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Bible Tuesday for Lent III, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Lent III, 2018

Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder.14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The Ten Commandments are known as “The Ten Words” in Hebrew, as in “I wonder if I might have a word with you.” Note that there are no punishments or ramifications for breaking the commandments given. The motivation to keep the commandments is a recognition of God’s supreme power and a desire to live in harmony with God. This law is unique among ancient religions in that it is given by God, not a king or his adviser. This reinforces God’s intention that Israel not have a king, because God is their king. Last week I wrote about God’s covenant with Abraham in which God promised many things but Abraham need only circumcise himself and all males in his house for perpetuity. This week, in the above text, we finally receive the human half of the God/human covenant.

The Decalogue can be read as two groups, the first are laws which pertain to the God/human relationship. The second set are laws which pertain to the human/human relationship. Note that all are important to and commanded by God.

If one reads the above passage of Exodus and counts every time God give a command, one does not arrive at 10. That same is true if one reads the parallel passage in Deuteronomy. So, why are they called The Ten Commandments and The Decalogue? Because they are referred to elsewhere in the Bible, both Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, as The Ten Commandments.

In the first commandment, God gives His credentials, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Therefore, since I, God, saved you without aid of any other gods, you shall only worship me. God’s demand that the Hebrews be mono-theists made them quite unique and very unpopular in the ancient world.

Psalm 19

1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;

8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

13Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

This psalm is used by Jews as a prelude to the Saturday morning worship service. How delightful the way the psalmist depicts all creation praising its maker. The moon, stars, and sun praise God by running their appointed orbits. The psalmist sees this as a wordless depiction of praise of God’s wisdom and perfection, which is described in the middle verses. Finally, the psalmist prays that he/she might be purified through prayer, confession, and repentance, so as to live in harmony with and praise of God.

1 Cor 1:18-25

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Here Paul lays bare the crux of Christianity. If you were never exposed to Christianity until you were an adult, say in your 30’s, the whole God came to earth as a human and allowed himself to be publicly tortured and executed in order to save all creation really does sound dumb. If God is all powerful and truly did create everything, then why the cross of all things?!

What Paul says is that God in Jesus lived completely opposite of what everyone thought the messiah would and should be. The Jewish leaders and the disciples thought “suffering and death at the hands of the Jewish leaders, but on the third day be raised again” was nonsense and pointless self sacrifice. Complete foolishness! But at the worst of Jesus most painful suffering, when even God abandoned him, Jesus/God showed the complete intimacy and vulnerability of God. God does not rule creation with power, God suffers with humanity and is completely honest, vulnerable, and approachable with humanity. This is what Luther called The Theology of the Cross. And from this, Jesus suffering revealed the true nature of God, comes the doctrine that we encounter God in those suffering, because God suffers with them. As Jesus says in Matthew, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

John 2:13-22

3The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

“…up to Jerusalem” – Jerusalem is constructed on two hills, Mount Moriah and Mount Zion. You quite literally have to go up hill to get to the city. As a result, no matter if you are going to Jerusalem from the north, south, east, or west, you are said to be going “up to Jerusalem.”

Why was there a currency exchange and livestock market in the Temple courtyard? Animals first. Notice that the animals being sold are all animals that were typically sacrificed. As this was Passover time and Jews were coming from all over the Roman World to Jerusalem, they all had to offer sacrifices at the Temple but were not going to bring sacrificial animals from home. They would need to buy sacrificial animals in Jerusalem.

What Jesus decried is that these animals were being sold, not by farmers in the open air market, but by agents of the Chief Priest in the Temple, at a market up price, with the profits going into the Chief Priest’s pocket. The Chief Priest was profiting from his congregation’s religious activity, despite his receipt of lavish pay and housing. That would be like me charging the whole congregation for their bread and wine at the door of the church! Demanding a fee for baptismal water and Ash Wednesday ashes! So, Jesus broke open the pens and drove the animals out of the Temple.

Now, the money changers. I have explained previously that Roman currency had the emperor’s bust on it, just like our coinage does. However, when the emperor was crowned, he was believed to be imbued with divine blessing and wisdom, a sort of junior god. Jews obviously rejected that whole notion about the emperor and held distaste for Roman coins. It was seen as blasphemous and not allowed in the Temple. In order to give a monetary offering, one had to exchange Roman coinage for Temple currency, which had no images of humans or animals on it, only plants, like the backs of our wheat back pennies. But, instead of having currency exchange booths around Jerusalem with honest exchange rates, the Chief Priest had the only currency exchanges in town in the Temple with dishonest exchange rates which, once again, lined the pockets of the Chief Priest and his henchmen. In this way also, the Chief Priest profited from the tithes of his parishioners, the very money which paid his lavish salary and furnished his lavish home! No wonder Jesus dramatically put a stop to all this!

“What sign can you show us for doing this?” – In the second lesson discussed above, Paul says “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom.” “Sign” is the word that the writer of John’s gospel gives to miracles. In this case, a “sign” is a form of credentials, miraculous or not. What is the sign that Jesus gives them? A foretelling of exactly what will happen.

Since we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, summarized in the Decalogue, and since the Temple is the holy ground on which the faithful strove to fulfill the Law, then one could argue that Jesus is the new Temple. Faithful Jews went to the Temple to be with God and to seek grace, mercy, forgiveness, life, and peace. But since the Chief Priest and the Temple Authorities killed Jesus, but God raised Jesus in three days, believers now go to Jesus for grace, mercy, forgiveness, life, and peace. Jesus becomes the new Temple.

� �C

Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Lent II, 2018

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.” 9God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Abram is an old man, 99 to be exact. He and Sarai have had no children together over their 50+ years of marriage. Ishmael was born to Abram through Sarai’s servant, Haggar, but they have no natural children together. Yet, in this passage, God comes to Abram and changes his name to Abraham which means “father of multitudes” as a sign of what is to come. God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah which means “princess”, an indication of the royal status she will have as she bears her own child. This what God promises to Abraham and Sarah: a child of their own through whom will come a whole, multitudinous nation. In modern covenant language, this miracle is stated under “The party in the first part” and God is the “first party.” This section of the covenant is introduced by the words, “As for me,” in verse 4.

The second party is Abraham and his offspring after him for all time. Their part of the covenant is introduced by the words, “As for you” in verse 9. Abraham and his male offspring for all time are to be circumcised. (There is absolutely NO female circumcision in the Bible.) Abraham, and all the males of his household, relatives, servants, and slaves, are now to be circumcised, and going forward, this is done to male infants 8 days old.

Why does God make circumcision the sign of the covenant? In Abraham’s time, fertility was thought to come from the male, and infertility from the female. Male offspring carried on your name, your family, brought you honor, and gave you security in your old age, as your male children were to provide for you. Circumcision was believed to expose the male member to all manner of illnesses and curses that could prevent semen flow. Therefore, circumcision was an act of trust on the part of Jewish males that God would make them potent, and give them children, especially sons.

Notice, God is doing all the talking. If Abraham is not pleased with this covenant, he can either argue with God, or not keep his terms of the agreement, but then God can take Abraham to court, as God does the whole nation of Israel in the prophecy of Isaiah.

This is the third iteration of the covenant between God and Abraham, the first in Genesis 12 and the second in Genesis 15. Some biblical scholars ascribe the first two to the Yahweh-ist writer (so named because God is always referred to as Yahweh in those sections of the first five books of the Bible) whereas the above covenant account is ascribed to the Priestly writer (so named because religious rituals and duties of the priest which are included).

Psalm 22:23-31

23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!

27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

We know the first half of this psalm, as we recite it on Maundy Thursday. Jesus utters the first words from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?!” “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?!” But this second half of the psalm sounds VERY different from the first!

In typical psalm fashion, this psalm starts out with pleas to God and ends with praises to God, indicating trust by the believer that the pleas will be answered. This second section of the psalm, starts with a call to praise from the faithful alive now and ends with a statement that those not yet born will also praise God.

In verse 24, the psalmist states that God did not abhor those suffering affliction, but rather heard them and tended to them. This seems obvious to modern believers, God tends to those who suffer! But the term “afflicted” indicates that a force outside a person is causing suffering. In ancient times, suffering was thought to be affliction from the gods, or God, which was punishment for bad deeds. So, if you were sick, you brought this on yourself by sinning. Who would have sympathy on you for getting what you deserved? But in this verse, the psalmist states that God ignored this widely held belief, and tended to the afflicted one! Yahweh is merciful!

“sleep in the earth” “go down to the dust” – these are euphemisms for the dead and dying.

Romans 4:13-25

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

In this section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Paul is discussing the difference between keeping all the commandments so God is happy with you and saves you, verses believing that God already saved you through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is Jesus who makes God happy, and by virtue of faith in Jesus, we make God happy also. Whereas, trying to keep the law perfectly only points out all the places where we fail to keep the law.

To make this point, Paul uses Abraham. It was not Abraham’s perfect keeping of the law, (the Law which had not been given at Mount Sinai to Moses yet, so merely consisted of believing that God would do what God said, the sign of believing being circumcision) but rather his trust in God who promised him a son, and through that son, countless offspring, in their own land. Abraham’s faith in God was seen by God as righteousness, that is, all things were seen by God as right between Him and Abraham.

Paul argues that it is this righteousness between God and Abraham brought about by faith in God’s promise, that applies to Christians. When people believe that righteousness between themselves and God comes from faith in Christ Jesus, then God sees that belief as righteousness, itself. No acts of worship described by the Law are more effective than faith in Jesus.

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

“Son of Man” – this was a commonly used term referring to The Son of God among Jews of Jesus’ day.

“The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes” – all the powers that be in Jewish Temple governance. The only one not mentioned is the King.

Jesus describes the death that awaits him to his disciples. It is personal and political suicide! It also makes no sense to the disciples, and Peter tells Jesus so.

“Get behind me, Satan!” – In Hebrew Scriptures, Satan is the accuser, the tempter, the prosecuting attorney in the heavenly court. In this case, Peter is tempting Jesus to take an easier way, a temptation which Jesus rejects flatly.

“divine things verses human things” – God’s way is so antithetical to us, that it seems preposterous and senseless when laid out in logical form, as Jesus lays it out for his disciples. Fear, apprehension, and profound disappointment blind Peter and the disciples to the love and victory Jesus describes to them.

“take up their cross” – As I have stated in the past, the appears to be an idiom in common parlance at the time of the Jesus. Here Jesus describes to the crowds and the disciples that each person has suffering to bear in order to be the blessing to all humanity that we are baptized to be. If we duck and cover in self protection, we miss the beauty and profound grace that God will work through us and for us.

Bible Tuesday for Lent I, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Lent I, 2018

Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Noah and Mrs. Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Mrs. Shem, and Mrs. Ham, and Mrs. Japheth all stumbled out of the ark after one heck of a cruise! They still stank of animal manure and sea sickness when God called to Noah and stated the above covenant.

When Christians think of the covenant God made, they tend to think only of the covenant God made with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 12. However, the book of Genesis is full of covenants, with a few more in the remainder of the Hebrew Scriptures. What makes this covenant unique is that God maked it with all creation, and there is nothing that creation must do to “keep up their end of the bargain.”

When the Noah family disembarked from the ark, God spoke to all of them and renewed the covenant God made with the first humans, back in Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth.” But now there is more, animals will fear humans, and humans are allowed to eat animals (heretofore, humans have all been vegetarians!) with no distinction between clean and unclean foods. However, animals must be gutted and cleaned before eating. AND, “whoever sheds the blood of a human, by humans shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make humans.” Genesis 9:6. Ancient Jews understood this covenant to mean that humans were required by God to establish a justice system, refrain from blaspheming Yahweh, refrain from idolatry, refrain from sexual perversion, refrain from bloodshed, and refrain from eating anything that was cut from a living animal. Jews believe that this is God’s law for all humanity, and that God’s Law given to Moses is specifically for Jews.

The covenant God makes with Abraham and his descendants is marked by a sign upon male humans, circumcision. However, the above covenant is marked by a sign meant to remind God of this covenant, the rainbow.

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

This psalm is an acrostic. The above pericope is only one third of the way through the alphabet. In form, every other line is one of petition with the next being one of praise or sworn fealty.

“Life up my soul” – This is a way in Hebrew poetic style to saw that the believer places one’s whole being into God’s presence.

“Shame” – Hebrew society is one of honor and shame, like much of the rest of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Social position was based on the amount of honor or shame ascribed to one’s family. The currency of life which determined career and career advancement, whom you married, how your children were received and treated, where you are buried, how the graves of your dead relatives were treated, what food you were allowed to buy in the market and at what price, where you sat in any public place, and oh so much more, was honor. As can been seen in this psalm, it was completely normal to ask God to bless you with honor, but to shame your enemies. How offensive it must have been for those with much honor to see Jesus treat EVERYONE with the same amount of honor. How wonderful and attractive that must have been for those societally kicked to the curb!

One of the strains of thought common in the Hebrew Scriptures is that of “the right path.” It is the thought that God has determined a narrow way of proper life and that all the faithful have to do is get on it and stay on it and they will be good to go with God. That same strain is very common among Evangelical Christians in the US and around the world. Luther did not agree with that understanding of the teaching of Jesus.

1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered* for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you* to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for* a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The verses of Peter’s letter to the churches which immediately precedes this passage are ones in which the author tries to explain why faithful Christians still suffer. There is a bit of “Jesus suffered so why shouldn’t you?!” in the answer as well as “When you are faithful to God, you can rest assured that your suffering is not God’s punishment.”

Verses 21-22 of the above passage read as familiar teaching to most of us, good doctrine explaining what happens to us and for us in Christian baptism.

The part of the above passage that is really puzzling is 19-20. This passage sounds like something right out of the Book of Mormon and most Christians, when reading these verses quickly skim over them and quickly forget them. We think, “Jesus was a spirit and went to speak to spirits who were in prison and had been there since the time of Noah? What?! Man! The Bible is hard to understand sometimes!”

There is an even more puzzling passage in Genesis 6:1-4 which raised a whole bunch of eyebrows and all kinds of speculation as to its meaning in Jesus’ day.

Genesis 6:1-4 “When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of gods (also translated “divine beings”) saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them. The Lord said, “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years.” It was then and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth, when the sons of gods cohabited with the daughters of men, and offspring were born to them. They (the Nephilim) were the heroes of old, the men of renown.”

The speculation in Jesus’ day was about what happened to these divine/mortal cross breeds? There was all kinds of folk lore and literature on the matter, some of which survived long enough to be written about. Some Bible scholars think the author of 1 Peter is referring to these beings or the Nephilim somehow being imprisoned for thousands of years to which Jesus preached. Tradition had it, for those who believed in resurrection (as not all Jews did), that earth dwellers who were evil in life would be imprisoned upon their death, until the final judgment. Other scholars believe that those in prison to which this 1 Peter passage refers are those who drown in the flood waters that lifted Noah’s ark. The disagreement comes from the way in which one interprets the first several chapters of Genesis. Some scholars read in Genesis that these elicit relationships between the “sons of gods” and the “daughters of men” began a course of perversion among humans that brought about God’s decision to flood the earth. Genesis 6 relates that some angels were also involved in this perversion.

At any rate, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was not only for those alive at the time of Jesus all the way up through present, but even for those in bondage to sin from the very beginnings of oral history. “If the son makes you free, then you are free indeed!”

Mark 1:9-15

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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.11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 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.’*

The second Sunday of January I wrote extensively about why Jesus would condescend to be baptized and what that baptism symbolized, both to Jews at the time of Jesus, and to Christians. Let us now focus on the remaining four verses of this passage.

Wilderness – (eremia in Greek) means “place without words” or “place that defies language”. Due to “Bible Movies”, we tend to think of New Mexico landscape minus cacti, but biblically, wilderness is anywhere that you find yourself completely alone, out of sight or hearing of anyone. The gospel of Mark illustrates how far away from human contact Jesus really was with the phrase, “he was with the wild beasts”, the opposite of being among civilization.

“Drove” – The gospel of Mark is the first gospel to be written. Much of Mark’s strong language is softened in subsequent gospels. Both Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was “led” out into the wilderness. However, who would voluntarily go there? Jesus was completely human.

Notice that while in Matthew and Luke, much is made about Jesus fasting for 40 days and nights while in the wilderness, in Mark, there is no fasting. However, whereas in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is tempted by Satan for one interrogation, in Mark, Satan is tempting Jesus the whole 40 days.

“The angels waited on him.” – While the English translation does not make it clear, the Greek intimates that at the end of the 40 days, the angels wait upon Jesus. Do not fill your mind with winged human like creatures bringing platters of food to a famished Jesus. “Angel” simply means “messenger” and could just as easily have been some travelers with food to share as nativity scene angels flying down from heaven.

“After John was arrested” – John the Baptist was held by one of the Herods in his palace in either Jerusalem or Philippi or a few other ancient cities. To get away from the potential witch hunt for those thought to follow John the Baptist, Jesus went to the “hinterlands” of Israel, to Galilee where Roman presence was less felt.

What was the gospel which Jesus, himself preached? “No more waiting! God is here now! Turn away from your doubt and your

Bible Tuesday for Transfiguration Sunday 2018

Bible Tuesdays for Transfiguration Sunday, 2018

2 Kings 2:1-12

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

This is an amazing story of transfer of power. A few chapters earlier in Kings, Elijah cries out to God that he is sick to death of his job, proclaiming God’s will/love through word and deed to a people who don’t want to hear it…who actually thumb their noses at it. The Israelites’ disdain for God and God’s prophet is so great that the king and queen of Israel put a price on Elijah’s head. He flees across the Jordan to Horeb (Hebrew word for “chaos”) and waits to either die or hear from God. God does appear in sheer silence from which he speaks to Elijah. God send Elijah back to Israel with a few final tasks, including to find his successor.

Elijah identifies Elisha as his successor and then tries to slip away back to Horeb and wait to die. However, Elisha will not leave him. In the above passage, each group of prophets whom Elijah and Elisha encounter symbolize the mundane, day to day life Jews. At each encounter, the prophets stay while Elijah and Elisha journey on toward a divine meeting. When Elijah is taken up, Elisha rends his clothes out of grief, but also removes them to assume Elijah’s mantle. Elisha then shows his true succession to Elijah’s place by using the mantle to part the Jordan River in the verses after the above pericope.

Because Elijah was such a great prophet, actually having conversations with God, and because he was taken to heaven without dying, it was Jewish tradition that Elijah would come back to earth as the herald of the Messiah.

Psalm 50:1-6

The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

2Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

3Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.

4He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:

5“Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”

6The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah

This is a psalm that sings of God’s supremacy over all creation and the favored relationship the Israelites have with God. The first line is a reference to God’s reign all day long, everywhere that the sun shines. The second line speaks of God as if He were the sun. From where does God’s light emanate? Zion, the hill in the city of Jerusalem on which the Temple was built. Verse 3 references the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day with which God led Israel in the wilderness. As God created all, God commands all places to spit out for God the Jewish diaspora, scattered to the ends of the earth. God identifies Israel as the people with whom He is in covenant, and whom He will judge in righteousness.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In Paul’s second letter to the congregation in Corinth, he addresses the question of, “If God is all loving and Jesus came to save the world, then why are there some, frankly most, who don’t believe in Jesus?”

Paul talks about the gospel being veiled so that only some people can see it. Paul states that careers, influence, clout, big houses, trophy spouses, perfect kids, can all be idols that blind us to the real God, a plain ol’ guy, a great guy, who was publicly tortured and executed, and raised to life again. If people claim to be teaching about this Jesus guy, but in fact they want you to give them adulation, then those are false prophets. Paul says real evangelists (Greek for “those who spread good news”) are actually slaves to Jesus and to all whom Jesus loves (everyone!).

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

“Six days later…” Six days after what? In the end of chapter 8, Jesus tells the disciples that it is now time for him to head to Jerusalem. Peter says, “No way! They’ll kill you there!” Jesus responds with, “If any would be my disciples, they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow me, for those who love their lives will lose their lives for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save them.”

So then, the transfiguration is the first step on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Jesus and all who follow him. Jesus’ trip to the top of the mountain with his closest disciples recalls Moses’ trip up Mt. Horeb with Joshua and the chief elders of Israel, complete with thick cloud out of which God speaks. Moses went up Horeb to talk with God and receive the Law. But Jesus goes up that hill for very different reasons.

First, the gospel of Mark tells us how completely clueless the disciples were, sometimes laughably so. It almost seems like this trip up the mountain is to give respite to Jesus who craves adult conversation with two people who can truly relate. But maybe those are my stay-at-home-mom years talking. Second, Jesus is dazzling white, but Moses and Elijah are not, and Moses and Elijah come and go, but Jesus is there throughout the event. Mark is showing us that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled and surpassed by Jesus. To confirm this heresy, God says, “This is my son! The Beloved! LISTEN TO HIM!” Jesus’s teachings, actions, death, resurrection, and ascension fulfill, and embody the Law as God intended it. The faithful are to lift up their eyes from the Law to gaze upon and follow Jesus.