Thursday, February 26, 2009

New Podcast

I have a new sermon podcasted in the "Eutychus' Podcasts" section in the right column of this blog. I preached on Exodus 34 / 2 Corinthians 3 on Feb 15, 2009 at Hope Chapel West Oahu. DJ Garces and I worked on the sermon outline together; if you would like to hear his sermon, it is posted here along with other HCWO sermons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3)

Confrontation/Replacement/Fullfillment: In most scenes in John 1-12, Jesus confronts, replaces or fulfills some significant element of first-century Judaism. Here, Jesus faces Nicodemus, "the teacher of Israel" (3:10). Jesus is greater than this great teacher - Nicodemus cannot even really understand what Jesus is talking about.

Flashbacks: Misunderstanding, Life, Revelation

Misunderstanding: In John 1, "the darkness did not understand the light." In John 3, Nicodemus arrives at night, and misunderstands Jesus. When Jesus says "You must be born from above/again [anothen]," Nicodemus takes the second possible meaning, being born again, rather than the first meaning, being born from above. Further, he (perhapes jokingly) takes Jesus very literally rather than figuratively. Jesus intends to talk about birth from above, birth by the Spirit, but Nicodemus cannot get away from human birth. Human ancestry was crucial to Judaism, but Jesus says that divine birth is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.

There is a second element of misunderstanding in this passage. Jesus says that all those born from the Spirit become like the Spirit: no one understands their origin (birth from above) or their destiny (eternal life). This is like Jesus - throughout the Gospel, people fail to recognize Jesus' origin and destiny in heaven.

Life. Jesus talks about the new life that comes by birth from above, birth from the Spirit. He also describes the eternal life that will come to all who believe in the lifted-up Son of Man.

Revelation: Ch. 1 describes the Son as the only one who can reveal the Father. In ch. 3, Jesus is the only one to ascend and descend from Heaven , and the only one who can reveal "earthly" and "heavenly" truths.

Foreshadowing: Jesus compares his future "lifting up" on the cross to the lifting up of the serpent in Deuteronomy. The sin of Israel in the wilderness resulted in judgment through poisonous snakes. Ironically, healing came through looking at a bronze snake lifted up on a pole. Jesus likewise offers an ironic salvation: eternal life will come to those who look on and believe in one who dies an accursed death. Looking at the bronze serpent and looking at the lifted Son are both acts of faith: one must believe that God will give life through them.

Dark/light: John may be drawing our attention to Nicodemus' arrival at night, in contrast to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at midday.
Spirit: In Greek, pneuma means both spirit and wind, so 3:8 can be read as "The wind/Spirit blows where it/he wishes, and you hear its/his sound/voice, but you do not know where..."
"Born of water and Spirit" is a very difficult phrase; Christians throughout the centuries have had a variety of interpretations. However, water is commonly symbolic of the Spirit in John (see esp. John 7:37-39). Many John scholars today think that Jesus meant something like "born of water, even the Spirit."

Big idea: Jesus is greater than the great rabbis of Israel. He teaches Nicodemus that the primary requirement for entry into the Kingdom is birth from above, by the Father and the Spirit. That birth is granted to those who believe in the lifted-up Son.

The picture: Nicodemus, in Christenliche Ausslegung der Euangelienn by Johann Eck, 1530. Note that Nicodemus is wearing the appropriate clothing for a late medieval scholar, and that Jesus has a cool Trinitarian halo.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nicodemus vs. the Samaritan Woman (John 3, John 4)


Samaritan Woman

He is well-known

She is anonymous

He scrupulously keeps purity laws

She is permanently unclean

He is a religious leader

She is a religious outsider (even among Samaritans)

He is a great teacher of truth

She believes Samaritan heresies

He is a high government official

She has no power

He is morally respectable

She is morally suspect

He seeks out Jesus at night

Jesus seeks her out at noon

He knows that Jesus is a teacher from God

She knows that Jesus is a Jewish man

Jesus does not fully reveal himself to him

Jesus teaches her clearly that he is the Messiah

He does not understand the living water

She asks Jesus for the living water

He leaves lacking understanding

She leaves knowing who Jesus is

He hides his belief

She tells her whole town about Jesus

Some rabbis believed that all Samaritan women were permanently unclean.
Jews viewed Samaritans as heretics: Samaritans only believed in the Pentateuch, which they had altered that to fit their beliefs, and Samaritans believed the correct temple was on top of Mt. Gerizim. There was also a history of violence between Jews and Samaritans.
Samaritans were probably not "half-breeds"; this view comes from assuming that the residents of Samaria mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah are the same residents of Samaria mentioned in the Gospels. However, they are probably not the same people. First-century Samaritans are probably a sect of Judaism, which is how they regarded themselves.

Here are some more posts on Nicodemus; here are some more on the Samaritan woman; and here are all my posts on the Gospel of John.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Synergistic Lemons

"The synergistic action of the botanical lemon complex serves as a protective barrier against atmospheric pollutants." The scary thing is, I have memorized this phrase. Every morning, when I take a shower, my wife's conditioner is right in front of my face, and the advertising blurb on the back always jumps out at me. And since I am only half awake, my brain always goes through the same questions. What are the lemons synergizing with? The only lemons I have ever seen on trees don't seem to be active enough to get any synergy. Maybe it's the lemon juice that is synergizing?

I'm glad to hear that they are using a botanical lemon complex. Heaven forbid if they were to use any non-botanical lemons. I bet that other shampoo companies and lemonade companies use those terrible non-botanical lemons. Are they cyborg lemons? Wait - maybe I'm misunderstanding those brilliant shampoo technical writers (is that a career?). Maybe they mean that their lemons were grown in a botanical park, like Foster Botanical Gardens in Honolulu. Everyone else's lemons come from pathetic lemon orchards.

And why is it a lemon complex? Is this like the military-industrial complex that Truman (or was it Eisenhower) warned us about? Should I be concerned about an arms race in my wife's hair? Or are we talking about a Freudian complex, in which case I should have more serious concerns about my wife's hair?

I'm glad to hear that the shampoo makers have finally found a way to protect us from pollution. This conditioner, I'm sure, will protect your hair from carbon monoxide, chlorofluorocarbons, asbestos fibers, sulfur emissions, dioxin, and bad breath. And because those shampoo makers are so careful, I am sure that they have thoroughly tested their claims using rigorous laboratory experiments (but they didn't test them on animals, I am happy to see on the label).

Clearly, the shampoo makers are on to a solution to global warming and that nasty hole in the ozone layer. All we have to do is smear a thick layer of my wife's hair conditioner over everything on earth, and then we won't need to worry about how much we pollute. The only problem is that my wife's conditioner bottle is getting low, and I don't know if Costco is still carrying this brand.

One final shampoo thought, and then I am done with my rant. If I ever start a shampoo company, it will have no lemon complex, botanical or otherwise. More importantly, it will be called "oodways shampoo." If you turn the bottle upside down, it will still read "oodways shampoo," if you're using a font where the y looks like an upside-down h. Go ahead, turn your screen upside down to test it. Don't tell me you're not impressed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sinner's Prayer

The following question was posted on my blog several months ago: "The thief on the cross was told he would be in Paradise with Jesus that very day. He did not pray "The Sinner's Prayer." All he said was that Jesus had done no wrong. And Jesus eternally saved him.Why do we in modern times feel we need to "pray a Prayer" in order to be saved? When did this practice start?"

A little caveat: I am not a church history expert (my doctorate is in New Testament), but church history is so important that I have tried to learn as much as possible.

The Sinner's Prayer is, as you suspect, a fairly modern invention. If you walk through the conversion accounts in the book of Acts (or the rest of the NT), you find no reference to such a prayer.

I believe it was Allen Carden's book on Puritanism that pointed out that Puritan preachers sometimes told would-be converts to go out and pray all day to find out from God if they were elect. I'm not sure if most modern evangelicals would consider that a sinner's prayer!

Charles Finney, the famous evangelist of the early 1800s, began using a number of new conversion rituals, including the "Anxious Seat," a pew where seekers would come to repent. Finney described it as a replacement for baptism as a public display of one's initial faith. In the late 1800s, D.L Moody took this practice and moved it to the "Inquiry Room," where the seeker could be counseled and prayed with by Moody's assistants. Apparently, this was the first time that a formal "sinner's prayer" was used. Evangelists of the 20th century used many of Moody's methods, as anyone familiar with Billy Graham's crusades can attest. (Here I am relying on my imperfect memory of a collection of Finney's writings, George Marsden's history of American fundamentalism, and a book on the history of evangelism whose name escapes me - so don't take me as an authority on this).

If we take a walk through all the NT passages on conversion, we find several items emphasized. 1) Repentance - a change of our spiritual orientation away from sin and towards God. 2) Faith - belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is able to bring forgiveness and right standing with God. 3) Receiving the Holy Spirit / regeneration - Whether perceived by others or not, the new convert receives the Spirit, who enables transformation. 4) Baptism - new believers were always baptized immediately (if possible) in Acts.

The second-century church began delaying baptism for several reasons, both practical and theological. This created a problem that we still deal with today: genuine converts, who have repented, believed in salvation through Christ, and received the Holy Spirit - but have not yet been baptized. We have artificially separated baptism from conversion. Now, an unbaptized convert is nonetheless a real Christian. Many passages in the NT on conversion that omit baptism remind us of that truth, including the story of the bandit on the cross (he was not being crucified for theft, but that's another blog post). But the nature of conversion as an act of turning towards obedience makes one wonder why any new convert would not want to obey the command to get baptized.

One of the reasons that so many genuine converts delay baptism so long, or avoid it altogether, is that other modern rituals - raising a hand, walking down the aisle, the sinner's prayer - have replaced the role of baptism as the primary ritual marking one's passage into fellowship with God.

Is the sinner's prayer a bad thing? It is if we communicate that the prayer itself brings salvation. Salvation comes to the one who repents and believes - and that may happen with or without a formal sinner's prayer. In many cases, emphasis on the sinner's prayer can give the idea that the prayer is a ritual formula that all by itself gives the invoker access to heaven (shades of ex opere operato?). On the other hand, someone who repents and believes will very naturally be ready to pray, so we certainly shouldn't discourage new converts from praying through the ideas involved in conversion!

The picture: from Tomus primus homiliarum super Euangelia... by Johann Eck, 1534.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Water to Wine (John 2:1-11)

Whenever I teach about Jesus' miracle at Cana, students have so many good questions. Why did Mary think Jesus could do anything about the problem of the wine running out? Why was it her problem to start with? Why did Jesus start with this miracle? Why did Jesus say no to Mary at first, then go ahead and do the miracle?

On the last item, at least, I think that a recent article by Mickey Klink (a professor at Biola University) helps out a lot. When Mary asks Jesus for help, his response is a rare phrase (ti emoi kai soi) that is actually a Hebrew idiom rather than normal Greek. My Greek students always struggle with translating it, because it looks like it should mean "what to me and to you?" Any good commentary will tell you that this phrase is used three or four times in the Septuagint (LXX, the Greek Old Testament) to mean something like "what do I have to do with you?" or "why are you bothering me with this?" Mickey Klink added an important observation: on one particular occasion in the OT, someone asked a prophet for a water-related miracle, and the prophet answered ti emoi kai soi, but then went ahead and performed the miracle.

In 2 Kings 3:9-23, the allied armies of Judah and Israel faced a crisis - they were out of water, and the Moabites were about to attack. They asked Elisha for help, but Elisha at first refused because the king of Israel still worshipped idols. However, he then gave instructions to prepare for the miracle - the army dug trenches and waited for water. When the trenches were miraculously filled the next day, the rising sun made them look red as blood. In Hebrew, both "red" and "blood" are terms occasionally used to describe wine.

So what is John doing with this story? By having Jesus refuse with the distinctive phrase ti emoi kai soi, but then complete the miracle, John is showing us that Jesus is much like the great heroic prophet Elisha - something John often does.

This adds to the overall sense of the wine miracle that it is all about Jesus. Jesus' words and actions show him to be as great as Elisha. By converting ceremonial water into celebratory wine, he shows that he is replacing the purity rituals of Judaism. Jesus' disciples see the miracle and they understood that its purpose was to "display his glory," and they grow in their belief in him (John 2:11).
The picture: Water to Wine, in Das Plenarium oder Ewangely Buoch, 1516. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jesus' First Disciples in John (John 1:19-51)

In John 1:19-51, John the Baptist (JTB) and the first five disciples all testify about the identity of Jesus. This passage is primarily about the identity of Jesus as anointed ruler, teacher, and sacrifice. The quality of the first followers’ discipleship is revealed by its basis in faith (even with no "signs" yet) and its expression in open testimony to others.

Random observations on John 1:19-51:

John the Baptist denies being the Christ, the Prophet, or Elijah. The reason for the first denial is obvious. He denies the second title because it is a reference to the “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-18; cp. John 7:40-41). He denies the third title, perhaps because in John, Jesus fills many of the Elijah roles (more on this below, and in John 2, 4, and 6).

Titles/Roles for Jesus: The Lord; Lamb of God (2x); The one who takes away the sins of the world; The one who comes after John / came before John (2x); The one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit; The Son of God (2x);Rabbi / Teacher (2x); Messiah / Christ; The one whom Moses and the Prophets wrote about; Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth; King of Israel. This might count as seven titles for Jesus, plus four descriptive phrases; but in John, we have to watch the tendency to spot 7s whenever we wish, conveniently stopping our count at seven.

Seeing: John sees Jesus; “Look! The Lamb of God”; “I have seen the Spirit descending”; “I have seen and testified”; and seeing Jesus, he said; “Look! The Lamb of God”; turning and seeing them, he said…; “Come, and you will see”; Then they came and saw; When Jesus saw [Simon Peter]; Philip said, “come and see” ; Jesus said about Nathanael, “Look , an Israelite indeed” ; “I saw you under the fig tree”; “You will see greater things”; “you will see the heavens opened.” Greek note: John uses four essentially synonymous words for seeing in this chapter: blepo, emblepo, horao, theaomai.

Seeking/finding (zeteo / heurisko): Jesus says to them “What do you seek?” ; Andrew first finds his own brother Peter; “We have found the Messiah” ; Jesus finds Phillip; Phillip finds Nathanael; “We have found the one that Moses wrote about.”

Following (akoloutheo): The two disciples heard John and followed Jesus; Jesus saw them following; Andrew was one of the two who followed Jesus; Jesus said to Phillip, “Follow me.” Note pattern: JTB speaks, Andrew (and John?) follow; Andrew speaks, Peter follows; Jesus speaks, Phillip follows; Phillip speaks, Nathanael follows.

Misunderstanding: Phillip and Nathanael think that Jesus is from Nazareth, but Jesus is from Bethlehem (a private joke between John and his readers, see also Jn 7:41-42, 52). More importantly in John, Jesus is from God more than he is from any town. The disciples incompletely (but not incorrectly) understand Jesus – all their titles for Jesus refer to his kingly and teaching roles. Only JTB knows that Jesus will die for sins.

Jesus reveals God: “ You will see the heavens opened” recalls the vision of God in Ezek 1, and “angels ascending and descending” recalls the vision of God in Gen 28. The disciples will experience God through Jesus. Some irony here, since Jn 1:18 claims that no one has ever seen God, and Jn 1:51-52 alludes to two OT visions of God.

Other OT allusions:
  • “Spirit remaining on him” in Jn 1:32 alludes to Isa 11:2, “The Spirit of God will rest upon him,” referring to the Spirit’s empowerment of the messianic Branch (Isa 11:1-2). Perhaps it also reminds us of David, on whom the Spirit remained, unlike Saul.
  • The disciples ask where Jesus is staying; Jesus says “come and see” (Jn 1:39, 46). The king of Aram tells his servants to “come and see” where Elisha is staying (2 Ki 6:13 LXX).
  • Jesus finds Phillip and says “follow me” (Jn 1:43). Elijah finds Elisha and Elisha says “I will follow you” (1 Ki 19:19-20).

These last two are very subtle allusions, and are open to challenge. But since John often compares Jesus to Elijah / Elisha, it is possible that John intended his readers to see these allusions.

The picture: Philip brings Nathanael, painted by one of the Mafa tribe of North Africa.