Friday, August 26, 2011

More questions than answers...

Have a read of Matthew 16:21-28 and then answer the following questions honestly.

Would you lay everything on the line for the gospel?

How much effort and energy do you as an individual put into self-preservation?

How does your faith respond to your fear?

How does your fear limit your faith?

Has it ever bothered you that being a Christian was no guarantee that your life would be a bed of roses?

These are just a few of the questions that the words of Jesus stir up in me. They are big questions and the answers are in you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Some thoughts on Matthew 16:13-20

Oddly enough it all begins in the far north of Palestine near a town named Caesarea Philippi. A town named for the Roman Emperor and the current king of the Jews, Philip. It was the home for the cult of Pan, the half-man/half-goat being better known for drunken orgies than theological and spiritual speculation. Yet in this setting Jesus opens the discussion with his disciples about his own identity. Maybe he did this because the truth is that a full understanding of who Jesus is and what he does can only be found while living in the real world, and not locked away in ivory towers of academia or in fortress-like closed communities. Jesus came for the world. Jesus lived in the world. Jesus died for the world. Jesus rose again for the world and sends us, his church, to live, work, preach, teach, and love in the world, so what better place to get his disciples back in 30-something AD and us living today thinking about who Jesus is.

He begins by asking his disciples a simple information gathering the question:

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

How many times hasn’t each of us asked that question of our friend or family, wondering what other people may think of us? Here Jesus is asking also and so a bit of information gathering is taking place. How do people see me? What do they think? What is their perception of who I am? It is easy enough to answer and the disciples are quick to respond, after all this is only someone else’s opinion and requires no commitment on their part. They are only reporting what others are saying.

John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or some other prophet, are the most common opinions. Not surprising really. John the Baptist was only recently dead and even Herod thought at first that Jesus was John returned from the dead. As for the prophets, well every Jew hoped for Elijah, the prophet’s prophet, whose return would signal the restoration of the kingdom of David and the arrival of the messiah. Others obviously found in Jesus’ teaching and criticisms for the Jews a similarity to Jeremiah who was most critical of the Israel of his day. But the best thing about this question and answer is that the disciples were only asked information and reported information. Everything, including Jesus, was kept at arm’s length.

But Jesus then takes the next step:

“What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?”

I get the feeling that at this juncture there was a very long drawn out pointed silence as the disciples looked at one another and their own feet in hope that someone would speak up. To answer this question meant not just making a commitment, but revealing the very core of your faith (or lack thereof) in Jesus. There is no escape and no time for evasion.

And what about you? Too often this same question brings a similar response from us. We talk about faith in Jesus, but what kind of Jesus? Who do you see Jesus as? Rabbi? Moral Teacher? Philosopher? Wise man? Lord? Saviour? Son of God? Is he alive and living in you and through your life?

More often than not, we see Jesus as a historical figure. Someone who has lived and died a long time ago. And even though we believe that he rose from the dead, that too happened a long time ago. We forget that Jesus lives today. In this world. Our world. In us. Through us. Not as a historical figure whose memory, traditions and teachings we are trying to preserve, but as the living, ruling Lord of creation who is actively at work in our lives and the lives of people around us.

I find it interesting that the disciples, standing in the presence of the living Jesus, and we, living almost 2000 years later with the Word of God before us and the many years of evidence of the Spirit’s work in the church and the world, find this a difficult question to answer... “Who do you say I am?”
But Peter speaks into the silence:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ. Wonderfully typical behaviour for him. Peter really is an all in or all out type of person. The question is put and Peter answers clearly, concisely, and firmly. Please note that Peter does not say that he ‘believes’ Jesus to be the Messiah or that he ‘thinks’ or ‘hopes’ that Jesus is the Messiah, but Jesus ‘is’ both Messiah and Son of the living God. No question about it at this time. But we also know that Peter didn’t fully understand what he was saying here, as only a little while later Peter would confront Jesus when Jesus tried to teach his disciples about his impending crucifixion, death and resurrection. This would earn him a very sharp reprimand from Jesus. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter joins with the other disciples in asking when Jesus was going to bring about the Kingdom on earth, his mind still firmly fixed in the restoration of the Davidic kingdom and filled with visions of political, military and financial power. But, be that as it may, in this moment recorded for us by Matthew, Peter gets it right and has the boldness to proclaim it publicly.

There is a challenge for us in Peter’s response. A challenge that touches our lives both as church and as individuals. How willing are we to proclaim who Jesus Christ is? How eager are we? How clearly do we state this fundamental truth of the Christian faith? Jesus...the messiah and son of the living God. At work in the world and in our lives and in this church community. But the challenge is not just about saying the words, but living in this truth. Jesus is Lord, Saviour, Messiah, and living in, through and among us. This should most certainly affect the way we see ourselves, others and the world around us. It should affect our attitudes and our actions, for we are, as church and disciples of Christ, the physical presence and expression of our living Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

There is comfort, too. The reminder that we will not always understand our Lord and his relationship with us. We will not always have the words or the boldness to proclaim or confess what we know to be true about Jesus. And yet God will continue to live and work in and through us, just as he worked through Peter. For ahead lay Pentecost and Peter’s bold preaching. Ahead lay imprisonment...Bold witnessing to Jews and Gentiles...and ultimately death. Eventually Peter lived up to the confession he made that day so many years before when Jesus asked:

“Who do you say I am?”

How do you answer?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What do you think???

In working through the story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus recorded in Matthew 15:21-28 I have found myself with more questions than answers and less understanding and more confusion. I am not keen on those who try to 'clean up' this text to make it more acceptable. There is strength in the story and in the woman and in Jesus, but I am wrestling with exactly where this is all going. Sunday's sermon will be interesting for sure, but in the meantime I place before you my notes and thoughts and questions for your perusal. Enjoy! Think! Share your insights!

v.22…Jesus has gone into the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is her home.
’a Canaanite’…descendents of Noah’s son Ham who was cursed by Noah for his disrepect when seeing his father naked and drunk..this person is one to be despised! Yet her love for her child (a daughter) is so great that she braves this to ask for ‘mercy’. But why ask Jesus???
NOTE: Rahab the prostitute who is named in Jesus’ genealogy at the beginning of Matthew. (Matt. 1: 5) She, too, was a Canaanite who lived in the city of Jericho (Joshua 2).
NOTE: women did not speak to men in public unless related to them via birth or marriage…this woman’s very action of calling out is an affront.
“Son of David”…she identifies him as the rightful king of Israel possibly 'the messiah'..she is asking the King for mercy. Compassion and mercy is the domain of the wealthy and powerful to dispense.

v.23…Jesus ignores her and the disciples beg him to “Send her away!”…so much for compassion.

v.24…Jesus rightly identifies his mission, but….

v.25…Now he can no longer ignore her…she is ‘at his feet’
she impedes his progress…”Stop and listen to me!” is what she is saying by her actions.

v.26…He implies that she is a 'cur'...a dog.
‘children’ obvious reference to ‘children of Israel’.

v.27…the woman accepts her place as a ‘dog’, but identifies her request of Jesus as ‘crumbs’ or ‘scraps’ or ‘leftovers’…Is she saying that this is not a major work or big thing. We would say, “You could do this with your eyes shut and one hand tied behind your back!”

v.28…This is the only time in Matthew's gospel where anyone's faith is termed "great."

Is this what is happening???... "Jesus changes his mind and his attitude toward her, and he relents. This Gentile woman wins the argument, and her daughter is healed. In his capacity to be confronted by others, in his willingness to be forced to listen, and in his openness to change his mind and actions in order to live his mission of love more effectively, Jesus offers us a unique and profound picture of what it means to live with an open heart."

What is this woman’s ‘great faith’? Is it faith in Jesus? Faith in the mercy of God? Faith in Jesus’ power?

The woman in this story doesn’t make any confession of faith.

Did Jesus see and hear a fuller revelation of God in the voice and in the face of the Canaanite woman?

There you have it...more questions than answers. This is what I love about Biblical studies...there are always challenges.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Getting your feet wet...

Matthew 14:22-33 is the interesting account of Peter getting his feet wet. In reading the story there are some things that particularly intrigue me. Here they are....

Is the story about Peter's faith in getting out of the boat? If so, then why does Jesus make a point of his doubt? Was he trying to make the point that Peter could have walked futher if only he had clung to the faith in Jesus that made him leave the boat in the first place? Or is Jesus challenging Peter? Remember Peter challenged Jesus to call him out of the boat to prove that he (Jesus) was not a ghost, so in a way it was similar to Gideon putting out the fleece and asking God to prove his faithfulness. Maybe Peter's doubt was simply something that put him in a position in which he could only walking on water...impossible for a human, but not for God. The real faith is shown by those disciples who stay in the boat believing in the words of Jesus who proclaims that he is who he is.

But on the other hand, Jesus is ready to rescue Peter in verse 31. His hand is out for Peter to take hold. Possibly Peter would have been able to stand with Jesus on the water looking back at the boat load of disciples if only he had trusted in the words of Jesus which invited him out unto the water.

So what do you the boat or out on the water?? I guess either way it is all about trust in Jesus and his words.