Author: John Paine

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The Trials of Jesus

The Gospel accounts of the trials of Jesus before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod have considerable agreement, and some interestingly unique statements. While all four accounts agree on the essential details of what happened early in the morning of Good Friday, only Luke records that Jesus was interrogated by Herod Antipas (see Luke’s Sources). Only John—writing long after the three synoptic Gospel writers—adds the detail of the name of the location in Jerusalem where the trial took place (Gabbatha). And in writing that one word John left a great clue for modern archaeologists to find the location of the trial before Pilate.

There is so much to be gleaned about the veracity of the Gospel accounts from reading about the trials of Jesus. The accounts are not identical—but they are not inconsistent. An argument could be made that if this material was contrived, all four accounts would be more homogeneous in the narrative details.

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson conducted a dig of the Gabbatha site in Jerusalem, and reached some conclusions that even his critics concede are probably correct, rewickering the traditional Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”) in the process. This type of work, and online resources, can help us see the Bible in context.

Among all that occurred at His trial, Jesus mocked Pontius Pilate—the judge who had the power to set Him free—with sarcasm. I don’t know why that detail is so important, but somehow it just is.

The following video highlights the corroboration of the Gospel accounts of one of the most carefully documented events in ancient history, then explores the setting where these events took place.

 

If you research the work of Dr. Gibson, be careful—there are high-profile misrepresentations of his work, as he himself is quick to point out. Unfortunately there are those who seem to be motivated more by the need to entertain than a desire to get the facts right.

How To Live

Plumb LineIn Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives us a clear parable about God’s expectations for His people. The basic point of the story is that God has given every one of us gifts, and that He will turn away those who fail to use their gifts wisely. Some parables are difficult to understand, but not this one. It’s a tough object lesson.

N.T. Wright comments on these verses that, “Each of us is called to exercise the primary, underlying gifts of living as a wise, loving human being, celebrating God’s love, forgiving, praying, seeking justice, acting prudently and courageously, waiting patiently for God’s will to be done.”

Okay…how?

To tell you the truth, I’ve never been big on taking a spiritual gift inventory or getting wound up about discerning God’s will for my life. That’s just me. I trust that God has a plan for my life. But the parable does beg the deeper question: How ARE we to live?

God obviously has expectations for us. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some plumb lines we could apply to our lives from the Bible to help answer that big question? It turns out that the apostle Paul had some very specific guidelines. In one of his earliest epistles, 1 Thessalonians, Paul laid it out plainly.

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over 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, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NIV84)

It’s amazing how helpful these verses can be when you find yourself needing discernment. They are packed full of specific and practical instruction, that if committed to memory can really make a difference in how you live your life.

How are we to live with each other? In peace. How are we to treat the timid and the weak? Encourage and help them. Verse 15 is one of the most wonderful compound-complex sentences ever composed. When should we try be kind? Always. To whom are we to be kind? Everyone (us and them). When are we to be joyful? Always. What are we to test? Everything. What are we to avoid? Every kind of evil. No loopholes.

If you trace the writings of Paul in chronological order, you will find these values at the beginning of his ministry, and later in Romans 12 and elsewhere. Paul taught them consistently. They are foundational to Christian ethics.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12 (NIV84)

Romans 12:4-8 bookends Jesus’ parable from Matthew 25:14-30. And that is pretty much how we should live our lives—following these proof texts.

 

Painting Jesus

Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple

Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1650

Left to your imagination, what would Jesus look like?

In Matthew 21:1-22 we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with an adoring crowd shouting joyfully and laying palm branches on the road. They shout “Hosanna!” which is a Hebrew expression for “Save!” and an exclamation of praise.

If you would like to get a sense for the setting of the Palm Sunday processional, here’s a brief video on the Golden Gate in Jerusalem that documents an extraordinary archaeological find.

One theme throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is on a mission, and that mission includes the fulfillment of prophesies made centuries before He appeared on earth. In this case, the parade was foretold by the prophet Zechariah—who prescribed a donkey for the processional. Not some big chariot, not with a military escort as a show of power, not on the elbow of a king, not on a great horse, but on a donkey—as a display of humility.

If you’re painting a portrait of Jesus, it’s best to leave out the opulent and accentuate the meek. From cradle to grave Jesus is all about humility. God values humility. So much for prosperity theology.

But Jesus hasn’t come for a parade celebration. The great healer soon makes it clear there’s a new sheriff in town. His mission includes taking on the “den of robbers” and overturning tables and benches at the temple, as prophesied in Jeremiah 7:6-16. This is angry Jesus. Not some glad-handing pitchman. Not some pious religious official decked out in priestly habiliments. Not some mild-mannered milquetoast.

Wrapping up today’s devotional verses, in Matthew 21:18-22 Jesus gives us an object lesson in power. In wilting the fig tree Jesus demonstrates power over living things and the consequences for being unproductive. He teaches that if we have faith and do not doubt, our belief will be rewarded through prayer. (There are lots of people trying to cash in on that promise without fully appreciating the qualifiers.)

Among the many things that impress me about the trustworthiness of the Gospels—and Matthew’s Gospel in particular—is the picture they paint of Jesus, and specifically how far off this picture is from something you and I would expect to find in classical heroic literature. In heroic literature the good guy answers questions directly. With Jesus, most questions directed at Him are answered with questions. One of my favorite Bible expositors, Michael Card, says plainly in Part 2 of this video that Jesus disappointed practically everyone who came to Him. That’s a provocative statement, but hear Michael Card out. Everyone wanted something from Jesus, and He frequently gave them something other than what they asked for. He spoke in parables, which confused them, and most often when they questioned Him, He would respond with a deeper, more directed question that got to the heart of the matter. He seldom gave them exactly what they asked for immediately. He was full of rebukes. Not a picture of a classical hero, but a trustworthy picture of God in the flesh.

If you were to paint a portrait of Jesus, capturing all these qualities and values, there’s just one more thing to remember—this is paint-by-numbers. Jesus had to fulfill hundreds of prophecies. And as exemplified in Matthew 21, these prophecies are very strict plumb lines that we should hold up to examine Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. As Lee Strobel points out in this video, mathematician Peter Stoner determined the odds of any one person in all of human history fulfilling just 48 ancient prophesies pertaining to the Messiah are one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. That’s an astoundingly specific fingerprint!

 

 

 

The Lesson of Tyre

Limts Of Tyre

The Limits of Tyre by Vasily Polenov, 1911

Today’s Lenten devotional by N.T. Wright (Week 3, Wednesday), focusing on Matthew 15:21-28, describes one of those passages in Scripture that is difficult to grasp in isolation. What’s really going on here? What does the text tell us about the values of Jesus Christ? Why didn’t He just heal the Canaanite woman when she asked? Is Jesus calling this woman a ‘dog’? Did this woman talk Jesus into changing His mind?

Thankfully we have a parallel text in Mark 7:24-29, and a clue about what life was like at this point in Jesus’ ministry in Luke 6:17-19, so let’s put them all together.

And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.
Luke 6:17-19 (NKJV)

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV84)

From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.
Mark 7:24-30 (NKJV)

Without worrying too much about translation nuances from the original Greek, or first century idioms, let’s cherry pick through the accounts of Matthew and Peter (remember, Peter is the apostolic source of Mark’s text), and put together our own paraphrase.

Jesus is tired, probably even weary. Notice Matthew wrote that Jesus ‘withdrew’. Tyre and Sidon are on the Mediterranean coast—He needed some rest from the mobs that were constantly badgering Him for healing. He tried to avoid being noticed by entering a house, but the crowds followed Him. A non-Jewish woman came out of the crowd, and the disciples couldn’t turn her away. She addressed Jesus as “Lord, Son of David,” and threw herself at His feet. She wanted a spiritual healing for her daughter, and she wanted it bad—bad enough to humble herself in front of everyone. At first, Jesus does not answer her. But she persists. He tells the disciples that He is on a specific mission to the “lost sheep of Israel,” referred to in Old Testament Scripture (Ezekiel 34:23-24, Micah 5:4-5). In presenting Himself as the shepherd for the Hebrew people, Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy (Mark 6:34, John 10:11-16, Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 7:17). He tests her by saying that what God has intended for His people should not be thrown to the dogs. (Dogs was a term Jews used to refer to non-Jews.) But she again humbles herself, and says that even non-Jews need what Jesus has to offer. Jesus commends and rewards her faith.

Like much of Scripture, this text is more of a lesson than a story. If we read it as a story we risk missing the lesson. As a story, Jesus is tired, and a woman gets what she wants by being persistent. Got it. But as a lesson—for the disciples and for us—we need to appreciate how much God cares for all of us. Not just those with a place at the table, but those who recognize their unworthiness, who humble themselves, and who depend upon Jesus Christ.

So be persistent, have faith, and ask—it’s all good. But by all means don’t miss the lesson.

 

Framing John the Baptist

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1499

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1499

Today’s Lenten devotional by N.T. Wright (Week 2, Wednesday), focusing on Matthew 11:1-19, explores the character and mission of John the Baptist, and the love of our Lord.

Two Gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) relate the account of John the Baptist sending his followers to ask Jesus if He was indeed the true Messiah. So John had doubts when the heat was on. Got it—he was human.

In response, Jesus cited His miracles as proof of His messianic authority. (You can’t get away from the purpose of miracles in the Bible.) But Jesus went further than merely answering the question—he set John the Baptist apart as the greatest man born of women. He recognized John’s doubt, addressed it, and restored John’s reputation. That grace in the face of doubt reveals how much God really loves us.

But left to the three synoptic Gospel writers, we would have an incomplete picture of John the Baptist. The apostle John, writing much later than the other Gospel writers, is filling in details that do not appear in the first three Gospels. Approximately 92% of the content of the Gospel of John is unique, and those later details help complete the portrait of John the Baptist.

So much of the Bible is told from different perspectives, often by different writers describing the same people, events, or circumstances. It takes the whole breadth of Scripture to get a complete picture. The repetition is not contradiction, it’s completion. And so it is with the apostle John—his love for details to fill in the gaps completes much of the history of the New Testament.

Here’s a video that demonstrates using the Glo Bible to explore John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. It shows some of the historical sites associated with John the Baptist, including the most plausible site for Bethany Beyond the Jordan (where Jesus was baptized by John), Machaerus (where John the Baptist was beheaded), and evidence recently discovered by credible archaeologists suggesting that John performed baptisms in this particular cave.

Matthew’s Gospel Truth

“One of the great lies of our time is to suppose that because Jesus brings forgiveness, and urges us to be forgiving people, meek, and gentle, there is no sharp edge to his message. To hear some people, you’d think the whole of the Christian message was simply a call to accept one another, never to judge another person.”
N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone, Matthew, Year A

Personally, if I had to pick one word to sum up Jesus Christ (and the Bible, and the Christian faith for that matter), it would be ‘veracity’—partly because Jesus called Himself “the truth” in John 14:6. We’re dealing with the truth when we’re dealing with Jesus. Really.

Certainly as much as any other Gospel writer, Matthew gives us a fully-developed, true picture of Jesus Christ and His message—and it’s not the saccharine depiction many people make it out to be (just wait until we get to chapter 23!). But Matthew is also a synoptic Gospel, ending with the Great Commission: to make disciples and baptize in the name of our triune God.

So…just how are we to present the Gospel (which is Old English for “good news”) in carrying out the Great Commission? Do we represent Jesus as loving us no matter what, forgiving all our shortcomings, and able to give us the good life we ask for—or is there more going on with Jesus?

On one hand, Jesus said in Matthew 11 that he is gentle and lowly in heart, and that he will give us rest for our souls. Sounds great, but in Matthew’s verses right before that claim, Jesus condemns an entire town to Hell. Jude, the Lord’s half-brother, wrote passionately in his New Testament letter that we are to contend earnestly for the faith, and he provided harsh warnings and condemnations for those who do not adhere to the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” So how do we contend for the faith?

If you seek to follow Jesus Christ, you will find yourself constantly in contention. But we are not called to fight with harsh words or criticism—we are called to fight with love, compassion, understanding, and gentleness and respect, just as Jesus modeled for us. If you find yourself being contentious, it might help to remember that Matthew noted that Jesus was a friend to sinners.

In many respects it’s a matter of understanding things in the proper order, and appreciating that God works through processes. He doesn’t just poof everything into place immediately. The way we understand the Gospel, is not necessarily the way we are to present the Gospel. Too many of us proceed with “ready, FIRE, aim.” Dump the whole truck, right now. However, like Matthew, we need to have some street smarts. We need situational awareness and we need to follow the model of the apostle Paul. This isn’t a sales approach. The Great Commission is not about selling—it’s about making disciples.

One of the things I really appreciate from this N.T. Wright study is discovering a new voice to add to my devotional life. New voices, the Gospel of Matthew, how to present the Gospel?—here’s a rap video to land the plane. It’s about as good a presentation of the Gospel as I have come across.

Personal Discipleship

The Life Line The Life Line by Winslow Homer, 1884

Personal discipleship has been a lifeline for me between what had become a comfortable and complacent Christian experience, and one that became vibrant, exciting, and very real. As we embark on this new Lenten series, I invite you to take a fresh approach to your devotional life.

Personal discipleship is the process in which a believer or seeker takes personal responsibility for investigating the claims and content of the Bible. While we all appreciate hearing a well-turned sermon in a moving worship service, sitting in a pew is a passive experience. None of us would get very far academically if all we ever did was attend lectures. We have to read, study, work some problems through, write, engage others in discussion, apply ourselves, and prepare to be tested. And so it is with our faith.

Matthew’s Gospel invites that kind of approach. His is a ‘synoptic’ Gospel, recorded by a much-hated tax collector. As Travis mentioned in his introduction to this series, the Gospel of Matthew features five discourses of Jesus. It’s linear—starting with the genealogy of Joseph (not Jesus), and ending with the Great Commission. In the text, we see the identity of our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—revealed, and we see that God has a purpose for our lives and wants a personal relationship with us. Matthew was a meticulous note taker. It’s quite a book.

So…other than reading Matthew’s text, how would we apply personal discipleship to our studies? Let’s look beyond the sacred page and see what modern scholarship has to offer.

For example, did you know that we can date the Crucifixion? It took place on Friday, April 3rd, 33 A.D. I first heard that bold claim in Ken Petzinger’s Vine Life Class. I didn’t think that kind of precision was possible in ancient history, but it turns out that by taking data from astronomy (verified by NASA) and historical accounts of Pontius Pilate, and applying a working knowledge of the Jewish calendar, we can make a compelling case for that exact date. Please bear with me; I’ll put the details in a forthcoming post. Let’s just say for now that Peter offered the blood red moon as evidence of the fulfillment of Joel’s centuries-old prophesy about the Crucifixion at Pentecost (in Acts 2), and that NASA can verify there was a lunar eclipse (blood red moon) visible in Jerusalem on April 3rd, 33 A.D. Oh…this date also lines up with Pontius Pilate’s term as Roman Prefect of Judea, and falls on a Friday before the beginning of Passover. Suddenly, the Crucifixion is not so “long ago and far away.”

Likewise, did you know that archaeologists believe they know the precise location of the trial of Jesus before Pilate? And you can still see it today. We’ll look at that evidence in a future post as well.

The events recorded in the Gospel of Matthew actually happened. Through personal discipleship, you can see for yourself how the dots are connected.