Monday, March 30, 2009

A Fresh Resurrection Gives Renewed Meaning to the Lord's Supper

Brian Bergman writes in the "Church_of_Christ" Yahoo! Group concerning Acts 20, in which Paul and his companions stay in Troas seven days, and then meet with the church on the first day of the week:
I have seen some very smart people write about this passage in Acts recently and they basically say that we need to look at why Luke might have included this particular incident in his account. As the argument goes, Luke was very concerned about tying together the victorious nature of resurrection with the Lord's Supper. In this particular instance, Luke saw the most powerful example of the church eating the Lord's supper because they were doing so in the presence of Eutychus who they had just seen risen from the dead, reinforcing their hope in their own resurrection some day.

If you accept this argument, Acts 20:7 suddenly has a great deal of theological meaning for the purpose of our communion together rather than being a proof text for the meeting time of the church.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Three Days and Three Nights in the Grave

On a public forum was asked this question:
In Matt 12:40 Jesus said, he will be dead for 3 days and 3 nights, like Jonah was in the whale's belly. So if he resurrected on Sat(Sabbath) night, then he would have died on Wednesday evening.

But in John 19:30-42 it is stating as, he died on a Friday, being the day of preparation before the Sabbath. Luke 23:54, Mark 15:42 and Matt 27:62 stating the same.

That doesn't come to 3 days and 3 nights. Please enlighten.
I believe the best explanation is to realize that the Passover begins and ends with a Sabbath, even if that starting and ending date do not fall on the seventh day of the week.

During the week of the crucifixion, the Sabbath referred to, following the day of preparation, was a "high Sabbath" (John 19:31). I like the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders this verse:
Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day)....
In other words, this was not an ordinary seventh-day-of-the-week Sabbath, but it was the Sabbath that began Passover. That week had two Sabbaths, one beginning Wednesday night at sundown, and a regular Sabbath beginning on Friday evening at sundown.

Dying on Wednesday at 3pm (when the shofar was blown and the daily sacrifice was offered in the Temple, by the way), Jesus was in the heart of the earth by dark that night. He was in the ground Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night (three nights) and Thursday day, Friday day, and Saturday day (three days), raising after the Sabbaths ended, on the first day of the week, after dark on Saturday. Within hours, while it was still dark, the Mary's came and found the tomb empty.

Milburn Cockrell does a good job explaining it here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Uzzah's Sin

The following was written by Ed (heb12347 on the gmail.com email system) on the Church_of_Christ Yahoo! Group.
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I remember the first time I heard about Uzzah, I sorta felt sorry for him. After all, all he did was try to steady the Ark of the Covenant and keep it from smashing into a thousand pieces, it seemed to me. David was bringing the Ark to Jerusalem on a new cart pulled by oxen. It was a big affair with over 30,000 escorts and music. All of a sudden the oxen stumbled, the Ark teetered, and Uzzah reached out to steady it. God struck him dead! The story is recorded in 2 Samuel 6.

As I learned more, I came to understand what was going on and I no longer feel sorry for Uzzah. Familiarity breeds contempt and Uzzah had grown up with the Ark kept in his house. He knew all about the ark, including that is was to be moved by the Kohathites carrying it (Numbers 4:15) and that no one was to touch it (Num 4:15). He had heard stories about the men of Bethshemesh (1 Sam 6:19); how 70 had died as a result of looking into the Ark. He knew better than to treat something sacred as if it was common! We should know this same lesson - Heb 12:28! Reverence should characterize every disciple!

But there is more to this than Uzzah's irreverence. David learned a lesson as well. David left the ark where Uzzah was struck dead to study what went wrong. Apparently David didn't know the Ark was to be carried by Kohathites. Uzzah didn't tell him. So in 1 Chronicles 15:1 David announces, "No one but the Levites may carry the Ark because the Lord chose them." In verse 13 David explained why things went wrong the first time and Uzzah died: "We did not inquire of the Lord about how to do it in the prescribed way." So when they went on to Jerusalem Levites carried the Ark "in accordance with the word of the Lord".

When it comes to doing the things of God, we need to inquire of the Lord that we might do it the right way! Jesus teaches us that "the true worshipers of God worship Him in spirit and truth for the Lord seeks such to worship Him." We are not free to do as we please. The Lord seeks "such" people who will look to Him to find what pleases Him and not go beyond it. Those who choose to act as if they are free to do as they please are very much like Uzzah. He knowingly substituted a cart and oxen when it would have been just as easy to do God's prescribed will. May we learn to act reverently before the Lord.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Can Be Good!

A couple or three years ago I had something happen in my life which made me realize that my self-concept was wrong. All my life I had been a good kid, and I perceived myself as basically Godly, with just occasional lapses into sin.

Then this event happened, and I became aware that deep in the darkest parts of my being was a dark spot, full of sin and evil. I had no idea I had evil living within my body, but there it was. It was crushing.

Over the next few days/weeks, I learned to deal with it; I realized that the apostle Paul spoke of the same darkness within him (Romans 7). And I concluded that I must approach it the same way he did: hating the fact that sin was within me, but rejoicing in the fact that Yahshua would one day free me from that sin.

Last night I was reading Matthew 12, when I came across this passage:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
And it struck me: I may have a darkness deep in my soul (which I was unaware of most of my life), but it doesn't matter what I have in me; what matters is what comes out of me. What matters is from which storeroom I pull produce. What matters is which room produces the overflow.

When I realized that, it was like a fresh wave of peace washing over me. It gave me confidence to realize that every person has two storerooms; the existence of a storeroom of evil does not make the person evil; the harvesting of that storeroom is what makes a person evil.

By the grace of God, I want to harvest from my storeroom of good! Sure, I'm not perfect; I have sin deep within the corpuscles of my body. But what I am, is not what I have within me; it's what I produce from what I have within me.

I want to be a good man. And by the grace of God, I can be. Not "good" as in "only God is Good" good, but you understand what I'm saying.

It was very nice to realize this.

I'm sure it doesn't mean that much to you, the reader; you probably don't fully comprehend it; but it means something to me. And I bless God for the gift He gave me last night through his Spirit's enlightening of my understanding of His word.

Something Greater is Here

In reading Matthew 11 - 13, I noticed a recurring phrase that caught my eye.

When speaking approvingly of John the Immerser, Jesus said in 11:11:
Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Later, in 12:6, when Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees, part of his response to them included this:
But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here!
Later, in 12:42, when again challenged by the Pharisees, Jesus responded:
... something greater than Solomon is here!



Better a Christian than a King

In reading Matthew 11:11, Jesus said:
Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
I took this to mean that presidents and kings of the world, mere humans, born of women, have less clout than the lowliest Christian, who are born of the Spirit.


Fly Under the Radar

Jesus clearly taught then when doing right, it's okay to avoid the enemy by flying "under the radar". I noticed this recently when reading Matthew 10, in which Jesus sends out his disciples to preach the Kingdom to the nation of Israel.
Look, I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. But when they hand you over, don't worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. When they persecute you in one town, escape to another.
So stand up for what's right, but don't hesitate to give the enemy "the slip" whenever possible, or to run away.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Puns and Wordplay in the Bible

Well, I finally broke down and YouTube'd myself. It's the 6-minute presentation I made at church this past Wednesday night on puns and wordplay in the Bible.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Earliest Octopi Were Fully-Formed

I'd just like to point out something from an article highlighted on Slashdot.

The article says that five new 95-million year old fossils, representing three new species of octopuses, have been found. (I don't buy the 95 million year old number, but, meh.) The article says:
What is truly astonishing to the scientists is how similar these ancient creatures are to their modern-day counterparts. Dirk Fuchs, lead author on the study stated, "These things are 95 million years old, yet one of the fossils is almost indistinguishable from living species."
In other words, the very first time that an octopus shows up in the fossil record, it is a fully-formed octopus, and has remained virtually unchanged since it first appeared. This is consistent with a literal creationist interpretation of history, and is inconsistent with a gradual evolutionary interpretation.

If you pay attention, you'll likely discover that more and more fossils (coelecanth, ginkgo plant, opossums, etc) are showing up fully-formed earlier and earlier in the fossil record, and then persisting virtually unchanged throughout their lifespans.

Hmmm.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Denominationalism in the First-Century Church

Over the past couple of weeks I've been in an online discussion about first-century denominations. All my life I've been assured, and persuaded, that there were no denominations in the first century church; 1 Cor. 1:10ff was the proof-text that denominationalism was wrong.

But when the text is approached with an open mind and common sense, one may come to a different conclusion. In the past few weeks, I have come to that different conclusion.

As part of the discussion, the term "denomination" was defined in various ways:

1. a sub-group within a larger group.

2. having distinctive names.

3. having a distinctive name, distinctive doctrine, and separating from others of similar faith.

There were some other definitions also, including textbook dictionary definitions.

But after all has been said and done, it seems to me that what we would refer to as a "denomination" in the 21st century is what we can see in the first-century church. The result is that I now understand that there were at least two "denominations" within the first-century church (both of which I've discussed previously):

- the Torah-keepers; denominated by the names "Jews [who have believed]" (Acts 21:20), "circumcised" (Rom. 3:30), "the circumcision" (Gal. 2:12)

- the non-Torah-keepers; denominated by the names "Gentiles [who have believed]" (Acts 21:25), "uncircumcised" (Rom. 3:30), "Gentiles" (Gal. 2:20).

But it's not their distinctive names that denominate them so much as it is their distinctive doctrines. The first group was saying, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!" (Acts 15:1). And this first group was separating themselves off from the second group (Gal. 2:12), a practice condemned by Paul.

It was this issue which spurred the Jerusalem Conference, discussed in Acts 15. The result was that the Holy Spirit itself revealed that there was no problem with having two groups, going by two different names, having two different doctrines concerning salvation; the problem was when one group insisted that the other group do things the same way as the first group, and/or when one group ceased fellowshiping with the other group.

In other words, the Holy Spirit gave approval to "denominationalism" within the first-century church, but within limits.

On a related note, the Internet discussion morphed from there into the topic of names for the church, and the general consensus seems to be that most of us have concluded that there is no such thing as a Biblical name for the church; there are only descriptions. And when we elevate one "name" over another as THE name of the church, we have gone beyond what is written, and have contributed to the denominationalism so many of us have railed against all our lives.

It's been a very challenging discussion. And hard. It's hard to challenge your life-long-held beliefs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Zechariah 7 & 8

Zechariah 7:
YHWH of Hosts says this: "Render true justice. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another."
Zechariah 8:
"These are the things you must do: Speak truth to one another; render honest and peaceful judgments in your gates. 17 Do not plot evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and do not love perjury, for I hate all this"— YHWH's declaration.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

More on Biblical Covenants

A woman writes:
Also I look at a covenant like a will. If someone had written six wills only the last will would be valid because that last will canceled out all 5 of those previous wills. Is this wrong thinking when looking at the different covenants? I would like your view.
If a covenant is designed to replace an earlier covenant, this woman is correct. This is the case with wills, as is the case with the "old covenant" vs the "new covenant". (The "old covenant" is defined in Jeremiah 31 as the Mosaic Law, given at Mt. Sinai, but has nothing to do with earlier covenants, such as the Noahic covenant, and/or later, different covenants, such as the one God made with David to keep a descendant of David's on the throne forever - Jeremiah 33:20-22 - a covenant fulfilled in Jesus, a descendant of David.)

But just because you enter into a new covenant, that does not necessarily mean any previous covenants you had become null. For example, if you get a new credit card and run up a balance, you now have a new covenant to pay that bill; this does not in any way nullify other credit card balances you had previously; you are still bound by those earlier covenants.

God made a covenant with all of humanity in the Adamic covenant (be fruitful; multiply; steward the earth; live a vegetarian lifestyle; etc).

He made another covenant with all of humanity in the Edenic covenant. The new conditions of the Edenic covenant (toil; labor; pain in childbirth; death; a promised messiah) did not nullify the conditions of the Adamic covenant (be fruitful; multiply; steward the earth; etc).

He made another covenant with all the earth and all the animals and with all of humanity in the Noahic covenant (no more global flooding; seasons; rainbows; capital punishment for murderers; skittishness of humans in animals; etc). This covenant did not nullify the conditions of the earlier two covenants: humanity was still to multiply and take care of the earth, and was still subject to hard work and pain and death, and still had the right to look forward to a messiah. Note however that this new covenant did include one condition that was the same as in a previous covenant: "be fruitful and multiply". It also gave a new permission which over-rides one of the stipulations of an earlier covenant: we now could eat meat. This might be analogous to a house-owner entering into a contract with you to rent to you a house with a stipulation that you could only paint the house green, and then sometime later writing up a new contract with you for renting to you a car also, and which also has a clause within it giving you the right to paint your house red in addition to the green of the first contract.

He made another covenant with Abram, and this covenant is actually referred to in Gal 3:8 as "the gospel". This covenant was originally only for Abram's descendants (a subset of humanity), but hinted at including all of humanity somewhere down the road. Paul finishes up Galatians chapter 3 by claiming that all Christians, even if they're not physical descendants of Abram, are spiritual descendants of him, and have thus inherited this covenant. This covenant did not nullify the conditions of the earlier covenants: humanity was still to multiply and take care of the earth, and was still subject to hard work and pain and death, and still had the right to look forward to a messiah, and still enjoyed freedom from global floods, and still was comforted by the rainbow's promise, and still had a hard time catching animals because of their instinctual skittishness of humans.

Then he made a covenant only with the Israelites (a subset of Abram's descendants), not with all of humanity, which we refer to as the Law of Moses. It is this covenant, and only this covenant, which Jeremiah 31 says God will replace with a new covenant. This covenant did not nullify the conditions of earlier covenants: Paul says this expressly in Gal. 3:17 - "And I say this: the law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise."

Then he made a covenant with King David (a subset of the Israelites), that there would always be a descendant of David on the throne. This covenant is still in effect, with the role of throne-sitter being held by Jesus. This covenant did not nullify the conditions of any of the earlier covenants.

Then he made a new covenant with all of humanity, with Jesus as the mediator. This covenant did not nullify most of the earlier covenants, but it did nullify one: the Mosaic Covenant, the one which had been expressly singled out by Jeremiah as being earmarked for replacement. But notice that even at that, it's not so much a replacement as a spiritualizing: rather than the law being written down in regulations on a stone tablet, it's written down in family relationships in our hearts.

Just like a teenager might need a written rule to mow the lawn every week, a grown adult will take it upon himself to make sure his older parents' lawn gets mown, because that "rule" is now in his heart, not on the fridge-side "to do" list.

So hopefully you can see that some covenants do replace earlier covenants, such as wills, whereas some covenants do not replace earlier covenants.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Evil Shepherds vs the Great Shepherd

(Thanks to Ray Vander Laan for the essence of the following material)

In Yahshua's day, Jericho was a city of priests, the home of many Sadducees. These Sadducee priests had to remain ceremonially clean for their Temple duties; they had many restrictions to prevent becoming unclean, such as being forbidden from touching a dead (or nearly-dead) body (which explains the priest's behavior in the parable of the Good Samaritan), and being forbidden from touching Roman money since it had images on it.

Nevertheless, needing to deal with Roman money but being unable to handle it personally, these priests hired money-handlers who would collect Roman money from the tax payers and then convert it to Jewish money which the Sadducees could handle.

These tax-collectors, constantly handling Roman coinage, were therefore constantly unclean, and therefore could not attend Temple, or Synagogue, or hug friends/family, or shake hands with people they met on the street, or be with their wives (unless she too were unclean). They inherited the nickname of "Sinner", or "publican". They were looked down on, because they were always "unclean". They may have been decent, honest, God-fearing people, but because of their role in society, they were social outcasts.

In Jericho, there was one of these guys, named Zakkai (meaning "clean" or "pure" in Hebrew, short for Zachariah, and rendered in English via the Greek and Latin intermediates as "Zacchaeus"). We read of his story in Luke 19.

Zakkai apparently dealt honestly in his business affairs, as his later statement, "If I have defrauded anyone...", indicates. He apparently had a generous heart, as his later pledge to give half of his possessions to the poor indicates. He was a man of short stature, which was one reason he climbed a tree to see Yahshua as Yahshua passed by.

But why climb a tree? Why couldn't Zakkai just get in front of the crowd in order to see the passing Yahshua? Simply because if he got too close to the average Jew, that person would recoil in horror and scream at him, "Don't touch me! You're unclean! Get away!" Climbing a tree thus served a two-fold purpose; it got him above the crowd where his view would be unobstructed, and it got him out of the crowd where he would not defile anyone.

As Yahshua passed by, he looked up into the tree and saw Zakkai, and told him to come down to be a host to Yahshua's retinue.

This was social anathema. The great rabbi is going to the house of a sinner, an unclean person; the great rabbi is defiling himself. What kind of rabbi is this, to associate with the scum of society?

But Yahshua, perceiving the whispering behind his back, answered:
"Today salvation has come to this house," Jesus told him, "because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost."
This must have made the Sadducean priests livid with rage. We, as non-Jews, miss the significance of what Yahshua said. If we knew the text of the Tanakh ("Old Testament"), we too would have understood what an offensive thing Yahshua had just said to the priests.

First, there's the play on words. Jesus' name, Yahshua, means "Yah saves"; he is God's salvation, and today, God's salvation has come to the house of the unclean Zacchaeus. Secondly, Yahshua's reference to the Son of Man and seeking and saving the lost is a reference to Ezekiel 34, and the priests would have heard the message clearly (although it's very vague to us Westerners).


I encourage you to read Ezekiel 34 for yourself, but in paraphrase it says this:
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: Woe to you shepherds who only take care of yourselves. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. You trample the grass of the pasture so that my sheep can not eat. You muddy the water so that my sheep can not drink. You leave my sheep unattended on the hills to be eaten by the wolves. I am against you shepherds and will hold you accountable for my flock. I will remove you shepherds, and you will no longer be able to feed yourselves by using my flock as your food. I, YHWH, I myself will seek and save the lost.
So in this simple statement:
  1. Yahshua has declared himself as God, in two different ways (Yah's salvation has come to the house; YHWH will seek and save the lost, which Yahshua is claiming as his role).
  2. Yahshua has declared Zakkai as being a sheep beloved by God, not a sinner to be cast out of society, which probably was the most validation Zakkai had gotten as a valuable person in years.
  3. Yahshua has declared the priests to be evil, by oppressing the sheep in order to satisfy their own appetites, and condemned them to losing their position.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

An Imagined Word from YHWH

It was not a vision I had this morning, nor even a dream, as I was in that stage in which I had awoken from sleep but had not yet become fully conscious. I dare not call it a prophecy. What I would call it is an Imagining. I imagined YHWH declaring:
When my people grow comfortable, then I have cause for worry.