Mt26ff “He’ll Be Back”

I began my journey through Matthew’s gospel over 4 1/2 years ago. Those were amazing days. I had been away for 15-years and everything seemed so new. And I was in love, trying to understand how this could happen to me and more importantly how I was going to deal with the fact that everything about this love was “wrong.” So, when I decided to start reading my bible I decided to start somewhere that seemed safe, as far as reading about Jesus the advocate of the underdog and lover of sinners. I certainly could identify with all of that.

A few months ago, when I was moving this blog I noticed that, especially in that first year I was spending a lot of time reading and writing about this renewal experience, noting that in that first year it was almost a daily thing, whereas in these last couple years it had dropped to something much much less frequent. in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but notice that I was often frustrated with the same kind of infrequent communication with my beloved as I was giving to my Savior. I was not happy not being a daily part of her life and yet I was slow to apply the same measure to my time spent with Him.

So, when it came to finishing the book of Matthew I found myself going from the second half of chapter 26 to the end of the book without being able to find places to pull over and reflect on the passages. It was like all the participants from Judas, to Peter, to the Sanhedrin, to Pontius Pilate were all doing what they were supposed to do and there was no turning from their course in history. It felt like everything was rushing to concluding commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Then the book came to a sudden end. For some reason it made me think about this stupid MadTV video… I guess what they mean to poke fun of causes me to ponder at why things happen the way they do… After 4 1/2 years I still have so many questions and so much to learn. JBB

Music: Road To Dead from the album “This Fire” by Paula Cole

Mt26 31-56 – Disciples Scattered & Jesus Arrested

Matt. 26:31-56 Disciples Scattered & Jesus Arrested

Part of me was distressed that, once again, it seemed that the disciples at the moment of the savior’s great need were not able so much as just stay awake with him while he prayed. Who knows whether they had any appreciation for what had just happened, the Last Supper, or the events that were about to transpire. If there’s a doubt about the historicity of these passages, one would think that the gospel writers would make the apostles at least a bit more heroic instead of portraying them so completely human, so unable to grasp what was happening all around them and with whom they were dealing with.

Peter had confessed who Jesus was (Matt. 16:16) and they had left their lives to spend three years with him. But I get the impression that they felt like they were following a great teacher, albeit not one respected by the religious or community leaders. A great teacher and miracle-worker, blessed by God. In the context of the time, I don’t doubt that they had all heard stories of others who had come before who had claimed to be The Annointed of God (Matt 24:24), so I’m not surprised that they underestimate who Jesus really is and what he is about to accomplish.

I don’t see Peter’s proclamation that he’d never deny Jesus as empty bravado, but just that gap between the good we want to do when called upon and our lack of really understanding what’s going on around us. We assess the situation in our limited scope and when the odds seem to turn against us, we flee. Peter intended to defend his teacher to the point of cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers, but quietly standing beside his master as they took him away was not within him or the other disciples and they all fled into the night. So I’m left to see two things. Jesus knows us through and through, apparently better than we know ourselves. The second is that, even in the moment when foretold of their failure, he dsaid that he would meet them again after his resurrection and join them in Galilee. He extended the hand of forgiveness and hope, in that He would be waiting for them when He finished doing what he came for. Even within their small world, their small grasp of what He was going to accomplish, He offered them a small window into their reunion in Galilee (John 21:1-23). In the darkest of hours, when we completely fail, there is always hope and One who will never leave us or abandon us, even when we fail him. JBB

Music: I Am Your Child from the album “VC 56 Sweetly Broken” by Jude Del Hiero

Mt26 17-25 – Destiny & Responsibility

Matt. 26:17-25
Destiny & Responsibility

What began with his baptism in the Jordan and what he began to confess to his close disciples during his teaching ministry was coming to fruition. Like a path set before Him, he stepped upon it and, in today’s parlance, “made the path his own.” And so the menial steps of where to prepare the feast were engaged, no doubt just as they had the previous two years, with Jesus and His followers employing the courtesy of someone with a room where they could celebrate the Feast.

Then he marked the path another was choosing to take, a path to destruction. The disciples, knowing full well how what he said had a remarkable tendency of coming true and knowing how corruptable their own hearts were, asked, some might think, pleaded to not be a part of this prediction. Remarkably even the betrayer played the “It’s not me is it, Master?” game. We’re not told why he had struck the deal with the religious rulers to betray Jesus, but that’s not the point. Just as Jesus was on a path to the cross, so Judas was on a path and both had to choose whether they were going to continue on the path that was set before them. Matthew makes it sound like it was just greed, which is interesting when one considers that Matthew had been a tax-collector, the epitomy of betrayers making a comfortable living working for the hated Romans. He knew something about greed, one would think.

Jesus was pressing toward the cross and the animosity between himself and the religious rulers was such that Jesus avoided entering Judea until just before the Passover. How or why this scenario would lead one of his inner circle to make what looks like a business deal with the religious rulers is hard to imagine. But there in the upper room Judas had the opportunity to “come clean” and not fulfill his “destiny.” Instead he played dumb and, according to John’s gospel (John 13: 21-30), immediately left the group and met with the religious rulers to seal the deal and his fate. But was this entrapment? Was he trapped in his fate? Could he have chosen to not complete his plan to betray Jesus?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that if the religious rulers really wanted to find Jesus and arrest him, in Jesus’ own words, they could have done that at any time. Judas’ actions just pushed the timeline up. It would have changed the story a bit, but the religious rulers had already made up their minds to get rid of this troublesome messiah from Galilee. So, Jesus’ journey to the cross is not dependent on Judas’ betrayal. Thus, at least theoretically, Judas could have stayed and broken bread with Jesus instead of being the catalyst behind Jesus being arrested and put to death. My thought is that destiny still requires that we walk the path set before us, just as Jesus and Judas chose to “fulfill their destinies.” Every day we have the choice of staying in Jesus’ inner circle or going out and striking deals on our own. Ultimately destiny does not relieve us of our responsibility to do with what we know. Judas was more or less unmasked before his peers and instead of acknowledging it, he simultaneously acted dumb in front of them and then went ahead and did the deed.

Just as the disciples fearfully asked, “Lord, is it I?” I know that each day presents itself with an opportunity for me to either continue on the path with Him or to do something stupid that seems to be advantageous to me at the time. And having just reviewed the last few years while transfering my journals to this current blog, it’s pretty obvious to me that I’ve failed to continue on the path that He gave back to me four years ago when I first began to work my way through the Book of Matthew. Fortunately for me, I can choose a better path today than the one that I was on yesterday. Whatever my destiny may be I still need to walk the path and hope for a better choice than I made yesterday. Fate is something that is used to explain the journey once it’s over. I’m hopeful that I’m far from over. JBB 7/3/2007

Mt26 26-30 – Ritual

Matt. 26:26-30
Ritual

Part of me is surprised at the brevity of this passage. Here is this important moment in Jesus’ ministry that we remember every Sunday (or at least once a month, depending on your church’s tradition) and Matthew spends a mere four verses on it. It seems so deceptively simple and straight forward. Four verses and over a thousand years of conflict about whether the communion elements were actually becoming Christ’s body and blood through transubstantiation or transmutation. I remember these questions being a very big deal in my early Christian experience because to question the miracle of communion that the priest performed each Sunday was to question the whole foundation of the Faith. Not that our opinions were going to change the welfare of the Church, but I remember some very heated arguments.

My current fellowship offers a communion table every Sunday but it’s off to one side and done in a private way during the last part of the service during the worship music following the message. My previous fellowship seemed to break ranks with our Vineyard/Calvary Chapel heritage and had communion every Sunday following the message with single worship song. I have to smile because I know how Protestants are so insistent, several hundred years after Martin Luther, to maintain a belief that they have no rituals or “ceremonies” and that it’s all about the personal spontaneous relationship with our God. In some podcast by J. Vernon McGee I heard him go on against the dead rituals that the 1st century Jews had built up. He’s right, we do need that personal connection with the Almighty, but he seems to forget that even personal relationships need ritual or familiarity to move past those awkward first moments of not understanding.

Ritual is one of the things that we humans do. It’s the sound of a loved one’s voice coming from the door at the end of the day. It’s the familiar hand held in the darkened theater during a movie. It’s a Christmas carol (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse) sung outside ones door during the holiday season. It’s saying “I love you” before hanging up the phone. We take something that takes a lot of time spent and perhaps endless conversations and compress it into a gesture or symbol. If done with the right heart none of the meaningfulness or depth or importance is lost. It’s wrong headed to think that this is just wrong because some of us have forgotten the depth or meaning behind the symbol, gesture or ritual. And in the church, no matter how we attempt to skate around it, whenever we do something (greeting, three songs, announcements, message, three songs/communion/offering, concluding bless/prayer), if we do it more than once, it become ritual. And that’s okay.

Jesus knew that and he took the millennia old passover meal and institute a new observation, a new memorial. He connected something that was part of their heritage to something that he was going to do for them (and us) in the future. He took the familiar, some might say mundane, elements of this meal and gave them new meaning. He was also answering, in advance, the question of why he was going to die. Through this new institution he was connecting his death with the Passover sacrifice. Simple bread and wine become reminders of our Savior’s sacrifice so that we can share in his Father’s kingdom. Jesus took a ritual and made it his own and that’s what we remember every Sunday: the sacrifice behind the ritual. JBB 07/04/2007

Mt26 1-16 Intentions

Matt. 26:1-16 Intentions

Having finished teaching the disciples “all these things” Jesus reminds them of his intended destination, the cross. Interestingly Matthew doesn’t record the disciples reaction (at least not here). At the same time the religious rulers plot to bring Jesus down, but it is not their intention to do it when it might create a riot situation.

Along the way to the cross Jesus stopped in at the house of one Simon the Leper. In Luke’s version of the incident (Lk. 7:36-50) Simon was a Pharisee who had been seeking to have Jesus come to his house to eat, an act to share in Jesus’ glory. Interestingly Matthew gets into none of that and focuses more on the woman pouring the precious ointment on Jesus’ head and the disciples’ negative reaction.

Here was an act of great sacrifice, no doubt more than a little excessive, but from the heart of this woman. And this sacrifice was almost completely dismissed by those who had been closest to the Messiah who was, in just a few days time, going to also pour out all that He was for them. They were thinking in terms of what they probably thought would have been enlightened Kingdom practicality, with great and no doubt genuine concern for the poor among them. But they were completely missing the bigger picture.

One of the things I find interesting is that we know what Jesus is thinking about, his appointment with the cross. We know what the religious rulers are thinking, to put Jesus away, but at a time that suits them. We know what the disciples are thinking, excessive behavior shouldn’t be tolerated and one needs to be practical and socially responsible. What I really find interesting is whether the woman was really thinking about Jesus’ appointment with death and the cross when she poured the perfume on him. Jesus said that she did it in preparation for his burial because he sees the larger picture (as opposed to the disciples’ small mindedness). My first thought was that she was more likely doing this as a gesture of love and sacrifice and may not have even been aware that Jesus had been telling his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die. In Luke’s version of a similar story (Lk. 7.36-50), which takes place earlier in Jesus’ ministry, he uses the incident as means to teach that forgiveness and the Love of God are greater than the limitations of proper social etiquette. Here I get the impression that, regardless of what the different parties intend, larger things have been set in motion and they are all heading to the cross whether they acknowledge this or not.

Now, if the woman poured out the perfume with full knowledge of Jesus’ appointment with death, then her act speaks of an even deeper level of understanding, devotion and sacrifice. At a time when the disciples were still vying for position, going so far as to have their mother ask Jesus to have him appoint them places of honor on his left and right when He takes his place as King and are ogling at the size of the temple buildings and buildings of Jerusalem, this woman poured out her love and sacrifice, identifying herself (and probably her family) with the what he was about to do. If she understood what she was doing than she stood beside her Messiah unlike the disciples, especially Judas, who shortly after this pressed what he thought was his advantage and made a deal to turn Jesus over to the scheming religious rulers.

All parties acted with specific intentions in mind. But Jesus’ destiny to pour himself out on the cross took precedence. And if this woman knew this and poured the precious perfume on him, then this is a picture of devotion and love that goes far beyond the petty self-interests of those around her and her Messiah. JBB 3/18/2007

Mt 25 31-46 The Parable of the Final Judgment & Being “Good Enough”

Revelation 20

Matt. 25:31-46 The Parable of the Final Judgment

This image of Jesus separating the good people from the bad people, like a shepherd separating sheep from goats, is something that I remember as a Catholic kid growing up. It expressed the kind of relationship that I thought we had with God, him being the judge and we the helpless animals awaiting judgment. There was so much fear about not being good enough, of going to that bad place because I hadn’t done or wasn’t doing the right things. It probably didn’t help that the words, “Can’t you do anything right?!” spoken by my father rang in my childish ears.

I had actually figured out as a nine- or ten-year-old, that my eternal destiny was dependent on whether I was “caught” being good or being bad when I died, like randomly hop-scotching between a square marked “Good” and one marked “Bad.” And given that I was just as likely to be doing something Bad as I was doing something Good it all seemed pretty random to me and more dependent on when I died instead of whether I was really Good or Bad. Of course, that pretty much changed when I became a teenager and began to explore my sensual appetites, then all i did was “Bad.”

Funny how, after becoming a Christian this need to be “good enough” still persisted. But this passage is not about being good enough or even about doing the right thing. It’s a parable about how different things will be in the Kingdom of God. First is that Jesus will sit as King upon a throne instead of being this largely rejected itinerate prophet. The next thing is that one will not be judged on the basis of personal public piety, but one will be judged on the basis of ones hidden acts of kindness. How we treat one another is more important than prayers in the synagogue or other outward displays of righteousness. The care and concen for others, that comes from the heart, is what the King is looking for from his subjects. “Good enough” doesn’t even enter into it.

Again, it’s not about the self but about our relationships with one another. In the Kingdom the good that we did for one another is what is most important. It’s pretty antithetical to the typical modern existence of living with ones head down, focusing on achieving some important business or career goals and not letting anything or anyone distract from reaching those goals. What’s the point, if one has done it all with no regards for those in ones life or those desiring to be in ones life? More importantly, we serve the King when we serve one another. Good, bad, worthy or unworthy, none of it matters as much as seeing the King in the eyes of those around us and serving them with our whole hearts and with all that He’s given us:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me
Matt. 25: 35-36

JBB

Matt25 14-30 Doing with What You’ve Been Given

I’ve been sitting on this parable for over a week (or longer…). The last one (“The Ten Virgins”) seemed to speak about having an active sense of preparedness. What I liked was something that I understood from the “IVP Hard Sayings” commentary, that the foolish virgins’ error was something they could learn from and at the next wedding feast they had the possibility of acting on what they’d learned the last time. This parable doesn’t offer such a concluding consolation. That really bothered me. More than that, it seemed like the message of this parable was that if one didn’t DO than one would lose ones place in the kingdom. How can that be? How can one be a servant of the Lord and then be thrown out because they didn’t DO something? What happened to grace or even learning from ones errors? Getting tossed out “where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” hardly sounds like a “an opportunity” to learn from ones mistakes.

I consulted several commentaries including the legendary Matthew Henry’s.I have a remnant memory from my days as a religious studies and biblical studies major that said that, unless the speaker explains the symbolism behind the parts of a parable, then the focus should remain on the point of the story. In the parable about the ten virgins Matthew Henry wanted to find a spiritual message in every component of the story. I’m under no such illusion that there is a “deeper” lever to the story, except to stick to the point of the story. Alas, that was seemed like little help because I still got stuck on the notion (from MH) that one could get thrown out of the Kingdom of Heaven for failure to perform.

I reflected on the point of the previous parable, which was not about learning from ones errors but about preparedness to the point of action. There’s no knowing whether Jesus shared the two parables in sequential order, but clearly Matthew saw enough of a connection to put them together. So if the first was about preparedness to the point of action, then this one dug underneath the preparedness and exposed the belief that then led to preparedness to the point of action. That is, the first two servants believed and acted based on that belief and their belief was not dependent on direct observation by the master but was active even though their master was not present. Their actions were motivated by what they believed. And even the third servant acted based on what he believed, unfortunately for that servant he did not do what his master wanted him to do, and thus suffered the consequence. Okay, “action based on one’s beliefs, even in the absence of the inforcement of the one in charge.” This is not about grace. In some ways this is about the visible fruits or actions that come from what is in ones heart.

There’s also something in here about the Master knowing the character of his servants and thus tasking them based on their capacities and skills. For me, it’s been a long-standing motivation that one serves based on what the Lord has given his servants. Our culture elevates those in front, especially when it has something to do with music and performance, as if it were all from the performer that they have the voice or musical skills that they demonstrate. But I believe that we do because we have been given and to do less than our best or to strive to do less than our best disrespects the Creator who originally gives such gifts to His children.

For nearly a third of my life I was the third servant who hid the gift I’d been given in a hole in the ground because I was disgruntaled and felt disconnected from the Master. That changed because I got a second chance and saw just a glimpse of what real love means. Alas, I still struggle daily with the gap between the wonders of knowing my Master’s touch in my life and being just another guy trying to get through the day, trying to screw up as little as possible, trying to embrace my imperfect humanity and trust that my Master has something better for me than I what I seem to scrape together from day to day. In the end I know that I need to do better because I’ve already been given so much. JBB 10/12/2006

Matt25 1-13 Jesus Was A Boy Scout

I had always taken these verses to be similar to the warning in the previous chapter (Matt. 24:36-41), “One will be taken and one will be left.” (of course the Matt. 24 verses don’t seem to mean what I used to believe back in the “waitin’ for the Rapture” days). Or maybe this is like the final separation between the sheep and goats when the Son of Man comes in his glory (Matt. 25:31-33)? The IVP-Hard Saying Commentary (25:11–12 Why Were the Virgins Shut Out?) casts a very different light, putting the passage back into its “villiage” context (versus a bigger escatological one). We’re left not with a passage about getting shut out of the kingdom of God because the virgins did something dumb (in which case I might as well get ready for sitting outside every “marriage feast” in His coming kingdom). But we have a warning to be prepared. I was tempted to say that one should have an eye to the Future, but then that would be contrary to the Lord’s comments about letting the day take care of itself (from the Beatitudes in Matt. 6:25-27).

I guess the point is that the wise virgins knew (possibly from previous experience that may not have gone so well) that the groom might very well be delayed and so they needed to have enough oil for such an event. They acted on what they knew (which works with the parable that follows) and as a result they were brought into the wedding feast. The others either didn’t know or didn’t act on what they knew and the end result was not fun, they missed the party. The IVP commentary notes that there would be other wedding feasts and hopefully the five foolish ones would learn from their error. This doesn’t take away from Jesus’ message of being prepared. That gives me hope that I can learn from my mistakes and at the same time be ready for the kingdom of God. Also, being prepared isn’t about the stuff (the oil) as much as the state of mind (readiness) and acting on it (believing to the point of action). But it all starts with person. Oh yeah, one interesting thing here is that when the bridegroom was delay all ten virgins fell asleep, including the ones who were wise (prepared). So “preparedness” isn’t anxious inhuman behavior that keeps one from doing normal things like sleeping, but appropriate readiness that leads to action (and then sleep). I just keep remembering the part of the old boy scout pledge: “Be Prepared.” I think it fits in this parable. Jesus was a boy scouts. JBB

Mt 24 – Questions about the End of the Age & the End of Me

herod's temple

I have taken far too long before addressing these passages of scripture and spending time listening to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. A lot of my own difficulties over the past months could have been less difficult had I stayed closer to the Word. A speaker this past week at the “In His Presence” conference referred to the Bible as his means of sifting through all the noise that comes to us in our lives. I needed to hear that. Besides, Dr. McGee’s “Thru the Bible Radio” is now beginning the book of Matthew and if he laps me, that’d be bad.

So the apostles were gawking at the impressive structures that made up the Temple complex and Jesus responded by telling them that the whole thing was going to be leveled in a judgment from God. Okay, that got their interest. They asked three questions: (1) when will this happen (the destruction of the temple, (2) what will be the sign of your coming, and (3) what will be the sign of the end of the age? (Matt. 24: 3) My first thought is whether these three questions are referring to one event (end of the age/destruction of the temple/Jesus’ return) or to three events. The second question, putting the question back into the context of the last weeks of Jesus’ ministry, why would the disciples be asking about when he would be coming back? I mean, he’s standing right there teaching them.

One train of thought might be that they are asking him, in essence, when are you going to come in power and establish your kingdom. When they heard about this destruction then the natural assumption might be that Jesus would then take his place as the political leader, being after the line of David. That makes sense, but my more literary/scholar self sees that these questions would be most applicable to Matthew’s readers 40-years after the events. This is not to say that Matthew was writing history as if it were prophecy but the disciples asking about Jesus’ return in the context of the destruction of the temple would be a screaming headline for those who were about to, or had just witnessed the temple’s destruction at the hands of the Roman General Titus. In which case, the warnings to flee when they saw the temple’s Holy of Holies desecrated, warnings that according to Josephus, were followed by the Christians, very much ties these passages to the events of 70AD. (Matt. 24: 15-22; Dan. 9:27)

But clearly Jesus didn’t return, and the end of the age in the sense of either God establishing his Kingdom (politically as well as spiritually) or the final judgment did not happen. So, what does this mean? The words, the warnings were instrumental in the survival of the church when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, so there is a historical context that has happened. But the teaching or warning about how people will act in times of destress (judgment) still applies. And if anything Jesus makes it pretty clear that his coming will be very much unlike his ministry at the time in that it will be universally observed and obvious to the whole world (not in the desert and not in the inner room). (Matt. 24:26-28) Oh yeah, before the coming things are not going to get better for you Christians, but they are going to get worse, to the point where Christian will turn on Christian (hmmm, that hasn’t happened before…).

Then Jesus warned the disciples to be diligent and observant for his coming and to not be caught unawares. He mentioned the days of Noah and how people carried on with life right up to the moment the flood hit, not unlike our own experiences with natural catastrophes over this past year (Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans, for example). Of course, in his example the one “taken” is the one lost to the flood, which has somehow, in current Christian theology, been changed to mean that the ones “taken” are the ones saved by God from the tribulation before the End of the Age. How does that work? I know Paul refers to “meeting the Lord in the air” (1Th. 4:17) but I’m not sure if stretching these verses in Matthew to fit the scenario gets in the way of Jesus’ point, that we need to be ready.

Also problematic is this business that when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matt. 24: 34). Clearly Jesus’ contemporaries (or Matthew’s or even those who witnessed the destruction of the temple) have passed away. So what does this mean? I don’t know that I can answer that one. That he would spend so much time making it clear that no one (not even the Son) knows when he’s to return, that we’re to be diligent (the homeowner against the thief, the servant at the master’s arrival, and in the next chapter the 10 virgins and the bridegroom), but then to say that this would “all” happen before this generation passed away? That’s a problem.

I remember in the ‘70s that we were thinking that this meant the generation that saw the re-establishment of the nation of Israel and so we all expected His return to be some 48-years (a typical generation…. I don’t know who came up with that number) after the Jewish state came back into existence (1948 plus 48 = 1996), so this was supposed to happen some time before 1996. Oops. I guess the Calvary Chapel followers now know what the Millerites and Jehovah’s Witnesses went through when their “set” dates came and went. I want God to establish His Kingdom. I want to see the beatitudes in the opening chapters of Matthew fulfilled and the prophecies of Isaiah about the Kingdom come to pass. But the truth of the matter is that, as a 48-year-old, the end of my “age,” my personal experience is very real and very imminent. Rapture, no rapture, pre-milenial, post-milenial, it doesn’t really matter because my time will come just as assuredly as the sun will rise in the morning. And whether I believe in any of this or protest like Homer Simpson that I don’t even know this “Jebus,” my time will come to an end and what will matter most will be how I lived the days that were given to me and whether I left the place in a better condition or worse