My daily exploration of the Bible, taking it one chapter at a time. If I do it everyday, it'll take 1189 days.



Saturday, June 30, 2007

Matthew 27

The forsaken Son

Summary:
So Judas felt guilty and hanged himself.

Jesus was before Pilate. He declared himself king of the Jews, but was silent for the other charges. Pilate saw nothing wrong in Jesus, and had been warning against being mean to him by his wife who had had a dream. Pilate offered to release one of either Jesus or Barabbas. The people chose Jesus to die. So Pilate washed his hands of it, and let them do what they wanted, and Jesus was flogged then taken for crucifixion.

The soldiers dressed him up as a fake king with a crown of thorns.

So Jesus was crucified between two thieves with the sign "KING OF THE JEWS" attached to his cross. The mocked him, and made bets on who would get his clothes.

Jesus asked why God had forsaken him, then died. At that moment, the curtain in the temple was supernaturally ripped. There was an earthquake and many dead came back alive.

Jesus was put in a guarded tomb. It was guarded in case the disciples stole the body and declared him resurrected.

Key verse:
46. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

My thoughts:
Jesus spoke Aramaic, so this would be one of the few potential direct quotes of Jesus in the Bible.

It's interesting that Jesus himself doesn't even seem to fully understand why he must die in his moment of despair. So many things only really make sense once he is resurrected.

This passage contains the infamous passage where the Jews own the guilt of Jesus' death of them and their descendants. This has been wrongly used for the persecution of Jews. The point is that the people present were in no way shying away from the fact that they wanted Jesus dead.

One of the earliest accusations the early church faced was that they stole the body and declared Jesus alive. Matthew is obviously trying to counter that claim here.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Matthew 26

The passion

Summary:
They plotted Jesus' death. A woman came and anointed him for burial. The disciples thought it was wasteful but it was completely appropriate. Judas, a disciple, agreed to betray Jesus for money.

The passover meal was the last meal they had together. Jesus announced that Judas would betray him. He then shared the bread as his body, and the wine as his blood, which gave forgiveness.

Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before morning, which Peter denied. Jesus then went and prayed in Gethsemane, asking that his destiny might be avoided, but accepting God's will. The disciples kept falling asleep.

Then Judas came, and kissed Jesus - the sign that he was the one - and the authorities took hold of Jesus. The disciples tried to fight, but Jesus told them to stop, because if he wanted to resist, he could call upon heaven's armies.

Before the Jewish council, many people told lies about Jesus, but when accused of saying that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days, Jesus did not deny it. He also openly declared himself as the Christ and of being at God's right hand. So the priests had all the evidence they needed. They started beating him.

Peter, who was following, pretended that he didn't know Jesus, in accordance with what Jesus had said.

Key verse:
41. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

My thoughts:
And here the passion narrative begins. This is a massive chapter.

This narrative is, of course, very well known. It is retold in all gospels and the key points are always the same. Some would suggest that it's the only thing that the early church really agreed on.

Remember - if you are struggling with temptation, then don't forget to pray.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Matthew 25

Sheeps, Goats, Virgins, and Talents

Summary:
It's like ten people who had to wait for ages to be let into a house. Some took extra oil for their lamps, and others didn't. After waiting ages, those who didn't needed to go buy someone, but the house opened when they were gone, so they were shut out.

Or it's like being entrusted with talents. If you're scared and hide it, and do nothing with it, God will be angry with it. But if you use it to produce growth and fruit, then God will be happy. He will judge you based on what he gave you.

God will divide us like sheep and goats. If we have helped others, we have helped God and he will accept us.

Key verse:
40. 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

My thoughts:
So yea... I'd like to think this passage is clearly telling us that God will judge us based on how he made us. So it'll all be fair in the end, even if it doesn't seem that way. Mix this with predestination, and you get universalism. Hoorah!

So ancient sheep and goats look pretty similar.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Matthew 24

The End

Summary:
Talking of end times, Jesus said that the temple edifice would be destroyed. There will be false Messiahs, and rumours of wars, but there will still be time. They will be persecuted, and some will leave the faith. When the temple is desecrated, then we should run. Ignore those claiming to be Christ - he will come out of heaven for all to see. Read the signs.

It will come suddenly. Jesus himself doesn't even know when. So be ready always.

Key verse:
44. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

My thoughts:
Basically all my opinions of end times comes down to this. We don't know when it's all going to happen, so constantly live ready. Live with a life that God will want when he comes back. Live as if it will be today. Don't worry too much about speculating about the finer details of it. Just live ready. You could die today, or Jesus could come back today. Live accordingly.

So Jesus says that he doesn't even know when the end is. This was edited out of later texts to make Jesus look more powerful, but was clearly in the original text as the lectio difficilior.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Matthew 23

Bad pharisees

Summary:
Jesus told his disciples to do what the teachers say but not what they do. They like the big titles, but the disciples shouldn't care. The teachers preach about what they won't enter. They make replicas of their evil selves. They're confused and place more importance on gifts than on God. They worry about little things and forget the big. They only worry about appearances. They are just like their fathers who killed the prophets. They will be a victim of violence. Jesus just wants to hold Jerusalem in his embrace.

Key verse:
28. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

My thoughts:
This is the seven woes on the leaders and teachers. Their fault is simple. They don't focus on God. They don't act as if God really exists. If God doesn't exist, then money is important, and appearances is important and integrity is not. We can't forget that God truly is real, and if we act in accordance with that reality, then what we do will make sense. Basically what Jesus is doing is asking us to live a life to please God, not others.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Matthew 22

Riddles and answers

Summary:
It's like a big party with important people invited. The important people chose to sin instead of coming, so the host (God) invited all people, good and bad. But they better respect the invitation!

Jesus agreed with paying taxes, because the coins were made by Caesar anyway. Might as well give them back.

The Sadducees didn't believe in the afterlife, and asked who someone would be married to in heaven if they had had many wives as a widower. But there is no marriage in heaven. God is God of the ancestors, but not of the dead.

The best commandments are to love God and love others.

Then Jesus confused everyone with his riddles, so they stopped talking to him.

Key verse:
29. You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

My thoughts:
Bam! This is it. These are the two things which will teach you. The Scriptures and the Power of God. Knowing just one will screw you over, so will knowing neither. You must know both.

Many are invited, but few are chosen. Scary aye. You are invited to God's banquet, but are you letting yourself be one of the few chosen?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Matthew 21

Hosanna

Summary:
Jesus told the disciples to get a donkey, and he rode into Jerusalem on it, as people praised him and proclaimed him as Messiah.

In Jerusalem, Jesus went nuts in the temple courts because it had become to materialistic. The kids praised him, but the authorities didn't like it.

Jesus cursed a tree that didn't bear fruit. He did it by faith.

Jesus avoided a question about his authority and said that it's better to do what is right, then to say what is right. He said the current authorities were like tenants, who instead of giving their landlord the profits he deserves, killed the messengers, even if they were the landlord's son.

Key verse:
9. "Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"

My thoughts:
Jesus' triumphant entry is present in all Gospels, which is a rare event. It seems to be a significant step in his recognition as being the Messiah, ultimately leading to his death for blasphemy.

So Jesus seems to go out of his way to fulfil Zech. 9:9.

This expression "Hosanna" is only found in this story of the Bible, though is consistently found in three of the gospels. It is an expression of praise, and it appears to be a subtle but clear (yes, I just said subtle but clear...) indication of Messianic properties. It got the authorities riled up when the kids were saying it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Matthew 20

First and last

Summary:
God's heart can be seen as an employer who gets someone to work at the beginning of the day, and people to start work later in the day as he finds them. At the end of the day he pays the first worker a good amount, but gives the others the same.

The disciples argued about who would get top honours in heaven. Jesus said that it wasn't up to him, but that if you want to be first, you need to be the servant.

The crowd tried to shut up two blind people, but upon hearing what they wanted, Jesus healed them both.

Key verse:
16. So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

My thoughts:
What does this verse mean? I've always assumed it meant that we had to be last, then we'd be first. Maybe, in fact, it simply means that all people will be equal. We will all, collectively, be the first and the last. This seems to be the implications of the first pericope, yet not of the second.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Matthew 19

Sex, kids, and money

Summary:
They tried to trick Jesus by asking him if people could divorce. He went further than Moses by saying that people should not separate what God has put together. It was a hard teaching.

Jesus let the nice wee kids come to him.

A rich man wanted to know how to get to heaven. He'd followed all the 'good' rules, so Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor, which he wasn't willing to do. Jesus said it was impossible for the rich to enter heaven, but what is impossible for people is sweet as for God.

Anyone who has left their family for God would enter God's kingdom though.

Key verse:
6. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

My thoughts:
Marriage (ie. sex) is a very spiritual thing. If can't just be thrown around. Even if somehow all the emotional and physical damage could be avoided in a separation, the spiritual damage is still very real and can only be healed directly by God.

Notice how Jesus only asks the rich man about the secular laws. Why? I'm suggesting that it's because he was humouring the man somewhat. The man was asking about being good. It's clear his interest was in being good, rather then following his Creator. Ultimately this is at the heart of his problem.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Matthew 18

Forgiveness is good

Summary:
The disciples wanted to know what made you great in God's eyes, and Jesus said it was to become like children. Don't cause them to sin. Sin is very bad. It's better to maim your body to avoid sin than to have your soul maimed forever.

God's more interested in a one who is lost than the hundreds who are OK.

If your Christian friend has wronged you, then talk to him about it privately, if he doesn't listen, then take a couple of people next time. If he still doesn't listen, tell him in front of your community, and if he doesn't listen then, then you can pretend he's not Christian. God will listen to your community.

You have to forgive always. God is like a judge who shows cancels your massive debts, but if you then won't forgive others their comparatively smaller debts, then God will reinstate your debt.

Key verses:
21-22. Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

My thoughts:
This message about forgiving always notably comes after the main passage used to justify excommunication. Occasionally the New Testament has some phrases which appear to be quite harsh about kicking people out of church, but they are always in the context that if someone repents then they can always come back.

Just always forgive. But realise the graveness of sin. If maiming your body would truly somehow stop you sinning, then it's worth.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Matthew 17

Transfiguration

Summary:
Jesus, Peter, James and John went up a mountain, where Jesus' full glory was shown. Moses and Elijah turned up, but disappeared just as promptly. God said Jesus was his son. Jesus told them to wait til after the resurrection to tell people about his glory, and clarified that John the Baptist was the 'Elijah' who came before.

A boy had a demon, but the disciples couldn't move it for lack of faith, so Jesus did. He restated that he was going to die.

Jesus didn't feel he needed to pay God tax. What kind of father taxes his son? But he produced the money anyway, so he didn't cause offense.

Key verse:
20. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

My thoughts:
So here is a key point in discovering who Jesus is in the eyes of the disciples. Bear in mind, that when Jesus was walking around it certainly wasn't obviously that this was the glorious and unique Son of God. He didn't float. It became revealed, and only to those close to him. This was God plan and choice. The transfiguration is when some of the disciples get a glimpse of Jesus' true identity. It becomes more obvious after the resurrection. Critical analysis seems to indicate that the biggest paradigm shift in Christology came shortly after the resurrection, though some would (wrongly) suggest that it came much later.

There is also here a rare example of Jesus trying not to offend authorities. He chose his battles, and not paying taxes suddenly makes him a political dissident, which was not what he wanted to be.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Matthew 16

Confession

Summary:
They asked for a sign, but it was dumb, cos they already had enough signs. They look at the sky to predict the weather, but they can't see the signs of God.

Jesus warned the disciples about the Pharisee's yeast. The disciples thought he was angry cos they forgot bread, but no... he was warning them against the Pharisee's teachings.

Jesus asked Peter who he thought he was, and Peter said he was the Christ. Jesus blessed him for this and told him that he would lead his Church. His Messiahship was secret though.

Jesus started saying that he had to die, but Peter wouldn't accept it, so Jesus rebuked him. You have to be willing to lose your whole life to follow God.

Key verse:
16. Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

My thoughts:
Ah Peter's confession. The fact that Jesus was the Christ certainly wasn't obvious at this stage. Jesus didn't go around saying it heaps, and when it did come out (like here), he told people and demons to keep quiet about it. Peter has done well in recognising this. Which is odd for Peter, who usually does things wrong, like in the following passage where Jesus has to rebuke his as Satan.

Yes Peter knew Jesus was the Christ, but he probably still hoped for a political ruler, not someone who came to die. Jesus had to rebuke Peter for him seeking his own desires rather than God's plans.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Matthew 15

A new idea of cleanliness

Summary:
They asked "Why don't you follow the traditions?", to which Jesus answered, "Why do you break the law because of your traditions." Take that. They allowed people to reject their parents if it allows them to give money to their temple.

It's what goes out, not in, that makes you dirty and sinful. Jesus didn't mind offending the Pharisees because they were already condemned.

Later, a gentile woman chased Jesus wanting to be healed. Jesus said he had only come for Jews, but the woman was persistent, so Jesus healed her.

After teaching and healing 4000 people for three days, Jesus fed them by against multiplying food.

Key verse:
11. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'

My thoughts:
Jesus seems the least keen on the rules of cleanliness. He touches lepers, and pulls out calls like this. It sets the stage for Peter's vision in Acts 10.

I've heard this story of the Gentile woman used to both confirm that Jesus had interest in all people, and to confirm that Jesus came only for Israel. I'd say that at this stage, he is only there for Israel, but post-resurrection his message is to span the globe.

So the feeding of 4000 is kinda similar to the feeding of the 5000. Theoretically they could be the same event. We just don't know.

Jesus seems to be believe in predestination. At least in this chapter...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Matthew 14

Miracles

Summary:
The king had locked John up, and he promised a girl whatever she wanted, and she wanted John's head, so she got it.

Jesus heard this, and trying to have some alone time, but he was followed by a crowd of about 5000 men. But he saw them and felt sorry for them, so he ministered for them and fed them by miraculously multiplying food.

Afterwards, the disciples went across on a lake in a boat, and at night Jesus walked on water out to them. They were shocked, and Peter asked to do the same, which he could whilst he kept his eyes on Jesus. Which he didn't so he sunk.

Key verse:
16. Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

My thoughts:
Heh! What do you do when Jesus asks you that? Do you say "No! It's impossible!"? Or do you have faith that God will do it through you. When God calls you to walk on water, do you doubt?

These miracles both make it into John's gospel as well.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Matthew 13

Paraboloid

Summary:
Using a parable about sowing, Jesus explained that people fall into four catergories upon hearing God's word. Those from whom the word gets snatched away, those who embrace it temporarily because they have bad foundations, and those who embrace it but get choked by the world, and finally those who take it and grow.

Jesus used parables for the crowd, but spoke plainly to his disciples.

Reality is like this - God planted good crop, but bad crop got planted among it. Rather than trying to weed it out now, it'll be left until harvest then divided then. Just like fishermen dividing between the good fish and the bad fish.

God's reign is like something that starts small, but with time takes over the world. It's so precious. You would sell everything to gain it.

Jesus couldn't do many miracles in his home town because they didn't have much faith in him. They had seen him growing up.

Key verse:
11. The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.

My thoughts:
Jesus is well known for his parables. Many of his parable start with "The Kingdom of God is like." What does this mean? Sometimes it specifically means the Kingdom of God in relation to the Kingdom of Earth, such as the mustard seed and yeast parables here. Sometimes it's about what's going to happen when the Kingdom comes, people will be divided 'good' from 'bad'. Sometimes it means that this is what life is like when God's in control, like in the parable of the lost sheep. So, my favourite way to understand it is that it is just how God sees reality.

In my experience, I have found Jesus' four categories of people to be very accurate!

I like the mustard seed and yeast parables. God's kingdom doesn't explode onto the scene. God's church doesn't conquer the world. It's spreads throughout the world; slowly but surely.

This is the only positive imagery using yeast in the Bible. (Well, this and its sister stories...)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Matthew 12

Lord of the Sabbath

Summary:
They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, but he justified it with biblical examples. Basically the Sabbath was broken for the temple, and Jesus is more important than the temple. He's lord of the Sabbath, and healed on the Sabbath too.

They tried to kill him, but he fled and told his followers to keep quiet.

Jesus cast out a demon, and was accused of doing it by Satanic power, but then Satan would be divided against himself.

You're either for Jesus or against him. There's no middle ground. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. Jesus condemned them by their own words. You can tell a person by their words.

People asked for a miracle, but they'll have to wait for Jesus to be gone for three days to get their miracle, just like Jonah in the whale.

Jesus' family are those who follow him

Key verses:
30. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.
34. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

My thoughts:
Jesus makes some big calls. Many people these days want to sit on the fence, but you don't need to look to John's gospel to see Jesus making some very clear statements that Jesus is the only way.

Another big call is to say he's bigger than the temple. Some people want to make Jesus seem like a guy who did nothing controversial. Jesus made massive claims about himself, in John's gospel and in the synoptic gospels.

How do you act? How do you react to things? Do you sometimes shock yourself with how rude you are when provoked? What do you (I) need to change about what's inside in order to change what comes out of you (me)? Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Matthew 11

A Baptist called John

Summary:
John asked Jesus from prison if he was the Christ. Jesus reported to simply observe the things that were happening. He told John's crowds that John was more than a prophet. He was the greatest person up to himself. He started the advance of God's kingdom.

Jesus then condemned some towns for not repenting.

Isn't it crazy. God has shown Jesus everything, and then it has gone onto the unimportant in society. The rulers still don't understand. Go to Jesus with your burdens!

Key verse:
12. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

My thoughts:
I love this verse. God ain't idle. In a society where church seems to be declining in social importance, remember this: the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing. It is. It's winning. If we don't go with it we'll be left behind.

Anyway... Isn't this the most ridiculous headline you've ever seen? It sounds like it's a parody!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Matthew 10

War charge

Summary:
Jesus send out his twelve disciples with authority to heal. He told them only to go to Israelite towns, and to not carry any possessions. Look for a place to stay, but if no-one accepts you, then cleanse yourself of the town and move on. It'll be dangerous out there.

People, even family members, will try to stop you, but the Spirit will give you words to say. Remember, things flow from top down. You can tell a people by their leader.

Say everything clearly and boldly. God will look after you.

If you can't declare me now or if you choose your family over me, then you aren't worthy.

By accepting my disciples, people accept me.

Key verses:
16. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
38. anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

My thoughts:
Jesus openly states that he didn't come to bring peace, because through his families would become divided. That's controversial. So many people don't know enough about the real Jesus.

This seems to be written as instructions to all disciples, not just the twelve. It is Jesus' war charge. Don't be scared, don't hold on to anything to tightly. It'll be tough out there, but my Spirit will help you and the reward is great.

Again, there is nothing scripturally that promises us an easier life if we follow Jesus.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Matthew 9

Jesus vs. the religious-types

Summary:
Jesus went home and healed a man brought to him on a mat. He forgave his sins, which irritated all the religious-types. But the crowd was convinced by his authority.

Jesus called Matthew, the sinful tax-collector to be his disciple. He had dinner with Matthew and other sinners, which irritated all the religious-types, but Jesus came for the sick, not the well.

Jesus' disciples did not fast at that time because God was right there with them in Jesus.

On the way to healing a dead girl, a diseased woman had the faith to touch Jesus. She was healed for her faith. Jesus also healed the dead girl.

Jesus healed a blind man according to his faith, and told him to be quiet about it, but he wasn't. He also cast a demon out of a deaf man. The religious-types decided that this was because he has Satan's power over his demons.

Jesus went around healing. He knew that the harvest was great. It's the workers who are sparse!

Key verse:
29. According to your faith will it be done to you

My thoughts:
Interestingly, Matthew here preserves a shorter version of the man-on-a-mat text than Mark. Normally it's the other way around.

So Jesus hangs out with sinners. Yay! Matthew's parties are the ones we should be emulating.

So the key verse I chose today is interesting. It is very well used by Pentecostal-types. But I think that it's ultimately true. How much you receive from God is somewhat dependent on how much faith you have.

So much happens in every chapter in the New Testament! I should be doing half-a-chapter-a-day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Matthew 8

East and West

Summary:
Jesus healed a leper and told him to be quiet, but show himself to the priests as the law commands.
Jesus healed the servant of a gentile centurion who knew that Jesus had authority to command his servant to be well. Jesus thought his faith was better than non-gentiles!
Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, and many others too, in accordance with Isaiah.

Jesus crossed a lake to get away from the crowds. His disciples said they would follow him everywhere, but one wanted to wait til his father had died. But you have to give up much to follow Jesus.

On the journey there was a storm. Everyone was scared, but Jesus commanded the sea to be calm. Everyone was amazed.

On the other side there were two men with many demons. The demons knew their fate, but asked to be sent into pigs, which Jesus allowed. The pigs then promptly ran off a cliff. The men were then okay, but the locals asked Jesus to leave.

Key verse:
11. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

My thoughts:
It's awesome that here in perhaps the most Jewish of texts in the New Testament, that Jesus is abundantly clear that gentiles would be saved too. Jesus' focus for his ministry is on Israel, but his mission is beyond that. Liken this statement to someone saying now "Many from Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism will join us in heaven". Sort of...

Clearly no-one from the North or South would be participating in said feast.

I am told that the people asked Jesus to leave perhaps because they had lost a lot of money when all those pigs died. Note that there are two men in this account. Other accounts of the same passage have one man.

Gosh... this almost reads like a continuous narrative in this chapter...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Matthew 7

The narrow road

Summary:
Don't judge, or else you will be judged. You're probably worse than those you judge.
Don't give valuable things to those who don't appreciate it.
God is good and gives good gifts, so just ask!
God's way is not the easiest way. Not many manage it.
You can tell people by their fruit. Is he a good prophet? Look at what his life produces.
Don't just thing that you can just call my name and I'll save you. You may be very religious, but do you know me? Do you do what God wants?
If you do what I say, you have a firm foundation. If not, then you are weak and at the whim of the elements.

Key verse:
13-14. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

My thoughts:
How often in church are we focussed on a bums-on-seats philosophy? Are we just trying to make the path wide and easy?

Perhaps if we are doing really faith properly we will always been a esoteric minority with extreme beliefs. What's our motivation? To be the biggest most successful world religion? Or to lead people on the narrow path?

There's so many things to say about each of these chapters, so I'm just saying what quickly touches my heart, rather than covering all points in the chapter.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Matthew 6

An audience of one

Summary:
Give in secret. Seek reward from God alone.
Pray simply and only for God's benefit, not for the ears of people. Praise him, ask him for provision and forgiveness. Don't expect forgiveness if you don't forgive yourself.
Fast in a way that no-one can tell.
Wealth in heaven lasts forever. Wealth here will not last.
Don't stress. God looks after all the animals which don't stress, and if you seek him he'll look after you too. Don't worry.

Key verse:
33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

My thoughts:
This verse is one of my favourites in the whole Bible. I think it encapsulates the entire heart of this chapter. Don't do things to please people, but focus on God. It's easy to see when you are caught up in religion, when you are trying to please people rather than God. Make him the first priority, and everything else will work itself out.

Jesus constantly and consistently refers to God as Father. Though this concept is not unknown in early Judaism, it is unique that Jesus uses it so personally for himself and for us and so frequently.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Matthew 5

A Sermon presented from a Mount

Summary:
Jesus began to teach on a mountain.

"All the weak and downtrodden and honest people will be blessed. All blessed people will be persecuted. You are salt and light. Show your light and don't lose your saltiness. I have come to fulfill the law, not abolish it! You must be more righteous than your leaders.
You know not to murder, but don't even hate. Settle your differences quickly. Offerings to God are pointless if you have unresolved issues with your friends.
You know not to sleep with other women, but don't even lust.
You know not to separate without divorce papers, but don't divorce at all.
You know not to break oaths, but don't make oaths in the first place.
You know not to take unfitting revenge, but don't take revenge at all. Just give love.
You know to love your friends, but love your enemies too. Be perfect, just like God.

Key verses:
16. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
17. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

My thoughts:
This whole chapter is pretty darn famous. Heck, now we're in the New Testament, everything is well known. Choosing key verses is going to get difficult.

So here we have the Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes. Jesus then goes onto his main point for the chapter, that he agrees with the law of Moses. He then backs this up with statements which start from Moses' law, but which go further. He is not against Moses' law, but recommends going against it. Our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees.

So what is Jesus at this stage? He is a healer and a teacher. He has somewhat radical teaching beyond that of the Old Covenant.

So many little things to talk about, but I have to say that if you are a follower of Jesus, then you really have to take passages like these seriously. Jesus says that you basically cannot divorce unless you wife sleeps with someone else. How many Christian divorces are invalidated by this? Very many, I should think. Jesus doesn't teach easy things. Being a follower of Jesus is a big ask and a counter-cultural one, often even if your culture is very churched.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Matthew 4

Tempting and healing

Summary:
The Spirit then took Jesus into the desert where he fasted, but was tempted by Satan to eat food and rule the world and test God. But Jesus resisted using scripture.

Jesus began preaching the Kingdom of God in Zebulun and Naphtali. He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples, and they left their jobs immediately to follow Jesus. Jesus healed many in Galilee and drew great crowds.

Key verse:
17. From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

My thoughts:
Jesus' initial message is clear and perhaps not really unique in his time. But it is his basic message throughout his life. God's kingdom is coming, so sort yourself out.

Anyway, notice that Jesus at this stage really is only hanging out in the back blocks of Judea. He's nowhere special. He's up in the random northern places. No-one in Jerusalem has probably heard of him.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Matthew 3

John the Baptist and baptism

Summary:
John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus, preaching repentance before God's dominion came. He baptised people and wore camel skin and ate locusts. He judged the Pharisees and Sadducees for being arrogant and relying on their ancestry for salvation. God can turn stones into children of Abraham!

John proclaimed that he baptised with water, but the Messiah would baptise with fire. John reluctantly baptised Jesus, and the Spirit came down on him like a dove and God stated his approval.

Key verse:
9. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

My thoughts:
A cool idea at the beginning of the New Testament. In many senses the Jews were proud of their ancestry, and truly God had great honour for Abraham and his descendants. But in God's eyes, being a descendant of Abraham is nothing to do with lineage and family trees. All true worshipers of God are sons of Abraham. Even stones!

So Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

So Jesus' baptism is interesting. Some Gnostics believed that the 'Christ' came upon Jesus at the baptism and left him before he was crucified. It probably was a significant moment of self-realisation for Jesus. Interesting differences in the gospel stories of baptism are John's response to seeing Jesus, and who sees the manifestations of the Spirit and hears God's voice. John seems much more amorous of Jesus in some supposedly later passages, and sometimes the signs are publicly visible, other times not. Here it appears that only John sees them.

Anywho... Here we have all three parts of the trinity. Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father, all in one setting. This can't work in modalism, where God is like water that swaps between three forms (steam, water, ice).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Matthew 2

We three kings from Orient

Summary:
After Jesus was born, astrologers from the east came following a star and asking Herod where the new Jewish king had been born. Herod freaked out, but learned that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod told the astrologers to find the king, and report back to him. They found Jesus, and gave him gifts and worshiped, but didn't tell Herod.

An angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt, which he did. Later Herod was angry with the astrologers, and ordered all boys under two in Bethlehem to be killed.

After Herod died, Joseph was reassured by another angel to move to Nazareth.

Key verse:
23. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets

My thoughts:
There's clear differences and similarities between Matthew's account of Jesus' nativity and Luke's. The entire Magi scene doesn't appear in Luke's gospel. There are similarities with Mary and Joseph and Bethlehem, but it's fair to say that Jesus' birth is one of the most historically unreliable parts of the New Testament, though it is not difficult to harmonise the accounts.

Matthew's clear emphasis is to show how Jesus fulfills the Messiah in accordance to the scriptures. Every event in this chapter shows how Jesus could fulfill supposedly contradicting prophecies about the Messiah coming from Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Matthew 1

Immaculate genealogy

Summary:
Jesus came from the royal line of Judah, and there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile, and fourteen from exile to Jesus.

So Mary and Joseph were engaged, but Mary got pregnant by the Spirit, but Joseph was going to dump her quietly. An angel convinced Joseph otherwise, and told him to call the child Jesus, the Saviour, to fulfil Isaiah 7:14. So Joseph married Mary, but they didn't sleep together until Jesus was born.

Key verse:
21. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

My thoughts:
I used to think of the genealogies as the stereotype of boring Biblical text, but they are actually really interesting! Pretty much everyone in Jesus' line is famous. It's quite ridiculous. Matthew's account differs significantly from Luke's, but both contain David. Some consider that one is the lineage of Mary, and the other of Joseph.

By placing the genealogy at the beginning, Matthew (or the author) is setting his gospel up from a very Jewish standpoint, pointing first to Jesus' authority to be Messiah because he has royal blood. Jesus is called Christ and Messiah in the first chapter.

So Mary gets pregnant with no man. It's a miracle! Could she have been knocked up and just hidden it with some ridiculous story about immaculate conception? Of course she could've. It's hard to know why Joseph would believe her without divine intervention, but no-one can pretend that they can prove the immaculate conception objectively. That's why it's called faith.

Now, the angel's prophecy here definitely refers to Jesus!

New Testament! W00t!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Malachi 4

Elijah kommt

Summary:
The day of fire is coming, but the sun will shine on those who honour God. Remember the law, and that Elijah will come before that day to draw people back to God.

Key verse:
5. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.

Summary:
So here we are at the end of the Old Testament, and I think the Old Testament's one and only overall point is absolutely clear. Jesus is coming...

Seriously though, I always thought that the New Testament should start with Mark, because today's chapter contains the main prophecy used in reference to John the Baptist and his connection with Elijah. To go straight from this into the John the Baptist narrative of Mark would be an awesome transition...

Not that Malachi ends the Jewish Bible. Just the Old Testament of the Christian canon, but I have a feeling that Jewish faith would have little desire to connect Malachi 4 with Mark 1. Malachi 4 doesn't even exist to them. (It's merged with Malachi 3).

On to the New Testament! Exciting!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Malachi 3

Tithes and offerings. Not just tithes.

Summary:
Before God comes, his messenger will make the way. God will be like a fire to refine though. It'll hurt.

God wants his people to return, but first they have to stop robbing him by withholding tithes and offerings. See what happens if you actually give your offerings for once! You think that following me is pointless! But God will spare those who has specifically decided to return to God.

Key verses:
8-10. "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

My thoughts:
These key verses clearly and unambiguously are a command for us to give 10% plus offerings of our pre-tax income to the current (probably independent) church we attend in New Zealand in the 21st Century.

I mean, gosh, it must be. Why else would this be the only part of Malachi they quote in church?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Malachi 2

Priests and marriage

Summary:
Priests - get your act together or be cursed. God made a covenant with Levi. Levi was good, but because of these priests, their descendants will be rebuked. Priests should be examples, but they're not.

Aren't we all brothers? Why don't we keep the covenant together? Judah is shameful. She married into other nations and their gods. You cry because God can't hear you, but God is holding back because you left your first wife and covenant. When people get married, they become one in spirit and body. God hates divorce.

God grows weary of your evil.

Key verse:
16. "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel

My thoughts:
Israel's covenant with God viewed as a marriage is common imagery in the Old Testament, though this is it's most explicit.

I think, however, this passage (with others), gives us a good impression of how God views marriage. It is a unification of two people for life. The concept of leaving that unity is not God's, and any separation ought to ultimately result in reunification. May I be so controversial to say that the concept of remarriage whilst your first spouse is still alive is completely unbiblical.

Anyway, the first part of this chapter can be seen as a good warning for our church leaders today. Just because you hold a 'holy' position doesn't mean that God cannot keep you accountable for what you actually do!