Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 19, 2021

Work: The ‘Rest’ of the Story (Sermon)

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 7:48 am

Sermon preached at Wheeler Grove Rural Church May 16, 2021. All opinions are my own.

It seems work has been on everyone’s minds lately, one way or the other. Will I be able to go back to the office, if ever? Will it be safe if I do? If you’re in the hospitality industry, you wonder if things will ever be the same again? When will we get back to the prepandemic “normal”? Such questions have been on my mind as well.

For my own situation, my full-time employer, based in Minneapolis, has let us know they’re closing our Omaha office building and everyone who previously worked from that location will continue to work from home indefinitely. Now on the one hand, I can understand why they’re doing that: I work for a pharmacy benefits manager, so we make sure people get the medication they need to feel better. We’re essentially in the information industry, so we’re not coming together to build buildings or manufacture cars, home appliances, or clothing, industries where it’s helpful to have people around to perform and look after the processes. We can do our jobs from home; people in those industries typically can’t.

But on the other hand, I fear that working from home with no one else around you (except needy pets in many cases) may threaten what some of have come to call the “culture” of a company. We no longer have others around us physically who share the same goals and objectives from a work perspective. And we lose the connectedness we have on a social level, especially with those we interact with who share the same values or likes and dislikes that we have outside of the work environment.

How many people do you know who’ve made a close friend at work who’s added value to each other’s lives. Even in the Creation story, which we’ll look at in a moment, God says it’s not good for Adam to be alone, so he provides a “helper,” one who shares his human nature but from the perspective of the opposite sex; equals in many ways in personhood, but different in their gifts, callings, and innate abilities. Together, they shared one primary purpose in the beginning: tend to the garden.

When God created male and female, he also created “work.” As we dive into the message this morning, I do want to give you my main point up front so you can get a feel for where I’m going with the topic. Here it is: Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. Again, Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. Thus the title of my message: “Work: The ‘Rest’ of the Story.” See what I did there?

I also want to give a couple disclaimers as well: Many of the Scriptures we’re looking at this morning aren’t just about the work we do for a paycheck. At times, they have more to do with how we interact with our families and those around us, or more to do with our relationship with God and his kingdom, than they do with our employer. The second disclaimer is, if you’re retired, you have my permission to tune out if I’m talking about an employer. You’ve already given your time to “the man” and have earned your earthly rest from that.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and look at Genesis 1:1–2 and 2:1–3.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

All Scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are (c) 2011 New International Version, Zondervan Publishing.

Then for six days, God begins speaking creation into existence.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Day 0: “In the beginning”—Chaos

Day 1: Light Day 4: The lighted bodies
Day 2: Sky and water Day 5: Air and water creatures
Day 3: Dry ground Day 6: Land-dwelling creatures; Man

Day 7: “God rested from his work.”—Order

A couple things about the text first before taking a deeper dive into Genesis 1. Genesis 1 has some unique features as a written text. Several key words are found 7 or 10 times throughout the passage. This shows some intentionality in writing, even if the writer wasn’t aware of it, if you know what I mean. The phrase “formless and empty,” tohu vebohu in Hebrew (how poetic!), is found in a couple other places in the Old Testament, namely Isaiah and Jeremiah, where it refers to the utter destruction of the land coming on those nations that have forsaken God. [See https://sundaymorninggreekblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/work-the-rest-of-the-story-ecclesiastes-3/ for in-depth look at chart.]

Genesis conclusion

So you can see that in the very act of Creation, God created a theology of work. On this alone, I think I’ve made my main point that Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. But that would be a very short sermon! I do think it’s important to take a look at how that theology of work plays out in Scripture. As such, I have a sampling of verses, especially from the Wisdom Literature of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, about the benefits of work and the consequences of neglecting our responsibility to work.

The Rest of the OT

Of all the books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes has the most practical wisdom and theology about life in general, and work in particular, than all the other Bible books combined. Solomon’s wisdom really shines through in Ecclesiastes, even as the cry of “Meaningless” echoes through the text. I think the key passage here is Ecclesiastes 3:9–15. Let’s hear that again:

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. 15 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.

[For “beautiful,” see Eccl 5:18, where the Hebrew word is translated “appropriate.”]

18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.

Think of all the “toil” we do each and every day. How do we make things beautiful? How do we find satisfaction? What are the tasks that bring you satisfaction? Let me run a few by you.

Around the house or the farm:

• A freshly cut lawn.

• A freshly tilled field ready for planting.

• A sparkling bathroom after cleaning it (including getting that nasty whatever out of the drain).

• Big ripe tomatoes on the tomato plants.

• Making your bed first thing in the morning. (Navy Seal Admiral McRaven: Bed inspected every morning at training. Accomplishing the first task of the day leads to getting more tasks completed.)

In the kitchen:

• King’s Hawaiian rolls with honey butter.

• A perfectly grilled thick pork chop or steak.

• A scrumptious chocolate cake. (Are you hungry yet?)

In the workplace:

• Crisp new copies of a dynamite proposal.

• Seeing the finished product at the end of your assembly line.

• Finding extra money in the budget for upgraded computers.

• Landing that big account.

At school:

• A pristine science project.

• An A+ on your history research paper.

• Hitting a walk-off home run to win the game.

I think we all know how good it feels at the end of a day’s work, regardless of whether it was physically, mentally, or emotionally challenging, to finally get to the (made) bed and lay our heads down knowing we’ve accomplished something important, bringing order out of the disparate parts of our experience, a finished product out of the many different parts that compose it, or adding beauty where there was barrenness. And even if in all your work you didn’t get the outcome you wanted, you can still have the satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best shot, and that tomorrow will bring another opportunity.

Now up to this point, I’ve kept it pretty upbeat, but to understand the contrast, we need to acknowledge the elephant (or is it a sloth?) in the room: all those verses in Proverbs and elsewhere about not owning up to one’s responsibility to work. Staying in Ecclesiastes, we find this relevant passage in chapter 10 verse 18:

18 Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.

Proverbs has several verses about laziness or a general malaise about working. Proverbs 26:13–16 focuses on the topic with a bit of sarcasm to boot:

13 A sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!”

14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.

15 A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.

16 A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who answer discreetly.

You have to wonder, with four verses like that in a row, if Solomon himself had had a bad day when he wrote this. It wouldn’t surprise me if Solomon had witnessed each of these during his day, and that last sarcastic remark was accompanied by Solomon throwing up his hands in resignation!

New Testament

In the book of Acts, we see some of these contrasts as well. For example, in Chapter 5, we see how Ananias and Sapphira got together to conspire a plot to cheat the church and get ahead. Most of us know what happened to them. By contrast in chapter 6, we see the apostles take up a thorny issue of distributing food to needy Greek widows. They appointed 7 men full of the Holy Spirit to address the matter. They worked hard to earn the new believers’ respect in this matter, and it paid off with more and more people being brought into the kingdom.

Paul himself, later in Acts, reminded the Ephesian elders about his hard work among in the nearly 18 months he spent ministering there. Acts 20:33–35 says:

33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

The Thessalonians must have had a problem with not wanting to carry their weight. Paul has to warn them in both letters about laziness in the strongest terms. Paul says in 1 Thess 5:12–15:

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

And in 2 Thess 3:6–13, he says something similar:

6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. [skip vs. 9] 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Our modern English translation needs two words and a conjunction to translate one Greek word about shirking your responsibility to work, whether it be at your job, at home, or for the kingdom. “Idle and disruptive.” This particular Greek word is only found in the letters to the Thessalonians, which emphasizes the point that something was wrong with the Thessalonians work ethic. In other contexts outside the Bible, the word has to do with being out of military formation or just general disorder and chaos. “Without form and empty.”

Paul continues from there in vv. 11–13, and emphasizes that word again, and transitions us back to a positive thought as we begin to wrap up the message:

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Hear it again: “Never tire of doing what is good.”

Ephesians 2:8–10 (author’s translation; contrast with “walk” in 2:2) says:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithfulness—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to walk in good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

As if to emphasize the point, he says in Ephesians 4:28

28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Hebrews 4:6–11 (Sabbath rest)

6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve seen to day how Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. In a world around us that seems to be trending toward disruption and disorder, it is good to know we have a God who is working hard to hold it together, and to know that there are saints among us who are working hard to support, promote, and uphold God’s kingdom. And now you know the ‘rest’ of the story.

What Makes God Weep?

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 6:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Sermon preached by Scott Stocking, Wheeler Grove Rural Church, January 17, 2021. All opinions are my own.

Introduction

This past year has certainly been a challenging one for the world. Many of us know people affected by COVID, whether testing positive without any more symptoms than a few sniffles, to those who unfortunately lost loved ones or their own lives to the disease. My wife works in a skilled nursing facility in Omaha as an occupational therapist, and had to put on her “protective armor” to work with residents who tested positive for the disease.

Jill and I also have two friends who went to death’s door with the disease, but have or are making what seems to be full recovery. One friend’s wife had actually gone to talk to the funeral home before he rebounded. Another friend, just in that last few weeks, had been on a ventilator. Those who go on a ventilator have a 10% chance of survival. He eventually got off the ventilator and beat the odds, and at last report, he was doing quite well in rehab, just having his trach removed and talking up a storm with his family members.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, as I’ve never had two friends in one year come this close to death, and it reminds me both of how fragile life can be, and also how precious life is. In Jesus’s day, life was considered cheap. The philosopher Aristotle said, in so many words, you were born to either be an elite-class ruler or part of the masses of the lower-class ruled. There really wasn’t much of what we call the “middle class” in that day and age, socially or economically.

In the passage we’re looking at today, we see Jesus’s countercultural attitude toward life, at least countercultural in his day and age. Jesus did not think life was cheap. He valued the individual, regardless of their rank in life, and even regardless of the type of life they led. We will also see perhaps the most intense display of Jesus’s humanity as well as glimpses into his divine nature.

What Makes God Weep?

As we come to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, we will see the full range of Jesus’s human and divine natures. Even though “all the fullness of the Deity dwells within him,” he is still fully human as well, so much so that the Gospel writers record Jesus using the title “Son of Man” for himself.

The story starts at the beginning of chapter 11 when Jesus learns that Lazarus, perhaps his best friend outside of the circle of the apostles, is sick. Jesus doesn’t seem concerned however, and like the good friend he is, he intentionally delays going to see Lazarus. Wait, wha? [Pause for effect, pretend to be confused and reread that sentence.] The apostles don’t under Jesus’s delay, but only because he knows “this sickness will not end in death,” but “is for God’s glory.” He eventually says cryptically a few verses later that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” but the apostles don’t pick up on the subtle reference. Jesus must tell them plainly a few verses later that “Lazarus is dead.”

Now it should not surprise us that Type A Martha, the control freak of the two sisters, is the one to go out and meet Jesus at the gate. Since it took Jesus four days from the time he got the news (at least from a human source) to go the two miles from Jerusalem to Bethany, Martha had plenty of time to think about what she’d say. Martha is chomping at the bit to make sure Jesus knows that because he wasn’t there, it’s all his fault that Lazarus died. Pretty harsh, right? In fact, Martha is so focused on getting these first few words out, that we get no indication in the story that she’s in mourning. I think most of us know that feeling: we get our adrenaline going about something peripheral such that we forget how we’re supposed to feel or what we’re supposed to say about whatever the core issue is that is truly impacting us emotionally.

But either Martha knows she’s stuck her foot in her mouth after that first statement, or she really has been thinking about what her second statement would be: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Does that statement represent genuine concern, or is it more like a backhanded control freak statement? “I’ve waited four days for you to get here, Jesus, so you owe me big time!”

But Martha does prove to have a heart of gold, a heart full of faith, and a desire for great theological conversation when she goes on to say, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” If there were other people within earshot of that statement, I’m sure it would have turned heads, especially if any of the crowd were Sadducees. This is exactly the reasoning Abraham used, according to the author of Hebrews, to not hesitate to obey God’s command to him to (almost-) sacrifice Isaac. As such, Martha is the personal recipient of one of Jesus’s seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

So to this point in the story, what do we see of Jesus’s divine and human natures? Someone brings him the message that Lazarus is dying, but Jesus is most likely already aware of this given what he says to his disciples about it. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about Lazarus dying, which, from a human perspective, might make him appear cold, matter-of-fact, and uncaring. If this were you or I, we’d want to make every effort to go see the friend on their deathbed. But his divine nature knows the end of the story. Jesus implicitly trusts in his heavenly Father that the end result will be for his glory.

So here we have Jesus, quite stoically handling the news of Lazarus’s death and just matter-of-factly stating that he is the resurrection and the life. That last claim, by itself and at face value, would have been absolutely astonishing to his listeners. Most 30-year-olds in Jesus’s day were typically closer to their death than their birth, and the cultures around the Jewish people had little regard for the sanctity of life, as my opening illustration revealed. So keep that and Jesus’s initial response in mind as we look at vv. 32–39 here. We pick up the story after Martha has gone to bring Mary back to see Jesus.

Read John 11:32–33a.

Notice that Mary’s first response to Jesus is identical to Martha’s, except that Mary is making no pretense about her sorrow. She’s bawling, and everyone with her is bawling. The text doesn’t say, but I’m pretty sure Martha is standing there trying to be the strong one: “I’m not going to cry in front of Jesus! I’m not going to cry in front of Jesus.” Truly there is great sorrow here, and this is one of the few times in the Gospels where we see Jesus come face to face with not just mourners, but mourners who are most likely among his closest friends outside his inner circle. In the next few verses, we get a profound insight into the depths of Jesus’s human nature. Back to vs. 33:

Read John 11:33-35

There it is: “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in our English Bibles. Nine letters. Six consonants and three vowels in three syllables. Yet nothing is more poignant, nothing more revealing of the depth of human sorrow than weeping. And this isn’t some Hollywood zoom-in shot of Jesus’s face where he sheds one dramatic tear. Oh no! Jesus is in full-on weeping mode with his friends. And even though the story doesn’t say it, I think it’s safe to say that, to the extent Martha was trying to be the “strong one,” Martha’s floodgates open up here; she can’t hold it in any longer, and she begins to weep as well, perhaps precisely because Jesus wept. How profound it is when we see first hand that Savior of the world feels AND shows the same emotions that you and I feel at the death of a loved one. How profound to know that our God does NOT turn a blind eye to our sorrow and pain.

Now Jesus’s weeping is not a sudden outburst that isn’t expected in the story. John, in fact, is building up the tension in the story to that climax. Look back at the end of vs. 33: John says Jesus is “deeply moved” and “troubled.” In the original language of the Scripture, that word is perhaps the strongest expression of “negative” emotion one could have. In Matthew 9:30, Jesus “sternly warned” the blind man not to say who healed him. That would have been akin to Jesus saying something like, “Don’t you dare, in a million years, tell anyone who did this to you.” At Jesus’s anointing in Bethany, where the prostitute broke an alabaster jar over Jesus’s head and let the perfume run down him, we’re told that those present (except for Jesus) “rebuked her sharply,” probably even to the extent of cursing her or reminding her in no uncertain terms about her profession.

Some commentators here go as far as suggesting that Jesus may have “snorted” (their word, not mine) here. On the one hand, he could have been choking back the tears in light of all the weeping. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, Jesus may also be on the verge of cursing death itself here. The one who is the resurrection and the life, the one who knew he himself must suffer horribly and die on the cross, and who knew God would thus give him ultimately victory over death, must face the death of a friend nonetheless. He shows himself to be the great high priest, as he’s called in Hebrews 4:15, who is not “unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” who has been tempted as we are, and yet was without sin.

Now I want to suggest something here that has probably never occurred to you: The main focus of John’s account of this story here is NOT that Jesus raises someone from the dead eventually. Jesus has already done several amazing miracles to this point, building up to the raising of Lazarus as the greatest of his miracles. Another miracle? I’m impressed of course, but not surprised. John has already hinted to us that that is going to happen in the story, with Jesus’s “I am” statement and Martha’s statement. Keep in mind that John, in his short epistles toward the end of the NT, is fighting against Gnosticism, a belief that nothing done in the body matters at all for eternal salvation. When John says, “Jesus wept,” he’s acknowledging that God considers human life precious and valuable; that the body does matter for our earthly existence. That’s why “Jesus wept” is at the center of this whole story. He intends this show of Jesus’s humanity as the highlight and climax of the story.

This is all pretty intense, right? So if we’ve hit the climax, where do we go from here? Well, there is “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. There is, as literature professors would put it, the “anticlimax.” Note a further expression of Jesus’s humanity in vs. 36: “See how he loved him.” That word for love there typically implies a brotherly or familial love. It’s not the self-sacrificing agape love, and it’s certainly not any kind of romantic love. It reveals the deep friendship that Jesus had (and will have again) with Lazarus.

Even some in the crowd in v. 37 echo Mary and Martha’s sentiment that Jesus could have kept him from dying. “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Read John 11:38–40

Once again, we see that word for “deeply moved” that we saw in v. 33. Jesus has still got some fire in him at this point. So when he asks for the stone to be taken away, I think he’s not just making a polite request here. I think he spoke it like I read it, with that “I’ve-had-enough-of-this” indignation. “Let’s get this over with; he’s been dead long enough.” Of course Martha, the rational one, has regained her composure in the time it took to walk over to the tomb, and isn’t too thrilled about consequences of removing the stone. That just stokes Jesus’s fire all the more. “I’m going to raise your brother and you’re worried it might stink a little bit?” I’m pretty sure that the “glory of God” at that point was not going to have any stink associated with it.

Read John 11:41–44

Now when I set out to write this sermon, I had intended to do the three shortest verses in the NT and tie them together in a neat little package. But the more I got into, the more the Spirit led me down the road I followed today, focusing on “Jesus wept.” One of the three shortest verses is “Pray continually,” or more literally, “pray without ceasing.” Jesus offers his prayer here. He doesn’t need to do this, because he knows God is always listening to him. But as he’s said all along in this story, his goal is to make sure God is glorified. He wants to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that what is about to happen is not some magic trick or sleight of hand. This is God-power all the way, the “incomparably great [resurrection] power for us who believe,” as Paul tells the Ephesians.

In v. 43, Jesus’s fire is still going. Again, it’s not a polite request or, “Hey, Lazarus, ollie ollie ots and free.” Jesus booms with a loud, commanding voice, loud enough to literally wake the dead, “Lazarus, come out!” I think it’s interesting that the NIV here says “The dead man came out.” Umm, looks like he’s not dead any more. The more literal translation here is “the one who has been dead came out.” Can I get an “Amen”?

The third short verse precedes “pray continually” in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always.” In the last part of v. 44, Jesus loses all the tension he’s been feeling to this point. I’m sure he’s got a huge smile across his face at this point, as do all those who’ve seen Lazarus rise from the dead and walk out of the grave. Jesus’s happiness, smile, and dare I say laughter are all additional profound insights into Jesus’s human side. The savior who weeps with us in our time of sorrow rejoices with us in our time of joy.

Conclusion/Call to Action

John 11 is a powerful story about Jesus’s love for a friend and his disgust with death and the seeming cheapness of life in the world around him. But how does that impact us today? What are steps that we can take as believers to promote the value of the individual, especially in this time when we’ve had to be isolated from ones we love?

In the ancient world, at and before the time of Christ, there were two practices that absolutely cheapened life. One of them was known as exposure. At that time, if you gave birth to a child you didn’t want, or the child was conceived in, shall we say, ill repute, it was legal, and in certain situation expected of you, to expose that infant to the elements and let the Fates decide what would become of the child. As Christianity took hold, Christians began to rescue these innocents. As Christianity grew and the concept that all life mattered began to take hold culturally, Constantine eventually outlawed the practice all together in the Roman empire.

The second practice was, in certain Greek democracies where they did not have the concept of freedom of speech, the casting of the ostraca. Ostraca were simply pieces of clay pots on which the voters (usually only “citizens”) wrote the name of a person whom they thought was not worthy of participating in their society any longer. The person receiving the most votes was “ostracized,” or banished from the city-state democracy. As you might imagine, the ancients had their share of folks on all sides who spread lies and misinformation about political enemies in order to influence who got voted off the island, so to speak.

In this day and age when our country is so divided on so many issues, it’s important that we learn how to not only respect our differences, but understand why each of us believes what we believe. Jesus’s disciples were a diverse group, from a hated tax collector to the lowly fishermen. My prayer is that we see the value in each and every individual and in what they bring to the table for the good of our Lord and our country. Peace to you all, and thank you for letting me share with you today.

August 24, 2019

The Lord’s Prayer: Deliver Us From the Evil One (Matthew 6:9–13)

Filed under: Ephesians,Greek,Matthew Gospel of,Prayer,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 2:19 pm

Nothing is perhaps more common among the diverse branches of Christianity as the Lord’s Prayer. Aside from the occasional hesitation in the public setting about whether the church that’s reciting it says “trespasses” or “debts,” the basic form of the prayer is well established. Jesus implies in the text leading into Matthew 6:9–13 that it is a model prayer, not something intended to be formulaic or ritualistic (the surrounding context makes that crystal clear!), but rather a pattern for how we approach God the Father in prayer.

Many have proposed legitimate ways of outlining or summarizing the prayer, so my own comments are not intended to suggest those other ways are any less valid than what I am proposing here. We all have our own experiences and filters through which we come to the Father, and he really doesn’t care what, if any pattern we use. He just wants us to come and talk to him. But being a preacher, and an old-school one at that, I thought an alliterative outline would be good to organize my thoughts for my sermon on the passage this past Sunday.

Overview

Praise: Jesus gives praise to the Father in vv. 9–10 for who he is and what he is doing.

Provision: Jesus asks that God provides with the basic necessities of life, represented by bread.

Pardon: Jesus exhorts us to ask the Father’s forgiveness for our sins even as we (can and should) forgive those who sin against us.

Protection: Jesus asks God not only to keep us away from temptation, but also to deliver us from the evil one (or if you’re old school, from evil).

Praise

Verses 9–10 are structured as an inclusio, a literary technique that begins and ends a section with the same word or concept. It’s easy to see in English that the repeated word is “heaven.” The concept (“kingdom”) is repeated in the middle of the three praiseworthy items between the opening and closing lines of the inclusio. How can we be sure of this? In the opening line, “heaven” is actually plural: literally, “Our Father who is in the heavens.” In Matthew’s 32 exclusive uses of the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” “heaven” is always plural.

The fact that “heaven” is plural also calls to mind Ephesians, where five times Paul refers to the “heavenly realms” (a different Greek word formed from the root word for “heaven”) in reference to our proximity to Christ. In Ephesians, we see that we are with Christ in the heavenly realms. Jesus as much as acknowledges that in the closing line of the inclusio: “on earth as it is in heaven.” Actually, the word order in Greek for that phrase is transposed: “as in heaven [singular], so on earth.”

Another interesting tidbit about this section is that the three praise items are all written with third person imperative verbs. English doesn’t have a third person imperative, so we usually translate it something like “Let your name be holy; let your kingdom come; let your will be done.” Those three items are something we can’t command God to do; that totally comes from him, so the standard second person imperative in English wouldn’t do. We’re asking God to will and continue to will those things to be or become true.

Now before moving on to the other three points, I think the use of “heaven” as the key word in the inclusio is no accident. Not only does “kingdom of heaven” always use the plural form of “heaven,” but all references to the “Father…in heaven” also use the plural form. When “heaven” and “earth” are used together in the same phrase, “heaven” is often singular. I think we can look to Paul’s epistles to see how we’re to understand the reference to heaven. Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Five times in Ephesians, Paul mentions our relationship to Christ “in the heavenly realms.” I’d never really heard this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer emphasized before, but I believe Jesus is emphasizing the dual citizenship of his followers. Just as we see God acting in heaven, we should work in concert to make it happen on earth. If God’s name is to be considered holy, we should be careful to live in such a way that those on earth can clearly see that. If God’s kingdom is to come, we should be working to make sure it is advancing here on earth. In fact, the final five lines of the prayer go back and forth between God’s work in heaven and his (and our) work on earth. Let’s look at those now.

Provision

“Give us today our daily bread” is a typical second person imperative that we might expect. It’s a simple request of God that he provide our daily, basic needs—not just food, but whatever we need to get through each and every day. It’s focused on our life here on earth, with God acting from heaven to move all the pieces in place for us. And because it’s “daily” bread, Jesus is saying that we should come to God each and every day, not just once in a while.

Asking for God to provide our daily bread does not absolve us from the responsibility to work. If we’re able and have the opportunity, we can and should work for a living. Paul says in Thessalonians that the one who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat. In times we face need, then, we can lean a bit more on this promise. Additionally, those of us here on earth, through compassionate and charitable efforts, can work to provide daily bread for those less fortunate and bring them to a place of self-sufficiency.

Pardon

In the next phrase, Jesus switches the focus to heaven: “Forgive us our debts.” This action again is a second person imperative, and the focus of the action takes place in heaven. Jesus declares us forgiven from the right hand of the Father. After all, it is his shed blood that purchased forgiveness, and his resurrection confirmed that he is both the Son of God and the one that has authority to forgive sins.

The next phrase is the only first person statement in the prayer, and as such, I think an important focus in the prayer. The scene moves back to earth: “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” Verses 14–15, immediately following the prayer, are an important contextual clue that this phrase is the focus of the Lord’s Prayer. If we forgive others here on earth, God forgives our sins; if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive our sins.

Protection

God providing our needs and forgiving our sins is essential for our physical and spiritual well-being. It is the best protection we have against the corruption of our souls and against falling into sin. But sometimes, the evil that comes at us may seem larger than life, and we need God’s extra protection to get through the really difficult times.

“Lead us not into temptation” brings the focus back to earth, and returns to the use of a second person verb, but this time, it’s subjunctive. In English terms, that means it rises to the level of an earnest plea: “Please, please, O God, do not lead us into temptation!” It’s one thing for us to ask God to help us in this way; it’s quite another if we intentionally put ourselves in a position to be tempted. The plea recognizes that sometimes, we can’t keep the birds from flying overhead, as Martin Luther put it, but that we can keep them from building a nest on our head. In the modern media and Internet culture, temptation is just a click away. We often need to rely on God’s strength and guidance to keep us out of situations where we might be compromised.

The final phrase, “Deliver us from the evil one,” (back to a second person imperative) returns the focus to heaven again, and brings to mind the passage in Ephesians 6 about the armor of God. Paul says in 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This is why the modern translations say “from the evil one” instead of the classic “from evil.” The Greek word for “evil” in the Lord’s Prayer has the definite article with it, and that implies that it’s not talking about a concept, but an actual evil person, someone who intends you harm. Jesus intends us to put a face on the concept. And that doesn’t necessarily always refer to Satan. It can be anyone here on earth or any of the forces Paul mentions above from the heavenly realms who intend us harm.

When Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 6:13 to “put on the full armor of God,” this is our God-given arsenal to “deliver us from the evil one.” What many people don’t realize about that phrase is that the armor of God doesn’t come from some divine arsenal that has an unlimited supply of breastplates, helmets, and shields. Every reference to a defensive piece of armor or the dual-purpose sword has its origin in the Old Testament, and they are all pieces that God himself wears. So “armor of God” means God’s own personal armor! In other words, we’ve got the best!

Conclusion

The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, but it is so much more as I’ve tried to show here. As a model, it serves as a daily defense against the things that would try to rob us of our spiritual health and joy in Christ. It encourages us to forgive as we have been forgiven so we can have healthy relationships with family and friends. It shows that we rely on God to give us just what we need each and every day. It is our way to stay connected to the Savior and know his love and protection each and every day.

My thoughts are my own,

Scott Stocking

 

February 9, 2019

#ToxicMasculinity: Walking Like an Egyptian Pharaoh

Toxic masculinity is a hot topic these days, but I’ve yet to hear a clear definition of it from the media. As I was reading through the first few chapters of Exodus today, however, I saw several examples of it.

Extreme Toxicity: Pharaoh

The one that sticks out most to me is Pharaoh himself. In Exodus 1:16, Pharaoh is afraid of the Hebrews becoming too numerous, so he orders the midwives to kill all male babies as they are being delivered. The female (note the gender here) midwives, however, have great courage and integrity, and refuse to obey Pharaoh’s command to practice perinatal abortions founded on gender discrimination. Not only that, this is also a prima facie example of the rich and powerful oppressing, abusing, and dare I say even murdering the poor, weak, and defenseless. When Pharaoh realizes the midwives aren’t able to carry out his command, he takes his toxic masculinity to the next level and orders that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile River (Ex 1:22). It is important to know here that the females fear God’s (or their gods’) retribution if they kill the innocent, while Pharaoh has no fear of God.

Pharaoh overplays both his responsibility for leadership and defense of others. He overplays his leadership responsibility by becoming a tyrant with respect to the Hebrews. He overplays his responsible to defend those he’s responsible for by attempting to destroy those whom he views as a threat, even if that threat may be 20 to 30 years down the road. The ultimate source of his toxic masculinity is his lack of regard for the one true God, the God of the Hebrews, whose power he will soon come to experience.

Pathetic Toxicity: Moses

Moses, initially at least, represents the other extreme from Pharaoh. Moses has first-hand knowledge of God, and even has an extended conversation with him. However, in spite of all the assurances God gives to Moses about being with him, giving him words to speak, and showing Pharaoh his mighty power, Moses plays the wimp card. “Who am I, God?” “I speak with faltering lips, God.” “Send someone else to do it, God.” Really, Moses? God gives him a rare gift, a full accounting of what God wants him to do (most of us feel like we’re guessing at that, right?), and he isn’t man enough to accept it, at least, to accept it willingly and enthusiastically. To Moses’s credit, though, once he starts to see God afflict Pharaoh and Egypt with the plagues, his reluctance wanes and his confidence in God’s purpose for his life grows exponentially.

Toxicity 2019: Men With No Chests

Is it a stretch to say that so-called men like @GovernorVA Ralph Northam and @NYGovCuomo Andrew Cuomo are not that far removed from Pharaoh’s toxicity? Like Pharaoh, these two toxically masculine State governors want to kill babies right up to the time of birth and even after birth. They have indeed regressed to a more primitive culture, hiding behind the guise of “Pro-Choice,” which is in itself a form of toxic femininity (judging from the tweets and retweets of New York Council on Women & Girls chairperson @Melissadderosa she’s an icon of toxic femininity in New York). They prey on the weak for their own political gain, not caring one whit about the emotional impact on women and families or the cultural decline that such positions represent. It is an absolute power play of the rich and powerful.

And where are men who should be taking the lead opposing this toxicity? Let’s start with the men who father these children, then run away and make an intentional choice not to be involved in or support the care of the pregnant mother or the child that is born to the mother who has the courage and integrity to give the child a chance at life. That’s pathetic toxicity to be sure. And what about you, men of God? Are you silent on this issue? Is this a worthy battle to fight? Can we harness our righteous energy and lead with integrity? Can we fight for the things that matter most, like the sanctity and dignity of those created in the image of God? Can we show tender care for the weak, the helpless, those who have lost hope, and those who need a vision of heaven? Let us rise up and make our voices heard!

Conclusion

It is scary to think that the world has come almost full circle from the time of Pharaoh in Egypt over 3,000 years ago. This culture of despising life at its most vulnerable stages is toxic regardless of gender. Those who think they are “progressive” are lying to themselves; they have in fact put on display and are proud of their “regressive” policies. It’s time for the people of God to stand up for truth. God is with us! We need to be faithful to him and trust that he will win the victory for us just as he did when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. Remember, that God was always the one fighting for them; they never had to lift a finger in violence toward their enemies, and neither should we.

My opinions are my own.

Scott Stocking

January 20, 2019

Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41 (NIV & TNIV)

Filed under: Greek,Life of Christ,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Textual Criticism — Scott Stocking @ 6:40 am

[Author’s Note: Thank you to all who’ve made this the #1 post for 2021 through June. I trust you’re finding it helpful. I’m always curious to know how my posts are used and how you were referred to them, especially if they’re used as an assigned reading in a college class. I’m not seeking any compensation for such use; I’m trying to collect some data I can use to show potential employers my articles have academic value.]

I was rather surprised the other day when I read Mark 1:41 in the NIV (2011 edition). A man with leprosy came to Jesus and asked him to heal him. The NIV text says “Jesus was indignant,” but he still “reached out his hand and touched the man.” The obvious question here is, “Why was Jesus indignant?” After all, most other English translations of the Bible, as well as the eclectic Greek text, say “Jesus had compassion.” So how did the NIV committee arrive at the “indignant” translation?

The Variant Reading: External Evidence

In Mark 1:41, the editors of the United Bible Societies (UBS) Greek New Testament (GNT; Third and Fourth editions) have settled on σπλαγχνισθεὶς (splanchnistheis, from σπλαγχνίζομαι splanchnizomai, “I have compassion on”) for the original text. All but one Greek manuscript uses this word. The only Greek manuscript that doesn’t is Fifth Century Codex Bezae (identified as “D” in the UBS apparatus), which uses ὀργισθεὶς (orgistheis, from ὀργίζομαι orgizomai, “I am angry”). The parallel Latin text on the opposing page has iratus (pp. 557–8).

In the third edition, the editors were unsure they had restored the original text, and gave it the lowest certainty rating possible: D (not to be confused with the apparatus designation of the same letter). In the fourth edition, however, the editors upgraded their certainty of σπλαγχνισθεὶς to B.

Now one might think the volume of the “external” evidence (that is, all of the documents that have σπλαγχνισθεὶς, and the relative age of those documents) might be enough to convince translators that Mark 1:41 should be translated “Jesus had compassion,” but external evidence does not always have the final word. Translators must also consider the “internal” evidence in support of a particular reading. Internal evidence considers such things as the surrounding context, parallel or similar passages, and any structural considerations.

Internal Evidence

Bill Mounce has a summary of the external issues in this passage, but he did not delve very deep into internal issues that may have influenced the Mark 1:41 NIV translation. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that Mounce himself was surprised to find the NIV had “Jesus was indignant,” because he was on the NIV translation committee! He may not have translated Mark, though, so I can’t be too hard on him, and the intermediate TNIV translation had already switched to “indignant” from the original NIV’s “compassion” before Mounce joined the NIV committee. One of the principles of determining the original reading (a process called “textual criticism”) is that the translator prefer the most difficult reading of the text. “Jesus was indignant” certainly fits that given the immediate situation in the verses. Add to that that it would have been very tempting for a copyist to “soften the blow” of ὀργισθεὶς by substituting σπλαγχνισθεὶς, since that is exactly what Jesus does in this situation.

According to Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (the GNT editorial committee’s explanation of choices made among variant readings), they thought that Jesus’ “strong warning” in vs. 43 might be one piece of internal evidence to support ὀργισθεὶς. The editors also cite similar statements in Mark 3:5 and 10:14. I would add to this that the broader context of the passage would seem to hint that Jesus may indeed be indignant. In 35–37, Jesus goes off to a solitary place to pray, but his disciples come looking for him because everyone else is looking for Jesus. Jesus’s response in vs. 38 is telling: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” And so he went out preaching and driving out demons. Verse 39 says nothing of Jesus healing people. In other words, it seems that Jesus wanted a break from the healing, because that wasn’t his main purpose while on Earth.

And so we come to the scene with the man with leprosy. Could it be that Jesus is indignant because he knows what will happen if he heals another person? It’s not that Jesus does not want to heal the man: it’s clear he’s willing to. But the man fails to heed Jesus’s “strong warning” not to tell anyone, and v. 45 says, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.” He wanted to preach, but the crowds he was attracting with his healing were hindering that mission. I can see how that would make him indignant.

One other point that Mounce makes is that the BAGD lexicon does not list “indignant” as a meaning for ὀργισθεὶς. However, a couple other Scriptures outside of Mark may imply “indignation” more so than “anger.” The most significant of the 8 other occurrences of ὀργίζομαι is found in Luke 15:28, at the end of the story of the Prodigal Son. The older brother is “angry” for sure, to the point of “righteous indignation” for how his prodigal brother is treated. Luke 14:21 seems to carry the idea of indignation as well, where the master of the banquet brings in the commoners after his invited guests have turned down his generous invitation. Another Greek word, ἀγανακτέω (aganakteō), usually carries the sense of “indignant.”

Weighing the Evidence

Although between Metzger, the NIV translation, and my own contributions here, I think I’ve made a pretty solid case for choosing the less common variant ὀργισθεὶς, it is difficult to overlook the preponderance of external evidence for σπλαγχνισθεὶς. The most prominent uncial manuscripts are all contemporary with or earlier than D, so that is a significant strike against the argument from internal evidence. It is also possible that, if this was copied as someone read the text to roomful of scribes, the copyist of D misheard the person who was reading the text and used the wrong word. It’s possible the copyist still had in his mind words like ERCHetai and pARAKalōn from vs. 40 and prefixed the wrong, but similar sounding, root (ORG) to the istheis ending he heard. The parallel passages in Mt 8:2–4 and Lk 5:12–14 say nothing of Jesus’s attitude toward the situation, so there is no reason the copyist would have tried to change the word to harmonize the passage with parallel accounts.

Conclusion

As such, as much as I like the NIV and respect those I’ve read and have met on the translation committee, I must disagree with the translation “Jesus was indignant.” I think the weight and character of the external evidence outweighs the logic of the internal evidence. If we had more Greek manuscripts that had ὀργισθεὶς in that verse, it might be more compelling to accept “indignant.” But as it stands, I think the solid tradition of most English translations accepting the settled text of the GNT wins the day. Mark 1:41 should be translated “Jesus, having compassion, stretched out his hand….”

Scott

My opinions are my own.

January 12, 2019

Mystery of Immersion (Baptism), Part Two

Filed under: Greek,Immersion/Baptism,Romans,Soteriology,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 3:37 pm

In my post from 6.5 years ago (has it been that long!), The Mystery of Immersion (Baptism), I argued that there is a “mystery” (in the classical sense) in immersion (a more accurate translation of the Greek word typically translated “baptism”) akin to what the Catholics attribute to the Eucharist (Communion or the Lord’s Supper to us Protestants). In reading through Romans this time around, I still believe immersion must have a special place in the life of a Christ-follower, but I am even more convinced of the efficacy (and practicality) of immersion to bond us to Christ.

The Blood of Christ

Many Christ followers know Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the real hope is found in the two verses that follow: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” Christ’s faithfulness to death on the cross, that is, to submitting to the shedding of blood, is the foundation for our forgiveness. As Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

Throughout Romans, Paul makes contrasts between death and life. Romans 5:9–10 is quite striking in this contrast: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” [Note the “how” statements are NOT questions!]

I have argued elsewhere that Christ’s complete, unfailing obedience to the Law qualifies him as “the Righteous one.” It is because he is righteous that his sacrifice can impart righteousness to us. Paul says as much in Romans 7:4: “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Hebrews 9:14 says it in a different way: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we my serve the living God!”

The Waters of Immersion

I believe the centerpiece of Romans 1–11 is chapter 6, Paul’s discussion about immersion. Romans 1–11 is an intense theological statement on how God, through Christ’s shed blood, not only purchased salvation for us, but also restores us to a right relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters in the faith. When Paul says in Romans 6:3: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death?” he’s making a solid connection between the blood of Christ and the waters of immersion. It is almost as if Paul is declaring the act of immersion to be a reverse typology.

Typology, in the biblical sense anyway, looks at an event in the past and shows how that points to Christ. Here, Christ’s death has already happened, and the significance of that requires a significant event in our own lives to make the connection. Immersion, then, is not merely (not even?) a symbolic act that we can dismiss as merely a “work of the flesh,” as some try to do, but it is an event oozing with meaning and purpose, so much so that it is foolish for a Christ-follower to ignore it or think it’s not for them. Setting aside for a moment the debate about whether immersion is a sine qua non event for salvation, let’s look at what else we glean about immersion from this section of Scripture. These gleanings fall into two categories: how Christ’s death benefits us spiritually, and how Christ’s resurrection benefits us practically.

United with Christ’s Death (Romans 6:5a)

Justified by his blood: Romans 5 is truly amazing in that it demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt what God’s grace is. In 5:6, Paul says “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Rewind. Repeat. Yes, we had absolutely nothing to do with it. We were powerless, Paul says. We couldn’t effect any spiritual benefit to ourselves if we tried. But not only that, and this is the real kicker, Christ died for the ungodly. What? He says it again in a different way (v. 8b): “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” You mean we don’t have to “get right with God” first before Christ’s death becomes effectual for us? Now that is grace! Weak and undeserving as we were, enemies of God (v. 10), Christ still died for us. And the end result of that is we are justified; “just as if I’d” never sinned. Christ grants us his right standing—a result of his perfect obedience to the Law—before God

Reconciled to God: In 5:10, Paul speaks of being reconciled to God. This means that our relationship with God is mended, restored. We’re no longer enemies, no longer slaves to sin, no longer considered ungodly; God looks at us and sees Christ.

Dead to the Law: The Law is good because it makes us aware of sin, but it is also the source of condemnation. As I said above, because Christ fulfilled the Law, those of us in Christ have the full credit of fulfilling the Law through him. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Dead to sin: In 7:14ff, Paul speaks of the hypothetical “I” who is “unspiritual.” Without the Spirit, Paul has little to no control over the sinful nature. The law of sin wages war against God’s law. But as with the previous point, Paul clears this up in Romans 8:2: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set your free from the law of sin and death.” You can live for God unencumbered!

Cleanse our conscience: Hebrews 9:14a reemphasizes these points from Romans. “The blood of Christ… [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” The author of Hebrews further brings home the point in 10:22: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Could that be the waters of immersion?

United in Christ’s Resurrection (Romans 6:5b)

Bear fruit for God: Along with the benefits linked to the death of Christ in Romans 5–7 and elsewhere, we also see benefits linked to the resurrection. Romans 7:4 sounds a bit like Ephesians 2:10 and the good works God prepared in advance for us to do: “That [we] might belong…to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”

Death has no power over us: Romans 5:9 and 10 tell us we are saved from God’s wrath and saved through Christ’s life (post-resurrection). In 6:8–9, Paul emphasizes that death no longer has mastery over Christ, and since Christ-followers are united with Christ in his resurrection, they also share that victory over death.

Seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6): The first part of Ephesians is a glorious picture of our position in Christ in the heavenly realms. Not only are we made alive with Christ (even when dead in transgression!), but we are raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly realms. And if there was any doubt how that happens, the grace of God pervades that passage of Scripture as it does through the first three chapters of Ephesians.

Serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14b): Most of us, regardless of our age, heard or have heard JFK’s quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Just change “country” to “God” and you’ve got the idea of Hebrews 9:14b. What a glorious privilege to serve in the courts of the eternal, living, gracious God. Can you think of any service that would lead to any greater eternal reward or greater feeling of satisfaction and personal fulfillment?

Living Sacrifice

Because Romans 1–11 ends with a glowing doxology, we can safely assume that Paul is closing out his theological argument and moving into the realm of practical application in 12–16. The “therefore” in 12:1, then, refers back to the entire argument, especially with immersion as the centerpiece. When Paul says: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” it becomes quite clear that he’s making an altar call to immersion and all that goes with it, as I have just described above.

Paul begins and ends Romans with a curious phrase: “the obedience of faithfulness” (1:5, 16:26; for more on this, see my Obedience in Romans post). But in 5:19, right before Paul launches into his treatise on baptism, he seems to revisit that idea, giving us a clue that he has reached the point where he’s delivering the main thrust of his argument. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Jesus is that one man who was obedient to God’s law, and as a result, his death and resurrection purchased our forgiveness and salvation, and our unity with those two events in immersion absolutely solidifies our connection with the Savior.

Conclusion

When you examine the context around Paul’s treatise on immersion in Romans 6, you begin to see that chapter 6 is not an isolated excursus on one theological point, but that immersion is the glue that ties the two “pillars” of the faith (Christ’s death and his subsequent resurrection) together in a neat theological “type.” Not only that, but the many blessings that Christ-followers experience are linked to immersion by virtue of their inclusion in the broader context of chapters 5–7. Immersion, then, is not something to be taken lightly, or sluffed off as a mere work of the flesh, but it is a near-complete picture of who we are and what we have in Christ. When the implications of immersion are rightly understood, there can be no doubt that it is an essential event in the life of a Christian, not just a reference point for salvation, but an expression that we’re all-in for Christ.

Scott

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the 2011 version of the NIV.

 

September 15, 2018

Men of Honor: 2018

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 6:43 am

When things break, what do we guys do? I would guess many of us would find a way to fix it, right? Now some of us are naturals at that kind of thing. Whether its our cars, our homes, our motorcycles, lawn mowers, we’d like to think we can take a stab at fixing these things. For some of us, the rule is not “necessity is the mother of invention,” but “necessity is the motivation for self-education.” We’re not afraid to find that video on YouTube that shows us how to do a complete brake job, how to fix a broken pipe, change a blown circuit breaker, or install a ceiling fan. We dive right in and give it the old college try. If it goes right and we don’t burn the house down, it’s a success. But when the inevitable problem you never saw coming rears its head, that’s when things can get ugly, and expensive.

Now when things break, we generally need to know what the original looked like, or what a complete, functional version of the thing looks like. In other words, we need a model or a manual from the manufacturer (that is, a source of truth) to show us the right way. If we can fix it ourselves with the model or manual, great! But if we don’t have the right tools, the tools are too expensive, or we just don’t have the resources or skill to fix it, we need to call the experts. They have the experience, the knowledge, and the tools to not only get the job done right, but to anticipate and work through those problems you never saw coming. And when whatever it is gets fixed, it looks right, works right, and is a source of joy or pride instead of frustration to its owner.

Now fixing material things is relatively easy. But how do we fix things that we can’t put our hands on? How do we fix an irreconcilable break in our marriage? How do we overcome PTSD after experiencing military conflict, violence, or a bad accident? How do we repair a relationship with a child who’s taken the wrong path, and how do we help repair that child? These problems are much bigger than ourselves, and we typically need more than a YouTube video to find the answers. When our hearts and our minds are troubled by things larger than ourselves, we can turn to the maker of our hearts and minds, God, to begin the healing process.

On a personal level, this is what salvation is. God created a perfect world with a perfect couple and gave them only one simple warning to heed in order to maintain that perfection, and Adam and Eve blew it. That one act of disobedience forever broke mankind’s relationship with God. Because that relationship was bigger than any human could fathom, God needed a big solution to fix it: one man who was fully human and fully God, so that he understood completely and intimately within himself what our relationship with God should be like. This God-man, this Son of God/Son of Man, of course, is Jesus. He is the only one who can fix our broken lives so that we can live as he intended us to in this world and be a source of joy not only for God, but for those around us.

Personal side of salvation

Ephesians 2:1–10: Break it down:

We were worldly, but God loved us enough to reunite us with Christ

  • Made alive
  • Raised us up
  • Seated us with him

Grace used three times in this passage

Grace through the faithfulness of Jesus (compare Romans 3:23–24 here)

  • Jesus’s life and death
  • Faithfulness to go to the cross
  • One sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:15; 10:12–13)

Created to do good works

Personal response to salvation

Mental Ascent: Belief

Romans 1:16–17: Break it down

God’s righteousness revealed; Jesus lived for God faithfully so we could know the salvation he brings.

Physical Ascent: Baptism & Communion

So if we have a savior who laid down his very life for us on the cross, a physical sacrifice, can we accept such a great act of love without a response? The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, so it makes sense that our response to that should be something that puts us in contact with, figuratively speaking, the blood of Christ. This is where baptism, or more accurately, immersion, and communion come in.

Romans 6:1–14: Break it down (read at least through 7 if time is short)

Word means immerse; derives from the sound of something or someone going into the water: /Bahpt/. Βαπτω = dip, but βαπτίζω = dip completely, immerse. It’s more intense than just dipping.

Connects us not only with the blood of Jesus, but also his resurrection, so can have assurance as well.

Christ is our new master; no longer slaves to sin

Communion: Our weekly reminder of and connection to Christ’s sacrifice.

The Big Picture of Salvation: Saved from our enemies

Luke 1:68–75: Read it and explain briefly that God’s salvation is also deliverance from our enemies

Who are our “enemies”? Not just those who don’t like us personally, but those in the world who reject Christianity, who call us bigots and a host of other pejoratives for taking a stand against things out of whack with God’s created order, who reclassify our fellowship as isolationism. Maybe 30 years ago, we didn’t feel this way; but more and more, it feels like the end is getting nearer as persecution begins to ramp up.

Assurance

1 John 5:1–15: Break it down

We KNOW we’re God’s children

We overcome the world, our enemies, the hostile attitudes toward us, with God’s love.

Action

Titus 2:11–14 is nice little compact “formula” for what salvation is and isn’t. Let’s close by looking at those verses (read them)

Premise: The saving grace of God has appeared to all people

Reason: Teaching us to live self-controlled, righteous, and godly lives

Condition: While denying ungodliness and worldly passions in this present age.

Hope: Waiting for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Xenophon, one of Socrates’s students, wrote about the three ways to live in his own polytheistic context, using these same words or synonyms:

Godliness: Right conduct toward God (Socrates: can only be godly if the gods think, or in our case, if God thinks, you are)

Righteous: Right conduct toward others

Self-controlled: Right conduct toward self

Conclusion/Invitation

Your action items:

  • Talk to someone here about getting immersed if you haven’t been already, then do it!
  • Write out your own testimony about being saved
  • Invite another person to hear your testimony, and have him share his
  • Make a list of any lingering questions you may have about salvation. Talk to one of the leaders or pastors here about them
  • Make a list of areas you need to work on for right conduct toward God, others, and self.

November 22, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 3

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 10:15 am

[Note: minor corrections made 12/18/2020] In this third and final post in this series, I want to look at the New Testament view of tax collectors in general, and specifically at one chief tax collector, a wee little man named Zacchaeus.

The Tax Collector Stigma

For the Jews, the occupation of tax collector was at the bottom of the barrel socially. It was right down there with slopping pigs, prostitution, and leprosy. In order for the Roman government to collect taxes, they needed people in every district who knew the people (and the culture) of those around them. For the Jews, this meant that their own people had to serve a Roman government that at best tolerated their belief in the one true God and that considered their emperor a supreme divinity worthy of worship. In fact, everything about the Roman pantheon and worship sickened devout Jews, so to work for that government was essentially an act of treason against one’s own people. In fact, they were often called “sinners” by the Jewish people.

The process of tax collecting was a rather inexact science as well. Rome didn’t really give their tax collectors a salary. The norm was that the Roman government expected a certain amount of taxes in the aggregate from a district, and it was up to the local tax collector to decide how much to tax people. There were no forms to file and no concept of a “personal” income or wealth tax. If the tax collector wanted to get “paid” for his services, he would often add a “hidden” surcharge to each bill. (It wasn’t really hidden, though; the people knew how the tax collectors operated.) Anything the tax collector collected over the aggregate amount the Rome demanded was kept by the tax collector for his compensation.

Rome was organized well. They had a hierarchical structure in their government that allowed them to effectively rule a large territory. As you might expect, then, the local tax collectors in the various districts would report to a regional “chief” tax collector. If Rome told the chief tax collector, “We want 100,000 denarii from your region,” the chief tax collector would add his own cut to that, divide it out among his subordinates, and demand that amount from the subordinates. So for Rome to get its 100,000 denarii, it was possible that as much as 200,000 denarii was collected from the people. In other words, they were taxed twice as much (or more) as what Rome demanded.

Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector

And so we come to the story of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, in Luke 19:1–10. It is apparent that Zacchaeus has a fascination with Jesus and his teachings, so much so that the short little rich man climbed up into a sycamore-fig tree so he could catch a glimpse of Jesus over the crowd. As Jesus is walking along with the crowd, he sees Zacchaeus, calls him out of the tree, and says, “I’m having lunch with you today.”

Now we don’t have to imagine the reaction of the crowd here, because Luke tells us how they responded. They were a bit disgruntled. After all, I’m sure there were a lot of good Jews in the crowd who had some very pressing needs: sick relatives to heal, spiritual questions to ask, and relationships to restore. But out of that whole crowd, Jesus pays special attention to a man, known by the crowd, who was considered one of the worst sinners in Israel for his collaboration with the Roman government. Wouldn’t you feel a bit put-out as well?

But Zacchaeus, perhaps realizing his own fallen nature, doesn’t even give Jesus a chance to come to his house. In fact, he announces something astounding to Jesus and the crowd that probably caused a few of them to swoon and faint: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Because salvation is not just an assent to a belief but evidence of a changed life, Jesus responds: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The Lesson for Today

As I said in the first post in this series, high taxes are considered sinful in Scripture. Zacchaeus himself seems to have been a good man, but he had become slave to a system that in the end did not set well with his conscience. The recent revelations about the U.S. IRS showing bias against conservative and religious groups for tax-exempt status is evidence of just how corrupt that particular organization is. But do you think they’re going to return four times the amount those organizations got cheated out of? Not a chance. Yet if we make a mistake and shortchange the IRS, well you’d better be prepared to pay the penalties. That’s not equitable in the least.

As with the Medicare & Medicaid regulations I mentioned in the previous post, the IRS tax code is a behemoth that needs to die a quick death. With a 2016 budget of $14 billion (and about 40% of that spend on enforcement), it’s easy to see how we could reduce spending by simplifying the code and reducing the out-of-control bureaucracy. I think all Americans understand this, and that is why the political candidates who are pushing for a simplified tax code have the most traction right now.

As an update to the previous post, the new report on Medicare and Medicaid overpayments came out last week; Medicaid improper payments alone have nearly doubled in the last two years! The 2015 figure: 9.78%, or $29.12 billion. That’s twice the IRS budget for 2016! Officials continue to blame the second increase in as many years on the States’ failure to catch up to new provider enrollment requirements. Well, can you blame them? With the regulations and size of these programs far exceeding the capacity to effectively manage them, and with States already strapped for cash for being practically forced to expand Medicaid and foot the bill for other unfunded mandates, it’s no wonder the States can’t keep up. They’re in the same boat as the populace at large.

Paul says in Romans 13 that we’re to be subject to the governing authorities. Of course, he was speaking to people who lived under the rule of a king, so they didn’t exactly have a voice. The government that God has instituted for America is a republic, rule of the people, by the people, and for the people through our elected representatives. As citizens, then, we do not “rebel” when we demand a change to systems that we find unfair or oppressive. In fact, in a republic, it is our civil obligation to not only say something, but to actively work to promote policies that improve the general welfare of the people. Unfortunately, in an increasingly selfish and fragmented society, government is working to promote the specific welfare of specific classes of people, and all for the purpose of enslaving those people to dependence on the government instead of reliance on themselves.

The views expressed herein are my own. Period.

Scott Stocking

 

 

November 5, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 2

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

In the previous post, we looked at how the greedy heir of Solomon wanted to impose even greater financial burden on the people of Israel, wealthy and poor alike. In fact, if Israel was working the way it was supposed to, there would be very few poor, if any in Israel. Deuteronomy 15 talks about the “year of cancelling debts,” which was to happen every seven years. Anyone who has ever felt the burden of great debt knows how that weighs on the soul and drains the livelihood out of life. Fortunately, our society has a mechanism to allow this freedom from debt: bankruptcy. Some Christians might say it’s a sin to not pay off your debts, but I believe God understood human nature well enough even in the days before MasterCard to establish a means for that kind of freedom.

Aiding the Poor, Old Testament Style

Care for the poor has always been the responsibility of the people of God. It was virtually unheard of that a government in biblical times would have considered the kind of wealth redistribution we practice in America today. As early as Leviticus 19, God was commanding the Israelite people, NOT the rulers, to make accommodations for the poor. “Do not reap the very edges of your field” (v. 9); “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (v. 10); “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…[They] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 33–34). (“Foreigners in the land” is quite different from illegal aliens today, but that will have to wait for another post.)

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of blessings for the poor and warnings about oppressing or mistreating them. There are even verses about God defending the cause of the poor and the orphans. But never once in Scripture will you find God or the biblical writers ever encouraging political leaders to extract money from the rich to give to the poor. Meeting the needs of the poor is always a voluntary compassionate effort. Wealth redistribution, on the other hand, is neither voluntary nor compassionate, unless you consider those who could be working to be voluntarily unemployed!

Aiding the Poor, New Testament Style

When we get to Acts in the New Testament, we see almost immediately a community that voluntarily shares their possessions or sells them to meet the needs of their newfound family of faith. Acts 2:44–45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” No taxation, no big brother government taking from the rich, keeping their own cut, then redistributing to the poor. It was a self-sustained community. Acts 4 continues the theme. In fact, they took the voluntary nature of giving so seriously, that when Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and lied to God about having given the entire sale price, they were struck dead! Peter even asks Ananias the question he never got to answer: “Wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4).

The seriousness with which the young church handled charity is further seen in Acts 6. There was a complaint that the Greek Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Widows were an especially vulnerable demographic group, because family, if they were nearby, were their only means of support otherwise.) The disciples recognized the Old Testament principles discussed above and chose seven men of character and integrity to oversee the distribution.

But as far as charity goes in the New Testament, freeloaders need not apply. Paul is very clear about his attitude toward those who can work but don’t, even to the point of implying that they are thieves. “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28); “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b; 3:6–14 is an extended warning about idleness). Even Paul himself worked at his own trade to pay his own way as he ministered across the northern Mediterranean region.

The Lesson for Today

Taking charity out of the hands of a bloated, corrupt government and reenergizing the church to fulfill its biblical calling to care for the poor is the absolute best thing we can do to fight poverty in our nation. The local church can do a much better job of weeding out frauds and phonies than the government ever will do. Here’s something to chew on: Medicare and Medicaid are number 1 and 3 when it comes to improper payments for government programs. Medicaid’s 2014 overpayments were $17.5 billion (that’s billion, with a b); NASA’s 2014 budget was $17.6 billion! And Medicare’s improper payments were beyond the reach of NASA: almost $46 billion.

Much of that is fraud and abuse, but even with program integrity efforts, it’s difficult to keep up with all the schemes perpetrated out there. But improper payments also reflect payments made that technically should not have been made because of honest human error, that is, someone didn’t dot their I’s and cross their T’s. Medicare and Medicaid regulations are about as thick as, if not thicker than, the tax code! So some providers who make an honest attempt help the poor and needy by accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients wind up losing money on the deal because it’s so hard to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory climate and the 55,000 new ICD-10 codes! Handling these things on the local level helps deal with fraud and abuse much more efficiently, because hopefully you know the people in your community.

Food banks, food pantries, and local shelters and “soup kitchens” run by the church or other charitable groups have the potential to be far more efficient than a government-run welfare program. I’ve seen many churches and religious groups get very creative in the things they do to help the poor and needy. You can find ministries that do everything from providing food and shelter to job training to medical care and legal services. And in some cases, big brother Government has stepped in and squelched their generosity by imposing a bunch of needless regulations and rules. The government that’s supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a self-perpetuating behemoth swallowing up the people. It’s time for the church to rise up and reclaim the biblical principles of charity. Let’s show the world we’re not afraid of the politically correct bullies.

Scott Stocking

The views expressed in my blog are my own. Period.

November 2, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity, Part 1

Filed under: Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:55 pm
Tags: ,

The Pope’s September visit to America had the liberal media all a-buzz, focusing on such things as his appeal to address nonexistent global warming. So much for his infallibility. The media and liberal establishment try to justify the ever-burgeoning Welfare State of America by suggesting that those who work hard for their pay have to hand it over to those who don’t work but can. The ignorance about the Bible and what charity really means is really quite disgusting for those of us who’ve been educated on the matter, and even for those who paid attention to Sunday school growing up.

Rehoboam’s Rejection of Rationality

David and his son Solomon worked tirelessly to establish the new kingdom of Israel. David was the warrior who conquered the enemies of Israel. Solomon was the builder who established the infrastructure in Israel. Solomon put a heavy burden on Israel to build that infrastructure, but the people shared his vision, and willingly gave to see the Temple built as a “home” for their God.

But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam had a decision to make. The Israelites came to him seeking relief from the heavy burden under Solomon, primarily because Solomon had amassed the most wealth of anyone before him from any place on the earth, and probably since, at least until American capitalism came on the scene. The message the people brought to Rehoboam is found in 1 Kings 12:4:

Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.

Rehoboam took three days to decide. The elders of Israel saw the wisdom of providing tax relief to the people, but Rehoboam listened to his young friends who had no clue what it took to run a country, and only saw the opportunity to try to make money by continuing the status quo under Solomon: heavy taxes and forced labor. His friends’ suggestion was to tell the Israelites:

My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.

Yeah, thanks, Rehoboam. His response to the people three days later sounds like the liberal’s rant against the rich:

My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.

Now if you think this is a travesty, you’re right. The people who came to Rehoboam would have been those who had some degree of wealth and influence. If there were any poor in Israel at this time, given the wealth of the nation, there weren’t many. The modern welfare state that forcibly takes the people’s money (through taxes) and redistributes it to others would have been abhorrent to Israel. The idea of such heavy taxation, regardless of who the subjects were or how much wealth they had, was exactly the kind of problem God warned Israel about when they demanded a kingdom (1 Samuel 8). In other words, heavy taxation was and is a sin.

Rehoboam’s action earned the people’s disfavor. They killed Rehoboam’s man in charge of forced labor, and Rehoboam barely escaped with his life. Rehoboam’s desire to increase the tax burden on Israel caused a civil war as well. I sense a history lesson waiting to be ignored.

The Lesson for Today

Rehoboam continued to place a heavy tax burden on Israel so he and his cronies could prosper off the people. This really isn’t much different today, especially when the socialist, liberal left insist on taxing everything that lives and breathes in any way possible. The bailout in 2008 of companies “too big to fail” was a farce. GM got a huge chunk of change, then had to recall thousands of vehicles they had made at that time. Obviously there’s no accounting for quality there with the people’s money.

Then there’s the whole debacle with Healthcare.gov, the system set up for people to enroll in a healthcare plan with a kickback. One recent report documents the lack of qualifications of CMS employees to serve as contracting officers and the lack of quality controls that give new meaning to the term “snafu.” I work for a Federal contractor, so I know all about our monthly status reports and providing deliverables on time and on budget. Yet neither the major contractor, CGI Federal (their contract was worth over $250 million), nor CMS could prove they’d delivered or received, respectively, the quality assurance surveillance plan. It’s not much of a leap to assume that the lack of such a plan was a major reason why Healthcare.gov had such a pathetic kickoff. The improprieties of the whole process are too numerous to list here, but the report makes for good, but disturbing, reading for those who think the government spends way too much of their money. For more disturbing reading, check out this report.

There’s no excuse for the poor quality Americans got for their money. The system may be working now, but there are other problems that I’ll delve into later, especially the questionable practice of offering kickbacks to folks who buy their insurance through the marketplace. More on that in Part II. The American tax system is so bloated that it’s an insult to the faith of millions to suggest we should be taxed more to continually prop up and expand the Welfare State, and then suggest that’s the “Christian” thing to do. The founding fathers are rolling over in their graves. I even hear Thomas Paine scratching on his coffin to remind people we’re close to coming full circle back to 1776.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution says to “promote the general welfare” of this nation. But we’ve certainly turned that on its head. We’re promoting the specific welfare of Democrat cronies and those who refuse to work or have given up all hope of work and change for the better in the dreadful Obama economy.

Scott Stocking

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