June 5, 2020

iMonk 101: Jesus, Joel and The Hard Parts of the Gospel

From February of 2005. I’ve never reprinted this one and it’s one of the most “Jesus shaped” essays I’ve written. I have renamed it. It was originally called “Read It Again…And Don’t Skip The Hard Parts.”

read.jpgLet’s be honest. A lot of Christians have no idea what to do with the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry. What does it mean? What does it have to do with evangelism, church growth and “having a great life now?”

Many of the readers of Internet Monk are familiar with my interest in the Gospel of Mark. I started seriously studying Mark in 1982, in my second year at seminary. I’ve continued reading and studying Mark ever since, in much greater depth than any other Gospel.

Since I came to where I serve today, I’ve had the opportunity to teach the Gospel of Mark 2-5 times a year for a 9-12 week term for 15 of my 17 years here. The Gospel of Mark has really become a part of my mental furniture, and I know my friends have logged plenty of eye-rolls when I reference the Gospel at every possible opportunity.

I admit that it’s a habit, but it’s also a way of thinking, and that way of thinking is increasingly feeding my conviction that the Gospels- in particular the ministry of Jesus in the first half of the synoptics- need far more attention than they typical receive from the typical church or Christian.

When I first started studying the Bible seriously, I studied the epistles. I had no idea where to fit the teaching and miracles of the Gospels into my Christianity. Preachers took the miracles and turned them into all kinds of things: outlines, illustrations, allegories. There was a sense that the Gospels were full of things that just didn’t matter all that much when compared to the efficient, memorizable outline of the Roman Road or the practical teaching of the epistles and the pastoral letters.

My Pentecostal/Charismatic friends, of course, had a slightly different take. They believed the things Jesus did in those miracles were things we ought to be doing now. Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples they would do greater works than he did? So no matter what I thought about it, the Pentecostals who were praying for healing and miracles did seem to be taking the Gospels themselves more at face value.

My own church had pointed me into Scofield-style dispensationalism, and that unique approach meant that much of what Jesus did in the Gospels didn’t really matter for today. Either Jesus was presenting the Kingdom to the Jews of his time, or he was teaching a “Kingdom ethic” for the distant future. Either way, it was easier to go to the writing of Paul, where the questions and answers were more straightforward.

Now, many years later, I have as much appreciation for Paul as ever, but I have begun to suspect something about our uneasy relationship with the Gospels.

Jesus makes things very complicated for American Christians. If you simply follow him around in the Gospels, you are going to get into trouble. Why? Because he isn’t just talking evangelism. He’s talking about a whole life of Kingdom-dominated, life-transforming discipleship.

Let me use an illustration. Years ago, I found myself in a young adult men’s Sunday School class at the church I was serving. I was joining in for some fellowship with men my age, and I wasn’t teaching. The lesson that day was on Matthew 19:21-24. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give it the poor, then come follow him. The young man refuses, and Jesus says it is very difficult for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom.

There was a tangible discomfort in that room full of young doctors, lawyers, realtors and entrepreneurs. They didn’t consider themselves “rich” by American standards (which is absurd,) but the text hit close enough to home that the discussion quickly took the tract of “Well….of course, he didn’t mean that we should actually do that. Right?”

I don’t want to critique those guys. I just want to note that when the Jesus of the early chapters of the Gospels gets loose at the party, things don’t head directly to the subject of church growth or the latest evangelism tract. He gets inside your suit, and he irritates you. He wants things to change, and it makes us nervous.

You see, Jesus is proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), and at the heart of it are two things that are fairly challenging to all of us in the materialistic, prosperous west.

1) The announcement that a climactic time has arrived, and the present age has come to it’s fulfillment point. In other words, a new world, a new creation, is arriving with Jesus. Something happens. “Personal Savior?” I don’t think so.

2) The call is not simply to believe some short form outline of “How to get saved,” but to repent and believe the good news. There is a reorienting/rebirthing of life at fundamental levels. Big questions get asked and answered: What is your God like? Who is your neighbor? How does the Kingdom look when you live in it? Will you follow Jesus to the cross?

These concerns are present in the epistles, but the Gospels go far beyond the epistles in putting the Kingdom in front of us, because everything Jesus says and does is dominated by this Kingdom he is announcing…..and his actions and words make it very clear what kinds of changes must take place. The disciples are blown away by it all, and that’s our cue to get our helmets on as well.

So when you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers and, in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living- and will live- in the Kingdom here, now and in the future.

Most of our study of the early chapters of the Gospels ignore what Jesus is doing, and leave the impression that Jesus wandered around Galilee proving that he was the Son of God, so that when he died we would get the whole, “God’s Son died for your sins” thing. We don’t seem to get the purpose of all of this. It’s not the warm-up act for the cross: it’s the Kingdom. It’s what Jesus came to bring, and to give to us. It’s a Kingdom with a crucified and risen Messiah, but it’s always a Kingdom where believing and belonging mean revolution.

In fact, Jesus is teaching, eating, doing miracles, staging prophetic announcements and performances, shocking the authorities, teaching on a reborn/remixed Israel, training disciples, telling stories and all the rest for the express purpose of saying that if God is here now, and his Kingdom is present now, then YOUR life is going to be deeply transformed. God himself is going to give your life an entirely different definition and direction.

When you break down Mark’s Gospel, it is fascinating to see how discipleship becomes the focus AFTER Jesus brings the cross into view (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33-34) In chapters nine and ten, the disciples are following Jesus to Jerusalem, and he’s made it plain what is going to happen. But they are debating with one another which of them is the greatest, and asking really contemporary questions like this whopper:

Mark 10:32-37 32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

It’s pretty safe to say that “..we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” wasn’t what Jesus had been working toward in the lives and hearts of these men. But this is typical of what Christianity becomes without the Cross, the Kingdom and Discipleship. It becomes a way for us to get “whatever we want” from God.

Listening to the first part of the Gospel story is vital if we are going to understand what Jesus was presenting in “the Gospel” of the Kingdom. It is vital that we will hear, so we will stop trying to find ways to get out of it, and make Christianity into a way to get the best seats for the entertainment and fun that we want so much.

Let me be honest. Currently setting atop the New York Times Bestseller List is “1. YOUR BEST LIFE NOW, by Joel Osteen.”

Joel Osteen and thousands upon thousands of other Christian teachers, authors and pastors, are telling Americans how to get their “best life now.” This has about as much to do with the Kingdom of Jesus Christ as we see it in the Gospels as a Big Mac, fries and a shake have to do with a healthy dinner.

Have you ever thought about this? We are living in the most fabulously wealthy, excessively entertained and unimaginably prosperous nation in the history of the world. We have a standard of living, and a level of comfort, that much of the rest of the world cannot imagine. We have so glutted ourselves with pleasure, comfort and excess that we are morphing into a nation of fat kids hooked up to video games being fed pizza by the servants.

Yet Christian pastors like Osteen are preaching on how YOU can GET MORE. MORE!! Better! How YOU can have your “best life now.” Having a great life in this culture of ours is a major concern of Christians. It’s insane. It’s as if God has lost his mind, and American Christians think it’s great. Jesus is the savior of the world, and his Kingdom is going to last forever, but we want a God who will sign the invoice for a Humvee, a cabin by the lake, and breast enhancements for Mom’s birthday.

Tens of millions will buy Osteen’s book that includes descriptions of how God helped him get a great parking place, how his children want to lead his Lakewood Church to a bigger facility than the $82 million Campaq Center, and how God’s blessing almost always manifests itself in a great new house for people of faith. This is the Kingdom of Jesus….The American dream for white yuppies in suburban Texas.

Osteen’s book is on the top of the best-seller list because thousands of Christian are convinced that this God of increasing American prosperity is the God of the Bible. They are clueless, even with their Bible’s open, because their pastors have found ways to shut Jesus up and make him the servant of the American dream.

How can we break the news to these folks? They are wrong. So wrong, so deeply wrong, that their religion of “Lord, give us whatever we want…now,” has almost nothing in common with what Jesus is saying and doing in the Gospels. The Kingdom he is bringing overturns this nonsense. The Jesus of the Gospel proclaims the promises of prosperity, real estate and parking places to be empty. If we will listen. He’s just as discomforting now as ever, unless we render him the harmless servant of our desires.

Rather than telling us about your best life now, Jesus talks over and over about persecution, sacrifice, voluntary poverty and laying down the images and symbols of success for the lasting worth and influence of the Kingdom of Jesus. People who believe the Father of Jesus Christ gives life meaning don’t hand him a list of goodies and demand that he fork over the stuff. The read the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer, and the example of Jesus with their hearts open to what these things mean in their most obvious sense. No games or exceptions.

Osteen and other American evangelicals believe there is a crisis afoot over whether God is good enough for Americans to believe in him. Jesus demonstrated the goodness of God by including the outcasts and accepting the last, lost, least and overlooked. Evangelicals want God to make their life great…now. Jesus called us to a life of giving someone else a taste of the life they had missed; a life of finding our Joy in the Spirit, not in the flashy trash of the culture. There is joy in the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus said. Joy over one sinner who repents.

It is the older brother of the prodigal son who insists that his Father hasn’t done anything for him lately. The Father invites that son to a resurrection celebration for his reclaimed and restored son. The joy of the Father was there to be had, but entering into it meant entering into the “work” of the Father.

That is what Jesus was doing. John 5 makes it very clear: we are invited to see the Father doing what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels. Then we are invited to that Kingdom and to that same discipleship. Living the life. Making the sacrifices. Repenting. Reaching across the barriers. All of life pointing to Jesus, and to his Kingdom now and from now on.

We are getting a lot wrong. Our ministry should look like the ministry of Jesus. Our “Christianity” should grow right out of those first chapters of Mark. Our goal should be lives that embrace what Jesus shows us during those months in the dusty, desperate villages of Galilee. We need to return to the Gospels believing they matter, and quit avoiding the tensions created by Jesus as he lived the ultimate “purpose-driven” life in the real world.

If our theology has disposed of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry and teachings (before the Passion,) then lose your theology. Pick up the book and read again, and don’t skip the hard parts.

Comments

  1. Thank you. Oh, to read and be troubled by the Jesus of the gospels. Take Jesus out of the Sunday school compartment and bring him into every aspect of our lives.

  2. Yep, I’ve been reading Bonhoeffer. Grace has gone through several Walmart price slashes since he thought it was cheap.

  3. Nice piece, Michael. Love it.
    Brad

  4. Couldn’t put it better. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. I’ll join in the accolades. Wonderfully put and spot on. The hard part now is gonna be living it.

  6. cermak_rd says

    Does Osteen only appeal to the suburban yuppies though? The people I’ve known who are fond of him are not so prosperous as that. One lady I know is an older lady, in her 60’s with health problems and has walked long enough in her religion (Baptist, I don’t think SBC) to know that her Saviour is not going to give her material things, necessarily, or even a cure for her illness. Yet she likes Osteen because he helps her keep a positive view of life. The few (very few) times I’ve heard him, he’s been talking about positive thinking, like Robert Schuller.

  7. Christopher K. says

    Who needs Jesus when you can have your Best Life Now(TM)?

  8. pinoy_crc says

    i thank the Lord for writers who move me to go back and read the Bible. thank you very much iMonk. i’m very new to this blog and would like to encourage you more to keep on pounding every Christian to get back to Jesus our Lord.

    when i first became acquianted with the good news of Jesus, i read Matthew through one sitting and distinctly remember how disturbed i felt about what i read. the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels is not the fuzzy, gentle and buddy guy that a lot of the pastors were preaching to me. and i knew there was something deeper that He wanted for me than just being “purpose-driven” or “born again”.

    again, thank you so much. i think we christians need more of this now than ever before…

  9. the liturgical tradition of generally having readings from:

    1) Old Testament
    2) Psalms
    3) Epistles
    and culminating in
    4) Gospels

    and the related tradition of having the homily focus on those readings and their interrelation has a lot going for it. Week in, week out, the gospel starts to sink in independently of the pastor’s own inevitable perspective.

  10. Really good stuff, Michael. So true and so challenging. I don’t know if anyone can add to what you’ve challenged us with. You faithfully proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom.

  11. This should be a sermon/homily preached in all the churches of the world. Thank you, Michael.

    Speaking of which…I went to mass this past Sunday, and if you closed your eyes and just listened, you would have sworn that the homily was a message given by any Protestant minister bringing the good news of Jesus to the world. Except maybe for the priest saying, “I don’t care if you have prayed 250 million rosaries…if you don’t know that the most important thing is that Jesus was resurrected and He has called your name and will call your name and you be resurrected and be with God for eternity, you have missed the whole point of Jesus coming to us.” And then at the end he had the teenagers who had recently received their driving permits and licenses come up with their parents and the kids made a pledge to their parents and the congregational that they would take their driving responsibly and their parents gave them a special keychain…it made me cry. I was glad to be in the back row.

  12. Memphis Aggie says

    “God himself is going to give your life an entirely different definition and direction.”

    Excellent, this is some of your best stuff

  13. Seems obvious when you get into it really – the gospels are about Jesus, and Jesus is what it’s all about. Like you Michael, a lot of my early, and even recent thinking has been more Epistle flavoured faith.

    Most recently though, Paul Vieira’s book and podcasts “Jesus has left the building” challenged me to get back to Jesus and the gospels. I suddenly realised (though I guess I always knew) that Jesus didn’t run programs – he created relationships; he didn’t partition kids off in Sunday school, he put them on his knee, or in a focal point in discussion on the nature of the Kingdom. Jesus back then, and right now, keeps turning things upside down… and we keep wanting, like Peter, to somehow explain to him that there’s a better way – a way without the cross… Nice post.

  14. This was good stuff, Michael. I was wondering this morning what to start reading next in my morning quiet time; I’m going back to the gospels.

    Personally, I’d LOVE to take Osteen by the scruff of his manicured neck, stand him up in the garbage dumps of Mexico City, and make him preach his “God loves me because I got a better parking spot” junk to those people scrounging the dump for their next meal. His so-called theology makes me physically ill.

  15. Mich (the other one) says

    Beautifully explained and right on target.

  16. son of adam says

    Let’s hope the Drudge report picks this one up!

  17. Timely re-posting for me as well, thank you. I have been struggling with what we (american christianity) as a whole has done with our faith by accepting whatever form of Jesus scratches our itch rather than discovering who Christ really is. At the same time, i’ve been timid to dive head first into the Gospels because I know it will be hard to reconcile some things not just in my life but in the lives of those I am blessed to be around. Interestingly just two days ago i started a cursory reading of the gospels and Mark is the one that jumped out at me to dig into. This helps confirm it for me.

  18. GratefulForGraces says

    Moving on in that passage in Mark 10, Jesus declares to James and John that they will drink the cup he drinks and will be baptized with his baptism. Why aren’t we embracing our trials, especially since Jesus promised us that we would undergo them in the furtherance of the Kingdom?

    iMonk, thanks for this post and please don’t let this be the last one you write on this subject.

  19. Excellent! This is exactly what God has been pointing me to these last six months. God has led me to two discipleship opportunities, one is a 1:1, the other a small group young believers – He led me to use the book of Matthew as a basis of teaching that life is continuous with the Gospel, not just starting with the Gospel, and that Kingdom living and being a disciple is clear from Matthew 1 to Matthew 28, not just Matthew 28.

  20. sue kephart says

    I continue to thank God He put in in a Gospel based church. You have hit on the difference between traditional Liturgic, Eucharistic Christianity and what I call the new think Christianity. Paul never saw the incarnate Jesus. So if you focus on the letters of Paul as your base you see only the resurrected Christ. Jesus was here on the planet. We are to be His disciples and follow Him. He is going to the Cross. Are we willing to go with Him?

  21. auroramike says

    Big Amen.. this is why I read you Imonk.

  22. Navy Chaplain says

    Michael, you sound a lot like Dallas Willard, especially Divine Conspiracy. Has he shaped your thinking at all? I’d be interested if you’ve reviewed any of his books.

  23. I’ve got nothing I can add. I can’t even “amen” at this point. I’m just sitting here being convicted. More to the point, I’m sitting here in my nice little home (okay, rented, but still), not worrying about how the next month’s bills will be paid, wondering what Jesus would say about the hoboes and prostitutes that walk past here every night. (And in this neighborhood, they do.) I’m looking out the door into the next room at the 32″ flat screen TV my wife and I bought in December … which cost more than the average annual income in half the nations in Africa. Later today, I drive to a doctor to get fitted for a new pair of glasses, instead of having to wait five years until the truck from the free clinic comes to my little favela like in some parts of the world. And I’m busy trying to figure out how to lose fifty pounds while, to paraphrase Keith Green, turning away from a billion starving people.

    Yeah, so … this hits hard. But then, that’s what the gospel is supposed to do, isn’t it? As John Fischer once put it, “Jesus came not to answer our questions, but to question our answers. And he will do so until the only answer we have left is Him.”

    I need to take some time to assimilate this …

  24. Luther Lover says

    I just wanted to let you guys know that there is a very informative debate going on between a Lutheran pastor and Frank Turk (Pyromaniacs) on the issue of how limited atonement changes the definition of the Gospel.

    You will want to start with the post “Limited Atonement = Another (heteros) Gospel” by Pastor Wood and read upwards (chronologically).

    Everyone should take note of this as it is such a hot issue right now in the SBC.

    http://q-and-a-blog.blogspot.com/

  25. John Munoa says

    As a young missionary in Korea (30 years ago before their financial boom), I saw that disciples of Christ really didn’t need many material possessions to have joy in their lives. And that when God does bless us we have the responsibility and stewardship to bless others.

    You are right on the mark. I will be sharing your essay with the high school seniors in my New Testament Seminary class tomorrow morning.

    Thanks!

  26. WOW! Loved it. It hurt a little, but that’s good stuff. Thank you for “keeping it real” and not “keeping it real rich.”

  27. IMonk,

    You seem to want to create a synthesis between the best elements of revivalism with the best elements of Reformational Christianity. Do you really think this is a possiblity? As a person I know pointed out to me, the internet monk sounds more like Erasmus than Luther. You seem to be more of a moral reformer (your emphasis on transformation) then a doctrinal reformer, like the main reformers of the reformation were. In reality, doctrine and practice should not be separated- they should go hand in hand. However, Romans chapter 7 should lead us to the conclusion that our attemtps at moral reform more often than not fall very short of “what would Jesus do?” If we try to compare ourselves to what Jesus did in the Gospels we should feel convicted because he was fulfilling the Law when he walked the earth. Therefore, the main question we should ask is “What did Jesus do for us?” We cannot get away from this, if we are honest with ourselves, because we cannot do what Jesus did. The Law’s purpose (what Jesus did) is to drive us to the Gospel. So, do we make people who feel convicted feel more guilty by telling them they are not transformed enough or do we lead them to the Gospel when they are convicted of their sin? As Luther said on his deathbed- “I am a beggar who simply ate the crumbs that fell from God’s table (probably paraphrased). This is the antidote to Joel Osteen and the prosperity Gospel. We will suffer for our doctrinal beliefs and the little transforming effect it may upon our lives. I think we often get a bit grandiose in thinking how much transformation actually takes place in us.

    Scott Clark, in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession, had a excellent chapter on trying to sythesize Revivalism with the Reformation. His conclusion was that they are antithetical and diametrically oppossed to each other.

  28. Excellent post! I’m a recent subscriber, so I didn’t see the 2005 posting. I could not agree more and have spent a good deal of time in the gospels over my journey, though primarily in Matthew and John. I’ve recently been reading/studying through Mark; however, and just cannot read through the gospels without being humbled time and time again. Praise Him for His grace and mercy!

  29. Monk,
    I know that many people have many reactions when the word “Mennonite” is brought up, and a lot of those may be negative, but I was raised in a Mennonite family and what you wrote above is basically what I was taught.

    My father is a Mennonite pastor and he focused on the Gospels and on Jesus, and on being Christ-like and having Christ’s values and focus.

    The Gospels were what the Swiss Brethren in Zurich came to focus and on and why they came across the way that they did.

    People may disagree with their conclusions, but their premise was correct; that following Jesus is “radical” compared to the way the world does things, and it is difficult. He ought to be at the center.

    “Jesus-shaped” is right on.

    We may disagree over certain applications, but we agree over the starting point.

  30. My understanding on “The Kingdom of G-d” as Jesus taught it, he is talking about His movement right then. If you wanted to be part of His “movement” right then, you would have to sell everything and come follow Him. That was what was required to be one of His “students”. He is not talking about being right with Him we have to give up everything or about being “saved” but what is required of them that want to be part of His movement right then.

  31. I think that alot of Christians skip the Gospels because the words of Jesus are hard to understand to the western mindset. We must look at what He said through “Jewish Eyes” and the Hebrew language to understand. He taught as other Rabbi’s of His time by referring back to scriptures, almost always. When for instance He refers to a “good eye” or “bad eye” He is talking about a person who is generous or is misery, as described in the Proverbs. We have 13 accounts from the early church fathers who said that the original life story of Jesus was written by Matthew in Hebrew. You can translate the Greek of the N.T. into perfect Hebrew.

  32. The pragmatic gospel sells. We are assured of its authority because we see successful people teaching and peaching it. The gospel of the Bible, of self sacrifice, all of God and none of me, etc. is not appealing in our American mindset – but it is the most rewarding.

  33. Bill,
    “We must look at what He said through Jewish eyes and the Hebrew language to understand”

    Doesn’t this kind of attitude simply promote another kind of “elitism”? BTW: the Gospels weren’t written in Hebrew, and Jesus spoke in Aramaic. This sounds a lot like those who said that you had to know Latin in order to read the Word of God.

    Education, seminary training and stretching our level of learning are all good things, but we must not come to the point where we put “the key” on a higher shelf then most people can obtain.

    The New Testament was written in Greek. I think that it is very important for many people to learn the Greek and be able to translate and study the Word in that language, but we must not come to the point where we say “if you aren’t reading the Greek, or can’t read the Greek then you aren’t quite reading the whole Word of God”.

    How far do we take this if we start down that road? There are some scholars who really know Aramaic and have written books that declare that if we don’t know Aramaic, and the culture of Jesus’ day then we aren’t fully understanding the Gospel or Jesus’ teachings.

    I am all for studying and knowing the original languages. I took two years of Greek in Seminary, and I wish I could have gone further into it, I might still do it. But the Lord is sovereign over language and culture and He seems to take it for granted that the Gospel is to be transmitted across language and culture barriers.

    We feel ashamed of missionaries who went into Africa and India with the idea that those people had to be Westernized first and then told about salvation through Jesus. But then we turn around and do it here at home.

  34. Bill,

    In your next-to-last post you said that you believed that Jesus was only speaking about His disciples right then and there selling all of their possessions and such.

    I would ask you, if you take that view of Jesus, what is stopping you from saying that about Paul’s letters?

    Paul is only telling the Roman believers of that time period to avoid sexual immorality or whatnot.

    Going back to Jesus’ words, what do you do with John 17 where Jesus prays for us, those who believe in Him because of the testimony of the disciples?

    Also, the Disciples did not fulfill the Great Commission in their lifetime. They did not make it to the uttermost parts of the world before they were martyred.

    Also, Paul says “imitate me as I imitate Christ”. This would indicate that those “2nd and 3rd generation” believers were to imitate Christ too, so where does this command to imitate Christ stop?

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. I think that if you take your particular view of Jesus’ teachings you will run into a lot more problems than you seemingly solve.

  35. Cey,

    I studied under Dr.Roy Blizzard and David Biven and in their book “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus” they give concrete evidence for a Hebrew original. I was a teacher and pastor and found this information to be life changing and helped me better understand the words of Jesus.

    Among early Christian writers who speak on the subject there is unanimous
    agreement that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew. The testimonies include Papias
    (Fragment 6); Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1); Origen (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History
    5:25); Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3:24); and Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 3). ”

    Take a look at this review of their book.

    http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/NTeSources/NTArticles/GTJ-NT/Fields-Gospels-Jesus-GTJ-84.pdf

  36. Regarding Bill’s comment: My guess is that Jesus does want most us to sell all our possesions and follow him; he wants us to be perfect. We don’t like this because 99.9999% of us, especially in the US, haven’t done it. We give, but usually, at least in my experience, I’m giving out of my “excess” and not out of what I have “to live on.” At least financially speaking.

  37. Original language and setting are important, however, we must not forget the role of Holy Spirit Who makes the Word timeless. Sometimes, if I am not careful, I am too much a mechanic and not enough a passenger.

  38. Sue:

    Paul’s epistles are not so problematic if they don’t gloss over 1 Cor 1:23

    “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness”

    This is why Catholic and Orthodox Churches use crucifixes. A cross without Christ would just be two pieces of wood. A crucifix (cross with corpus) is a better reminder of what He did for us.

  39. And, I might add to my post above, we look for transformation more in others than in ourselves. Looking for transformation (in ourselves or others) only leads to pietism. Transformation is a dangerous and controversial concept. It could be argued that the reformation was a battle between those who believed in the infusion of God’s grace (what God does in us- we become righteous as God pours more of his grace into us)and those who believed in the imputation of God’s grace (what God did for us- declaring us righteous on Christ’s account). These were two distinct concepts of God’s grace. The Catholics believed in infusion and Luther fought for the concept of imputation. Many have argued today that most of the mainstream evangelicals believes in infusion (the concept of union with Christ)whereas those who follow in the steps of the reformation are fighting hard for the idea of imputation. Transformation focuses all the attention on us and can become narcissistc. All of our focus, according to the reformers, should be on Christ and what He did for us. Therefore, God gets all the glory and we can really take no credit for our becoming righteous. The only thing we bring to the table in our redemption is our sin. This is what American culture has a hard time accepting (we are go getters, doers, and pragmatists) – not necessarily in our difficulty in understanding ancient Hebrew culture like the discussion has turned above. Many of the emergents are arguing like that.

  40. John Oglesby says

    Very good thoughts, I need to continue to think on them, and to act on them.
    Even though I hate to admit it, if Jesus was on the earth (physically) right now, I’d probably be afraid to be in the same room with him. I’d be too embarrassed by my poor attempts to live out his gospel.

  41. “The only thing we bring to the table in our redemption is our sin.” Redemption includes effectual calling, regeneration, repentance, faith, justification, sanctification and glorification. None of this is our doing and we can take no credit for it. The idea that our obedience causes God to pour more grace into us was an idea the reformers fought against. This is why reformation Church’s are so much different than evangelical and charismatic Church’s. Redemption will include obedience to God’s will (serving and loving our neighbors which is what good works are) but it is something which naturally flows out of our redemption. Even though we will still struggle with doing good works because of the inherent sin which has not been completely eradicated yet.

  42. Regarding Jennys comment,

    “My guess is that Jesus does want most of us to sell all our possessions and follow him; he wants us to be perfect.”

    First of all Jesus came from a family that was not poor in the standards of his day. Joseph was a carpenter who built homes. The Gospels mention that Jesus owned a house.

    I believe God wants us to be concerned with the needs of the poor, the hungry, the elderly, the infirmed and how we can demonstrate the power of God in action in our lives today. Jesus said that our reaction to those in need was how He would separate the sheep from the goats (matt.25-46). The early church describes the giving by those who have the ability to give but has no condemnation of those who aren’t in a position to. Regarding giving,I have seen people put others into condemnation and bondage that couldn’t even take care of themselves. I believe that some people have the gift of money and some don’t. Doesn’t one have the responsibility first to take care of their family?

    Regarding the “Kingdom” as it relates to us, it is a state of being, and it means those who are being ruled by God and who are demonstrating His rule in their life in action.

  43. There is a old Jewish saying that “Life is for learning and learning is for life”.

    On the subject of learning and studing the biblical text I want to quote Dr. Roy Blizzard of biblescholars.org

    When he was asked the question if it was important to study from the original language because there are those who say it isn’t important he say’s:

    “The Bible is not simple. What is simple is the Gospel, or the good news of God’s salvation. It’s so simple that even a child can understand, and it doesn’t necessitate a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek in order to have one’s part in tthe world to come. When we talk about the importance of the knowledge of Hebrew and Greek for understanding the Bible, we are not talking about salvation–we’re talking about spiritual maturity.
    Now I am going to make a radical statement. I know it is going to sound harsh and extreme, but give careful attention and prayerful consideration to what I am about to say: I do not believe that anyone has the right to speak authoritatively on what the Bible says or does not say if he does not know the original languages in which the Bible was written. By “speaking authoritatively,” I mean to the extent of formulating doctrine that is imposed on the Body of Christ as a matter of faith.
    For example, does one have a right to speak authoritatively on such subjects as shepherding, the “bishop ministry,” the “porter ministry,” submission, the role of women in the Church, or the organizational structure of the Church, if –that person has no knowledge of these terms and their usage in the original languages, or in their proper historical and cultural context? All these are topics that are currently being discussed in Christian circles today. All have been lifted out of their proper biblical, historical, and cultural context and have been imposed on the Body in such a way as to bring a vast segment into spiritual bondage. Just a simple working knowledge of the biblical languages, and an ability to use the above-mentioned study aids, could answer all the questions relative to the meaning of these words and their practical application for the Body today.
    The words of Jesus are not simple. The fact that He lived 2,000 years ago, that He was a Jew, a rabbi, used well-known and well-established rabbinical methods in His teaching, taught in Hebrew, a language as different from English as night is from day, used parables, homilies, similes, allegory, metaphor, and idioms in His teaching should make this immediately apparent to the intelligent and thinking person. Certainly one does not need to know Hebrew and Greek in order to know God and and have their part in the world to come. But, if one wants to know the words of God that He spoke to His people to assist them in growing to spiritual maturity, then a knowledge of the biblical languages and the ability to work with them is essential.
    You see, the opposite of what the pastor has said is true: without a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek and the ability to do independent study, the person in the pew is in bondage to the interpretation of the pastor. In this sense that pastor, or preacher, or whatever he chooses to call himself, has set himself up before his congregation as a little pope.
    I am wondering out loud as I’m writing this response to your question, if this could not be one reason why a pastor would make such a statement that a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek on the part of his congregation might jeopardize his papal position. Rather than bringing you into bondage, a knowledge of biblical languages and the utilization of the lexical aids available for you will set you free. You will no longer need to be in bondage to opinion and/or denomination, but you can study for yourself and know the truth. And remember that it is the truth that will set you free.
    Before I close, allow me to add one additional bit of advice: it would be to your benefit if you never took anything that anyone told you that the Bible says or does not say at face value, without having thoroughly checked it out for yourself. It doesn’t make any difference who it is or how many academic degrees he has after his name. Most of them either paid $24.45 for them from some diploma mill, or had them honorarily conferred anyway. “Yes,” you might say, “but until I know Hebrew and Greek and have the lexical aids at my disposal, how can I ascertain what is correct and what is not?” I will give you an easy way. It involves the utilization of the discernment of spirits: every child of God who has the Holy Spirit within has all nine of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, recorded in I Corinthians 12:8ff. We hear a lot of talk about miracles, healings, words of knowledge, tongues, but seldom do we hear anything about one of the most important of the manifestations of the Spirit for the child of God, and that is the discemment of spirits. It is that something down inside that lets you know whether a thing is right or wrong: “Does it fit? Does it feel right? Is my spirit at ease and at peace? Does something just not seem right? Do I have some little disquiet in my spirit?” Are you beginning to see the picture?
    Here is a simple formula you can use to ascertain whether or not the doctrine or teaching is from the Lord, and it will work for you almost 100% of the time. When you hear a doctrine or teaching, from whomever it might come or however good it might sound, ask yourself this simple question: “When this doctrine or teaching is practically applied in my life, does it bring me into bondage or does it set me free?” If it brings you into bondage to a man, to a congregation, fellowship, denomination, whatever, chances are that it is not from God I would recommend that you simply put it up on the shelf, and take no action upon it until you can study and search out the truth or the error of the teaching. Remember, all the information is there that will allow you to find the right answer–all you need to do is study. That’s what Paul said, and that’s what I say.

    An excellent question! In the first place, the statement, “If you wish to understand spiritual things, you need to get your mind out of the way,” is a grave error. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In Hebrew and Greek, the words “mind” and “spirit” are synonymous. The mind is the seat of the spirit, so if you want to understand spiritual things, you need to get your mind in gear! That’s the reason why Paul said, “Be not conformed to this world…” and “be transformed in the spirit, which is your mind.”
    Secondly, one must take into account, in this regard, the specific injunction of the Apostle Paul when he said, “Study, to show yourself approved, a workman who need not be ashamed because he knows how to rightly interpret the Word.” I personally feel that this is the greatest mistake that the Church has made for the last 1,800 years–a failure to heed the admonition of Paul, when he said specifically, “Study.” In Judaism, this would come as no surprise, for even in Paul’s day, the study of Torah (Law and/or Word of God) was considered to be the highest form of worship. It may come as a surprise to many Christians, but the Holy Spirit isn’t going to teach you anything unless you are studying. But, if you’re doing what the Bible tells you to do, namely studying, and are diligent in your study and an honest seeker of truth, then the Holy Spirit will come and direct your study and lead you into all truth.”

  44. Bill

    Where does it say that Jesus owned a house? That’s news to me…

    Thanks

  45. John Oglesby,

    I know exactly what you mean. That is always something I think about when reading the Gospels. Christ’s deity and glory must not have been in full view to the disciples. I do not know how they would have been able to handle it. Although when he was transfigured in front of Peter, John and Andrew (I believe it was Andrew but I might be mistaken)they got a good glimpse of it.

    My feeble attempts to apply the Gospel is what keeps me going back to Church. The preaching of the Gospel on a regular basis and the partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday is what is supposed to strengthen our faith so we can serve our neighbors (in our vocations) and families better. Church’s should have good and well trained teachers to help us understand our faith better too. A lot of theological education in Church’s is lacking and poor.

  46. Hi Siblings,
    I see that some of us are starting to understand who Jesus is and what He came here to say and do.
    Jesus didn’t say to reject but to help those who are confused and were put into this world in a different belief/religion. He said to ask in His name but He didn’t say that if you don’t ask in His name your doomed. He loves and gives to all equally good or bad, aware or ignorant, forgive for they know not what they do.
    Jesus wasn’t kidding, this is the creator Son of God talking to us, bringing/inseminating our little planet with the Word of God from our Father in Mind. He said take up your cross and follow me, live as I did with the Father our Father as your guide. He wasn’t saying to all become preachers and followers but to discover personally as He did living in Faith. It’s saddening to see the throngs of young siblings lost and following preachers who don’t live as He did. He didn’t say take up my cross but take up your cross.
    Siblings, go within and talk with the Father and still your mind and listen, feel, not to words but to the loving, touching feelings of care and presence of His Spirit that gives strength and Faith in who you are.

    Now, how can christians say they love Jesus when they act in war, live for money/success in the world and reject their siblings who don’t believe like they do, even condemn them? They are doing the same thing the Jews did/do to Jesus and His followers. I’m not asking for an answer, because love of thy neighbour is the answer.
    You may want to awaken to the real Jesus instead of the interpretations that are made by each and everyone of the false preachers, wolves dressed in lambs clothing. Living the teachings of Jesus is not interpretation of the Bible or any other book, it’s living as he lived His religion(personal relationship with our Father/Creator). Sadly, humans tend to use scripture and interpret for themselves, excluding others who see it differently and create all these divisions even those who say they believe the word of God. The word of God is the Word of Jesus God in the flesh, and what did He say? Love your siblings, humans, brothers and sisters, neighbours, enemies, He didn’t say create different factions of beliefs in the scriptures, heck He didn’t even leave any writings. Did you ever ask yourselves why? Live as He lived in His commandment Love one another as I Loved you. He is the way not the human organizations of theoretic beliefs, living in their intellects forgetting their heart where Jesus dwells.
    Did you know that Faith is not belief. Faith is a personal relationship with our Father just as Jesus had/has. Following Jesus is not following doctrines or preachers who talk about Jesus and don’t live according to His Word. There are Truths in all corners of the universe and one that touched me and enlightened my path is, be careful of what you read because the Spirit/Word vivifies but the letters/words kill. Find me one who lives as Jesus did, meaning in total Faith in the Spirit within him or her and I will not follow them but walk alongside and share and support each other in the difficult experiences we must go through.
    The Word of Jesus is not the words of the prophets or the apostles/disciples, that was their interpretation of His Word. His Word lives in the hearts of humans not in a book. If you need to refer to scripture to boost your belief in the written words about God, then your heart is not with Him but in scripture. Jesus said why pray before others to give a show of your beliefs, go to your room close the door in secret and pray the Father who hears you within.
    It gives me joy to see that organized religion is slowly being dissipated, because when the exterior image of God is dissolved my siblings will finally go within their own heart and find the real Jesus without a preconceived image, the image of the Beast as portrayed by religion believers with their theoretical false doctrines asking for money to support their empires.The Beast is the God that humans created in their image, the Image of the Beast. Go within and ask the Father if this is True not those who would lose their power and money if they told you the Truth.
    May you find the path within and discover the Real Jesus that you may be filled with His Love, Divine Love.

    Divine Love
    Framy

  47. Thanks for your reply, Bill. I wasn’t trying, at all, to make you or anyone feel condemned, in that sense…looking back at what I wrote, I can see that the “tongue-in-cheekness” that I meant to come through didn’t! I guess what I was trying to say is that perhaps Jesus does want us to sell our possessions, love our enemies, forgive 70 x 7 times…but most of the time we don’t, I don’t. His standard is so high…we’re so far off…

    I guess I’ve just heard too many times the phrase “everything I have is the Lord’s; if he asked me to sell everything, then I would!” from someone sitting in a cozy house with a fat bank account. I’d rather hear them say (and hear myself say) “Yes, I have a lot of stuff and I don’t really want to sell it and give it to God. I’m a kinda sucky Christian.” Don’t get me wrong -I really like your idea that the “sell everything” part just applied back then; it really lets me off the hook! I hope that you’re right, because life’s a lot easier for me that way! 😉

  48. imonk,

    Spot on, as usual. To me, the most frightening passage in the Bible is Matthew 7:21-23. Not the kind of passage you’re likely to hear from O’Steen’s pulpit:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

    If that passage does not shake you to the core as a Christian, you are deluding yourself. I don’t think doing God’s will includes determining how to increase the size of your investment portfolio or working to put someone into political office while calling the other side of the aisle “Godless”. We will have a lot to answer for some day. I don’t want Jesus to tell me He never knew me.

  49. J,

    I have visited Israel several times on an archaeology study,and I know that some scholars believe that there is evidence to show that the house that was believed to be Peters house in Capernaum was in fact the home of Jesus(mark 2v1?) It was over 20 years ago that I learned that fact and I am at a lost right now to recall my source. I made that statement and I believe it is my responsibility to back that up. I will need to do some research on my notes and get back to you.

  50. WOW! You are surely on the right track. When I read this, Holy One brought this to my mind;

    “…and when THIS GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM is preached into all the world,,,THEN the end shall come…”

    I do believe the church has been dooped,,,the enemy dosent care what gospel gets preached,,as long as it is not the GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM,,which,,by the way,,is about a King, and His kids ruling this earth ,,yes,,,yes,,,just as it is in heaven!!!! GLORY TO FATHER!!!