Interval: That Barabbas and Jesus Sermon

Here’s the link to the sermon just mentioned: Barabbas or Jesus. Yes, that’s the King James he’s using! But I encourage you to stick it out for the worth of what David has to say. Not flowery, and his voice wasn’t strong, but I thought it was insightful and balanced. Trust you enjoy, and part two will be along presently.

Jesus and Jihad – part I of II on Joshua, Jesus and Jihad

Heard a great sermon at my parents’ church in Coffs Harbour, in mid-north coast NSW, Australia last week. (Coffs is halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, and a great place for a summer holiday.) It’s actually a rather old-fashioned church in worship style, but I respect the pastor, David Mitchell, and he was on the money last Sunday.

His talk was based on Matthew 27:16-26:

16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.
17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Matt. 27:16-26 NIV)

In light of the Lindt Cafe hostage drama a couple of weeks prior in Sydney, and then only a few days before he spoke, the shootings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, David’s angle was to use the text above to help us think about how the Christian should view sacred vigilantes or holy war.

The message was simple. This episode in Jesus’ final trials presents to us alternate ways of advancing a cause: the way of Jesus, and the way of Barabbas. Barabbas is the partisan, the vigilante, the sicarius or dagger bearer. He was willing to kill for the cause and had such kills chalked up already. Were they Romans, or were they Jews who had co-operated with the Romans? It’s funny how the vigilante ends up killing his own people so freely where they are perceived to co-operate with the enemy. They are easier to reach, for one thing.

David admitted with simple honesty that Christians (or Christendom, we might say) had used this approach in the past to try to advance the cause, infamously during the Crusades. But the Crusades did not have good theological justification from the New Testament and specifically from Jesus’ teaching. If you want to run a Christian (military) crusade, you really need to ignore many parts of the New Testament. (Is the Old Testament a different story? Let’s hold that off for the next post.)

The way of Jesus is not the way of the sword. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of Jesus’ disciples decided it was time for a heroic last stand, and took a swipe at the arresting party with a sword (Matt. 26:51-52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-51).  John’s Gospel alone identifies the wielder as Peter, and he probably wasn’t just aiming to remove the guy’s ear. As a soldier, he made a good fisherman.

Each Gospel reports that Jesus brought this final resistance to an abrupt halt, while casting Jesus’ reply and reasoning rather differently. But Matthew offers the most detail. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52 NIV). Jesus continues there by saying that if he wished to resist his enemies, he would sooner use heavenly troops and weapons. But that was not his purpose in any case. His victory would come ironically by way of abject defeat and death, followed by unexpected return from death.

A spiritual kingdom cannot be won and defended with human weapons (John 18:36), even if its citizens live in a human world. The Crusades were not only barbaric in practice but were theologically ill-conceived. The way of Jesus is not the way of Barabbas. The New Testament defends the secular government’s right to ‘bear the sword’ for purposes of maintaining justice in society, and arguably, for national defence, but it never authorizes the use of force or violent militancy to advance the Christian cause.

Jihad can never be the tool of the disciple of Jesus. The disciple of Jesus never has permission to kill for the cause.

The disciple of Jesus simply has permission to die for the cause. Indeed, where necessary, the obligation so to die.

But if it came to that, would I be willing to die? I hope so. Would I retaliate? I hope not, but when we’re angry, reason takes a back seat. Would I reneg? I don’t know. I hope I would join the great and honoured ranks of the martyrs.

What would you do?

Next post: Joshua and Jihad – part I of II on Joshua, Jesus and Jihad

Crazy Love, Surrendered Life and the Life of the Scribe

That title doesn’t really tell you what this is going to be about, does it? Well, this is a thought and a mini-book review in one.

I’m currently reading the Gospel of Luke (in the ‘Final Quarter’) and once again came across Jesus’ call, not to arms, but to lay all on the line for his cause:

23 Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24 NET Bible)

Many of you will know that chapter 9 is pivotal in Luke, marking a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, in the course of which Jesus elicits from his disciples who the people think he is, and then ‘turns his face to go to Jerusalem’ and lets them know that if they want to come, it’s all on the line, right down to their lives. It’s all or nothing.

The quote above would be a pretty accurate summary of a book I’ve just finished reading, Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It’s unusual for me to read the kind of book that you would find popular at a Christian bookshop (bookstore, for US readers). I normally read more academic and factually-oriented things. But my sister bought me this last Christmas, and I finally worked my way down to it in my impossibly high bedside table must-read book pile.

Chan Crazy Love

I won’t try to summarize it further, but I did find it challenging. Sometimes I disagreed with Chan, such as when he (like everyone else) assumes that when Jesus says within the parable of the sheep and the goats,

‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ (Matt 25:40 NET Bible),

that he was talking about doing good for every human being on the planet. That’s a nice thought and a good ideal, but I strongly suspect that Jesus was talking about his disciples, and to the crowd: “They’re with me, and how you treat them, including when I’m gone, I will take personally!” Well, Chan has lots of company there.

When he was challenging the Western reader to live less indulgently and give more material means to the work of God, I knew he was right and felt suitably guilty. At the same time, I would like to be reassured that Chan himself really lives like this. He assures us in the book that he does. I’m just inherently suspicious of people who get their income from the church, telling others to give more money to the church. Well, let’s trust that Chan is not milking the system. No sense assuming the worst, though that’s kind of a gift of mine.

At the end of the day, I thought his book was good, though uncomfortable, reading. It was meant to be uncomfortable – it’s a classic prophet’s call, and God’s task for prophets is certainly not to make people comfortable.

So I felt suitably guilty.

All the more so because I’m a Christian academic. The academics in Luke 9 aren’t the good guys. They’re among the baddies in Jesus’ story. If Luke 9:22 were translated into current English, it might say that those who reject Jesus would be “the elders, the head priests, and the biblical scholars (‘γραμματεῖς’, traditionally ‘scribes’).” When God does a new thing, as He certainly did in Jesus, the traditional political leaders, the existing religious leaders, and the academics normally do their best to shut it down. Old wineskins don’t take well to new wine. Jesus taught with authority; scribes (scholars) hedge their bets and prevaricate (Matt 7:29). The prophet believes. The scholar doubts, checking and rechecking.

The one who is greatest in the economy of God is the child, not the expert (Luke 9:48). God revels in ‘destroying the wisdom of the wise’, and ‘frustrating the intelligence of the intelligent’ (paraphrased from 1 Cor. 1:19 NIV).

So is there any hope for the scholar in God’s kingdom?

All I can find to cling onto here is Paul’s teaching about the one body needing a lot of different parts (1 Cor. 12:12-31). I believe that we need a range of gifts at work in the church, and our sheer diversity is our strength. We need prophets like Chan to kick us stiffly up the backsides at regular intervals. It hurts but it does us good. We need the tenderhearted people too, to pick up the pieces afterwards. We need all kinds.

Perhaps God wants, still, the odd Nicodemus, the odd Joseph of Arimathea, to play a part in His plan and purpose.

Because it’s hard to change how you’re wired, and God is responsible for that wiring, at the end of the day.

Prezi for Luke Chapter 1 and Forward; Two Miracle Babies, Jesus & John the Baptist

This is a first draft prezi done for a sermon of mine at my home church yesterday. It attempts to visually map the relative roles of Jesus and John the Baptist at the gestation stage of their respective careers, and thus of their parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and stand-in Joseph. Just a first draft, but see what you think.

Dawn of New Day Luke 1 Scr'shot

https://prezi.com/zkmxhkbehlyg/dawn-of-a-new-day-luke-1/

I told people they could google for it, but for some reason, it’s very difficult for your online prezi material to be found by others in this way, unfortunately.

Comments are welcome.

What language did Jesus speak?

A good explanation of something many Christians may have wondered about.

With Meagre Powers

Today witnessed a very minor verbal exchange between Pope Francis and Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, over the language Jesus spoke. Reuters reports the incident on the final day of the Pope’s visit to the Middle East:

During his comments about a strong connection between Judaism and Christianity and tolerance towards Christians in Israel, Netanyahu told the [sic!] Francis: “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew.

“Aramaic,” the pontiff interjected.

“He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu shot back.

The difference of opinion reignites a historic debate about the language Jesus spoke two millennia ago.

“Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker,” Israeli linguistics professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann told Reuters. “But he would have also known Hebrew because there were extant religious writings in Hebrew.”

Zuckermann added that during Jesus’ time, Hebrew was spoken by the lower classes – “the kind of people he ministered to.”

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Christmas Foray #2

Now the wise men.  We all know it doesn’t say anywhere that there were three.  I discovered in reading earlier today that the tradition that there were three wise men to match their three gifts (Matt. 2:11) goes back to one of our church fathers (was it Tertullian?), but can’t find that source again now.  More importantly, Matthew’s term for them is ‘μάγοι’, magoi, (Matt. 2:1, 7, 16), which is where we get our term ‘magician’, although that’s a potentially misleading connection.  But they weren’t just old guys with a lot of life experience, they were readers of the stars.  We call them ‘astrologers’.  The only other mention of such a role by name is when Elymas the Sorcerer whom Paul and Barnabas met on Cyprus is called a ‘magos‘ in Acts 13:6, 8.  I believe that tradition holds the Simon mentioned in Acts 8:9-13, 18-24 to have been a ‘magos‘; Irenaeus’ Against Heresies and other sources talk at length about the troublesome teaching of Simon Magus and his followers.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, ‘magus‘ is used to describe the court conjurors that prove so ineffective in the Daniel stories.  In the Septuagint version of Daniel, the Greek term appears in 2:2, 10; then it is used more extensively in the Greek version that soon replaced the Septuagint version, attributed to Theodotion, who used it also in 1:20; 2:27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15, replacing the Septuagint’s ‘φαρμακος’ in some of these references (where we get the term ‘pharmacy’!).  The term isn’t exactly complementary in either Acts or Daniel, and Christian thinkers fought hard to exclude astrology from the church right down through church history.

So it isn’t talked about much, but some of the first people to acknowledge the infant Jesus were professionals at reading current events and their significance from the stars.  How do we reason this through theologically?  It seems inconsistent with a Bible that offers no encouragement elsewhere to seek truth about human life and destiny from the stars, birth signs, etc.  We may be looking at an example of God’s ‘accommodation’, an important term theologically, one that signifies that God (am I getting this from Calvin) knows how to use baby talk when he’s addressing infants in understanding.  Calvin certainly is famous for speaking about this principle, and other reputable Christian minds have articulated the same principle.  It’s fitting somehow, if Jesus is not just to benefit Israel, that right at the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry God should permit his significance to leach out into the Gentile media in a way these Gentiles at least innately understood.

Although one act of divine condescension does not a reliable medium make.