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Dods: What is Christianity?

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’” — John 21:15 NIV.

“What is Christianity? It is God’s way of getting hold of us, of attaching us to what is good, of making us holy, perfect beings. And the method He uses is the presentation of goodness in a personal form. God makes goodness supremely attractive by exhibiting to us its reality and its beauty and its permanent and multiplying power in Jesus Christ. Absolutely simple and absolutely natural is God’s method. The building up of systems of theology, the elaborate organization of churches, the various expensive and complicated methods of humanity, how artificial do they seem when set alongside of the simplicity and naturalness of God’s method! People are to be made perfect. Show them, then, that human perfection is perfect love for them, and can they fail to love it and themselves become perfect? That is all. The mission of Christ and the salvation of people through Him are as natural and as simple as the mother’s caress of her child. Christ came to earth because He loved people and could not help coming. Being on earth, He expresses what is in Him — His love, His goodness. By His loving all people and satisfying all their needs, people came to feel that this was the Perfect One, and humbly gave themselves to Him. As simply as love works in all human affairs and relationships, so simply does it work here.” — Marcus Dods (1834-1909), The Gospel of John, Volume 2 (The Expositor’s Bible) Chapter 25.

I changed some of the language of this quote to make it conform to contemporary usage and spelling.

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A House of Prayer for All Nations

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In Mark 11 we read that when Jesus entered Jerusalem — that final time — he “entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” It was a provocative thing to do. Mark tells us that this incident is one of the primary reasons the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. It was a strong protest against the way religious service was being conducted.

And, then come these remarkable words:

He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And, as I read this passage I say to myself: if that was the case then, how much more now! Our various places of worship — wherever they may be — are intended to be places of prayer for all people. They are meant to point to God. They are meant to bring people into connection with God. They are meant for all people. Is that what they are? (more…)

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The In-Breathing of the Spirit (John 20:22)

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.””— John 20:19-22 (NRSV).

40-days-with-the-holy-spirit-17Jack Levison’s new book 40 Days With the Holy Spirit is filled with insights about the Holy Spirit. The book is divided into several brief meditations on the Spirit — and the language the Scriptures use to  speak of the Spirit’s role. Dr. Levison holds the W. J. A. Power Chair of Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He has written about the Holy Spirit before: The Spirit in First Century Judaism (1997), Of Two Minds: Ecstasy and Inspired Interpretation in the New Testament World (2000), Filled with the Spirit (2009),  Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (2012).

And, in reading this new book, I came across a insight about the passage above that was new to me. I am quite familiar with the passage that reads: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” Some scholars call this the Johannine Pentecost — the Gospel of John’s way of speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the Christian believers. More traditional believers have had some difficulty reconciling this bestowal of the Holy Spirit with the later event of Pentecost — wondering when the Spirit really came upon the first disciples of Jesus. (more…)

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Craig Keener on The First Christmas

 

[kad_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/lyfgaqh6XZc” ]

 

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The Angel’s Announcement – Luke 1:26-38

nativityWhen we approach Christmas time we naturally have to turn to the Gospel of Luke. It is Luke that tells us the familiar Christmas story that we remember at this time of the year. The Gospel of Mark begins its story with John the Baptist. The Gospel of John talks about creation and the Word and “the Word made flesh.” The Gospel of Matthew tells us a story that centers on Joseph. It is Luke alone that tell us the nativity story upon which the church Christmas pageants and celebrations are based.

So the Revised Common Lectionary — which tries to assign only one of the Synoptic Gospels to a particular year — nonetheless has to draw from the Gospel of Luke as Christmas rolls around again. So, recommended for this coming Sunday, is the story of the angel’s announcement to Mary of the birth of the savior. (more…)

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“I Am” Sayings in the New Testament (a list)

IFThis post is primarily just a list — for me to archive — and for those who might be interested. I have also included (at the end) a video presentation by Dr. Andrew Lincoln on the significance of the “I am” passages in the Gospel of John.

In one of the churches I pastored, I led a series of brief Lenten studies on the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John. In preparation for this, I did a search to find how many sayings like this there really were. I was a bit surprised how many I found.

Occasionally I get asked about this, so it occurs to me that there may be other people who would also find this list interesting. (more…)

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Obedience and the Spirit of Truth – John 14:15-21

greek-nt-openThe themes in this section of the Gospel of John resonate well with the themes I am often addressing at this web site. Jesus calls his followers into a life of obedience — and promises the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to them.

In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for the days to come with a long discourse: it begins in Chapters 13 and runs through chapter 16, with a closing prayer added in chapter 17. The passage under discussion today is just a brief snippet from that longer discourse.

This passage is memorable because in contains of the promise of the Holy Spirit. But, it is framed on either side by a challenge to keep Christ’s commandments. (more…)

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Newbigin: All Proper Order is Overturned

John 13:5-8 (NRSV)
“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.'” 

Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998)

Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998)

[Peter’s horrified reaction at Jesus’ washing of his feet] is the reaction of normal human nature. That the disciple should wash his master’s feet is normal and proper. But if the master becomes a menial slave to the disciple, then all proper order is overturned…. All of us except those at the very bottom have a vested interest in keeping it so, for as long as we duly submit to those above us we are free to bear down on those below us. The action of Jesus subverts this order and threatens to destabilize all society. Peter’s protest is the protest of normal human nature.

… This is not just an acted lesson in humility; Peter could have understood that…. The foot washing is a sign of that ultimate subversion of all human power and authority which took place when Jesus was crucified by the decision of the “powers” that rule this present age. In that act the wisdom of this world was shown to be folly, and the “powers” of this world were disarmed (Col 2:15). But “flesh and blood” — ordinary human nature — is in principle incapable of understanding this. It is “to the Jew a scandal, to the Greek folly.” Only those whom the risen Christ will call and to whom the Holy Spirit will be given will know that this folly is the wisdom of God, and this weakness is the power of God. At that moment, as the man he is, Peter cannot understand. The natural man makes gods in his own image…. How can the natural man recognize the supreme God in the stooping figure of a slave, clad only with a loincloth?

— Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come.

Hat tip to Wesley Hill for this quote.

 

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Gethsemane



Jesus-in-Gethsemane

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two eons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” — Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV)

There is something mysterious about Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a depth of suffering there that is impossible to imagine. In the gospel of Luke we are told that while he prayed “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 N1V). It is hard to conceive how one we know of as the Son of God could be in such emotional torment. He says to his closest followers: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” There is something incomprehensible about the sorrow of the Savior. Like the disciples, we observe the scene of Gethsemane, as it were, at a distance. There is something here into which we cannot enter. It is beyond us. (more…)

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Leave Her Alone – John 12:7

Before his last earthly Passover, Jesus has a meal with Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. We are told “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:15). And, during the meal, something amazing and unexpected (actually embarrassing) happens: Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and then wipes his feet with her hair. A word of rebuke arises. And Jesus replies with these words:

John 12:7 —

εἶπεν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἄφες αὐτήν, ἵνα εἰς τὴν ἡμέραν τοῦ ἐνταφιασμοῦ μου τηρήσῃ αὐτό·
“Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

Mary is the one who understands.

mary-anoints-the-feet-of-jesus

The way John sets the scene we understand as well. He says (verse 1): “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” Jesus is with his close friends, but it is “six days before the Passover.” As readers, we know where the story is going even if some of the characters in the drama do not. The shadow of the Cross hangs over Jesus. Passover this year will mean betrayal, rejection, condemnation, and crucifixion. (more…)

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Craig Keener: Remarriage and Divorce

I am posting another of the excellent videos in Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seven Minute Seminary series.

In this video Dr. Craig Keener addresses the issue of Divorce and remarriage — particularly as it relates to the teaching of Jesus.

 

 

I appreciate the way he addresses this issue. But, I also wanted to post this for another reason. In this video, Dr. Keener raises the issue of whether Jesus used hyperbole (deliberate over-statement) in his teachings. Dr. Keener points out that he clearly did.

This is an important point to remember — especially for those of us who are tempted to ransack through Jesus’ teachings for rules and regulations — he just didn’t teach that way. He used overstatement to get our attention.

 

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On Peace, Love and Perfection – Matthew 5:38-48

sermon-on-the-mount-romaniaIn this passage Jesus is continuing the series of antithesis statements he began in verse 21. In these he fleshes out what he means by coming not to to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He goes beyond the law — not relaxing it, but pushing it further — pushing it toward its spiritual fulfillment. Jesus forces us to consider more than just outward fulfillment — he challenges us at the level of our motivations — our inner lives.

In verses 21-37 the issues were: destructive anger, covetous sexual desire, divorce, and the swearing of oaths. Here the issues are vengefulness, enemies, peace, and universal love for all.  Here the issue is how we treat — and think about — each other. This passage can be seen as a unit because of its closely related themes.

This is also one of those passages in the New Testament that uses the word τέλειος — often translated “perfect” — which gave rise to the phrase “Christian Perfection”— often used by John Wesley (and his followers) to talk about the spiritual life. The phrase was misunderstood from the beginning and still is today — and it’s easy to see why. Looking at verse 48 in its context may help to sort out some of the confusion.

But, our goal in looking at this passage is much larger than that one issue — it is to understand how Jesus interprets the Old Testament law and applies it to life. (more…)

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How Jesus Fulfills the Law – Matthew 5:21-37

sermon-on-the-mount-romaniaJesus has already stated that the purpose of his ministry was in no way to destroy the Law and the prophets (that is, the Old Testament) but to fulfill them. In this passage he begins to flesh out what that means. He seeks to bring the Old Testament law and teaching into its fulfillment by expounding its inner intent and purpose for the people of his own day.

In “fulfilling” the law, he fills it up with meaning, demonstrating how it reveals to us the will and purpose of God. It is for this reason that the Israelites meditated upon the law — seeking not just to keep it but to understand its inner meaning.

This passage begins a series of antithesis statements: “You have heard that it was said…”But I say….” In doing this he in no way seeks to undermine the importance or authority of the Old Testament’s teaching. He is stating the inner intent of the law — the spiritual significance of the law — for the moral and spiritual lives of the people. Notice that his sayings in these verses do not relax the law — in fact, they make them more demanding. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just murder, but destructive anger and rage. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just adultery, but the lust that makes people into objects. The issue is not the words of an oath, the issue is basic honesty.

Jesus seeks to establish among his disciples a righteousness greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees — not more meticulous, but more in line with the will and purpose of God revealed behind the letter of the law. (more…)

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Light, Salt and Righteousness – Matthew 5:13-20

candle-tipRead this passage in light of the missional nature of the church — a topic discussed in this video of Ed Stetzer, that I recently posted on this blog. Stetzer says, for example, that it’s not so much that the Church has a mission as that God’s mission has a Church.

The mission of God requires a people who are bearers of God’s light and presence in the world. As Christ came into the world to mediate God’s presence to the world, his followers — the disciples to whom this Sermon is addressed — are now to continue and extend that mission.

The church doesn’t exist for itself; it exists to serve the world. It is not ultimately about the church; it’s about the people God wants to bless through the church. When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart. — Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith p. 165.

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a series of shocking statements about who had the blessing of God. The blessings of God’s Kingdom were falling upon unlikely people. Jesus now continues with a series of sayings about his disciples and their role in the world. They are people who are sent on God’s mission to bring hope to the world. (more…)

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The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:1-12

Albright_ParkThis past summer I preached for the evening services at the Family Bible Camp at the Albright Park Camp & Retreat Center in Reed City, Michigan.

It was a very natural place for me to be, and I was glad to preach there. I have a fondness for the tradition of the holiness camp meeting, and it felt right to be there preaching in that old tabernacle.

And, it occurred to me: why not preach on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew? I remembered the importance of the Sermon on the Mount in the preaching of John Wesley, and I wondered if a series of messages suitable to a camp meeting could be delivered based on it. I think it went very well. (more…)

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