Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bible Study Matthew 28:1-20

 These notes were prepared for the Wednesday 10 am Bible Study at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Orlando FL.

Discussion questions for the start of the Bible Study
What is your favorite Easter memory?
What traditions do you observe at Easter?
What is the best thing that you have experienced in an Easter Worship Service?
Do you ever go to Sunrise service, and if so, why?

Matthew 28:1
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

In Matthew’s story of the empty tomb there is something appropriate about the two women who are at the tomb.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.

They had been there at the cross; they had been there when he was laid in the tomb; and now they were receiving the news of the resurrection.

John 19:25:  Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

 Some identify the other Mary as the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus, which would mean Mary’s mother and father lacked imagination when it came to names. Another tradition is that she was Joseph’s sister.  At any rate, what a great thing – if you are remembered for only one thing, to be remembered for being there at Easter!

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Several elements jump out of this text:
(1)   The women were told not to be afraid.  Hard to do if you are in a graveyard and someone who was buried comes back to life.  Also hard to do when you come face to face – if you are at all aware of yourself and your short comings, you will be afraid.
(2)   The women were share the news. When they have discovered the fact of the Resurrection, their first responsibility is to proclaim it to and to share it with others. ‘Go, tell!’ is the first command which comes to all who have discovered the wonder of Jesus Christ for themselves.
(3)   They were urged to rejoice. When Jesus greets them he greets them with the word Chairete; that is the normal word of greeting - but its literal meaning is ‘Rejoice!’

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests[c] had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
There is a Roman proverb:  Magna est Veritas et praevalebit, “great is the truth and it will prevail.”

These people slandered Christ, there were bribes, there was dishonesty, and yet the truth prevailed.

I read a story in the recent issue of Reader’s Digest.  A little boy came running to the parents afraid that he was going to die.  He had been playing with a penny and swallowed it accidentally.  His father palmed a penny and moved his hand behind the ear of the child and pretended to pull it out – this reassured the boy, who promptly took the penny and swallowed it and said, “do it again.”

Dishonesty gets us nowhere.

The truth comes out.

The truth of the Resurrection is out.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is the farewell message from Jesus before he ascends into Heaven.

He does three important things:
(1) He reminds them of his power.
(2) He issues a command – a directive, what some would call the Great Commission.
We are sent out to make all the world his disciples.
 (3) He promised that as he is leaving them, he will be present with them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Matthew 21:1-11 Bible Study

Our reading from the lectionary for Sunday is perfect for Palm Sunday – even though there are no palms mentioned in the text. 

But we will get to that later.

In Matthew 21, we find that it is Passover time, and Jerusalem and all of the communities nearby are crowded with pilgrims. This really was a big celebration – not just from the Jewish or Christian point of view.  At one point a Roman governor took a census of the lambs slain in Jerusalem for Passover and found a total number close to 250,000.  That’s a quarter of a million lambs!

That number may not be accurate, but it does indicate that Passover was huge.

First, the population of Jerusalem’s residents was 25,000 in 30 AD. 

Second, Passover regulation required that there must be a party of a minimum of ten for each lamb, which means that at that Passover time more than 2,500,000 people had crowded their way into Jerusalem.

Third, the population of the world at that time was only 300,000,000 people.

However inaccurate that Roman census may have been, it reflects one truth – Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims!

Matthew 21:1-11
21:1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,

21:2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.

Bethphage means “House of un-ripe figs.”
It was likely on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and its distance is the limit of a Sabbath-day’s journey (2,000 cubits).

Now what about this business of two animals?  Some preachers like to make light of the image of Jesus riding a donkey and a colt at the same time, like some sort of circus performer.

Mark and Luke mention only the colt.  Matthew mentions the colt and the donkey.

Matthew is focusing on the prophetic fulfillment and so he mentions the two animals.  This is not necessarily a contradiction any more than it would be if I said to one person that Harvey and Jimmy came by my house last night, but said to another person later in the day that Harvey seems to be doing better because he was able to come by my house last night.  My not mentioning Jimmy does not offer a contradiction, but a different context.

21:3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately."

21:4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

21:5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Matthew’s Gospel often includes that wording from verse 4, “This took place to fulfill [or This was to fulfill] what had been spoken through the prophet”

In chapter one of Matthew, we see this sort of formula:

Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

It shows up over and over again in Matthew.  “This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet”

In this chapter of Matthew, the prophecy to be fulfilled comes straight out of Zechariah 9:9:

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Its original context is a statement concerning the Lord’s victory and defeat of enemies and the restoration of Israel.  It portrays God as the victorious, peaceful king entering the city.

21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;

21:7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

The crowds” function as a character in Matthew. 

They show up at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in chapter 4:25.

By the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds are listening to his teachings (7:28–29; cf. 13:2).

The crowds express surprise over Christ’s authority (7:28–29; 9:8; 22:33).

The crowds are witnesses to his miracles.  (12:15; 14:14; 15:30; 19:2).

The crowds are amazed when he casts out demons.  (9:33).

Twice the crowds were fed by Christ through miraculous multiplying of the food (14:13–21 and 15:32–39).

And now they show enthusiasm as Jesus rides into the city.

The crowds wave branches and spread garments on the road in a first-century version of the ticker-tape parade. 

The word for branches is KLADOS and does not specifically refer to a particular tree, such as a palm tree.  This word is just a general term for any tree’s branch, and there are places where it is used to refer to an olive tree, as in Romans 11:
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root[f] of the olive tree, 18 do not boast over the branches.

Ignatius used the word to describe how Christians were called a branch of the cross. (Ignatius to the Trallians 11:1-2 “Avoid therefore the evil branches that produce deadly fruit, of which if any man taste he will die forthwith. These, therefore, are not the planting of the Father, for if they were they would appear branches of the cross, and their fruit would have been incorruptible, through which cross in his passion he exhorts us who are his members.”)

So where do the palm branches come in?  Matthew says tree branches, Mark says “leafy branches” and Luke just mentions the garments.  It is John in 12:13 that mentions the palm branches. 

This tree is now rare in the Middle East, but is being planted purposefully for a come back.  It was once naturally abundant in that area.  

You can eat the berries – they are a sweet food.  The sap can be turned to wine.  The fibers from the base of the fronds can be woven to ropes.  The timber is also useful.

So it was, in Jesus day a very popular and common tree.

21:9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

We know, of course, that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die, but for now, he is coming with the welcome of the people. 

The way the people greeted Jesus was the way the people greeted ALL pilgrims:  ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 118:26).

The people also shouted Hosanna!

Hosanna means Save now!

Hosanna is a cry for help from a people in distress addressed to their king or their God.

It is a sort of quotation from Psalm 118:25: ‘Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!’

In concluding our study, William Barclay, his commentary, says that this episode shows us three things about Jesus.

1)     It shows us his courage. Jesus knew full well that he was entering a hostile city.
2)     It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah
3)     It shows us his appeal to the people, and how fragile that appeal to us may be.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A review of the movie NOAH

I went to see the movies to see NOAH today. I know a lot of churches and Christians are ripping it apart for not being a strict presentation of the Bible (sort of like DeMille's Ten Commandments and other biblical films from Hollywood) - but I liked it. I'll get to my primary reasons for liking it later, but first, the secondary reasons: I liked the creativity. The visual interpretation of Noah retelling the first chapter of Genesis creation account was cool. The visibility of the stars and their closeness implies a young universe early in its post-big bang expansion. I'm glad to see Noah wore something more like blue jeans than a bath robe. And the way the movie takes a one liner in the Bible and builds a whole back story about the Nephilim that reflects some research into some old traditions and a familiarity with Hebrew -- although I will say throughout the movie I thought the Nephilim looked like rusty Transformers.

Now to my primary reasons for liking the movie: I liked it because of the way it handled some of the great themes of the biblical theology of Noah. Here you have a story about God's demand for justice AND God's demand for mercy. How these two conflicting ideals interact in human life and history is a story worth telling, and I think this movie got this right. Noah and his wife have a tough time working through those two concepts.

John Calvin, Martin Luther and St. Paul would have liked this part - Noah has an epiphany when he realizes that he and his family are as sinful as anyone else facing destruction. He struggles with how justice requires that they should also die.

Noah has a hard time understanding what God wants him to do. He sometimes gets it wrong - the movie demonstrations this by adding to Noah a little of the Abraham and Isaac near-sacrifice story. Understanding God is often tough.

Most of all, I liked the ending. The story of Noah's drunkenness is perhaps the most accurately portrayed element of the biblical account in this movie. This is a confusing part of the Bible's account, and in the movie it is clearly a survivor's remorse that Noah is experiencing. The reconciliation of Noah and his wife immediately after that is a touching moment in the film. Noah does everything God asks of him, and he finds it to be a painful and difficult journey, with no pie-in-the sky happy ending - and that's real life and sound theology. Serving God ain't easy - and that's the truth.