking

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?”

//Here’s a practical concern. If someone claims to speak for God, how do we know whether or not to pay attention? Suppose a man of God tells you the world will end tomorrow? Do you put things in order, lock yourself in your closet and wait?

The answer given may be a little more practical than you wish. The verse continues:

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

So the answer is, you don’t know. You can’t know. The only way to know whether it’s God speaking is to wait and see whether it comes true.

If it comes true, God said it. If it doesn’t, the man of God spoke out of turn.

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Exodus 20:4-5, One Calf Or Two? Part II of II

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image .. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

//Yesterday, I introduced two places in scripture where golden calves (young bulls) were set up for cultic worship in Israel. One was by the first Hebrew priest, Aaron, and the other was by king Jeroboam. Both announced that “these are the gods which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

Before continuing the story, let’s be clear about something. What Aaron did, and what Jeroboam did, is in direct conflict with the Ten Commandments. See today’s verse. Thou shalt not make golden calves and worship them.

After the northern kingdom of Israel split off from the southern kingdom of Judah, Jeroboam became the first northern king. It was then, in the tenth century BC, that he set up the golden bulls for worship. The reason he gave was that it’s inconvenient for northerners to travel down to Jerusalem to worship. So, he says, you can worship one of the bulls instead.

But all of this happened before the story of Moses and Aaron was written! The story of the golden calf created by Aaron was penned in response to Jeroboam’s cultic centers! E’s author, perceiving King Jeroboam as a threat, effectively defamed him by portraying his golden calves as a most grievous sin, by having Aaron do exactly the same thing, and then condemning Aaron for his action.

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Exodus 32:4, One Calf Or Two? Part I of II

And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

//Here’s a puzzle for you. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the children of Israel grew impatient. They asked Aaron to make for them a golden calf. So he made a calf, and ordained it with this statement “These be thy gods.”

Huh? How did one golden calf become plural? A clue comes from the story of King Jeroboam much later in scripture. This king set up two religious centers, in Dan and in Bethel, and in each he placed a golden young bull for worship.

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. -1 Kings 12:28

Sound familiar? The words Jeroboam used to dedicate his golden bulls are identical to the words Aaron used to introduce his golden calf. Could this be coincidence?

More tomorrow.

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Matthew 25:33, What’s Wrong With Goats?

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

//What’s wrong with goats? Why do they get separated from the sheep? The sheep go on the right … “come, ye blessed” … and the goats go on the left … “depart from me, ye cursed.”

Is it because goats are stubborn? Naw. Goats have had a bad rap in scripture from the beginning. It’s interesting to note that anytime you have a goat and clothing in the same story in the Bible, it’s a tale of deceit.* Some examples:

  • Jacob fools his blind father and steals his brother’s birthright by wearing his brother’s clothes and putting goat hair on his arms, so he’ll be hairy like his brother

  • Joseph’s brothers smear Joseph’s coat-of-many-colors with goat’s blood to fool their father into believing Joseph was killed by wild animals

  • Tamar dresses up like a prostitute and fools her father-in-law into having sex with her, charging him a goat’s kid for her services.

Back, now, to today’s verse. The “goats” ask Jesus what they did to deserve everlasting fire, and Jesus answers “I was naked, and ye clothed me not.” There’s the theme again: goats and clothes, and this time, the goats finally get their comeuppance.

* Examples taken from Richard Gist’s new book, You Don’t Understand the Bible Because You Are Christian

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Genesis 6:14, What Is An Ark?

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

//The word tevah, translated into the English word Ark, occurs in two stories in the Bible. Today’s verse is one of the two: Noah’s ark, in which all life on earth was saved from the flood.

Can you guess the second occurrence of the word? If you said the Ark of the Covenant, you’re…

Wrong. That’s an entirely different word in Hebrew. The other occurrence of tevah is the little basket that the baby Moses was placed in when his mother turned him loose in the Nile.

This is not a coincidence. We are meant to tie the two stories together. Recall that Moses’s mother, in a desperate attempt to keep him alive, carefully prepared her “ark”:

And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.

Did you catch it? Both arks were waterproofed with pitch. They were named the same (tevah), waterproofed the same, and held a similar purpose … to protect their precious cargo from the raging waters. Any ancient listener of the story of Moses’s rescue would know it’s patterned after the rescue of Noah.

Just as Noah was the savior of the world, so is Moses heralded from his birth as a savior of his people.

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Genesis 29:26, Jacob Gets His Just Desserts

And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

//Here’s the story. Jacob, the second-born child, sneakily cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright. Esau, as the first-born, deserved special privileges that Jacob stole through trickery.

The day comes when Jacob and Esau leave the nest and go in search of wives. Esau seems to have no trouble choosing a mate. Jacob, likewise, finds the perfect one. Her name is Rachel. But Laban, Rachel’s father, insists that Jacob serve him seven years before he can have her.

Jacob does the service, and after seven years he requests his wife. A feast is prepared in celebration, and that evening, Laban brings his daughter to Jacob, who is waiting for her in his bed.

Morning brings a shock. It’s not Rachel whom Jacob slept with, but her sister Leah. Furious, Jacob confronts Laban. “What have you done to me? Why have you beguiled me?”

Laban answers with today’s verse: The firstborn must marry first. You, Jacob, thought you could subvert the system, stealing the first-born’s privilege from Leah. Now you must serve me another seven years to get the wife you really want.

What goes around comes around I guess.

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Matthew 28:19-20, The REAL Great Commission

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.

//Am I allowed another rant? I’m so tired of hearing people say they are following the Great Commission in spreading the Christian religion. Read the Bible, people!

Jesus never asked us to convert anybody to any religion. He does not ask us to share our theological doctrines. He probably couldn’t care less whether the religion we call Christianity grows or not. The “great commission” isn’t about converting people, nor is it about telling people they are sinners in need of God, or convincing them that their own religion is false, or calling down the judgment of God on them.

The “great commission” Jesus requests is that we teach others his commandments. He wants followers of his commands, not believers of your religion. If you need a reminder about what Jesus asks of his followers, see the Sermon on the Mount where he lays them out one-by-one.  Love your enemies, forgive one another, stop judging, give secretly to those who need, drop your hostilities, quit lusting after what belongs to another, let your candle shine, and meet aggression with non-aggression. There are more, but you get the point. The great commission is about changing this world for the better, “baptizing” others (literally or not) into a new way of life, a philosophical stance and practice where treating one another with respect and kindness is of primary importance.

Maybe if you witness to others in this manner, they’ll become curious about your religious beliefs. Then you can have an interesting and respectful discussion about God. If the conversation never turns in that direction, well, that’s not the important thing anyway, according to Jesus.

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Matthew 5:13, Doing Good: The Meaning of Christianity, Part II of II

Ye are the salt of the earth

//Yesterday I mentioned that the difference between the sheep and goats was merely that the goats performed no kindnesses to those around them. Yet some Christians consider it proper to take a defeatist attitude and pretend that we can do nothing to change this old evil world. It’s hopelessly corrupted and we shouldn’t waste our time trying to make it better.

To this, I respond with three comments by Jesus: Ye are the salt of the earth, Ye are the light of the world, and The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven. When Jesus describes his followers, he uses three images. He calls us salt, light, and leaven.

Know what these three things have in common? Their entire purpose is to have an effect on other things. Light lets us see what’s around us, salt flavors the taste of our food, and leaven makes our bread rise. Their purpose is simply to change the world around them. It’s worth thinking about.

Thanks to Father Jonathan Morris’s latest book, The Way of Serenity, for this insight. We’ll be reviewing this book tomorrow.

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Matthew 25:33, Doing Good: The Meaning of Christianity, Part I of II

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

//My latest book about Liberal Christianity (titled The River of Life) has opened up conversations with a couple people about whether Jesus really did want us to focus on making life better on earth. I think all Christians recognize that we are to do good, but still imagine that their focus should be on eternity, not on this life. This focus fuels the debate regarding works vs. grace, by relegating good works to a minor role.

Why do we think this? Today’s verse tells how the Son of Man will divide all humanity, separating sheep from goats. The sheep enter into life, while the goats are cast into everlasting fire.

What did the goats do wrong? Answer: Nothing at all. They did nothing wrong. They simply didn’t do any good.

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

How have we come to believe we’re expected to sit idly by, just believing and enjoying grace? More tomorrow.

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