Christus Victor: Abandoned to Death but not in Death

March 8, 2023

If you only listen to one in this series, listen to this one!

Texts: Mark 15:33-37; Matthew 28:5-10

Days 50-51 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Death and Resurrection. This is the pinnacle of the gospel story. The Messiah is victorious in both death and resurrection.

In death, the Messiah is obedient to death, even death on the cross. That is victory over the powers of darkness arrayed against him, seeking to subvert his faithful obedience.

In resurrection, the Messiah is vindicated; he is justified as God’s anointed. That is victory over death itself, swallowing up death in victory.

In death, the Messiah is abandoned but not alienated. The Messiah abandoned to death, just as all humans since Adam have been. But the Messiah is not separated from God as if the Trinity has itself been torn asunder. On the contrary, the Father loves the Son, the Spirit of God rests upon the Son, and the Son knows the ending of Psalm 22 even as he shrieks its first words.

In resurrection, the Messiah is not abandoned in Hades, the realm of the dead. The Father, by the Spirit, raises the Son from the dead, liberating him from the grave. The Messiah, like the Psalmist, experiences deliverance and enters the sacred assembly to praise his Savior. The Messiah was given over to death but redeemed from it.

The Messiah was abandoned to the grave but not in the grave.

We, too, will be abandoned to death but not in the grave.

Jesus Suffers: Garden, Via Dolorosa, and Cross

March 2, 2023

Texts: Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:52-53; Luke 23:32-47

Days 47-49 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Video available here

If we had not been sufficiently convinced of the humanity of Jesus, perhaps because he also God in the flesh, the movement from the Garden to the Cross might just seal the deal. Jesus suffers.

Jesus wrestles with God in prayer, recognizes the powers of darkness surrounding him, and hangs on a cross mocked and humiliated. Jesus enters fully into the human experience of death, persecution, and injustice.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus leaves eight disciples behind, takes three deeper into the Garden with him (Peter, James, and John), and then finds a place to be alone. He has come to pray, and his prayer is saturated with grief and his spirit is agitated. He goes off by himself three times, and each time he returns he finds his disciples sleeping. He prays without a sustaining community surrounding him. Sometimes praying is more important than sleeping. His prayer progresses from hesitation to acceptance, and ultimately to commitment. Jesus submits to the will of the Father.

As Jesus begins his way to his trial and to the cross—the via dolorosa (the way of sorrow), he announces to his opposition—hostile rulers—that “this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53, NIV). Darkness evokes the memory of the chaos of Genesis 1:2. It remembers the power of God’s enemies, including Satan. When darkness reigns, innocent people are executed. When darkness reigns, the righteous are mocked. When darkness reigns, women weep over the loss of their children. Nevertheless, the light of the kingdom is present. Even as he hung on the cross, kingdom light breaks into the darkness.

While on the cross, according to Luke, Jesus speaks three times. He speaks about forgiveness, God’s Paradise, and trust. Though dying on a cross, Jesus prays for his enemies. He testifies to the death of evil and suffering because the Paradise of God is real. And, quoting Psalm 31, he expresses his trust in the Father.

Forgiveness, Victory, and Trust.

Though darkness reigns, the kingdom is revealed in Jesus from the Garden to the Cross. Amid the darkness, Jesus struggled, and then he accepted his journey, and finally completed it in full trust of the Father with forgiveness in his heart for his enemies and an assurance of the future to his new friend, a fellow-cross bearer.

Jesus Serves: Temple, Template, and Table

March 1, 2023

Texts: Mark 10:41-45; 11:15-18; 12:28-34; 14:22-25

Days 43-46 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

As Jesus traveled to Jerusalem in order to suffer and die, he frames this journey as one of service. The mission of Jesus is to serve others, and that is why he became a “slave of all.” The “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 identifies a core value: the mission is for others, and it requires the gift of his own life. The whole mission of Jesus is shaped by his intent to serve others, and he gives his life for the sake of the world.

Days 44-46 highlight how this service plays out, at least in part, in the last week of Jesus’s life. After Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he is hailed as the coming king (Messiah) by the crowds, he enacts his role as Messiah in three distinct ways in texts appointed for this session.

First, Jesus comes to Jerusalem in judgment; he serves judgment. Out of a zeal for God’s house which is designed for prayer, he engaged in prophetic symbolism by turning over tables. Overturning a few tables would not stop the economic system in place at the temple, but it did testify to God’s judgment upon the temple authorities and their practices. We might say Jesus’s symbolic action was a promissory note on the future of the temple; it would be destroyed (Mark 13). They had made the temple a hiding place for their own interests, like a den of robbers, instead of a place of prayer for all nations.

Second, Jesus serves the teachers of Israel. At times, he affirms and at other times condemns the ethics and practices of Israel’s temple life. Jesus complimented one scribe who affirmed that the primary ethic is to love God and love neighbor. These two commandments, according to the scribe, are more important than the temple’s whole sacrificial system.  The love of God and neighbor are the template ethic for the kingdom of God. It is the pattern of life for in God’s kingdom.

Third, at table, Jesus served his disciples his own body and blood. Just as he told them that he would serve many by giving his life as a ransom, at the table Jesus gives his body and blood to us for our own salvation, sustenance, and communal life. We sit at the table as servants who are served by the host of the table. This, too, is the pattern of our life in the kingdom of God.

Service for the sake of others is the hallmark of the kingdom of God because it is how the Messiah saves and rules his people.

The Grace of Generosity

February 16, 2023

This sermon, delivered at the Southwest Church of Christ in Amarillo, TX, is based on 2 Corinthians 8-9.

How does one obey the gospel? Is generosity obedience to the gospel?

Paul calls the Corinthians to give out of the gracious dynamic that is fundamental to the story of God in Christ. Just as God has graced the Corinthians through Jesus, so the Corinthians–in obedience to the gospel–should grace others by sharing their resources with them.

The invitation is not rule-based but is story-formed. Paul does not command them. Yet their positive response to Paul’s invitation is called obedience to the gospel.

Jesus Pivots Toward the Cross: Revelation, Transfiguration, and Mission

February 8, 2023

Texts: Luke 9:18-22, 28-36; 10:17-20; Mark 10:41-45

Days 40-43 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

At some point near the end of his ministry in Galilee and other northern regions, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). This comes immediately after his announcement to his disciples that he is the Messiah and his transfiguration on the mountain. It is followed by his sending of the 70 (or 72) into the villages to proclaim the inbreaking of the reign of God and healing the diseased.

This is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. As he pivots toward his own suffering and death (to be followed by resurrection on the third day), he reveals his identity to his disciples and announces his coming suffering, death, and resurrection. This was a private reveal, and the pivot becomes consuming as Jesus heads to Jerusalem to complete his mission.

Before he begins his journey to Jerusalem, however, he ascends a high mountain with Peter, James, and John where he spent some time in prayer. God encountered Jesus there, transfigured his body, and affirmed his identity. Though he soon would be charged, beaten, and executed, this was God’s Son and Messiah. God is as delighted in this moment as God was at his baptism.

As he left Galilee towards Jerusalem, he rebuked his disciples from stopping someone from casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He also rebuked his disciples for their anger and thirst of revenge toward a Samaritan village that had rejected Jesus. Rather than discouraged by these corrections, Jesus appointed 70 (72) different disciples (other than the 12) to go ahead of him on his journey to prepare for his arrival by preaching “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The disciples were empowered to heal and cast out demons to accompany this message.

Their kingdom mission was an assault on the demonic powers, and every good thing they did was another defeat for Satan. In their teaching and good works, Satan fell, and every time we “do good,” Satan falls, even today.

But Jesus does not come as a military hero but one who will give his life for many as a servant. He goes to the cross voluntarily and as a servant.

“You are the Messiah,” Peter confessed. The cat is out of the bag, and this is dangerous for Jesus. He ascends a mountain to pray for strength, and God responds with a gracious promise of a victorious future. Confident in his mission, he sends disciples ahead to prepare the way for him, including undermining the power of Satan. Despite the fall of Satan, Jesus will still go to the cross as a servant for the sake of others.

The Grace of Generosity: A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 8-9

February 5, 2023

[Sermon begins at the 55 minute mark.]

How do you persuade a wealthy congregation in Corinth to share their resources with an impoverished and ethnically different group of people in Jerusalem almost 1,000 miles distant?

When they shared from their resources with the Jerusalem believers, Paul wrote, they would “glorify God by [their] obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 9:13). But Paul did not command them to share (2 Corinthians 8:8). Rather, he probed whether they truly believed the story of God in Christ.

If they believe that they have been made rich by the grace of God’s Son, who though being rich became poor for our sakes, then the Corinthians should share their blessings with those who are poor (2 Corinthians 8:9-10).

In other words, the Corinthians were not commanded to obey a rule, but invited to participate in the story of God. And when they participated, they would then obey the gospel (or conform themselves to the image of Christ).

A Sermon on Obadiah: the Day of the Lord

January 27, 2023

The sermon begins at the 42 minute mark. Delivered on June 19, 2022 at the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ.

Obadiah is the shortest book of the Hebrew Bible. It is a word of judgment against Edom who has mistreated, throughout its history, Israel and Judah.

What might such a brief ancient and situated address to Edom say to the contemporary church? Surprisingly, a lot.

Gloating over enemies? Pride in their invulnerability? Hatred of enemies? Yes, there is much to say. The Day of the Lord came to Edom, and it is comes to all nations who share their path. The Day of the Lord, a day of reckoning, will come to all nations.

The Civil War was such a reckoning in the United States. But have we learned anything about violence, hatred, and accountability to God?

A Sermon on Uzzah

January 23, 2023

2 Samuel 6:1-11 (begin at minute 36 for the sermon)

Uzzah was part of a religio-political procession; it was not simply about an inadvertent touching of the ark. What happened to Uzzah signals the unholy nature of David’s agenda. It is more about what David wants than what God wants.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 – May Women Teach Men?

December 26, 2022

In January, 2021, Bammel Road Church of Christ in Houston, TX, asked me to share my understanding of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 with them. This is the ZOOM video for January 31, 2021.

This presentation suggests that Paul is addressing a confused situation in Ephesus where some deceived women were influencing the whole church, and consequently Paul encourages them to learn before they teach. These women had been deceived just as Eve had. This is not a universal prohibition against women teaching men. Rather, it is Paul’s response to a specific situation where Paul uses Eve as an analogy rather than as the basis for some kind of created order that ranks the authority of men and women in the church.

The Powerpoint slides are available here.

Another video on 1 Timothy 2:12 (“Three Problems with a Soft Complementarian Reading of 1 Timothy 2:12”) is available here.

For a summary of my perspective, see this essay.

For a more extended presentation of my understanding, see my book: Women Serving God.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 – Women Have Authority (Right) to Pray and Prophesy in the Assembly

December 20, 2022

In January, 2021, Bammel Road Church of Christ in Houston, TX, asked me to share my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 with them. This is the ZOOM video for January 24, 2021.

This presentation affirms the principle of “headship” (which needs definition) and the interdependency of women and men “in the Lord.” In the assembly, both women and men are affirmed in the use of their gifts, and women have authority to participate visibly and audibly in the assembly of the gathered saints.

The Powerpoints are available here.

For a summary of my perspective, see this essay.

For a more extended presentation of my understanding, see my book: Women Serving God.