Monday, October 31, 2016

If you love me... (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

The First Order of Priority—A Holistic Command (Deut 6:4-9)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

Have you ever had the feeling, as you were getting ready for one thing, that you were overlooking something else? You wrack your brain, but nothing comes to mind. Finally, you say to yourself, "If it's really important, I'll eventually remember it." The truth is: You probably will. The only question is: Will you remember in time?
A husband and wife were on their way to a much-needed vacation. As is the case with most people, they had more to do before they left home than time would allow. Knowing the plane would depart with or without them, they decided to leave the bed unmade and the house in some disarray so as not to miss their flight. They rushed to the airport, made it through security, and boarded just in time. Finally, the jet reached its cruising altitude, and they could breathe a sigh of relief.... Then they both remembered something. "Oh my," the wife said. "I think I left the iron on. What if it starts a fire, and the house burns down!" That prospect, which so troubled her, did not have the same disturbing affect on her husband, who actually took the news quite well. "Don't worry, dear," he replied confidently. "The house will not burn down." "How can you be so sure of that?" she asked. "Because," he answered... "I forgot to turn off the water in the bathtub!"
What is important to you, and will you remember it in time to do something about it?1

It is helpful, and usually easier for me to remember, when something is regular not occasional:
  • The garbage goes out on Monday;
  • Choir rehearsal is on Tuesday;
  • Tai Chi class meets on Wednesday.
(Eighteen years in school probably hardwired my brain to a weekly [class] schedule.) That is probably true for most people. We like consistency, and it is when things are inconsistent, when they are only occasional, that we tend to forget—like turning off the iron or the faucet. Consistency also enables us to establish priority. When we know something is regular, we can fit it into our schedule with confidence. God may even have designed us to work best with consistency because He is consistent or, as theologians term it: He is immutable, unchanging.

Please turn to Deut 6, which contains in v. 4 one of the most important theological statements in scripture, the Shema, so-called because that is the first word in this Hebrew phrase.2

Moses is addressing a new generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land, and many commentators have assumed that in this verse he is contrasting the monotheism of the Israelites with the polytheism of the Canaanites:3 Israel, unlike its neighbors, has one God not many gods. The context, however, suggests that Moses may be declaring something more fundamental and relevant for this new generation.4 Moses is not talking about the quantity of God—how much of Him there is, one or many5—Moses is talking about the quality of God—that His character is always one and the same. No matter what else may change for the Israelites, God's nature is stable and reliable. Moses is stating here that the God of this generation about to enter Canaan is the same God their fathers knew in the wilderness, the same God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, because "the LORD is one."6 Furthermore, because there is one God, there is also one law, which is why much of Deuteronomy ("second law") is a restatement of what Moses received at Sinai.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My ways are not your ways

The Difference between Man's Way and God's Way
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

In the course of Jesus' instruction he often highlights differences between man's way and God's way, whether in solving problems or in setting goals. To recognize these differences a person must understand that everyone who resides on the earthly plane has a limited and potentially false perspective, whereas God, who resides on the heavenly plane, has an unlimited and ultimately true perspective.1 As He declares through Isaiah, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, [for] as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Matthew records how Jesus repeatedly illustrates differences between man's expectation and God's reality.2

When Satan attempted three times to derail Jesus' mission by suggesting an easier course, Jesus responded by contrasting God's more demanding yet ultimately rewarding course. Moreover, each of Jesus' responses to the devil's recommendations (temptations) evinces an awareness of the supernatural realm and presents a clear contrast.
  • Satan wants Jesus to exercise his ability (his power)—"You can solve this problem right now"—but Jesus knows that God expects him to recognize longevity:3
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' [Deut 8:3b]."5 (Matt 4:2-4)
  • Satan wants Jesus to exercise his authority (his position)—"You can pull rank and handle this yourself'—but Jesus knows that God expects him to resist immodesty:6
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone' [Ps 91:121." Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matt 4:5-7)
  • Satan wants Jesus to exercise his individuality (his preference)—"You can decide whom to serve"—but Jesus knows that God expects him to respect authority:7
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan!"8 For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only [Deut 6:13]." (Matt 4:8-10)
In all three cases Satan recommends a course of immediate gratification (man's way) to reach the kingdom goal another way,9 but Jesus prefers delayed gratification, to reach the kingdom goal the right way (God's way), knowing that ultimately it will prove more satisfying.10

In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) he offers several series of similar contrasts. Jesus stacks popular notions ("it was said") against God's perspective ("I tell you").

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Betrayal (John 13:21-30)

Interaction with a Traitorous Disciple (John 13:21-30)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

This sermon series: Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel:
A good marriage depends on trust. So it is disturbing when one party seems not to trust the other, especially when suspicion surfaces in the wedding ceremony itself.
During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the minister with an unusual offer: “I’ll give you $100 if you change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I promise to “love, honor, and obey and, forsaking all others, be faithful forever,” just leave that out.” He passed the minister a $100 bill and walked away satisfied. On the day of the wedding, when it came time for the groom’s vows, the minister looked the young man in the eye and said: “Do you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life together, and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?” The groom gulped, looked around at all the people present, and said in a tiny voice, “Yes.” The groom then leaned toward the minister and whispered: “I thought we had a deal.” The minister put the $100 bill into his hand and whispered back: “She made me a better offer.”
A good marriage depends on trust. Actually, every good relationship depends on trust, including the relationship between a rabbi and his disciples.

In the first century, the relationship of a rabbi to his disciples is very close, much like that of a father to his sons.1 Jesus is only one of several rabbis at this time who has disciples.2 As we conclude the series Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel,3 we consider his Interaction with a Traitorous Disciple. For whatever reason, Judas is dissatisfied with his lot as one of Jesus’ closest followers.4 Perhaps he thinks that the rabbi is too hesitant about promoting his messianic identity and that by increasing pressure from the Jewish establishment it will encourage Jesus to be less timid, or maybe Judas simply sees an opportunity for financial gain.5 For whatever reason, he chooses to betray Jesus to the religious authorities and that decision will lead to the rabbi’s death. This is not entirely unexpected. Jesus has been predicting his betrayal for some time, even before Judas’ initial contact with Jesus’ enemies in the priesthood.6 When after three years together Jesus meets with his disciples for their last Passover before his death,7 he raises again the uncomfortable subject of impending betrayal.

I. The rabbi makes a disturbing declaration (John 13:21-22).
John 13:21 Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth,8 one of you is going to betray me.” 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"Lazarus has fallen asleep" (John 11:1-44)

Interaction with a Sick Friend (John 11:1-44)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

This sermon series: Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel:
There are many different kinds of literary forms in the Bible, from poetry to prophecy, from treaties to obituaries. That last literary type appears today on tombstones, as three Irishmen discover after an evening at a local pub.
Paddy, Sean, and Shamus, were stumbling home late one night and found themselves on a road that led past an old graveyard. “Come and look at this, says Paddy, “It’s Michael O’Grady’s grave, God rest his soul. He lived to the ripe old age of 87.” “That’s nothing,” says Sean. “Here’s one named Patrick O’Toole. It says that he was 95 when he died.” Just then, Shamus yells out, "I found a fella who died when he was 145!” “What was his name?” asks Paddy. Shamus lights a match to see what else is written on the stone marker and exclaims…“Miles, from Dublin.”
There are many different kinds of literary forms in the Bible, including obituaries, which a man named Lazarus may not have had the first time he died. It happened during one of the Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel,1 specifically his Interaction with a Sick Friend in chapter 11.2

Jesus’ healing ministry brought him in contact with countless needy people clamoring for his attention, something he did not deny them. At times the unrelenting demands of ministry would cause him to seek solitude “far from the madding crowd,” even apart from the disciples, his closest companions. On one occasion, “after he had dismissed them, he went…by himself to pray” (Matt 14:23a), which he may have done often. Still, whenever Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were…like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36).3 Sometimes we think of Jesus as a solitary figure on the stage of history, the “voice of one calling in the desert” (Isa 40:3). But he was not alone; he had friends and family, people who cared about him and cared for him, such as Lazarus, a close friend, along with Mary and Martha, his two sisters.

I. Jesus receives the news of Lazarus’ death (John 11:1-15).
A. He waits to visit Lazarus before he died.
John 11:1 Now a man named Lazarus4 was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.5 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love6 is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”7 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.8 7 Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.
When the report of his friend’s grave illness reached Jesus, the response is curious because he does not to go immediately to Lazarus’ aid, even though Jesus, better than anyone else, could have helped. Jesus has treated scores of people and a myriad of maladies, never encountering one he could not cure, leprosy to lameness, blindness to deafness. Still, Jesus delays until it is too late, yet he says, “This sickness will not end in death” (v. 4). The ultimate goal of all Jesus did was to promote “God’s glory” (vv. 4, 40).9 Surely healing Lazarus would have advanced that cause.
B. He goes to visit Lazarus after he died.
John 11:11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”10 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Jesus’ explanation of Lazarus’ state is puzzling to the disciples, for he likens Lazarus’ passing to sleep, which is often the way death appears to the living, as if the deceased is asleep. That notion gave rise to the concept of “soul sleep,” an idea that John Milton may have introduced in his Paradise Lost (“Such a peal shall rouse their sleep”) and that religious movements of the 19th century promoted, like Seventh Day Adventism. Although the Bible does depict death as sleep (as Jesus does here), it does so only from the perspective of the living.11 From the perspective of the dead themselves, the deceased are awake and aware.12 At first, the disciples think Jesus is speaking figuratively, until he
clarifies the situation: “Lazarus is dead” (v. 14).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Your son will live" (John 4:46-53)

Interaction with a Royal Official (John 4:46-53)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

This sermon series: Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel.
When you pray, are you confident that God will answer or do you wonder if He even listens?
The minister's six-year-old daughter had been so naughty during the week that her mother decided to give her the worst kind of punishment. Her mother told her she couldn’t go to the church picnic that weekend. When the day arrived, however, her mother felt she had been too harsh and changed her mind. She told the little girl she could go to the picnic after all, but the child's reaction was one of gloom and unhappiness. “What's the matter?” her mother asked. “I thought you’d be glad to go to the picnic.” “It’s too late!” the little girl replied…. “I’ve already prayed for rain.”
Be careful what you pray lest God’s answer be what you asked but not really what you wanted. Most times, we would be happy if God’s response matched our request, as was the father who petitioned for his son’s healing.

All three synoptic gospels record that from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he engaged in helping the many who came to him:
  • Matthew writes that “Jesus went throughout Galilee…healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matt 4:23).
  • Mark writes that “Jesus healed many who had various diseases” (Mark 1:34).
  • Luke writes that “people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and…he healed them” (Luke 4:40).
Unlike the synoptics, John makes no such blanket statement in his gospel, although
he does mention several specific cases:
  • The rabbi heals a lame man.
Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:8-9)
Without any surgery, drugs, or physical therapy, Jesus effects this cure solely with his word.
  • The rabbi heals a blind man.
Jesus made some mud with…saliva and put it on the man’s eyes…. The man…washed and came home seeing. (John 9:6, 7b)
Saliva is not a sanitary substance. Apparently Jesus was not familiar with the danger of infection, or he certainly would have used a different treatment.
  • The rabbi heals a dead man.
Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out…. (John 11:43)
The cause of this man’s death is unknown, but the cause is practically irrelevant once he has died. Knowing the cause may be helpful in treating future cases, but it makes no difference to Lazarus at this point. He is dead, and has been that way for three days. This is another cure Jesus effects solely with his word.

Toward the beginning of this fourth account of the savior’s life, the author records yet another one of the Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel,1 the rabbi’s Interaction with a Royal Official, perhaps a member of king Herod’s court,2 who petitions Jesus on behalf of his son.3

I. The father requests Jesus’ aid (John 4:46-49).
A. He knows the rabbi’s healing power.
John 4:46b Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
The last time Jesus was in Cana was to attend a wedding. There he performed his first recorded miracle. While one might assume that turning water to wine was not Jesus’ only special ability, it does not follow that other abilities would include the power to heal disease. Most likely, Jesus has already displayed curative skill by treating many of the sick and infirm who come to him, as the other gospel writers record, and it is those other cases that have encouraged this official to approach Jesus on behalf of his son. He knows about the rabbi’s healing power. More than that…

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the Temple courts (John 2:13-17)

Interaction with a Commercial Enterprise (John 2:13-17)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Some animals are so quiet that you are not even aware they are present. Other animals are so noisy that their presence is never in doubt.
Jeff, a mechanic, was working for the Air Force Academy. Things do not always turn out the way you expect, and you need to be prepared for certain changes. The soldier at the gate approached Jeff’s pickup and asked, “Would you mind if our new guard dog practices sniffing your truck?” Jeff obliged, and the dog went to work, quietly at first. Then it latched onto a scent and jumped into the truck bed sniffing and barking furiously. Jeff became nervous. His mind was speculating wildly: “What could the dog be after? Had he left some ammo there from his last hunting trip? Had his coworkers tossed in something illegal, perhaps as a prank, knowing the dog was in training?” A few minutes later, the guard approached Jeff. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly…“but our dog ate your lunch.”
Some animals are so noisy that their presence is never in doubt. That was probably the case when Jesus visited the temple and found there some extra animals.

The four gospels all recount the ministry of Jesus, but they are not identical. The first three—Mathew, Mark, and Luke—are called the Synoptic gospels because they have a similar perspective, treating many of the same events: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, his Great Commission. The fourth—John—has a different perspective, treating several events not in the others, and we will consider four of these in a new series: Encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel.1
We begin with an incident that actually appears in some form in all four gospels.2
  • Jesus’ interaction with a commercial enterprise (John 2:13-16)3
Jesus lived in obedience to God’s commands,4 which included His command that all adult males appear before Him thrice annually:5
Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.
Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]….
Celebrate the Feast of Harvest [Weeks or Pentecost]….
Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering [Tabernacles or Booths]…. (Exod 23:14-16)
Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose…. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed. (Deut 16:16)
These gatherings attracted Jews from all over the Roman empire, and it would have been impractical for travelers to bring with them on their journey the animals they intended to sacrifice. So, local merchants provided what worshipers needed.6 It was a common practice in Jesus’ day, but during one holiday visit…

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Passover Seder

Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

The Passover seder (service) commemorates Israel’s exodus from Egypt, so it dates back thousands of years. We can trace most aspects of the seder at least to the late Second Temple Period, when Jesus ministered, and the major aspects we can even trace to the original event. We need two things to conduct the seder: certain symbols of the exodus, and the story of the exodus.

The symbols remind us of Israel’s experience in Egypt, and the three major elements appear in…
Exod 12:8 [The Israelites] are to eat the meat [of the Passover sacrifice] roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.
  • The matzah (unleavened bread), also called the “bread of poverty,” reminds us that Israel was poor in Egypt, and that the people had to leave quickly, before their bread could rise (Exod 12:39).
  • The maror (bitter herbs = romaine lettuce) symbolizes the bitterness of Israel’s bondage (Exod 1:14).
  • The zeroa‘ (shankbone) is in lieu of the Passover sacrifice, which was discontinued after the destruction of the temple.
There are others elements, but these are the three major symbols of the exodus.
  • Because this is a joyful celebration, and because the “fruit of the vine” is a symbol of joy, attendees partake liberally of four glasses during the seder.
Realizing that the disciples consumed quite a bit of food along with all that wine, explains why they had trouble staying awake with Jesus when they moved from the upper room to the garden of Gethsemane.