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Born to Win with Ronald L. Dart

 

The Words of Jesus #5

Monday, January 21, 2019

Ronald L. Dart

Over the years, a common objection people raised to religion is that, well, it’s pie in the sky. Religion, they think, has some vague promises of benefits in the next life, but it doesn’t do much for a person in this life. That’s really a pity that those of us who call ourselves Christians have allowed people to think of us that way; for if a person comes to understand the words of Jesus, they’ll come away with a totally different perspective.

Take for example one day when Jesus came to a synagogue in Nazareth where he had been brought up. As his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and he stood up to read. (As Jesus was a Sabbath keeper, he did not work at his job on the Sabbath and he was in regular attendance at the synagogue. Adult men were allowed to read aloud from the scriptures in the synagogue and it was very important in a time when hardly anyone had even a piece of the Bible of their own and a lot of them couldn’t have read it if they had it.) So, Jesus stood up to read, and there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. When He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19 KJ2000).

He closed the book, he handed it back to the minister, and he sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. Something about the way he read it, something about the way he communicated this ancient prophecy, struck people, and he said to them, “This day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Not tomorrow, not in the next life, right now.

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Power Versus Freedom - Friday, January 18, 2019

If power corrupts (and we know it does) and absolute power corrupts absolutely, how is it that God has not been corrupted? This is one of the old and popular challenges that unbelievers like to toss out to Christians. Actually, it is a perfectly legitimate question, and the answer to it opens the door to understanding and resolving a wide range of issues relative to God and the Bible.

It was Lord Acton who coined the statement about power, and I am beginning to understand why it is so. And perhaps why the founders of this country were so dedicated to the balance of powers, and preventing the centralization of power. There is now, and long has been, a struggle between power and freedom. I think it is fair to say that there is enmity between power and freedom. Freedom is a threat to power, and power is a threat to freedom. It has always been so.

Why, then, does God not become corrupted by power? The answer is relatively simple, but for some reason, people don’t see it. God has a goal in mind that requires freedom for all concerned. Surely we can all understand how having an over riding objective tends to diminish every other consideration. So what is that objective? Before I answer that question, I want to talk about the issue of freedom. It has been very much on my mind of late, because I fear a considerable loss of freedom is in the works for mankind—if present trends continue. To explain this, at the risk of boring you, I have to go back to the beginning.

The Words of Jesus #4 - Thursday, January 17, 2019

I doubt if there are any words of Jesus more widely quoted and better known than his little statement in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV)

It is hard to grasp how a first-century Jew would have taken that. Listen to the emphasis. God so loved the world—not just the Israelites, and not just the Jews. And it is everlasting life we are talking about here, and it is for whosoever believes him, not just for the Jews. It is difficult, looking back from our perspective in the 20th century to the 1st—we already have a concept of Jesus, we already have a very strong idea of what he taught and believed, and we have attached a very strong meaning to this one little verse. But it’s hard to understand what that verse meant to the man who first heard it.

Judaism was the religion of the Jews. Gentiles were shut out unless they made the complete transition—being circumcised and observing the whole package including the oral law and traditions of the Jews in order to have any access to God at all. Observant Jews would not so much as eat with a gentile.

What Jesus is saying here is not new. The prevailing doctrine of the Jews relative to Gentiles was not what the Old Testament taught. The prophets—especially Isaiah—spoke quite frankly of the conversion of the Gentiles, and the Torah made definite provision for Gentiles to worship God, to adore him, and observe most, if not all, of his festivals. So Jesus, in a manner that must have gone over his listeners heads, speaks of God loving the whole world and extending salvation to all people.

The Words of Jesus #3 - Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Whatever image you have in your mind of Jesus Christ, it is surely wrong. None of his disciples told us anything at all about how Jesus looked—which is a curious oversight, in a way, because we really would like to know. It comes as a shock to some people when they learn that the picture of Jesus they bought and hung on the wall is a painting of some male model the artist recruited to sit for the portrait.

There is every indication that Jesus was unremarkable physically. He was a Jew, but that was completely ordinary to his disciples. So we know nothing about Jesus’ physical appearance, but we do know a great deal about his character and personality—which is of a great deal more interest anyway. He was definitely not a talkative man. And when he did speak, he was often cryptic. When he acted, though, he was pretty definite.

“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things away; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise” (John 2:13–16 KJ2000).

I have often pondered how Jesus got away with this. He turned the whole place upside-down, and no one laid a hand on him. I think they were a little bit afraid of him. First, they knew that he was right. No one argued that these activities should have been going on. The temple should have been a quiet place of prayer, filled with the smell of incense. But it had all the noise of a marketplace and the stench of animal dung. They knew this was not right. I think that Jesus also had a charismatic personality—he spoke and acted with authority. When challenged on the source of this authority, Jesus had this to say…

The Words of Jesus #2 - Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than baptism. Whether it be by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, baptism is the initiation rite to the Christian church. If you haven’t been baptized somehow, someway, you haven’t met the entry level requirement. Baptism is a Christian thing—and yet baptism did not originate with Christianity. It had been practiced for at least 150 years before Jesus appeared on the scene, and even in the New Testament itself it does not originally come from Jesus, but from John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus himself.

There is a puzzling exchange that takes place between these two men, and it is only in recent years (because of things we’ve learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls) that we have come to understand what it is all about:

“Then came Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized by him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized by you, and come you to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Permit it to be so now: for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he permitted him.” (Matthew 3:13–15 KJ2000)

Baptism was already an old custom—how old, no one really knows. The Qumran community had been in the area where John was baptizing for generations, and John’s baptism resembled theirs in some important respects. We make a mistake if we project the doctrine of Christian baptism back onto John’s baptism. There was an important difference. Christian baptism washes away sins—purifies. But the baptism of the Qumran community required that a person become clean and free from sin before he could be baptized. It is hard to say if John knew anything of Christian baptism when Jesus came to him. Now, listen to the words of Jesus in response to John…

The Words of Jesus #1 - Monday, January 14, 2019

Did it ever occur to you to wonder why Jesus didn’t write his own book? Why have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the four Gospels, but no Gospel According to Jesus? And have you ever noticed how little Jesus had to say? He was a man of few words for the most part, though he did sometimes wax eloquent for, say, five minutes. Let me show you something really curious about the gospel accounts of Jesus speeches. Mark, in his gospel account, passes over all the early years of Jesus’ life very quickly and comes to the actual beginning of Jesus’ work. Jesus calls his disciples, and then we have this:

“And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:21–22 KJ2000).

Then he heals a man in the synagogue and Jesus and his disciples leave the synagogue. What is wrong with this picture? Well, I for one, would give a lot to know what Jesus said in that synagogue. Mark says they were “astonished at his doctrine.” Mark doesn’t, however, see fit to tell us what the doctrine was! To a 20th-century reader, this is a remarkable oversight. He taught doctrine. He taught with authority. His listeners were astonished. Please, please, tell us what he said! But no, Mark doesn’t think it is important. Here I am, concerned about the intellectual content of Jesus’ teaching, while Mark is far more concerned with what Jesus actually did and the message contained in what he did. But if I want the intellectual content of Jesus’ message—what did Jesus actually say, what did he teach—how am I going to find it?

A Man of Understanding - Friday, January 11, 2019

Years ago, I used to enjoy going up on internet forums and discussing religion there. They had any number of them divided up by category. I tended to hang out on the Christian forums. What was fascinating to me, and something I did not really understand, was the degree of hostility expressed on Christian forums. It seemed a good thing that these people were separated by the anonymity of the forum . If they had been in the same room, they might have come to blows. And I wondered, What generates so much hostility in some people of faith? Why is it that, when faced with a different belief, people don’t adopt one of two rational responses: indifference, or curiosity.

Indifference—when I encounter someone with an off-the-wall religious idea, I can tell quickly enough whether there is likely to be any merit there or not. If the answer is not, I toss it in the wastebasket or click my mouse and go somewhere else. If I am face-to-face with an adverse person, I have a stock reply. You may be right. I’ll give that some thought. And then I change the subject. Perhaps to the weather. Does that seem disingenuous? Not if you maintain an awareness that even you don’t have all the answers. And why get angry or hostile about it. That goes nowhere.

Curiosity—if I think there is merit, I want to know more, and so I pursue the matter. I may even pursue the matter when I disagree. If the person advancing the idea seems reasonable, well informed, intelligent, well then reason demands that I give him a hearing and try to understand him, even when I disagree with him. I discovered C.S. Lewis a little late in life, and I found that I sometimes disagreed with the man. This would not dismay Lewis in the least. But I never had any difficulty understanding why I disagreed because I tried to understand his point. When you think about it, what’s the point in only reading people you agree with?

Now, realizing that indifference and curiosity are reasonable responses, I wondered why some people found a third response—anger.

All About the New Testament #4 - Thursday, January 10, 2019

Once while I was driving home from watching the local fireworks display on the Fourth of July, I was thinking about the passage of time. It had been over 200 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And my thoughts proceeded from there to the status of the New Testament some 200 years after the death of the last person who had seen Jesus alive after his resurrection.

This was about the time when Emperor Constantine ordered 50 copies of the New Testament as they had it in hand for the church at Constantinople alone. Up until that time most copies were made on papyrus, and were quite perishable. We don’t have many of these for the obvious reason that they fell apart with constant use. Constantine had these copies made on vellum or parchment.

After the first 100 years, settled procedures came into place for copying and handling old manuscripts. They were commonly destroyed as they became unusable lest they be desecrated. One of those 50 copies sits in the Vatican Library in Rome. They call it Codex Vaticanus. Another sits in the British Museum and is called Codex Sinaiticus because it was found at Saint Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai. Other ancient collections have been found that were created within the next 100 years.

What is interesting about all these diverse manuscripts is that they reveal the obvious—that the various books of the New Testament had been circulating for a long time before this and were commonly being compiled into books. All this in a relatively short period of time, about the same as the history of the Declaration of Independence.

All About the New Testament #3 - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

One day a man named John Mark sat down to write out his testimony. His writing materials were gathered around him: pen, ink, and sheets of papyrus–the writing paper of the time. The sheets would eventually be glued together to form a long strip that would eventually be rolled up into a scroll. As Mark bent to his work, he realized that he was writing about events some 35 years past, but they were as fresh in his mind as if it had been yesterday. It is highly doubtful that Mark had any idea that he was writing what would later become scripture.

Thinking about Mark at his work, there are two troubling questions that arise. First, why did he wait so long to write the account down? Second, why did he write it at all? But first, we have to consider what it was that he was writing down. You probably have a copy of his manuscript in your home. It is in the Bible, the New Testament, and it is called, The Gospel According to Mark.

It is a shame they titled it that, because it obscures something very important. This is not merely the gospel according to Mark, it is the testimony of Mark to the events that had taken place during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. After the ascension of Jesus, and while the disciples waited at Jerusalem, Peter stood up in front of the little church (there were only 120 of them) and had this to say…

All About the New Testament #2 - Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I know it will make some people uncomfortable for me to say this, but…Jesus was a Jew. He was born to a Jewish mother and raised in a Jewish household. He was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. He went to synagogue and was surely taught in synagogue school. He kept the Sabbath with the Jews and made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. The society in which he grew up and functioned was Jewish. He was at least tri-lingual. We know from the gospels that he spoke Aramaic. It is certain that he spoke Hebrew. It is all but certain that he spoke Greek as well.

The Israel to which Jesus came was not self-governing. They were an occupied country and therefore their politics were mainly religious. And what they lacked in civil politics, they more than made up for in religious politics. The religious, theological, political issues swirled around Jesus constantly. There were two major political parties, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and they differed, not only in doctrine, but in the basis of doctrine. The Judaism of the time was quite different from the Judaism of today, although vestiges of it remain. There was no Talmud, no Mishna, no written Judaism apart from the scriptures. Rather there was what is today called an “oral law”.

Now you don’t have to be very swift to realize that in the course of hundreds of years, there would be differences in the explanations offered and traditions established that were at variance with the original intent of the law. So by the time Jesus came on the scene, there were some major variations in customs that had taken on all the trappings of religious law. A notable confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees over the oral law is recorded in Matthew, chapter 15.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, January 21st, 2019
the Second Week after Epiphany
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