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.

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.

Jesus Preaches the Gospel

February 1, 2023

Texts: Luke 4:16-21, 40-43; Matthew 6:9-13, 33

Days 36-39 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Did Jesus publicly preach the gospel during his ministry?

That depends on what you mean by “gospel.” If you mean that he preached his death and resurrection publicly, then the answer is no. If you mean that he preached the good news of the arrival of the kingdom, then the answer is yes.

Jesus preached the gospel of the reign of God through his teaching, and he also practiced the gospel through his ministry of healing.

Jesus practiced the kingdom of God through his teaching (illustrated by the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) and his active ministry of discipling people, reconciling people groups, and liberating oppressed through healing (as Luke 4 illustrates).

Israel Redux: The Messiah Begins His Ministry

January 26, 2023

Texts: Luke 3:21-22; Luke 4:1-2a, Luke 4:16-21; Matthew 4:13-17

Days 33-36 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Israel needed a do-over.  Humanity needed a do-over. The Messiah comes to recapitulate the story of humanity through the story of Israel.

This lesson is the beginning of the Messiah’s participation in the story of Israel in such a way that it constitutes a do-over. The Messiah relives and fulfills Israel’s life and history with God.

  • Jesus crosses the Reed Sea with Israel through his baptism.
  • Jesus goes into the wilderness with Israel for 40 days.
  • Jesus, like Israel, enters the land of promise to bring light in the darkness.
  • Jesus proclaims Jubilee for Israel in the words of the prophet Isaiah in fulfillment of the mission of Israel.

From the water to the wilderness, from the wilderness into the land, Jesus relives the history of Israel to fully embody the life of God among the nations. The Messiah takes up the mission of God and invites us to participate in it with him.

God Becomes Human: The Trinity at Work

January 18, 2023

Texts: Galatians 4:4-7; John 1:1-2, 14; Hebrews 2:14-18

Days 30-32 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Trinity is often either avoided or ignored; it is misunderstood or denied. The confession of one God who subsists in three “persons” (or relations) is a difficult topic.

As we seek to live within the biblical narrative, the three-fold action of God for the redemption of the world seems to play out rather explicitly in the writings of the New Testament.

  • The Father sends the Son into the world, born of woman, and then sends the Spirit into our hearts, crying “Abba.”
  • The one who was with God in the beginning and is identified as God is also the one who became flesh by the power of the Spirit.
  • Becoming flesh, the Son was made like other humans in every way in order to, in the power of the Spirit, conquer the power of the devil and make atonement for the sins of the people in service to God.

When we think of “Trinity” in terms of the work of God in managing the world for the sake of its redemption (what theologians call the “economic Trinity” where economic refers to management of a household), we see the three-fold work of God.  The Father initiates the drama of redemption; the Son incarnates, embodies the life of God, and makes atonement; and the Spirit empowers and rests upon the Son.

We also see this economic Trinity in our own lives. The Father elects us; the Son effects forgiveness and righteousness for our sake; and the Spirit indwells and transforms us.

This lesson is the beginning of a Trinitarian journey into the redemptive work of the Triune God for our sakes. The Trinity is the subject of the rest of the story!

For a brief summary of the theology of the Trinity, see this blog post.

Israel’s Scripture: The Prophets

January 11, 2023

Texts: Amos 5:14-15, 24; Zechariah 7:8-12; Malachi 3:1-5

Days 27-29 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

When Jesus characterized Israel’s Scripture as the “Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). The previous two classes discussed the Torah (Law) and Wisdom (which is typically included among the “Psalms” and often called “The Writings” in traditional Judaism). The third category is the Prophets, the third major categorization of Scripture in the life of Israel.

This category, in the Hebrew Bible, includes (1) the Former Prophets (the history books from Joshua to 2 Kings), (2) the Latter Prophets (the major writing prophets), and (3) the Book of Twelve (typically called the minor prophets).

Who are the prophets? What did they do? How did they serve Israel, and how did they form Israel’s faith and life with God? What is the theological function of the prophetic message in the life of Israel?

The prophets hold Israel accountable to their commitment to the covenant made with God at Sinai.  They remember Israel’s history, prosecute their offenses, and promise hope. They speak for God in both judgment and hope, and they remind Israel who their God is. Through their word, God guides Israel into the future.

Israel’s Scripture: Wisdom

January 4, 2023

Texts: Proverbs 9:9-10; Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

Days 25-26 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Every people group carries a shared wisdom within their history. This wisdom provides boundaries and paths for successful living. It also offers a way for people to endure the chaos that regularly invades life. Wisdom envisions the good life but recognizes the chaos of life as well.

Israel’s wisdom invites believers into a flourishing life through Proverbs, provides a dramatic lament to process chaos in the book of Job, and through Ecclesiastes wrestles with faith in a world filled with death.

In this video, part of a Bible class’s walk through my book 80 Days Around the Bible, I explore the theological function of wisdom in Israel’s story.

Israel’s Scripture: Narrative and Liturgy

December 22, 2022

Texts: 1 Chronicles 29:29-30; Psalm 19:14

Days 20-22 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Every people-group has a history; they tell stories about their journey. And every people-group has a liturgy; they worship someone or something.  Israel is no different.

The Torah and subsequent histories (running from Judges through Kings and Chronicles to Ezra-Nehemiah) narrates the story of Israel.

The Torah, along with the histories, highlights the rituals and rhythms of its liturgy, and the Psalms are the prayerbook of Israel.

What is the theological function of these parts of Scripture for Israel? Why are they there, and how do they provide guidance for living faithfully with God?

In this video, part of a Bible class’s walk through my book 80 Days Around the Bible, I explore how the narrative and liturgical genres of Israel’s Scripture form Israel as God’s people.

God’s Gifts to Israel

December 14, 2022

Texts: Romans 9:4-5; Psalm 19:7-10; Romans 3:1-2

Days 20-22 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

God chose Israel from among the nations as God’s own firstborn. As firstborn, Israel was tasked with blessing the nations through their obedience to God (as a light among the nations) and the promises made to Abraham.

God equipped Israel with gifts in order that they might become that light and prepare the nations for their blessings. While Paul does not offer a systematic account of these gifts and their number, he does offer a doxological list in Romans 9:4-5 along with an earlier reference to the God’s gift of Scripture to Israel in Romans 3:1-2.

These gifts were unique to Israel but intended to bless the nations. Ultimately, these gifts were also extended to the nations as they were incorporated (grafted into, Paul’s language in Romans 11) into Israel.

The gifts Paul identifies (and it is not necessarily a comprehensive list, nor is it one of priority or sequence) are:

  1. Adoption
  2. Divine Glory
  3. Covenants
  4. Torah
  5. Liturgy (Temple Worship)
  6. Promises
  7. “Oracles of God”

Divine Dwelling, Inherited Land, and Another Detour

November 30, 2022

Texts: Exodus 40:34-38; Joshua 11:23; 1 Samuel 8:4-9

Days 17-19 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

God led Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness to Sinai where God dwelt upon the earth. The purpose of the Exodus was not only liberation from slavery but encounter with God at Sinai whey they would become the covenant people of God.

At Sinai, God moved to dwell in the midst of Israel by filling the newly completed tabernacle with God’s glory and presence. Dwelling with Israel, God moved the place of God’s own rest from Sinai to the tabernacle and thus moved with Israel through the wilderness and into the promised land. Carrying God’s presence with them in the symbol of the ark of the covenant, Israel entered the land as their inheritance.

Their inheritance entailed the renewal of humanity. A new humanity—liberated from imperial oppression—now dwelt in a new Eden where God would rest in the land and give rest to the land.

This new Eden was a theocracy, and covenant people of God were designed to fill the land with peace, justice, righteousness, and joy. It was a place where Israel, representing all humanity as a priestly royal nation, would be a light to the nations and invite them to hear the word of the Lord so that they, too, might flourish like a tree by running water. Like Eden, this was a land where God ruled and in which God rested, and God tasked Israel, like humanity in the beginning, to fill the land with God’s imagers and God’s glory. Israel became a co-ruler with God and a priest among the nations.

Sadly, as in Eden with Adam and Eve, Israel became dissatisfied with God’s theocratic arrangement. Israel embraced a detour as they decided to choose their own king like the nations rather than calling the nations into the light and life of God’s way.

This detour empowered oppressive and self-interested structures. Rather than living before God in communities led by people whom God raised up as needed, they decided to give power to a system of hereditary monarchs. Though God would ultimately redeem the monarchy through reestablishing a divine theocracy through the work of King Jesus, the history Israel’s monarchy became another degenerative spiral into idolatry, just like the spiral described in Genesis 3-11.