The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Official launch of The Student’s Desk website

Yes, I’ve occupied this little corner of cyberspace for over a year, but after a bit of creativity and allot of hard work over my summer break, today marks the official launch of The Student’s Desk website.

The main aim of the website is to provide a written word ministry in teaching the Bible. But it’s also a personal website. So you’ll find a bit of information about me, and a few other bits and pieces, including other ministries that I’m involved with, and updates about my studies.

The Student’s Desk also has facilities so you can subscribe and get notifications via email of updates, and make donations securely if you’re so inclined.

Most of all, I hope this website will provide a source of encouragement and teaching to many.

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February 6, 2008 Posted by | Site News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beliefs Page

Page added – Beliefs

Here I outline concisely what my core beliefs are as a Christian so visitors may know the theological framework for my papers.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Religious, Site News, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And when you pray…

(Matthew 6:5-13)

As a Christian of a number of years, I have heard much talk on prayer. Most of it I agree with, some I don’t, particularly what I heard as a child. One point I will always agree with is that prayer is not only important, it is essential to the Christian life. For it is by prayer that we commune and interact with the living God. But I also believe fervently, the Church, us as Christians, needs to evaluate with great care to whom are we praying and what are we to pray for.

These are the issues I want to address, and I’m going to do it by examining the model of prayer that our Lord gave us, commonly miscalled “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” found in Matthew 6:9-13. I say miscalled because if you want to know The Lord’s prayer, you’ll find it in the Garden of Gethsemene the night before Jesus was crucified (John 11). But that’s on the side.

This is what Jesus taught his disciples:

 “‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

We shall consider Jesus’ model under two main headings – Two whom are we praying, and what we ought to pray for.

To whom are we praying?

Jesus commences his model by first addressing who it is we are praying to. And it’s important to recognise God for who he really is. Because what you think about God will determine how you pray, and how you relate to God. So Jesus outlays three things about God we need to bear in mind when we pray, that he is our Father, he is in heaven, and he is holy.

Our Father

There has been a movement in recent times to substitute the title ‘Father’ for something else. Particularly by people who have had a bad father figure as a child. They find a title like ‘close friend’ more acceptable. Now, if you have had a bad father figure as a child, I don’t mean to trivialise, or brush your hurts away to one side. Your hurts are legitimate hurts, and they need to be dealt with – and properly. But I do believe it is important to address God as Father because 1) He tells us too. This is the way God wants us to relate to him. And 2) calling God a ‘close friend’ doesn’t quite cut it. It doesn’t adequately describe the relationship he has with us.

You see, for a friendship to commence, the two people need to have something in common. Something they are both interested in. In recent years, I’ve become quite good friends with a married couple who both have cerebral palsy. That friendship didn’t start instantaneously, or automatically. In fact, on my first camp, I spent a good deal of time talking Don, but at the end of camp, we both went on our merry way and didn’t talk to each other for 2 years. That friendship only got started when I turned up in my Suzuki 4WD at another camp. Lo and behold, Don owned one too, and we became interested in each others cars. Now the relationship has moved on from cars, and on rare occasion, we discuss something other then cars, much to wife’s relief.

But with God, it’s different. God did not sit us down at a local café, to suss out our likes and dislikes over coffee. Our relationship with God is much more instantaneous then that. Our relationship is more like one between a child and their parent.

See, when I was born, Dad didn’t whisk me off to the hospital cafeteria to discuss my aspirations in life over lunch to decide whether or not he wanted to be my father. There was an instantaneous relationship that took place. The moment I was born, Dad knew I was his Son, and somehow, as baby’s know, I knew he was my Father. And there is no other person you can have this kind of relationship with, no matter how close you are to them. Except God.

Since God is our Father, he is personal. God is not some mystical force we need dial our psyche into. Nor is he some cosmic tyrant who we need to keep happy, or keep badgering until he gives us what we want. No. He is God our Father. He is close. He knows what we need before we even ask of him, as Jesus says just prior to giving us this model “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). He is intimate with us. He is concerned for you. He is concerned for what is going on in your life. He’s concerned for your needs. So then we might well pray, “Our Father.”

In heaven

God our Farther is in heaven. He is eternal. He is powerful. He has authority over every facet of life. He is the one who controls the universe! He is not constrained in any way, shape or form unlike us. Have you ever tried standing on the beach facing the waves and yelling out “STOP! BE STILL!” Do you think the waves would listen? We have very limited ability. But Jesus could. He was God, and he had authority over the wind and the waves (Mark 4:37-39). Since God is so powerful, because he has such authority, he is able to answer our concerns.

Let me tell you a story: A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having my car stolen. My beloved Subaru – as clapped out as it was. At the time, I had a personal friend who happened to be a police officer. Because he was a personal friend, he was concerned for my predicament. He wanted to see me get my car back. But because he was a police officer, he also had authority over the issue, and was in a position to help recover my car. He knew where all the car dumping sites were, and went looking around. He knew what paperwork needed to be done, and did it. My mate was a person of authority, and because of it, he was able to help. Similarly, God is prepared to hear our prayers as a Father. But he’s also powerful to answer them. So then we may well pray “Our Father in heaven”.

Hallowed be your name

Thirdly, his name is hallowed. God is holy, he is pure. There is no blemish in his nature. He is fit to be God. It is a concern of mine that sometimes we personalise God so much that we start thinking he’s just like us. We turn God into some kind of ooshy gooshy, God loves all, kind of celestial Santa Claus, and forget that he is totally different from ourselves. God is pure, we’re sinful. There’s no greater divide then that.

The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13). The disciple Peter when confronted with the person of Jesus begs, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Peter knew where he was at. Which bring me back to my first point. If our relationship with God depended on a cup of coffee, it wouldn’t get started at all. There is no common ground between us and God. There is nothing we are both interested in. We are utterly self-centred, God is utterly other-centred. Yet, this is the God who brings us into his holy presence, and initiates a relationship with us. And this is the God we pray to. A God who is concerned for our needs and concerns. A God who is powerful to act. A God who’s holiness demands our humble repentance. And since God is holy, so to must our prayers be holy. When we pray, we must have in the forefront of our minds who it is we are praying to. And in the light of who God is, we must give careful consideration what we are to pray for.

What we ought to pray for…

Your kingdom come

Jesus’ model of prayer continues with ‘your kingdom come’. Now what’s a kingdom? We don’t really talk about kingdom these days. A kingdom is simply this, the realm or area that a king dominates or rules. And we, as Christians, talk about God as being king. But how is God king? How does God rule? How does God’s kingdom come?

I guess when we think about God’s kingdom, we think about the final day when Jesus will come back and establish God’s kingdom on earth. At least, that’s what comes to my mind. And we are right in thinking that, and that day should be engraved on the forefront of our minds. But, there is also an immediate sense of God’s rule today, right here, right now. In that we are being renewed in the image of Christ. As we study God’s word, the Bible, and it impacts our hearts and our minds, and come to know what it means to live as Christians. As we meet together, and spur each other on in the Christian life. As we sing songs, as bad as some of us may sound, in worship and praise of God, there lies the Kingdom of God, breaking into a fallen and sinful world, and having an impact.

It is a concern of mine that we as Christians seem to have lost the fervour we ought to have for God’s kingdom. Our society isn’t short of things to keep us busy. There’s always something to occupy us. And when our friends and family demand time and energy from us, we have a tendency to tell them, “just wait till I get this done, maybe next week.” And that’s fine, we need to be doing that to each other. We’re not all superman. But the trouble is, in our heart of hearts, don’t we say that to God?” “Just let me finish my studies.” “Just let me establish my business”. “Just let me buy a house.” “Just let me compete at the next Olympics.” “Just let me get married and have kids.” “Not just yet Jesus. Just let me get this done, then I’m yours Lord, all yours.”

And this kind of thinking comes out in what we pray for: a better job; maybe a job in the first place, a more powerful car, a bigger house, more money. Now these things may be important to pray for. Maybe you own a 2 bedroom house, and kid number 3 is on the way. Maybe you’re in a job where your boss treats his pet dog better then what he does you. We all have needs and desires, and there is nothing wrong with that. In Philippians 4:6 the Bible commands us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But something has gone amiss when we are so focused on our needs and our desires that we loose sight of God’s kingdom. When loose sight of our personal relationship with Jesus. We loose sight of his return. When we are more concerned about seeing our shopping lists fulfilled, then God’s kingdom fulfilled.

As Christians, we’re to be primarily about God’s Kingdom. Know Jesus is coming back. Expect the breaking in of God’s kingdom and God’s rule, now, in your life, and the lives of others, and in the future. So then we might well pray “your kingdom come”.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

Once we have appreciated something of the character of God, and the nature of his kingdom, what are we going to do about it? How do we live Christians lives in a sinful world?

It worries me when people make simplistic solutions to complex questions. Living out Christian lives and enforcing Christian values takes much care and consideration. What’s your position on Stem cell research? The “War on Terrorism”? Environmental issues? Economic issues? Even within your own relationships?

These are all very complex issues and just a sample of what we encounter as Christians. If we’re to have an influence in such areas, we need to have thought through, and prayed through these with great care in the context of God’s kingdom. So then we might well pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Give us today our daily bread.

In our society, we tend to be fiercely independent when it comes to looking after our needs. We store up vast amounts of wealth for our retirement, buy investments properties for that little bit extra, and buy shares for our kids. And there is nothing wrong with that. We ought to be good stewards of what God gives us. But something has gone wrong if we as Christians have our entire security bound up in what we can do for ourselves. Quite plainly, it is God who sustains the entire universe and us. It is declared in Revelation 5:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” And again in Acts 17:28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

It is because God exists we have what we have. If God were to disappear into some mysterious vacuum, do you know how long we would last? The moment God disappears, we disappear at that same moment.

So then, how can we dare assume, it is to our own ability that we are sustained. I am constantly surprised by the way God provides for me. Whenever I need something extra, the money always comes from somewhere. A cheque in the mail, or some extra work. It crops up every time. Maybe some of you have had simular experiences. God provides. He’s the one sustains us. So we ought to ask him for our daily needs, and not simply be looking to our stockpile of wealth, if we happen to have one.

Even for us who are on pensions, it’s easy for us to think that all our needs have been taken care of. The government will give us security. But no. While the government might be the one handing out money, God’s working behind the scenes, providing for us.

Praying for our needs and the needs of others gives a front row seat in God’s theatre of creation where we are not only the spectators, but the participants as well. By praying for our needs and interacting with God exposes us to the awesomeness of creation, and the character of God who made it. So then we might well pray “give us our daily bread”.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors

This is quite difficult to understand, and I didn’t understand it until the other week when I was studying the relationship Israel had with God in the Old Testament.

Why do we need to ask God to forgive our debts, or forgive our sins? Hasn’t our sins been done with when Jesus was crucified for our sins, died, buried and rose from the dead? Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus made a once for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:2, 10)? Well, yeah. So why ask for further forgiveness?

Simply for this reason, we’re not yet perfect. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we’ve stopped offending God. Don’t get me wrong. Our relationship with God is secure, make no mistake. Our place in heaven is secure, have no doubt. But they’re not secured by our capacity to maintain that relationship with God. They’re secured by God’s willingness to maintain that relationship with us.

Think about this, if you held a grudge against everyone who offended you, or rubbed you up the wrong way, even the slightest amount, how many friends would you have? If you’re like me, you wouldn’t have any friends. So in order to maintain our friendships, and other relationships, we exercise a certain amount of forgiveness toward each other. And we ask God to do the same. Maintain that relationship, forgive our sins.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

What a strange request this is – lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. What could Jesus possibly mean?

This section on prayer is part of a bigger sermon we call The Sermon on the Mount. And much of the sermon is addressing religious hypocrisy – going through all the religious motions, without any heart conviction. Or saying one thing, and doing another.

Towards the start of his sermon, Jesus says this, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).

If you think that’s a heavy going statement, you’re right! Who were these Pharisees? Who were the teachers of the law? They were the good guys! They were the guys that did everything right. They went to church each week, they prayed, they fasted, they gave money to the poor. If you had a question about the Bible you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. If you needed advise, you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. And to all this religious activity, Jesus says NOT GOOD ENOUGH. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What was the problem? The problem was it wasn’t from the heart. It was all just a show. They weren’t being genuine with their faith. And this is the evil Jesus is instructing us to pray against. We still have this problem today. No matter which area of Christianity you come from, it’s easy to get so caught up in the religious side of things, you actually leave God behind. And all God wants from you is a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship.

You might come from a high Anglican or Catholic background where there’s allot of emphasis on tradition, sacraments, and church authority. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from a Charismatic, or Pentecostal background, where the emphasis is on emotion, and music of performance production standards. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from an evangelical background, like the low Anglican, and Presbyterian churches where there’s an emphasis on theology, knowing the Bible and evangelism. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

Or even in my case, where I spend hours studying the Bible, when you take away my theology books, and talks, and assignments, and all the bits and pieces I busy myself with, who am I before God? Do I have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

It’s an important question to ask – Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God? Toward the end of his sermon, Jesus says this, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21-22).

And to that, we may hear other questions: “Did we not go to church every Sunday?” “Did we not pray?” “Did we not give to the poor?” “Did we not help out people with disabilities?” Jesus continues, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with doing good things! As Christians, we ought to be doing such. But fundamentally, Christianity is about you and God, heart-to-heart, face-to-face. And everything we do, all the good stuff, needs to stem from that relationship. If we don’t, and we’re just going through some religious routine, then we’re settling for second best. Not only this, but we’re ripping God off as well.

Jesus knew about this. Jesus knows we get hung up on other stuff. That’s why he tells us to pray against this temptation and evil.

Now I’ve pointed out the main points in Jesus model of prayer, I wish to point out some things that aren’t in this model.

There is nothing in this model of prayer to require you to assume a particular position. There is nothing in this model of prayer to suggest there are better times to pray then others. There is nothing in this model of prayer that requires you to pray in a particular place. There is no benefit to be had with praying in a church building, or in front of a statue. Not even a fence post, for those who remember the events at Bondi. Neither is there any advantage in going on a pilgrimage half way around the world.

Neither is there a requirement to even verbalise your prayers. You know when you have a time of open prayer in a group, and there’s an embarrassing silence before the person who closes, closes? When I meet with the people at the Spastic Centre, I actually let that silence go a little longer. Allot of those people can’t speak. But that doesn’t mean they can’t pray.

God is an incredibly intimate God. He is our Father, He is mighty, and he is holy. God wants a heart-to-heart, face- to-face, personal relationship with us. How do you pray? Do you use a particular model or mechanism? When you boil it right down, prayer is about you and God talking stuff over. Not you, God, and your parents. Not you, God, and your friends. Not you, God, and your church – although we can and should pray with all these people as a community of believers. Prayer, fundamentally is about you and God. Are you concerned for God’s concerns? Do you have a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religious Vilification in Australia

Synopsis:

The following essay addresses the issues of religious tolerance in Australia. It briefly explores the ethical theory that makes religious pluralism and multiculturalism possible before rejecting this theory for its incompatibility with Christianity. An alternate ethical approach is then developed based on the Bible exploring Old and New Testament attitudes to alternate belief systems, and their theology behind them. It is found that the Old Testament had little tolerance toward alternate belief systems, while the New Testament was more tolerant, though not within the church. The reasons given for this are the identity and mission of Israel, and the theological changes that occurred with Israel being personified in Christ. On the basis of these theological changes, there is now no biblical basis for the suppression of other belief systems, yet still recognises the need to limit religious freedom, though finding a basis for such demands without a Christian framework may prove difficult.
——
Australia is recognised as a country with ethnic and cultural diversity with no state religion.[1] This implies that within Australian society there is representation of a large variety of beliefs and religions. As such, civil values include the ‘respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual’ and ‘freedom of religion and secular government’.[2] That is, Australians are able to choose to practice any religion of their choice, or none at all, and not to harbour intolerant attitudes to other religious groups. Australians are also to share equality under the law regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion or political background.[3]  Such civic values pose interesting questions for those who believe the Bible as the authoritative word breathed by God, and wish to advance Christian beliefs and values. Issues of maintaining the exclusive claims of the Bible and advancing Christian beliefs in a multicultural and pluralistic society come with difficulties. While falsehood is a concern for those who are zealous for their beliefs, fairness between religious groups also needs to be maintained so that one group does is not subjected to vilification by another, or one group is shown favouritism over another. The underlying issue is in such a pluralist society is one of truth. Religious intolerance would restrict the advancement of falsehood, although this would also imply the advancement of Christian beliefs and values would need to be forfeited. Religious toleration would not restrict the advancement of falsehood, although presumably, Christians would share equal opportunity to advance their belief and values. Hence a tension exists between the claims of the Bible, and the rights of an individual. In order to establish an ethical response from a biblical perspective, the Bible’s attitude toward other religions in both the Old and New Testaments needs to be considered. However, it is also necessary to consider the ethical theory which has developed the contemporary values of Australian society.

The ethical theory which multiculturalism and pluralism have come from is most likely situation ethics as many of the features are consistent. Joseph Fletcher developed the theory in response to the failures of legalism and antinomianism.[4] The principles of this ethical theory are: 1) pragmatism – the criteria for discerning right answer is love. This principle is recognised in the representation of tolerance between belief systems. 2) relativism – the avoidance of absolute statements. This can be clearly seen in with religious toleration as it does not recognise any one group of having the truth in any absolute sense. 3) Positivism – that a person comes to faith through the exercise of reason or free will. 4) Personalism – the benefit for people is prioritised.[5] It is these measures which allow differing religions to co-exist. Such an ethical theory presents difficulties for Christianity. To be able to resolve these difficulties, a biblical ethic needs to be developed.

According to Song, The Christian church historically has not been tolerant of other belief systems. He cites Augustine arguing for the ‘use of coercion for the sake of the salvation of souls’; Thomas Aquinas arguing that the of ‘rites unbelievers and Jews should not to be tolerated’, and that heretics should be ‘constrained both for their own sake and the protection of others’; and John Calvin maintaining that part of the purpose of civil authority ‘included the protection of the outward worship of God and the defence of sound doctrine and the standing of the church’.[6] John Stott also mentions briefly the atrocities committed in the Spanish Inquisition as an indication of the intolerance that has occurred historically.[7] The commands in the Old Testament for the destruction of the Canaanites and their religion (Exodus 23:23-24; 19:1; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 31:3-5) have been used in the middle ages to justify such intolerant positions.[8]

However, to use a deductive method to apply Scripture to the contemporary context has serious faults. Such methods do not give consideration to the context in which the Scripture was written, thus allowing the Scripture to be applied any way the reader sees fit; and neither does it give consideration to the contemporary context where the Scriptural and contemporary contexts can be compared and contrasted. Rather, before Scripture can be applied and thus deducing an ethic, a biblical theology of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, through which the Old Testament is to be understood, must be developed.

To understand the purpose of the commands to destroy the Canaanites and their religion, consideration must be given to God’s relationship to the world, and Israel’s role in that relationship. The Bible asserts first and foremost that there is one God who made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). This allows for ethical simplicity in that humanity is not answerable to competing authorities, thereby causing confusion. Rather, there is one God to whom humanity must give an account (Genesis 9:5; Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:20). Secondly, the world has fallen into sin through the rebellion of humanity (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:21). Instead of destroying what had been spoilt through sin, God chose to redeem creation (Genesis 3:15; Romans 8:23). It is the second point that is most crucial, as it is within this that the program of redemption of Israel and God’s commands to Israel are to be understood. Israel was raised by God out of slavery in Egypt in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant, and would become the people in the land as a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The way Israel would fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant was through her identity and moral obligations (Exodus 19:4-6). As a kingdom of priests, the entire nation of Israel assumed a mediatory role between God and the nations. It would be through Israel that the nations would come to know God and come to God. This implicated Israel’s moral obligation as a holy nation. In order to fulfil her mission as a kingdom of priests, Israel had to remain distinct from the other nations. This had implications for not only Israel’s religion, it also had implications for every aspect of her nationality. Israel’s distinctiveness ought to be attributed to her mission rather then her race. It would be through Israel’s nationality and relationship to the other nation that God would be revealed.

If the nation of Israel was to be a blessing to all nations, it seems contradictory that God should command Israel to destroy the Canaanites. However, Wright asserts that God’s blessing in eschatological terms and “… does not eliminate his prerogative to act in judgement on particular nations…”[9] Similarly, the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants did not prevent God from taking against future generations of Israelites in judgement. In fact, the destruction of the Canaanites was consistent with Israel’s mission. The purpose of God exercising judgement was that the God would be known (Ps 9:16; 59:13; 83:16-18; Isaiah 26:9; Ezekiel 11:10-12; 12:16), and making God known was part of Israel’s priestly office. The Canaanite nations and their religions contravened the first principle of biblical ethics by denying their accountability to God by worshipping a plurality of god’s which is inconsistent with the assertion of Scripture. This needed to be demonstrated historically. It should also be noted that it was not only the Canaanites who were liable to such judgment. In similarly manner, those within Israel who worshipped other gods were judged (Deuteronomy 13), and should the nation as a whole disobeyed the decrees set by God, they would be ‘vomited’ from the land as the Canaanites were (Leviticus 18:24-29). At the very least, these commands are not to be thought of as ‘racist’ or a basis for religious bigotry. Rather, they should be perceived as having their primary concern in the revelation of God.

However, despite the biblical-theological framework given for the Old Testament, these commands can not be directly applied to modern pluralism and multiculturalism for two reasons. Firstly, these commands were directed against a particular people group, and lack application to any other people group. The most likely reason for this is the destruction of the Canaanites had been anticipated from the days of Abraham for their sin (Genesis 15:16 [referred to as Amorites]). Secondly, in the course of redemptive history there has been a shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation. While Israel defined the people and the locality of the revelation of God in the Old Testament, they failed in their mission through sin and rebellion (Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-21). It was only when Israel was personified in Christ that the identity and mission was fulfilled. Therefore, the people of God and the locality of the revelation of God is no longer political or national, rather they have been personified in Christ. It is Christ who has become the blessing to all nations, and not a political initiative. For this reason, Jesus refrained from political activity (John 6:15) and separatism (Luke 15:1-2; Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 5:25-34), taught extensively that the Kingdom of God is not what people expected (Matthew 13:1-52), and that it is not of this world (John 18:36). However, Christ did make political comments (Mark 12:14-17; John 19:11). Instead, he advanced his kingdom through preaching and teaching (Mark 1:38).

This shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation influence the New Testament church. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church found to be lobbying political pressure, or suppressing a people group or belief system outside their own. While it needs to be acknowledged that the first century Roman Empire did not allow for such political lobbying, and the church’s numbers were small in comparison, the theological reasons based on the person of Christ cannot be overlooked. The result in influence was different belief systems became an opportunity to explain the gospel (Acts 17:16-34), and while partaking in sacrifices offered to idols is forbidden, eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol then sold at market is left to a question of conscious (1 Corinthians 10:18-33). Therefore, a greater extent of tolerance is present in the New Testament.

However, this new founded permissiveness does not allow for theological ambiguity. The Old Testament’s concern for the people of God was for their purity of life and doctrine, and the New Testament share’s the same concern. Throughout the New Testament, reprimands can be found against those who live impurely (1 Corinthians 5; James 3:5-12), and those who would introduce false doctrine into the church (Galatians 5:1-12). Leaders of the church are also told to guard their doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 2:1). Such instruction is not extended to those outside the church.

The fact that these instructions do not extend to those outside the church does not deny the relevance of the gospel to them or the impending judgement against them. However, it is no longer the prerogative of the people of God to enforce this judgement as it was in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is now Christ’s prerogative to execute God’s judgement (Matthew 3:12; 25:31-34).

Considering that the Old Testament expectations have been fulfilled in the person of Christ, who now is the only one who has the prerogative to execute God’s judgement, there is no biblical basis for justifying religious intolerance against non-Christian groups. Anti-vilification laws for religion should be understood as compatible with the Christian ethos, not because of the legitimacy of other belief systems, rather, because of the limitation of jurisdiction of the church. Instead, the church ought to focus its attention to its own purity of life and doctrine. Yet, this does not mean the church ought to be isolationist in its attitude since the New Testament church was involved with welfare (Acts 6:1-6). Apart from this, it is very difficult to deduce from Scripture how rights to religious expression are to be limited. Clearly the church can not indorse such practices as murder, mutilation or infant molesting. Yet without a Christian basis it is difficult to refute such practices. In Australia, such practices have been outlawed, so there is a basis for agreeing what is ethical. However, there are issues, such as homosexuality, on which there is no agreement in law. In these situations, the New Testament church simply aimed to persuade people’s opinion through appeal (Acts 17:16-34; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). While there are difficulties in such a method, this is perhaps the best way the Christians can advance their beliefs and values, while maintaining the dignity and respect for others.

Bibliography:

 

Adam, P. H. J.                   ‘Jesus’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

                                          Becoming an Australian citizen. Commonwealth of Australia, 2007.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Pluralism’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Hill, Michael.                      The how and why of love: an introduction to evangelical ethics. Kingsford, Australia, Matthias Press, 2002.

Sherlock, C. H.                  ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Song, R  J.                         ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Stott, John.                         New issues facing Christians today. London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999.

Vardy, Peter and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics. London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    ‘Old Testament Ethics’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.

© The Student’s Desk


[1] Becoming an Australian citizen (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007), 1, 5.[2] Becoming an Australian citizen, 5.[3] Becoming an Australian citizen, 6.[4] E. D. Cook, ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 794.

[5] Peter Vardy and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics (London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994), 125-126.

[6] R  J. Song, ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 851.

[7] John Stott, New issues facing Christians today (London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999), 55.

[8] C. H. Sherlock, ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 448.

[9] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 473.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Essays, Ethics, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Angelic Proclamation

The Student’s Desk Christmas Devotion

 This will be the final devotion for 2007. Devotions will start again in Febuary 2008.

 God’s blessings to you all.

Basis for Prayer:

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation

and increased their joy;

they rejoice before you

as people rejoice at the harvest,

as men rejoice

when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

you have shattered

the yoke that burdens them,

the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle

and every garment rolled in blood

will be destined for burning,

will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty

God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

Prayer:

Dear Lord, what a light you have provided in Jesus. That we who struggle with the state of this world, and the state of our hearts can come to Jesus, and know that you will accept us just as we are. Lord we look forward to the day when every authority will submit to Jesus, and how exciting it is to know that this will be permanent. As we talk about the birth of Jesus this morning, help us to understand the wonder it is that you, O God, should take on flesh and be born to a woman. It is because of your gracious deeds that we can be sure of having an eternal relationship with you. As the first visitors of Jesus marveled at the sight of him, may we also marvel with them.

Reading

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The Angelic Proclamation

There have been some pretty big events in history. Events that have changed our lives for the better, or for the worse. The invention of electricity, the telephone, and developments in computers have made out lives much easier. While other events such as the September 11 attacks on America six years ago has put every one on their toes.

But I want to talk about an event that’s bigger then all these events put together. I want to talk about an event that’s about a baby born in a dirty, smelly animal shelter. Doesn’t sound like much does it? I mean, how many people do you know today who were born in a dog kennel, or a chicken coop? It’s just not the place for baby’s to be born! But this birth caught the attention of the angels in heaven. Those beings who spend there time in constant praise and adoration of God paused in wonder to see what was going on in this dirty, smelly animal shelter.

What was it about this very strange birth that caught there attention? Listen to what they say to the shepherds who were camped near by – “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11). For a long, long time, people had been waiting for the Christ – God’s Saviour. Someone who would undo the effects of sin. Someone who would take every wrong that’s ever been done, including the wrongs you and I have done, and make them right. Someone that would make us right with God and be friends with him. Well guess what? He’s just been born! This is the event that would not only change history; it would change the entire universe. It would change the way God and people would relate. Is it any wonder this birth caught the attention angels in heaven!?

I want us to also notice who the angels were speaking to. The angels spoke this message to shepherds. Now let me tell you something about shepherds in Jesus’ day. They’re not like a civilised farmer we have today. These were fairly rough and ready kind of people. They lived and worked outside most of the time. When you work with animals, and are outside the whole time, you tend to smell. Their language might’ve been a bit coarse as well. And because they were looking after sheep the whole time, they were really able to go to church. Because of these things, people tended to look down on them. They weren’t particularly welcomed in town. People only dealt with shepherds when they had to. Shepherds were people who were marginalised in society.

Yet this is to whom these angels from heaven spoke their message. Why? Why would angels speak to shepherds when no one else would? Because their message was one for the marginalised. For those people who the rest of society is uncomfortable with. And if this message is for the marginalised, this message is for everyone. This message is for us here today. As surely as the angels spoke to the shepherds 2000 years ago, they speak to us today from the pages of the Bible, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

But this message isn’t only universal, it’s personal. Let’s look at how the shepherds responded to such a message. Did they sit on their hands and say “Oh well, that’s nice to know.” No! They went and investigated! Could what they just heard be true??? They wanted to know more. When they found baby Jesus just as the angels had told them, they praised God. This was a message that affected them personally. What a joy it was to them to know it was this baby Jesus who was going to make them right before God. And just as Jesus was the shepherd’s joy, so to ought Jesus be our joy. So to ought we praise God for giving us Jesus.

There have been many events that have changed the course of history. None more so then the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has changed the way we relate to God. This is a universal message. This is a message for the marginalised. It also a personal message to each one of us. May we be ever thankful for the birth of Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does it mean to be in a relationship with God?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion.

Preparation for Prayer

Psalm 63:1-11

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you,

my body longs for you,

in a dry and weary land

where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary

and beheld your power and your glory.

Because your love is better than life,

my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live,

and in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;

with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;

I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

They who seek my life will be destroyed;

they will go down to the depths of the earth.

They will be given over to the sword

and become food for jackals.

But the king will rejoice in God;

all who swear by God’s name will praise him,

while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Prayer

As we meet as your people, it is our desire to thank you for all you’ve done for us, to pray to and to learn from you. Lord, we want to reflect upon the great love you have for each of us. We can often think that being in relationship with you is all about getting into your good books, and we miss the point of what it is to be in relationship with you, and how much you really love us. As we look at what Jesus taught about your love, help us to understand and take delight in your love.

In Jesus name we pray.

Luke 15:11-32

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

What does it mean to be in a relationship with God?

What does it mean to be in relationship with God? It’s an interesting question. Being in a relationship with God could mean different things to different people. But the passage we just read is fairly specific about what it means.

We should note that when we come into a relationship with God, he is ecstatic! He is over the moon. And it doesn’t seem to matter what we’ve done to offend him. He wants nothing else than for us to come into a personal relationship with him.

We see this in the way the father in the passage welcomes back his rebellious son. Now take note of how this son rebels. He virtually tells his father, “Dad, I wish you were dead!” He takes his share of the inheritance, packs his bags and leaves home, squanders the money on parties and wild living, and ends up working a job that no one at that time in their right mind would want to do. This son has done just about everything he could possibly do to be rebellious! What do you think his father should do? Not welcome him back? Sounds fair after all he’s said and done. But what does the father do? When he spots his son at a distance, he goes running down the road to meet him. He gives him a great big hug and a kiss, and throws a party. He is ecstatic to have his son back!

This is what God is like. When we come to God seeking a relationship with him, he embraces us, and welcomes us. God doesn’t sit on his throne thinking, “hmmm, maybe! Do some good things first and I’ll think about it.” Or, “do this or that first and then come back.” No! God is ecstatic when we come to him seeking a relationship.

But to re-enforce the point, Jesus tells us about the other son. He’s been home the whole time, doing the right thing. But, unfortunately he’s missed the point of what it means to be in a relationship with his father. He thinks the relationship with his father is all about work, and doing what’s right. When he sees the party going on for the other son, he gets upset. He can’t understand why his father hadn’t done anything like that for him who had always done the right thing. The thing was, he could’ve had anything! All he had to do was ask.

What does it mean being in a relationship with God? Well, it doesn’t mean trying to earn our keep with God. In fact it means the opposite. It means acknowledging that we are dependant on God for all of our needs, and we need to be trusting in him in a personal relationship.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Parables, Religious | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Much is Heaven Worth?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion.

Preparation to Pray

Psalm 19:7-11 (ESV)

      The law of the Lord is perfect,

          reviving the soul;

     the testimony of the Lord is sure,

          making wise the simple;

      the precepts of the Lord are right,

          rejoicing the heart;

     the commandment of the Lord is pure,

          enlightening the eyes;

      the fear of the Lord is clean,

          enduring forever;

     the rules of the Lord are true,

          and righteous altogether.

      More to be desired are they than gold,

          even much fine gold;

     sweeter also than honey

          and drippings of the honeycomb.

      Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

          in keeping them there is great reward.

Prayer

Lord, again we thank you that we can gather in your name and meet as your people. As we meet as your people, it is our desire to thank you for all you’ve done for us, to pray to and to learn from you. Lord, we are so blessed in our lives to have so much choice. There seems to be no end of entrainment and other things to amuse us. And we acknowledge this blessing comes from you. But Lord, so often we falter and pay more attention to the things we’re blessed with, rather than you who blesses. Help us Lord to value what you’ve promised us. Like the Psalmist, help us take unbridled delight in your word, and to get excited about you. As we look at what Jesus teaches us may we know the true worth of heaven, and the true worth of following Jesus, and want that more than anything else.

In Jesus name we pray.

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

How much is heaven worth?

How much is heaven worth? Ever thought about it? What would you be prepared to give up for heaven? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

Speaking of how much things are worth, let’s think about shopping. We all been shopping, haven’t we? Do we like it? There’s nothing like a good shop and finding the one thing you’ve been looking for. What I like is finding a really good bargain and getting something dirt cheap. I get a real kick out of it.

I had a shopping experience like that recently. I had been looking for another bike for a while, and these particular bikes aren’t cheap! I saw one advertised for a really good price. The only catch was it was in Hobart! But it was such good value, I thought it was worth dropping everything I was doing, flying from Sydney to Hobart to spend the money I had and buy this bike. And I did.

Well, Jesus says that’s how we should think about heaven. We should be prepared to give up a whole lot for the heaven. Because heaven is going to be a hundred times better than what we have to give up. Jesus tells two stories of two different men who had a similar experience to me when I bought my bike. One finds buried treasure, and the other spots a pearl. They’re both big finds, a once in a lifetime opportunity. To get what they found, they sell everything they had! They had to sell the house, their clothes, the family goat, the kitchen sink, the whole lot had to go! There wasn’t anything more precious to them then what they had just found.

Jesus is saying that is what the heaven is like. It’s precious! It’s worth more then everything else we own, or hope to own. And while heaven is living with God for eternity, it’s also about following Jesus now. And we’ve been saying that following Jesus means forgiving others when they do the wrong thing by us; listening to what Jesus teaches us; to tell others how much God loves us, both in what we say and what we do; and to trust God for everything we need. Following Jesus is also about trusting in his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s only because of what Jesus did for us that we can even think about going to heaven! Jesus is the one who will get us there. All the more reason to follow Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: Are we following Jesus, or are other things getting in the way? If we’re letting other things get in the way, then we’re saying those things are worth more than following Jesus, and that’s not true. Following Jesus is worth much more! I wasn’t going to let a few essays and a plane flight get in the way of a good buy of a bike. Neither should we let other things get in the way of following Jesus. Heaven’s worth it!

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

November 2, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Parables, Religious | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God

Synopsis: The time and place of Jesus was on of political stability and religious zeal as the restoration of Israel was anticipated. Jesus teachings were radically different from his contemporaries. The following essay provides a brief summery of the expectations and political alliances so contrasts and comparisons may be developed between these and Jesus’ teaching. While this essay does recognise that Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God, it focuses on the parables given in Matthew 13 maintaining their prominence in the ‘kingdom of God’ theme. It concludes that Jesus’ teaching on the teaching of God does not ally him with any of the political or religious movements of his time and stands unique.

—– 

The Roman province of Judah in the first century was a place of political instability which eventually led to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. Many held hopes for an uprising of a Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel, while others saw the Roman Empire as providing a future for Israel. It is within this mix of political and religious movements that Jesus emerges and teaches about the kingdom of God in a manner that was radically different from contemporary views, and yet at the same remained entirely consistent with Scripture.

Messianic expectations within Judaism leading up to the first century A.D. were not unique. These had been part of Israel’s heritage. At the centre of Jewish expectations concerning the kingdom is the office of Messiah. While the Greek equivalent of this title, “Christ” would be applied to Jesus (Luke 2:11; John 1:41, 4:25), it was also used of others in the Old Testament. The term ‘messiah’ most often meant ‘anointed’ and referred to kings (1 Sam 12:3, 5; 16:6; 24:6, 10 for example). It was through the office of King that an everlasting kingdom was promised as part of the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:13). It was this promise of an everlasting kingdom that formed the basis of hope for the restoration of Israel (Psalm 89; 132; Isaiah 9:5-7). The political situation in Israel leading up to the first century A.D. intensified expectations of the Messiah and the establishment of the kingdom of God.

Though Israel had indeed returned to the land after exile (Nehemiah), they did not regain their sovereignty. As such, by the end of the millennium, they were a Roman province in a strongly Hellenised region. For the most part Jews resented this foreign occupier, and the Hellenistic culture that had also come. However, the expression of this expectation differed between several movements. Metzger helpfully categorises four of these groups into two different categories with two different responses. He identifies religious movements as including Pharisees as extremists and Sadducees as moderates; and political movements as including Zealots as extremists and Herodians as moderates.[1] It is helpful to understand these movements as background of Jesus teaching concerning the kingdom.

•1)    Pharisees

The term ‘Pharisee’ has been taken to mean “the separated ones” and first appeared under the rule of John Hycanus (135-105 B.C.). The Pharisees had their origins in the Hasidim movement who were allied with the Maccabeans in their struggle against the Seleucids (early second century B.C.). However, this group was not interest in the contest for political supremacy after the struggle. The Pharisees turned their attention to strict observance of the law, prophets, writings, and oral traditions. They were zealous to apply the old law to contemporary situations and keeping the Sabbath. They also believed in the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection.

•2)    Sadducees

The Sadducees had their origins in the Zadok, the priest of King David’s time (2 Samuel 8:17). They held the Torah as being canonical, and had no place for oral traditions. They were also anti-supernatural, and did not believe in angels, or the resurrection. Politically, they did not resist Rome. They were more open to Helenisation than other groups, and were willing to ally themselves to the dominant political power.


 

•3)    Essenes

The Essenes were a Jewish community that resembled monastic communities in early Christianity. They held property in common, led simple lives, and like the Pharisees strictly observed the law, and were even stricter with the Sabbath. They lived apart from the rest of the community and did not partake in temple sacrifice believing the religious establishment to be corrupt, and with good reason. Herod, a foreigner, had rebuilt the temple,[2] and was served by priestly class, the Sadducees, concerned to keep the Roman authorities pleased since theologically and politically they were in agreement with the Herodians.[3] They also believed the promises of God were fulfilled in the history of there community.

•4)    Zealots

While not a religious group, Zealots opposed tributes being paid to a pagan emperor, and used violence as a means of liberating Israel from Rome. Hence their actions were extremist and disruptive.

•5)    Herodians

The title ‘Herodian’ was used in reference to Jewish supporters of the Herodian dynasty. It is likely that most Herodians were Sadducees, though the title could have also applied to other groups and individuals. Apart from being allied to the dominant political power, there were other reasons for embracing Herodian Rule. Herod had complied to the Jewish expectations of the Messiah by claiming his ancestors were exiles of David’s house in Babylon, ruled an area that equalled the kingdom of David, built splendid buildings, established a palace for himself in Jerusalem, and rebuilt the temple. Hence, there was good reason for supporting the Herodian dynasty.

It is also known a number of other individuals rose up claiming to be the Messiah. In Pilate’s time, a Samaritan prophet had led his followers to Mount Gerizim in search of the holy vessels. Theudas, mentioned by Gamaliel (Acts 5:36), ventured to split the Jordan River providing his followers a safe passage alluding to the time of Moses.  A Jew from Egypt anticipated the collapse of the walls of Jerusalem at his command allowing free access into the city. It may have been this individual for whom Paul was mistaken (Acts 21:38). Jesus himself also anticipated many false Christ’s and prophets (Matthew 24:5, 11, 23-26).[4]

It is against these expectations, politics and theologies of the fore mentioned groups that Jesus teachings about the kingdom of God must be considered. It is important to recognise that Jesus teaching on the kingdom of God is not reduced to one section of any one of the four gospels, Luke informs his readers that Jesus mission was to teach about the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). Hence, all of Jesus’ teaching can be traced back to the kingdom of God theme. However, there does seem to be a concentrated section of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God in Matthew.. These teachings are given as parables. The phrase “the kingdom of God (or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in Matthew) is like”, or a phrase simular, occurs fifteen times as an introduction to a parable throughout the synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 43, 44, 45, 47, 52; 18:23; 20:1; 22:2; 25:1; Mark 4:26, 30; Luke 13:18). The meaning of the term ‘parable’ is broad, though in the gospels it generally refers to a contrast (Luke 18:1-8), or a comparison (Matthew 13:33).[5] The purpose of the parable was to provoke a response by the hearer.[6] The fact Jesus used parables to teach the kingdom of God must say something about the kingdom itself and the ministry of Jesus. The rise of Jesus as Messiah could not be ignored as in the examples of those who assumed this office previously. Jesus and his teaching on the kingdom of God demanded a response. For this reasons, Matthew 13, contains several such parables, will be closely examined, and the manner in which Jesus interacts with Jewish expectations of the kingdom will be noted.

The parable that is of most likely importance is the so-titled ‘Parable of the Soils’ (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15), for in Mark’s account, the importance of this parable is stressed (v13). In Matthew account, the importance of this parable and the parables following is also stressed by Jesus asking his disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” (v51). Understanding this parable is prerequisite to understanding the other teachings of Jesus and his works. In explaining the Parable of the Soils to his disciples, Jesus quotes Isaiah to indicate that his words are preparing people for judgment – a theme that will occur twice in the chapter (vv30, 48-50). This is so the judgement is not on the account of God. The fact that Jesus’ hearers did in fact understand something of what Jesus said on other occasions when he spoke in parables is evidenced by their actions (Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19), though they did not accept his message. Hence, the fulfilment of Isaiah does not rest on Jesus. Rather, it rests on those who do not accept Jesus message (Matthew 13:14).

It is not co-incidental that Jesus is using the image of planting. In the Davidic Covenant, the image of planting is used in reference to Israel being established so they would no longer suffer their enemies as part of an everlasting kingdom. While Luke understands the seed that is sown as the ‘word of God’ (Luke 8:11), Mark simply understands the seed that is sown simply as the ‘word’ (Mark 4:14). However, Matthew understands the seed that is sown as the ‘word of the kingdom’. Hence, not only do Jesus’ words bring about judgement, they also inaugurate the kingdom of God as Israel is replanted in the person of Jesus in the people’s accepting of his word. There is nothing unusual about the imagery Jesus uses in the parable. Jesus’ listeners would have often seen seed being scattered by hand, or be allowed to trickle from holes in a sack. Neither is there anything unusual about the yield. Though tenfold was average for much of Palestine, returns of up to one-hundred fold were possible and considered to be a tremendously good harvest.[7] Jesus expectation is always for a good yield from those who respond to his teaching as the lowest figure nominated is thirty-fold – still very much above what would be expected. In relation to the religious and political movements of Jesus day, it is clear at this point that the kingdom of God would not be established by such programs. Rather, the kingdom of God would be inaugurated in the person of Jesus. Matthew’s record of Jesus discourse continues on to consider the nature of the kingdom over several parables.

In the so-titled ‘Parable of the Weeds’ (vv24-40), Jesus demonstrates his kingdom is not what his contemporaries would have expected. Jesus uses a normal scene of a sower planting his wheat crop (v24). There is nothing unusual about weeds growing up with the crop. What is unusual in this parable is the weeds on this occasion were as a result of sabotage (v25). So much so, the volume of weeds prompted the servants to enquire to their master (v26). For this reason it is unusual scenario, one that would have shocked those listening to Jesus. The particular weed is known as ‘tare’. Hendrikson notes in the early stages of development, the tare closely resembled the wheat crop, and hosted a fungus poisonous to both animals and humans if eaten.[8] When interpreting the parable for his disciples (vv37-43), Jesus identifies the wheat seed as being ‘the children of the kingdom’ sown by the Son of Man (v38), and the tares as being ‘the sons of the evil one’ sown by the Devil (v39). The fact that Jesus closely identifies the children of the kingdom with the sons of the devil in the points of reference of wheat and tares is a strong indication that he does not have in mind the contemporary political views of the Kingdom of Israel verses the Roman occupation – two entities easily distinguishable from the other. Instead, the seed of the enemy to which Jesus is referring to, though does not identify at this stage, has close resemblance to the seed of the children of the kingdom and has grown up with them. Hence, the enemy is not an external entity to Israel. Rather the enemy is already part of Israel to be removed at a later time of final judgement. To discuss judgement would imply resurrection which would place Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom as being very different from those of the Sadducees.

Another aspect to this parable is the removal of the weeds. Keener notes “…fields were normally weeded in the spring, but if the weeds were discovered too late … harvesters could cut the wheat just below the head, leaving the shorter tares to be cut separately.”[9] The offer of the servants to pull the weeds out perhaps suggests that the normal time for removing weeds had not yet past, hence the response of the sower to permit the weeds to grow would have come as a surprise (vv28, 29). This suggests that the kingdom that Jesus had in mind would be a mix of the children of God and the sons of the devil until the final judgement at the close of the age (vv30, 40-42). Such a teaching would have been contrary to the religious programs of the Pharisees who were intent on avoiding unclean people, and the Essences who separated themselves from the broader community.[10]

The so-titled ‘Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast’ continue to demonstrate the kingdom of God as being different from people’s expectations (vv 31-33). Keener recognises that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed known in Palestine.[11] Nonetheless, it was a small seed capable of growing into a large shrub, normally only four feet, it could grow as much as fifteen feet. The unexpected element to the parable is not its size, rather its function. While birds could normally perch in a mustard tree, they were not able to nest in it as portrayed in the parable. In simular fashion, Jesus likens the kingdom to yeast in three measures of flour. As insignificant as the yeast may appear in such a large quantity of flower, it is nonetheless able to raise enough bread to feed one-hundred people.[12] By telling these parables, Jesus is identifying his kingdom as something small and insignificant, not a political or religious movement to be concerned about. Even still, the influences of this kingdom would gradually be recognised.

Despite the seemingly insignificance of the kingdom, Jesus asserts its worth. In privacy with his disciples, he tells three more parables. Two expressing the worth of the kingdom, so-titled ‘The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl’ (vv44-46), and one reiterating the mixed nature of the kingdom, so-titled ‘The Parable of the Net’ (vv47-50), as Jesus had just taught in ‘The Parable of the Weeds’ (vv24-30, 37-43). In the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, both scenarios were possible within the culture. Keener remarks that “Treasures were often buried for safekeeping”, and consistent with Keener, Hendricksen perceives that this would have been most likely done during times of strife. It was possible that the owner of the treasure had died before telling anyone of its location, leaving a peasant or worker to discover it by chance.[13] The surprise in this parable is the one who discovers the treasure actually has the resources to enable the purchase of the land on which the treasure is hidden, and they are prepared to part with those resources to gain the land that they may have rightful claim to the hidden treasure. Similarly, the same method of thinking is applied with the following parable with a pearl. If indeed the initial three parables are given in contrast to the contemporary kingdom expectations, than it would follow that these two parables are a continuation of that contrast. The possessions forfeited serve as a point of reference for contemporary kingdom expectations, and the hidden treasure and the pearl serve as a point of reference for the Kingdom of God. By telling the disciples these parables, Jesus is clearly teaching his disciples their need to forfeit their Jewish expectations kingdom of God and embrace what he has been teaching.

In his final parable, Jesus reiterates the mixed nature of the kingdom of God, and according to Hendricksen, that is all he does.[14] While all the points of reference are simular, Hendricksen has overlooked the change in the listening audience which can drastically affect the manner in which a parable is understood. It is not until verse 36 that Matthew tells his readers that Jesus had left the crowd. Therefore, ‘The Parable of the Weeds’ is given to the crowds, including the disciples, while ‘The Parable of the Net’ is given to the disciples only. There is also a shift in the point of reference for the Kingdom of God. In the former, the Kingdom of God is portrayed as having to compete with the enveloping circumstances which have been going for some time. However, this is about to change as the Kingdom of God is inaugurated by Jesus will be a mixture of all kinds (v47), and this is the type of kingdom which the work that the disciples will be partaking in. The thrust of this parable would not have been lost on some of the disciples whom Jesus had told will be fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-19). This would drive home the point that the work that the disciples were to be involved with was not to be a separatist movement as they may have imagined. Separation would be at the initiative of angels only (v49). Again, this teaching would have been contrary to that of the Pharisees.

Jesus radical teaching on the kingdom of God places him outside the main schools of thought in first century Judaism, and thereby stands unique. Through the gospels, opposition to Jesus can be detected from all these groups, with the exception of the Essenes who are not mentioned in Scripture. Clearly Herod, the Pharisees, and Sadducees all conspired against Jesus (Matthew 2:13, 16; 16:1; 26:3-4), and the Roman guard had no respect for him either (Matthew 27:27-31). Though there is not any know opposition from the Essenes, it is known that Jesus considered his disciples to be in the world, not separated from it (John 17:14, 16). Jesus teachings concerning the kingdom of God stood apart from contemporary expectations for one very good reason as Jesus explicitly told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). According to Jesus’ teaching the kingdom of God demanded repentance from contemporary views, and would not be consummated by political or religious movements, or by any other human initiative. Rather, it would be consummated at the time of judgement by the initiative of God.

 

Bibliography:

Betz, Otto.              ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, in Christology in dialogue, ed. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah A. Edwards, Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1993.

Caragounis, Chrys C.,     ‘Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William.       New Testament commentary: Matthew. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

Hoehner, Harold W.        ‘Herodians’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Metzger, Bruce M.  The New Testament, its background, growth, and content. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965.

Snodgrass, Klyne R.       ‘Parable’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Tenney, Merrill C.   New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing co., 1961.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

 


 

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth, and content (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965), 46.

[2] Otto Betz, ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, in Christology in dialogue, ed. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah A. Edwards (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1993), 35

[3] Harold W. Hoehner, ‘Herodians’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 325

[4] Otto Betz, ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, 37

[5] Klyne R. Snodgrass, ‘Parable’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 593

[6] Klyne R. Snodgrass, ‘Parable’, 597

[7] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM (Downers Grove, Illinios: InterVasity Press, 1993).

[8] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew (Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 563

[9] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[10] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[12] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM

[13] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew, 575

[14] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew, 578

October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A comparison of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

Synopsis:The four accounts of Jesus life and ministry vary in their content. Some of their content can be found in all four while other parts are unique to that particular gospel. Even the content which is shared can vary in detail. The following essay examines the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke as an example of two gospels sharing information, though differing in there theological emphasis. The essay assumes the integrity of both accounts, and regards them both as legitimate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Overarching themes of both gospels are identified and substantiate by the content of each gospel. It is within the context of these overarching themes which the similarities and difference between the two accounts need to be considered.

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A brief reading of the gospels reveals that they all address one issue – the person and ministry of Jesus. In this, a great amount of overlap can be found among the gospels, more so among the synoptics. If all four gospels are about the ministry of Jesus, the question may be posed, why have four gospels been written? Yet within the similarities of overlap, numerous differences can be found in the gospels in the way of variations in the text of individual passages, additional or abbreviated material, and reordering of events. The gospels of Matthew and Luke will be surveyed in order to observe the similarities and differences in these texts. These two gospels have been chosen due to the similarities they share.

From the seventeen parables found in Matthew and nineteen in Luke, six are held in common. From the twenty miracles found in both Matthew and Luke, thirteen are held in common.[1] Both Matthew and Luke give details on Jesus’ infancy (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23; Luke 1:5 – 2:52); the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20); the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 3:13 – 4:1-11; Luke 3:21 – 4:15); Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:13 – 19:1; Luke 4:16 – 9:62); and Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, passion and ascension (Matthew 21-26; Luke 19-24). In these accounts difference can be observed in the particulars. Generally, Luke gives more details in these accounts. The greatest difference between the gospels is Luke’s coverage of Jesus’ Judean ministry which is unique to his gospel (10:1 – 18:14). To understand the reasons for these similarities and differences in Matthew and Luke and the way they have been structured, the theology and purpose of both gospels will be considered.

Gospel of Matthew

The main concern of the gospel of Matthew is to demonstrate how Jesus and his ministry are a continuation and a fulfilment of the Old Covenant. Several features of the gospel and their contribution to the main concern will be briefly considered.

1) Jesus’ Identification with David

The gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus mentioning two key figures in Israel’s heritage (1:1). The first of these figures is David. The mention of David connects Jesus to the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-16) as the one whom through David’s throne would be established forever. Matthew shows that the kingship of Jesus is recognised from his birth by foreigners (2:1-2, 11), and that Jesus claim to the throne is asserted by Jesus himself (12:42; 22:44), especially by his provoking actions during his final entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11). This aspect of Jesus identity is recognised and accepted several times throughout the gospel by social outcasts and general public (9:27; 12:22-23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15). Jesus’ kingship was also recognised by Roman authorities who regarded it to be such a threat, infanticide was employed to prevent the rise of a rival king (2:16). Despite the responses from Rome and the general public, the religious establishment rejected Jesus’ kingship outright (27:41-42, this could be the issue behind the lack of repentance as Jesus compares himself to Solomon 12:38-42).

2) The identification with Abraham and fulfilling the Covenant as Israel

The second key figure Matthew mentions is Abraham. The identification of Abraham links the ministry of Jesus to the Abrahamic covenant, and the promises of land, nation, and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Though Israel received something of the promise, what they received was lost at the time of exile, and (they) never received the fulfilment of that promise. Jesus’ inaugurates the fulfilment of the promise by becoming Israel for Israel. This is a strong theme in the gospel as Jesus and his family is forced to flee from the infanticide of Herod to return to Israel at a later time. Matthew makes the comment that this was to fulfil the Scriptures thus identifying Jesus as a second Israel (2:15, Cf. Hosea 11:1). This identification with Israel is important as consideration is given to the reconstitution of the law.

3) The Miracles of Jesus

Jesus’ identity as the ‘Son of David’ also has implications for the Kingdom of God. The Son of David was to be sent “…by God specifically to the people of Israel to bring them salvation and deliverance by healing them of their diseases.”[2] Hence four out of the nine references to the ‘Son of David’ are given in the context of healing to support this theme (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31).

The idea of Jesus being sent specifically to Israel is also stressed. As Jesus sent out his twelve disciples on mission he instructs them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). However, though Jesus was indeed sent to Israel, as he personifies and reconstitutes Israel, he would also become a blessing to the nations fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). This appears to be the case in Jesus’ healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Though Jesus was sent to Israel, the blessings of theocratic rule would extend beyond Israel and to the nations.

Not only does Jesus’ healing ministry have implications of Jesus’ identity, it also has implications for the Kingdom of God. Matthew understands Jesus miracles as the inauguration of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:2-6; 12:28). McKnight also suggests the healing ministry is also connected to atoning sacrifice. Matthew understands Jesus’ healing ministry as a fulfilment of the image of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53. Cf. Matt 8:16-17

).  However, Matthew does not apply this passage to explain Jesus’ death. Instead, there is a clear foretelling of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as the Son of Man (20:28). It may be in this instance Matthew is using the title ‘Son of Man’ to refer to one who is authorised by God.[3] Again, these assertions add to the identity of Jesus, and his importance in salvation history.

4) Identification with Moses and Israel

          The identification with Moses implies the reconstituting of Israel by Jesus. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation (4:1-11) contains explicit allusions to the accounts of Moses. Just as Moses spent forty days and nights with God (Exodus 9:18), so Jesus now spends the same time being tempted. Unlike the original Israel that failed, Jesus does not fail thereby creating faithful Israel. The allusion continues as Jesus constitutes a new community (4:18-22) and reconstitutes the law (5-7). The reconstitution of the law, commonly known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, is fundamental to Matthew as Jesus dismisses Jewish tradition (5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43), restoring the standard of righteousness which he will fulfil as the new Israel for Israel.

5) Rejection of the religious establishment

The gospel of Matthew stresses the uniqueness of Jesus from Roman, and the Jewish religious establishment. As already has been noted, there was enmity between the Roman authority and Jesus shortly after his birth. The recording of Jesus coming from Nazareth and beginning his ministry in Galilee (4:12-13) would not have been viewed favourably by the religious establishment as inhabitants of Jeruselem despised the region – a sentiment echoed in John’s gospel (1:46).[4] Other examples of where the religious establishment would find Matthew offensive is in the instance of Jesus’ commendation of the faith of a Roman Centurion (8:10-11), and Gentiles being counted among his followers (4:24-25). Mathew also contains teaching which is explicitly against the religious establishment (5:20; 23:13-36).

All this demonstrates that though Jesus was not part of the religious establishment or Roman authority, he was nonetheless the fulfilment of Scripture and the continuity of the Old Covenant. Nine times in the gospel the life and ministry of Jesus are said to fulfil Scripture (Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 3:15; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54). These are included in the one-hundred and thirty plus references in the Old Testament – more than the other gospels.

Gospel of Luke

It is quite clear that Luke (the author of both the third gospel and Acts) is aware of other accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1:1), and he is not about to repeat the same emphasis. While Matthew’s main concern to show continuity from the Old Covenant to the person and ministry of Jesus, Luke’s main concern is to demonstrate the break away from traditional Israel, to a new covenant in Jesus and its applicability to the entirety of humanity. This is not to say Luke perceived the person and ministry of Jesus as having no connection with the Old Covenant. Though the gospel presents Jesus as distinct from the Old Covenant, it is still concerned to demonstrate the person and ministry of Jesus as a fulfilment of Scripture (2:23; 3:4; 21:22; 24:44), and in the recording of events which resemble events contained in the Old Testament. In this, Luke provides a universal presentation of the ministry of Jesus in the sense that it is not restricted to national Israel – this same theme prevails throughout Acts. The manner that Luke achieves this will be briefly considered.

1) The break from traditional Israel

The ministry of John the Baptist is contained in all four gospels, though Luke provides much more detail including the prophecies and circumstances surrounding his birth. It is the events surrounding John’s birth that are mentioned first, before the events that surround Jesus’ birth. The reasons for this are apparent when the circumstances of John’s birth are considered.

          Several key points concerning John and his parents, provide powerful allusions to several Old Testament identities through whom God performed extraordinary works which had a profound impact on the history of Israel. Luke informs his readers that Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years, and Elizabeth herself was barren (1:6). John, their promised son, was “…not to drink wine or strong drink.” (1:15). It was in these and similar circumstances that Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19), Joseph (Genesis 29:31; 30:25); Samson (Judges 13:2-5, 24), and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1, 20) were born. Hence Luke gives clues that God is about to do something different in the history of Israel. To be sure, John does not claim to be the Christ. Instead, the ministry of John was to testify to the one who was Christ (3:15). Similarly, Jesus was born of a childless woman, though not due to barrenness (1:34). Jesus confirms John’s ministry by recognising him as the last of the Law and the Prophets (16:16; 7:6-28). Hence John’s ministry serves as a transition between New and Old Covenants.

2) The universality of the Gospel

As Luke intends to demonstrate the universality of the gospels, he records a number of events not contained in the other gospels. These events involve people who would not be considered worthy.

          Luke records the people to receive the angelic proclamation of Jesus birth were shepherds (2:8-20). Shepherds were a despised class as Hendriksen remarks, “…because of the very nature of their occupation, to observe all the regulations of the Mosaic law-and especially all the man-made rules superim­posed on that law!”[5] Nonetheless, these were among the first people to learn of God’s actions and respond to them.

          Other reordering of social expectations can be found throughout the gospel such as chapter 18. In verses 9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector, exemplary of a just and unjust person, and reverses the expected outcome (v14). In verses 15-17, Jesus welcomes children who have no social status, and exemplifies them for those who would follow him (v17).[6] In verses 18-30, Jesus dialogue with a rich young ruler reveals that entry into the kingdom can not be gained by human effort,[7] and those riches, often associated with observant Jewish leaders, hampered people from entering the kingdom. Similarly, Jesus tells of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, and again, the expected outcomes are reversed (16:8-31). Jesus also warns against the entrapments of riches and comfort (6:24-26). To be sure, Luke is not asserting that the poor and oppressed enter the kingdom while the rich people are condemned. Following shortly after Jesus dialogue with the rich young ruler is the occurrence of a tax collector who is inherently rich, and is declared to be a ‘son of Abraham’ due to his repentance. Hence Luke is merely demonstrating those who would not be considered as being in the kingdom in fact are.

          Consistent with this theme is Luke’s treatment of the religious establishment. Though Luke records sayings of Jesus critical of attributes which may be true of religious authorities, there is no direct public criticism as there is in Matthew. Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:17-49), which appears as an abbreviated form of Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) does not contain any comparisons to the teaching of religious authorities, or ‘you’ve hear said’ statements (Matthew 5:17, 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). Luke also records Jesus as receiving hospitality from Pharisees and being able to gently teach (7:36-50), though later invitations would not be so hospitable (11:37-52). Hence Luke provides little basis to dismiss the possibility of the religious authorities from entering the kingdom of God.

All these theological themes of Luke serve to introduce Jesus’ final commission to the Disciples (24:48); which Luke will espouse in his second volume.

Both Matthew and Luke share much of the material. However, they use their material differently to establish their own purposes. It is important to consider these purposes for understanding the individual accounts and events which form each gospel.

Bibliography:

Bauer, David R.      ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L.      ‘Gospel of Luke’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William        Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978.

Hendriksen, William        Matthew. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

House, Wayne H.    Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, Academic Books, 1981.

Howard, Marshall, I.        ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Keeber, Craig S.      The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

McKnight, Scot.      ‘Gospel of Matthew’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Riesner, Rainer, D.  ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.


[1] Wayne H. House, Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, (Academic Books, 1981), 109-115. Totals my differ pending the definitions of ‘parable’ and ‘miracle’.[2] David R. Bauer, ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 769.[3] Howard, Marshall, I. ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 776.[4] Rainer, D. Riesner, ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 253.

[5] William Hendriksen, Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 149.

[6] Craig S. Keeber, The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992).

[7] William Hendriksen, Luke. 831.

October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Samuel 7 – The Davidic Covenant

Synopsis:

The following essay exegetes 2 Samuel 7. It maintains that the passage concerns the theological issues raised in the book of Samuel of Kingship and ‘rest’ and provides a theological program for them. The reasons for David’s desire to build the temple are explored, and are found to be based upon a secular understanding of temple, contrary to Yahweh’s covenantal purposes for Israel. The rejection of David’s proposal was due to its timing which leads to Yahweh gently rebuking David  and places the notion of ‘temple’ within a covenantal theology which requires the manifestation of ‘rest’. While the author of Samuel seeks to demonstrate that the requirement for rest was fulfilled by David, the final fulfilment of the promises will not realised by a political figure. Rather, these promises find their realisation in Christ.

—–

Throughout the book of Samuel (referring to 1 and 2 Samuel in their original form)[1] the transition from tribal league to monarchy takes place in Israel’s nationality. In this, any theological issues are raised. The main one being the fate of the previous covenants – Noahic (Genesis 9:9-17), Abrahamic (Genesis 15:18-19); Sinai (Exodus 19:3-6). Since Israel has rejected Yahweh as their King (1 Samuel 8:7), will his purposes as expressed in the previous covenants be fulfilled?

          It is this question that the Davidic covenant seeks to answer forming the theological pinnacle of the book (2 Samuel 7:1-16). Although the word ‘covenant’ does not appear in the account, the dialogue between Yahweh and David is nonetheless regarded as a covenant by other parts of Scripture (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:3, 34-36; 132:12; Jeremiah 33:21) and therefore 2 Samuel 7:1-16 needs to be regarded as a covenant.

The speech by Yahweh (vv6-16) was primarily intended as a rejection of David in response to his desire to build the temple. It is within this rejection that Yahweh’s covenantal purposes are preserved, and a theological program for Israel’s king is developed. By examining in detail Yahweh’s speech to David, and David’s response in prayer, the theological program for Israel and her monarch will be made clear. To understand David’s motives for wanting to build the temple, the events in chapter 6 leading up to the forming of the covenant need to be briefly examined.

          Chapter 6 records David’s capture of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a well fortified Canaanite city in the middle of the territory occupied by Israel. Although Jerusalem (or Jebus) had been conquered previously, Israel had failed to eradicate the inhabitants or sufficiently populate it themselves (Joshua 15:8; Judges 1:8; 19:11) thereby allowing it to become a Canaanite stronghold (2 Samuel 5:6). The capture of Jerusalem provided an ideal place for David to rule both northern and southern tribes as opposed to Hebron in the south. The bringing of the ark to Jerusalem was also advantageous in preserving the old traditions, and helped to ensure tribal loyalties.[2] Historical, the ark had been involved with Israel in the wilderness and finding places to ‘rest’ (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 1:32-33). Therefore, the movement of the ark into Jerusalem would have seemed to indicate a new stage of ‘rest’ for Israel (6:12-15).

It is this manifestation of rest which seems to motivate David to want to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:2). Even though his desires are not made explicit in 2 Samuel 7, they are made explicit in 1 Chronicles 28:2 and 2 Chronicles 6:7. Baldwin asserts that it was the monarch’s duty to build a temple for the god – “… anything less would be a snub to the god who had given him his victory.”[3] In this, Gordon says that David wanted “… to crown his external achievements with the erection of the temple to Yahweh who has granted him his victories.”[4] However, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was not permanent, secured ‘rest’. Notably, ‘rest’ in the unsecured sense is mentioned in other parts of Scripture (Joshua 11:23; 14:15). David’s task in this stage of Israel’s history was to make that rest permanent, as would be prophesied in the latter half of Nathan’s oracle.

It is because permanent rest had not been achieved that Yahweh refuses David as he asks the rhetorical question “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” Understood with 1 Chronicles 17:4, the rhetorical question carries with it negative connotations against David, emphasising his inadequacy to build.[5] The answer to Yahweh’s rhetorical question begins in v11b where the theme of ‘house’ is raised again. However, before the answer to the rhetorical question is given, a historical survey is given (vv6-9a), along with a covenantal theology in which the new covenant between Yahweh and David can be set.

          Yahweh begins the historical survey by appealing to the fact that he had never dwelt in house, nor had he commanded at any stage for a house to be built (vv6-7). Dumbrell states that “For some, the refusal is a prophetic affirmation of Israel’s conquest faith. The older nomadic faith could not entertain the proposal of a fixed residence for the Deity.”[6] However, such an understanding of the verses fails to take into consideration the entirety of the passage that goes on to anticipate the building of the temple, as Dumbrell goes on to point out (v13). This understanding also ignores Scripture’s great care not to locate God, as such that he may be contained. For instance, while Scripture declares that Yahweh’s throne is in heaven (Psalm 103:19), it also maintains that Yahweh is above heaven (Psalm 8:1; 57:11; 113:4). Therefore, just as the heavens cannot contain Yahweh (1 Kings 8:27; 1 Chronicles 2:6; 6:8) yet his throne is in heaven, so to the enthronement of Yahweh in a temple built by man must be considered.

          The problem was not the temple itself. Rather, it was the timing of David’s proposal. Yahweh had not commanded a house to be built because the time had not yet come. Beale, with his theology of temple, perceives before a temple can be built, the opposition must be defeated.[7] Though David had just defeated the Jebusites in chapter 6, there was much more land that needed to be subdued in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant.  As noted before, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was only a temporary rest which needed to be made permanent. This is the reason behind the rejection of David which is made clear in other parts of Scripture as being one who was preoccupied by war (1 Kings 5:3; 1 Chroniclers 22:6).

          Yahweh then goes to review David’s rise to power (vv8-9a). What is characteristic of these verses, along with the previous verses, is the reoccurrence of the personal pronoun ‘I’ followed by an event that has transpired. In this, Yahweh demonstrates that he is the one who has initiated everything that has happened.  None of it can be put down to human initiative. Therefore, neither would the building of the temple come as a result of human initiative. Yahweh would need to initiate the building of the temple, just as he initiated everything else.  It is in the following verses that the prerequisites for building are expounded and the program for the continuation of kingship is given.

The prerequisites for the building of the temple are given in vv9b-11. The allusions to the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants by mention of a great name, place and subjugation of enemies incorporate kingship into the covenantal framework. These promises are expounded further by the Psalmist in Psalm 89. The psalmist perceives the implications of what has been promised at this point in the covenant in declaring that Yahweh will sustain him, Yahweh’s anointed, against his enemies and subdue them (vv20-23). The mention of the exaltation of ‘his horn’ (v25) would also appear to be a reference to his strength and reputation. It would be through David that the promise of land given to Abraham would be fulfilled along with the anticipation of security in the Deuteronomic narratives (Deuteronomy 33:28). Through David, Yahweh would bring an end to the afflictions that Israel had suffered from the nation around her (Judges 2:18; 4:3; 6:9; 10:12). That David would be the fulfilment is evidenced by his actions against neighbouring nations, thereby providing national security and laying the foundation for a permanent rest (2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10).[8] Only in such a political climate can consideration be given to the building of the temple as a symbol of permanency.

Having established that the building of the temple will be as a result of Yahweh’s provision, and David’s responsibility is to make the ‘rest’ secure, Yahweh now returns to the question of ‘house’ (or temple. vv11b-16). In addressing the question, Yahweh declares that he will build David a house (v11b). In this, the word ‘house’ is played upon to give it the meaning of ‘dynasty’. Yahweh is indicating that he will build a dynasty, a royal line, for David in contrast to Saul’s whose line was cut short (1 Samuel 13:13-14). David is to have a son, and through this son, Yahweh’s promise to David of a dynasty will be fulfilled. His dynasty will have a permanence that will permit the building of the temple, as Yahweh declares “He is the one who will build a house for my Name…” (v13a)

          It is important to pause here and consider the phrase “for my Name”. In this phrase, Yahweh is asserting a correct theology of temple. The temple would not be where Yahweh would dwell. Rather, only his Name would dwell. This expression carries with it connotations of ownership thereby asserting Yahweh’s kingship over the land. Within this understanding, Yahweh’s imminence can co-exist with his transcendence.[9] So much so that Yahweh’s transcendence upon his temple does not always warrant the use of the formula of Yahweh’s Name. For instance, when David’s son, Solomon, built the temple as Yahweh had ordained, he spoke of Yahweh dwelling in the temple, only to later acknowledge the impossibility of Yahweh dwelling in the temple (1 Kings 8:13, 17).

          It is also important to consider the identity of David’s offspring (or ‘seed’ AV). As a reader under the covenant of Christ, the references to an everlasting throne and kingdom (vv13, 16), and the relationship between God and David’s offspring (v14), make it easy to the mistake ‘offspring’ is an exclusive reference to Jesus. However, it is difficult to see how the references of wrong doing and punishment apply with this understanding (v14). In Psalm 89, the Psalmist makes references to David’s offspring in plurality and not in the singular – “If his sons forsake my law…” (vv30-32). As Baldwin asserts “… the original implies not one generation but many.”[10] Therefore, ‘offspring’ needs to be understood as David’s descendants collectively, inclusive of Jesus.

          The kingdom promised to David’s son is to be an everlasting kingdom (vv14, 16). Initially, this seems to be contrary to the historical reality that the kingdom of Israel divided in 930 B.C., and the fall of Israel in 722 B.C. followed by the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.[11] However, it needs to be understood that what is being promised here in not a continual succession of Davidic kings. Rather, that Yahweh will always maintain the throne of Yahweh. As to what extent Israel’s king will enjoy the blessings of the promise will depend upon obedience (vv14-15).

          This aspect of accountability is reinforced by the father/son relationship the king was to enjoy with Yahweh. Again, this incorporates Israel’s kingship further into the Sinai Covenant. Historically, Israel has been addressed as Yahweh’s ‘son’ (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1), and these terms of sonship are now being applied to Israel’s King.[12] Just as Israel was liable to observe the Torah on account of exile (Deuteronomy 28:15, 25; 30:1-5), even though the nation of Israel was a fulfilment of Abrahamic Covenant which was also everlasting (Genesis 17:7), so to will the throne of Israel’s king be everlasting, though the king himself will be punished should he fail to observe the Torah as the Psalmist recognises (Psalm 89:30-32).

          It is this aspect of the promise of an everlasting throne that forms the basis for a hope of a return to the Davidic ideals. Despite having been taken into exile, the major prophets anticipated the day when Yahweh will set a descendant of David to rule over Israel (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15:16). However, such prophecy is not fulfilled by a King who merely restores the political status of Israel. Rather, the prophecies anticipate Christ who is the fulfilment of all covenantal theology (Matthew 5:17).

In his response in prayer, David recognises the significance of what has been promised him. David understands that the ramifications of what has been promised go far beyond national Israel. In response, David can only awe the magnificence of what Yahweh proposed to do through him, leading up to the perplexing statement “You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!” (ESV v19).

          Psalm 110, which is consistent with the time of David,[13] can be helpful in understanding this verse. The Psalm is introduced as Yahweh speaking to a superior of David (cf. Matthew 22:44-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 2:34-35) who “…will guarantee the political extension of Israel…”[14] in fulfilment of the covenant (Exodus 19:3b-6). In this, the unique and privileged identity of Israel is preserved as Yahweh’s covenant people (vv23-24), along with Yahweh’s kingship of Israel (vv24-26).

The Davidic Covenant therefore addresses the issues that have risen out of a diversion from Yahweh’s kingship to a secular state. The covenant incorporates the secular institution of kingship into the purposes of Yahweh paving the way for the Christ who would fulfil Yahweh’s covenant purposes.

Bibliography:

‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Anderson, A. A.    Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.

Dumbrell, W. J.  Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Beale, G. K.       The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Carlson, R. A.    David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964.

Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Dumbrell, W. J.  ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 May – August 1980, 40-47.

Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Soatini, Temanu. ‘The Relationship of the Davidic covenant to the Sinai covenant’. Disservice Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1997.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.


[1] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 19[2] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 230[3] Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 213-214[4] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 236

[5] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989), 118

[6] W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 147

[7] G. K. Beale, The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 63-64

[8] R. A. Carlson, David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, (Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964), 118-119

[9] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, 122

[10] Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 125

[11] ‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985)

[12] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 (May – August 1980), 45

[13] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46

[14] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment