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Month: January 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

One of the challenges of Christianity is the duel nature of intimacy with God and distance from God. Distance is so painful and difficult. Adam and Eve are to be envied, walking in the garden with God. But there are aspects of God (I would suggest, most aspects of God) that are just too marvelous and terrifying for the average Joe, as the Israelites illustrate. “If I hear the voice of the Lord or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” The power, the force that can speak planets and solar systems into being is to be “feared” in the awe/great respect meaning of the word. The Israelites get that. They have eyeballed sticks turning into snakes, river turning to red stinky slick and waters split by a nice walking path. God terrifies them! However, they sacrifice intimacy with God when they admit their great fear and ask for an intermediary to stand between them and their creator. Being benevolent and craving relationship with creation, God condescends to mediation, but the prophets better accurately represent God to the people, or the prophets will die.

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.

Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.

He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Here is an acrostic psalm (acrostic-each line starts with a letter of a word or, in this case, a letter of the Hebrew alphabet) which assigns well known axioms about God to each letter of the alphabet. The final line, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is well known and begs the question, “How is Wisdom defined?” In the Hebrew, Canaanite, and later Greek and Roman contexts, wisdom meant knowledge of secret things. Secret things were usually religious dogmas regarding how the world came into being or other natural phenomena. This wisdom was said to be revealed to religious cult members, little by little, as they rose in the ranks of the cult. The psalmist, and those whom he/she is quoting, insist that awe/respect/love for and devotion to Yahweh is the beginning of this secret knowledge since God is the creator and source of all things.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.

4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

The letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians are only the remains of correspondence between this church and Paul. We only have snippets of the letters and only from Paul’s side. Scholars think that “all of us possess knowledge” and “no idol in the world really exists” are phrases that Paul is quoting from an earlier letter from the church to himself.

Paul turns the whole concept of wisdom and knowledge on its head. Humans cannot obtain secret wisdom through religious cults, but rather can be known by God through loving God. Loving God is paramount. Disregard secret knowledge. Loving God is lived and shown by loving and serving others, helping them to know and love God also. So then, behaviors which are meaningless or harmless to one, but which hinders another from knowing and loving God, should be refrained from so as to not hinder the other.

Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Here Jesus teaching, not with secrets or allusions to secrets so as to show off or lure people in, but rather with authority. We can only guess what is meant by that. Did the Jewish teachers of the day teach in an authoritarian manner, “You don’t get to ask questions. You must only believe what I tell you. You may not challenge me.”? In the gospels, Jesus doesn’t keep secrets, but rather reveals as much as his listeners can comprehend. Mysteries still exist, but not because Jesus wouldn’t show his cards.

Jesus teaches with authority. To exhibit that authority, and to exercise compassionate of Jesus’ authority, Jesus heals a man by casting from him an unclean spirit. Jesus’ teaching has power and teeth!

Bible Tuesday for January 25 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Nineveh was the capitol of Assyria, that dominating world power that bullied Israel and eventually overran and captured the northern Ten Tribes. For God to ask Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh is the same as if God sent us to prophesy a message of mercy to Osama bin Laden. God sent Jonah to preach to the capitol city of his captors, to preach judgment and mercy. And these Ninevites took God seriously and repented. They put on sack cloth and ashes; they even put sack cloth and ashes on the livestock, even chickens! And their actions brought about a change in God’s mind!

Psalm 62:5-12

1For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

2He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

3How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

4Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah

5For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

6He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

9Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

10Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

12and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

This psalm sounds like it influenced Luther’s thoughts as he wrote “A Mighty Fortress”. The psalmist addresses his foes in the first several verses, beginning with testimony about God and then accusatory questioning. In verse 4, the psalmist then gossips about his foes, but by verse five returns to testimony about God. Verse 9-11a address the reader of the psalm while verses 11b-12 address God directly. Psalms like this model the freedom with which any person can address God.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

9I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Paul, and all of the early Christians as best as can be surmised from early writing, expected that Jesus would return any minute. Life for Jews was tense and precarious as unrest under Roman rule percolated, which fueled the apocalyptic hope of those early followers of Jesus. Paul admonishes the congregation in Corinth to set aside the rituals of daily life: weddings and marriage, funerals and mourning, business and commerce. Instead, focus should be on relationship with and service to God, in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news* of God,* 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;* repent, and believe in the good news.’*

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, went down the Jordan near Jericho to be baptized, was driven into the wilderness of which scriptures give no geographic location, and then heads back up to Galilee. It would have made sense for Jesus to begin ministry in and around Jerusalem, where he could follow the usual route of itinerate preachers by latching onto a rabbi/mentor and rise up through the ranks. But, the ministry to which Jesus is called by God will being Jesus into even more conflict with the Jewish powers that be than John had and face the same fate as John. So, Jesus returns to Galilee because it is the backwater territory of Israel and Jewish authorities tended to ignore it.

Instead of becoming a disciple of some respected rabbi in Jerusalem, Jesus became a rabbi himself and hunted down his own disciples. Last week we learned of Philip, Andrew, and Nathaniel. This week the gospel of Mark tells us of Capernaum fishermen.

“Fish for people.” There is an obscure passage in one of the minor prophets where God says that he will take a grappling hook and sort the good fish from the bad. Launching from this passage, it is thought that “fish for people” became an idiom for faithful rebellion in Israelite culture. Imagine what those first disciples thought when Jesus walked up unannounced and said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they did!

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’* and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down.6The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God,* and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.’

15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ 17Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

Earlier in the book of Samuel, the high priests of Israel, Eli, was allowed to appoint his two sons to assist him in his priestly duties. They perpetrated abominations against God and the tent of meeting and God wanted them severely punished by Eli was lighter on his own sons. Also, earlier in 1 Samuel, we learn that Samuel’s mother was a very beloved but barren wife of a faithful Israelite. She prayed that if God would grant her a son, she would give him back to the Lord. God blessed her and her husband with a child, a son, whom they named Samuel, and when he was 3 or 4 years old, they brought him to the high priest, Eli, to be his apprentice/errand boy. This was before King David made Jerusalem the new capitol of Israel and before Solomon built a temple to God. At this time, the house of worship for the Israelites was a tent with a big screened in courtyard which was called “the tent of meeting.” Within that courtyard there was a large tent and within that tent there was a small room with fabric walls in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed. This story tells us that it was with the Ark that Samuel slept.

We do not know exactly how old Samuel is in this story, but the word which is here translated “boy” means a child who has been weaned but is not yet soldiering/marrying age, somewhere between ages 4 and 14. Samuel is serving Eli as Eli was his grandfather, and Eli treats Samuel as if he were Eli’s grandson. This is more foreshadowing of the prophecy that God is about to give Samuel for Eli and Israel.

Remember, in Hebrew culture, the number 3 symbolizes God. When three times Samuel heard a voice and mistakenly responded to Eli, it was after the third time that Eli figured it was probably God calling. Eli is the High Priest, wisened and respected, but God wants to talk to a boy instead. Because Samuel, though only a boy, receives word from God, Samuel is now considered a prophet. The end of this pericope tells the readers that Samuel is a faithful prophet, a true prophet, too.

“May God do so to you and more” is a phrase we read in several places in the Bible. It is an adjurement not unlike, “I swear to God I’ll _______ if you don’t _________”

Psalm 139:1-18

1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

This is such a lovely psalm depicting the intimacy God has with each member of creation. “…when I sit down and when I rise up,” refers to the full scope of one’s daily activities. God knows everything we do and everything we think and speak.

“You hem me in behind and before,” can sound negative since to be “hemmed in” usually means to be caught, trapped. But here the word translated, “hemmed”, can also be translated “hedged”, as in God planted a vineyard and planted a hedge around it to protect it from vermin, animals, and thieves. Another way to translate this is to say, “You tuck me in behind and before,” while not an exact translation, it does convey the nurturing and protecting that the author is trying to convey.

Sheol is the empty place for the dead, not a place of torment, but a place of death and nothingness. To invoke God’s name and presence in such a place is quite provocative of the author, as many Jews, even in Jesus’ time, did not believe in any kind of resurrection or afterlife.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

12“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Here the Apostle, Paul, is developing his argument for responsible freedom in Christ. Paul, and many of the other apostles, taught that belief in Jesus as Lord and Messiah meant you were no longer bound by Jewish law. You could eat whatever you wanted, talk to folks of the opposite gender who were not spouses or relatives, walk as far as you needed whether or not it was the Sabbath, drink as much as you want where ever and whenever you want, etc. However, that sounds like the gospel of Jesus brings anarchy. Here Paul explains that freedom in Christ from the Law means order by putting service to God and others first, in place of the Law.

“Fornication” in the Bible means unfaithfulness to God. It may or may not include anything sexual, but will always mean abandoning worship of or following Yahweh for worship of self or another god.

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Whenever texts start with “The next day…” or “after this”, it is important to read the section which is being referred to in order to comprehend content and context of the text that is doing the referring. So, in this case, the above text happens the day after John the Baptist sees Jesus and points him out to John’s own disciples and the crowd that is around him saying, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” and “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and remain on him.” By reading this, the reader then knows that this Jesus is God’s chosen and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is appropriate for Jesus to be calling disciples and those whom he calls should jump at the opportunity to learn from Jesus and serve him.

Nathanael might be snide and terse in this story, but he is honest. Nazareth was a little, working class and farming town in Jesus ‘ day. There wasn’t any reason for anyone to go there except to visit family. So, Nathanael’s comment is snarky but genuine, and Jesus rewards him for it.

“Come and see” is a theme in the gospel of John. Unlike other gospels, where Jesus has to prove himself in order to gather a following, in John, Jesus just exudes godliness and people are drawn to it. In John, the job of the disciples is not to go sow seeds but to bring people to “come and see.”

While we are accustomed to Jesus calling his first disciples when they are fishing by the sea of Galilee as told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the gospel of John, Jesus walks into town and tells folks to follow him. Those disciples immediately go and tell others, “Come and see.” No nets or boats, but immediate evangelizing instead.

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of our Lord, 2015

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2015

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind [breath] from God sweeping over the water, God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and morning the first day.

The Jewish Study Bible reminds scholars how austere is the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. No galactic battles between deities, no lengthy stories of gods and goddesses wooing and fighting. No, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh speaks and creation occurs. Whatever drama one finds in this first chapter of Genesis, one has inserted between the lines.

The term that is used for God’s acts of creation in this first chapter of Genesis is “ex nihilo” which is Latin for “out of nothing”. In Genesis 2, God creates humans out of soil (Adam means “soil man”) but in this first chapter, God creates “out of nothing.” God merely speaks, and what God speaks comes into being.

While we read “God saw that the light was good” as a rather mild statement, it is a very strong, major statement to Jesus, who asks, “Why do you call me ‘good’? Only God is good!” God discerns this new creation of light as “good”, a quality that Jesus says is unique to God. Is it a stretch then to stay that Light is a “good” gift from God?

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,[a] ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,[b] and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

It cannot be any surprise to you that this psalm is one in praise of God’s power, might, and majesty. “Ascribe” or “give God credit for” creation, power, triumph over enemies.

In the first chapter of Genesis, the spirit or breath of God broods over the primordial waters. This psalmist echoes God’s power in creation and restates that God’s voice is over the waters, over the mighty waters.

That first chapter of Genesis relates how God created through nothing but His word. The psalmist recalls God’s powerful voice here and retells God’s mighty acts using nothing but voice.

Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

In the books of Acts, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians, and Colossians, prophesying or speaking in tongues are signs that the Holy Spirit has come into/upon the person exhibiting these gifts. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that one does not have the Holy Spirit within one if one does not exhibit either the gift of prophesy or the gift of speaking in tongues. However, the entire Pentecostal movement has been built on this very premise, that one is not “elect”, that is “chosen by God”, if one does not manifest one of these very specific gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesying, or speaking in tongues, or healing. “Wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord, joy in God’s presents” while nice gifts of the Spirit, do not count as evidence you being among the elect whom God has chosen for salvation.

Based on this and other New Testament passages, we still lay hands on the heads of the baptized (though I was reluctant to do that to the Linafelter children this past week because most junior high and high school kids are pretty self conscious of their hair and I didn’t want them to lose focus on what was happening and instead fret about me messing up their hair with my hands) to “pray down” or pass on the Holy Spirit.

Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared[a] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[b] water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[d] with you I am well pleased.”

The place that John the Baptist was doing ministry was in the Jordan River (opposite Jericho). This is a place that had history for the Israelites. While we don’t know where Jacob and his eleven sons (Joseph was already in Egypt), daughters, and all their families, flocks, herds, and wagons crossed over the Jordan on their way to Egypt, we do know that when the Israelites escaped Egypt and wandered for 40 years, they reentered Canaan opposite Jericho. While John may have chosen this spot for depth or flow of water and access through the hills/mountains that lie between Jerusalem and the Jordan River, the spot John chose is where the Israelites crossed when returning from Egypt. What is the significance of this? Well, in regard to the spot on the Jordan, perhaps only that John and the Israelites both came to the most likely place for crossing the Jordan. Far more important is the pattern that develops for the Israelites, also for Jesus, and for us.

The Israelites cross the Red/Reed Sea into the wilderness where they finally develop a plan for doing what God has called them to do, then they go do it! Cross the Jordan again, take Jericho, reclaim all of Canaan, and worship God. Later Elijah and Elisha cross the river and wander around for a couple days before Elijah is carried away to God and Elisha picks up his mantle and becomes Israel’s prophet.

While it is strange that Jesus is baptized, and John, himself, objects to baptizing Jesus, but Jesus’ answer, “This is to fulfill all righteousness,” does make sense. Jesus now will come through the Jordan, be driven into the wilderness where he will spend time in prayer and planning, then begin ministry, just as so many Israelites before him.