Tagged: Bible Study

Reflections on Tweeting through Isaiah 1–12

Yesterday I tried a little experiment. As I was studying Isaiah I thought I would tweet through the first 12 chapters over the course of the day. Here are some reflections on tweeting through a book and then on the content of the book itself.

Reflections on Tweeting

I posted a new tweet every 5-10 minutes. I probably annoyed anyone who doesn’t follow many people on twitter since I would be the only person showing up all day. For those that follow a substantial number of people the tweets would have looked staggered (somewhat).

Tweeting through Isaiah 1–12 was helpful to me as I had to think about how to communicate the message of those chapters in so few characters. If I were to do it again I would have done more summary of the content interspersed with quotations from Isaiah.

Reflections on Isaiah 1–12

What a magnificent passage of Scripture! Scary, but magnificent. God’s judgment is cast in pretty strong language. The vineyard imagery of chapter 5 is one such example. Justice appears to be a major theme of the section as Judah is condemned for their lack of having justice on the oppressed.

But the passage is also filled with hope. We see that God’s judgment of Judah is not the last word. Yes they will go into exile as part of God’s judgment for their rebellion, but then God will turn and judge Assyria (conquerers of Judah).

Even more than this, there are beautiful moments of hope for the future. Chapter 4 shares the Branch of the Lord and tells of a time when the Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion and cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem. The end of chapter 8 and into chapter 9 speaks of a great light that is to shine in the darkness. It then talks of the child to be born, the son to be given. It gives him divine names like, “Mighty God,” and talks about him as the coming Davidic king who will rule forever. Chapter 11 talks about the coming Messiah again in terms of the shoot coming up out of the stump. Judah is leveled but a stump remains and out of this stump (read, remnant) the messiah will come who will have the Spirit of the Lord resting on him. Then it talks about how the nations will rally to him. There is no racism and no ethnic boundary! Chapter 12 concludes this section with wonderful praise to God and the call to proclaim his greatness to the nations.

With respect to the sign given to Ahaz in chapter 7, Immanuel (God With Us), I do see it as a judgment on Ahaz. Where it is picked up in Matthew 1 it is often seen without any sense of judgment. One writer has suggested Matthew uses Immanuel with the notion of judgment there too. It’s something I need to follow up on. I’m not sure yet.

Being more familiar with John’s Gospel, and the New Testament in general, I’m starting to see the thematic connections between Isaiah and those books much more intimately. I’m looking forward to tracing them out more fully!The above came more from my own study throughout the day rather than through the process of tweeting. But, the tweeting did help me solidify what I was learning by trying to decide how to present it on twitter and through the process of writing those things out. I think I will do something similar again but just not with so many tweets.


Why I Shy Away from “Application”

In thinking about and planning for future speaking engagements, whether they be sermons, lectures, or even leading my bible study, I am thinking again about “application.” There seem to be lots of people out there saying that preaching the Word is not enough, it needs to be applied to our lives. There even seem to be many whose sermons are only geared toward the “application of truths to peoples lives,” many times through the popular 3 point sermon where the 3 points use one word all starting with the same letter, e.g., “pursuit, purpose, passion,” or something like that.

Without denying the truthfulness of Scripture needing to be “applied to our lives,” I think many have gone off the deep end in an effort to make everything immediately relevant in a way that people know is immediately relevant to their lives. This approach holds the Word hostage to our immediate needs, making everything person-centered rather than Christ-centered. The result, I believe, is to use the Bible as a personal application book for life’s little problems. However, the Bible is more than this.

The reason I think more needs to be said, and why I often shy away from such application, is that it fails to allow for the Word to shape our worldviews and transform our hearts. Instead it offers us a bunch of do’s and don’ts. “Be like David, he was a good man for the most part. Don’t be like David, however, when he committed adultery, that’s bad.” But if my worldview is me-centered, the command to not commit adultery, while extremely important and to be obeyed because it comes from God, we reason, may not be convenient for me at all times and should be done away with when I deem it “necessary.”

What I’m really on about is speaking against poor application that distorts the Bible and fails to recognize that teaching about Jesus and the good news and the kingdom, etc., really produces change in people so that they will, out of the overflow of their hearts, live as transformed kingdom people. In my opinion, this is good “application.” The application pointers beyond this may be useful, but not in order to short-circuit the true work of worldview transformation. And we could definitely use some worldview transformation rather than trying to fit Jesus into our people-centered worldviews.

John 2:13-22 – Jesus the New Temple

Jesus has now moved from Galilee (in the north) to Jerusalem (in the south) as the Jewish Passover feast was near (2:13). This is Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem in this Gospel. Again John the author is highlighting belief (2:22), something that, as we have seen, is commonplace to the purposes of John’s Gospel.

As Jesus is in Jerusalem he goes to the Temple and finds people selling oxen, sheep, and doves and people exchanging money (v. 14). Jesus, dismayed at this, creates a whip and drives them all out, overturning tables and forcing out the animals (v. 15). His explanatory statement for his doing this is found in v. 16, “Don’t make my father’s house into a market!” The disciples present are said to remember that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me,” a quotation from Psalm 69:9.

Understandably the Jews present want to know by what authority Jesus can clear out the Temple. They ask, “What sign will you show us for your doing this?” (v. 18).

Jesus’ response is, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Since this is said in the presence of the physical Temple it is understandable that the Jews listening would have understood him to be making a statement about that very Temple. Their response shows this and takes the cryptic nature of Jesus’ command to be about that Temple: “This Temple has taken 46 years to build, and you’re going to raise it up in 3 days?” (v. 20).

But, John tell us that he wasn’t speaking of the physical Temple in their presence, rather he was speaking about his own body (v. 21). No one properly understood it when he uttered it though. It wasn’t until after he was raised from the dead that the disciples remembered what he said “and believed the Scripture and the words which Jesus spoke” (v. 22). So in what sense is Jesus the Temple and what did it mean for the physical Temple standing in their presence at that time?

To fill in what Jesus was meaning by calling himself the Temple that would need to be destroyed and raised, it would be helpful to consider the purpose of the Temple, in very broad strokes, throughout the Old Testament period.

The Temple-proper begins with Solomon. His father, David, had in mind to build a ‘house’ for God but God advised David that his son would build it instead (2 Samuel 7). Solomon does indeed build this ‘house’ for God, what is known as the First Temple.

This so-called First Temple or Solomonic Temple didn’t come out of nowhere in Israel’s history. It was the first permanent structure but prior to this Moses was given instructions to build a Tabernacle that would move with the people in their desert wanderings. It was to be the dwelling place of God with his people. One may even move further back than this to the Garden of Eden but we’ll save that for another time (see e.g., G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission). In fact, I won’t trace it out now, but consider reading Revelation 4-5 and 20-22 for a picture of where this all eventually leads.

Back to Solomon’s Temple; it would not last. When Babylon invaded Judah in 587 B.C. the Temple was destroyed. It was subsequently rebuilt as the exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C. It was completed in 515 and known as the Temple of Zerubbabel (Wise, “Temple,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 811). This Temple would not stand in toto through its history and would need rebuilding, resulting in Herod’s building project starting in 20/19 B.C. (idem.). Herod’s ambitions were grand and while most of the Temple was built by the time of Jesus, internal adornments and continual work was being done. It so happens that 46 years had passed at the time relayed by our text in John 2. This period has come to be known as the Second Temple period (though the terminology is not completely accurate as the Temple at the time of Jesus was sort of a 4th Temple).

About this Temple, Ezekiel speaks of God’s glory leaving it (Ezek. 43:1-12), indicating that it was seen as a place where God’s glory dwelt and at a time to come (from Ezekiel’s day) would lack God’s presence. Many Jews believed in Jesus’ day that God’s presence indeed was not there as it had been in former days. But the Ezekiel text forecasts a day when God would dwell in his peoples’s midst forever.

Then Jesus shows up on the scene and declares in the Temple’s presence, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John later understands Jesus to be talking about his body declaring Jesus to be the new Temple that the Lord had envisioned. Jesus is the new meeting place with God. Jesus is the very presence of God, the one who became flesh and tabernacled (recall our study in 1:14) among us.

In making this pronouncement and then dying and rising, Jesus also made the physical Temple obsolete. And indeed the Temple would be destroyed in 70 A.D. in the Jewish-Roman war. It was no longer the meeting place with God. The new meeting place with God would be Jesus. Know Jesus and you know God.

This is the sign Jesus offers those who questioned his authority. The sign of his death and resurrection. His authority to cleanse the Temple would be the cross and the empty tomb.

Why I Find Bible Study so Challenging

Since becoming a Christian I have loved the study of the Bible. I hated it before, but immediately fell in love with it after. This, I suggest, is the work of the Spirit. But I have to admit, several years into studying the Bible and it being the main passion of my life (in order to seek Jesus), I still find it thoroughly challenging.

I could mention that I find it challenging to follow its worldview in some ways, but that’s not where I’m going with these thoughts right now. I find it challenging to discern its meaning.

I’ve grown up holding two fairly conflicting worldviews in tension: that of a sort of ‘positivism’ and that of a sort of ‘postmodern deconstructionism.’ Positivism essentially means that I look at a text (say, the New Testament) and immediately gain a window onto objective reality and events as they really happened. There is the author and his or her intent and the events which he or she narrates and I can know them objectively. Postmodern deconstruction, on the other hand, essentially sees no authorial intent in the text but rather sees the text as a mirror reflecting back upon the reader their own viewpoints. Somehow I’ve subconsciously walked these two lines, contradictory though they are. Having not thought through them prior to becoming a Christian and a philosophy major, I’m sure I just unconsciously applied them at different times as it was convenient to do so.

It seems to me that there are Christians who fall into one of either camp (or both like I somehow did). On the positivist side, Christians sometimes think that the objective meaning of the events and author’s intent are simply there and easy to ascertain. On the postmodern side, Christians sometimes approach the text in terms of ‘what it means to me,’ never asking the historical question. What matters is the reader’s response.

But the reason I find Bible study so challenging is that meaning is not so simple. In fact, I think both sides have aspects of it right but have absolutized their position into falsehood. Indeed, Christians so often rail against postmodernism as an enemy (usually in favour of an equally non-Christian position, that of modernism) failing to recognize that it has developed in response to things that were left unaccounted for in the prior prevailing worldview (modernism). Yes the pendulum has swung too far to the other extreme, but postmodernism has helped us remember that there is in fact a reader in the reading process that must be taken into account. And that reader brings all sorts of presuppositions and viewpoints to the text they read. Postmodernism’s failure, however, is that it has lost any anchor, something a Christian should be very cautious about unless abandoning “God has spoken” is something desirable.

In responding to postmodernism as Christians, I believe we also need to be careful not to swing the pendulum back again and forget the reader in the process. I have seen, at least in popular discussion, this sort of thing happening.

Navigating these waters is not easy. That, or I’m just not that bright (entirely possible!). Or, I am sure someone will say I’m not allowing the Spirit to speak. Well, maybe, but when I look at 4 legitimate Christians and their take on the same text and the differences present, I am persuaded that our mind/thinking plays an important role in the interpretive process. That’s for another post, and there are good books out there that would show it biblically (both John Piper and Mark Noll have recently written books to this effect).

So, should I despair? No, I think there is a ‘middle ground’ or what have you, that doesn’t succumb to either positivism or deconstructionism. It recognizes there is a reader with presuppositions but it also recognizes that the reader can be shaped by the worldview of the text, produced with some intent that can be (to some degree) obtained. This itself is the content of whole books but it feels good to write some of this out, even if in broad-strokes and so preliminarily.

What do you think?

John 2:1-12 – Revealed Glory in the First Sign – The Wedding at Cana

The issue of glory has already surfaced in this Gospel. In the Prologue, John says that “we have seen [the Word’s] glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14, TNIV). We have seen that the Word would make known or reveal the Father to us (1:18). And now in this passage Jesus’ glory is said to be revealed to us (2:11).

This first sign is said to have revealed Jesus’ glory so it is fitting that John would include it in his narrative and that it would result in his disciples putting their faith in him, or believing in him (2:11). As previously seen, John’s purpose (as expressed in 20:30-31) is to show forth Jesus so that his readers would believe in him. This first sign is included for this very reason and it is the first time we see that his disciples ‘believe in him’ in that language (though belief is evidenced in Ch. 1 by the new disciples).

So, what is the sign? Jesus and his disciples find themselves invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother is also there. A problem arises, however; a big no-no in the ancient world (in ours too perhaps): they have run out of wine. The shame on the groom (the one responsible) would be enormous.

The mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no more wine” (v. 3). What appears to be a simple statement is understood by Jesus to be some sort of call for him to do something, as evidenced by his response, “Woman, why do you involve me?… My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). His mother next involves the servants at the wedding by saying to them, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Mary (who actually isn’t named as such) takes the mild rebuke in stride (or a rebuff as Keener calls it) by evidencing trust in what Jesus could do to remedy the situation. It is perhaps possible that Mary has approached Jesus in her first statement about the wine ‘on an inside track’ as his mother, but Jesus refuses to be approached by anyone on an inside track.

Jesus’ comment about his ‘hour’ is interesting. Jesus pushes back on getting involved since his ‘hour has not yet come.’ Throughout this Gospel Jesus speaks about his ‘hour,’ almost entirely in reference to the cross. It seems that Jesus would be hastening on the hour by getting himself involved in a way that would reveal his glory. He nonetheless does respond to his mother’s request and performs this sign. His hour is coming.

After a narrative comment about the stone water jars present, Jesus is quoted again telling the servants what to do. He takes the reigns, telling the servants to fill those jars to the brim with water and then draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet (vv. 7-8). The servants listen to Mary and thereby listen to Jesus and do just as he tells them. The master tastes it and is amazed at the quality of the wine, better than the first, though it was expected that the worse wine would be served after people had already had a little too much of the good stuff. This essentially is the story of the sign.

The narrative comment in v. 6 that I passed over may be significant. The water jars that Jesus uses for the wine are said to be the ones used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. In altering the purpose of these jars Jesus may be setting aside the purificatory rites and setting the shame of the groom needing rectification over against purificatory rites. Indeed there may be connections to the Temple narrative which follows this that I’ll explore later.

The long and short of it is that the road toward Jesus’ hour of the cross has begun and his glory is being revealed resulting in those around him believing in him.

Too Many Commentaries

As I study to get back into the John series (John 2:1-11 coming up shortly), I am learning for myself that I don’t need to read every commentary on a text. There is a place for that if one is working on a scholarly paper but for the purposes of preparing the type of text studies I’m working on for this blog and for others preparing Bible studies and preaching, too many commentaries just seem to be a drag. I’m starting to learn which commentaries I’m most helped by in general and specifically on the Gospel of John. The best first step is always the original text. The last good step is a few helpful commentaries. But having too many of the wrong sort just slow things down unnecessarily.

Perhaps toward the end of the John series on this blog I’ll review the commentaries I’ve worked with and provide a judgment of my opinion of their usefulness.

John 1:35-51 – The One Moses Wrote About

In this passage John, the writer, tells of Jesus gaining his first disciples. The first two, Andrew and John (?!), begin to follow Jesus upon the hearing John the Baptist say again, “Look, the Lamb of God!” These two disciples were actually disciples of John but due to the faithfulness of John’s bearing witness to someone greater than himself, the disciples became followers of Jesus. It is clear that the Baptist had no ego and pride to surrender. In fact, later he will say, “He must become greater, I must become less” (3:30). The Baptist remained faithful to his mission; the Messiah was pointed out.

At this point the Author relays to us how Simon Peter is brought into the mix. His brother Andrew had already started to follow Jesus but the first thing he did (v. 41) was to go and find Simon and he said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 42) Philip then does the same thing Andrew did with his brother. Philip found Nathanael and told him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the Prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 44).

I am always amazed at these statements, although as I grow in my understanding of the Bible, they are making more and more sense. Andrew’s statement, that they had found the Messiah, highlights that they had found the one the Scriptures (the Old Testament) had been promising. God’s Anointed was now here, and he was found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God’s promises were coming to fulfillment!

Philip’s statement is similarly amazing but it claims more specifically that Jesus of Nazareth is the very one that was written about by Moses and whom the Prophets also wrote about. That suggests to me that if we go back through the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible, the “Law” or “Instruction”) and through the Prophets we will see patterns that lead us to this Jesus of Nazareth.

The passage ends with an encounter between Jesus and Nathanael. Nathanael comes to Jesus and Jesus gives information to Nathanael about himself from before they had even met, showing that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of him (vv. 47-48). When Nathanael hears this he explodes with what can only be considered worship: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” (v. 49).

Jesus calmly responds: “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50-51).

This whole passage is wonderfully littered with claims about who Jesus is. He is addressed as Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel, Messiah and called the one about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. He addresses himself as the Son of Man. He accepts all these titles, indicating (as will become evermore clear throughout the Gospel) his identity with the Father, one with God. The disciples don’t yet have a full understanding of what these titles mean, but they’re on the right track and speak better than they know. What we know so far is that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is about to bring to fruition all that has gone on in redemptive history in incredible ways. We will see heaven opened. We will see Jesus’ glory. We will see the glory of God.

*all Scripture from the NIV