Sunday, January 30, 2011

Matthew 24: What I learned as a young Christian

I was saved on October 21, 1973. Unknown to me at the time, Israel was in the midst of fighting for its survival after being invaded by Egypt in the “Yom Kippur” war. I soon learned that Israel’s defensive wars against Arab invaders were understood by many Christians as prophecy fulfilled: “if you want to understand Daniel and Revelation, just read the newspaper,” was a commonly-heard expression. Armageddon was in the air.

The early 1970’s were also an active time for religious cults. The Moonies and Hari Krishna were skilled recruiters who of baby boomers disillusioned with their parents’ weak religion and materialism. The Moonies and an outfit called The Way International were active in Burlington, and I encountered them both as a potential recruit and as an intervenor when they tried to recruit believers even younger than I.

Which brings me to Matthew 24, one of the extended “end times” teachings of Jesus. As a teenager reading my Ken Taylor translation “Living Bible” New Testament over and over, I learned three things:

1)    Anyone who says he is the Second Coming of Jesus, isn’t. Unless he is coming on the clouds and attended by angels.

2)    No-one but the Father knows the day and hour Jesus will return. I was always baffled by the easy certainty with which some “biblical experts” asserted He would return by 1978. The message of the Word may have been “negative” on the subject, but it was clear.

3)    It was the job of all Christians, including me, to watch, serve, preach and if necessary suffer persecution. And wait.

I still don’t know much about the particulars of end-times prophecy. Revelation and Daniel and Matthew 24 tell me we are engaged in Game Seven of the World Series between eternal, sovereign good and eternal, wannabe sovereign evil, and that God bats last, and He will win it in the bottom of the ninth inning. How the rest of the game goes between now and then, I just don’t know. I’m just blessed and grateful to be in the game.

Matthew 23: Seven Woes for a Modern Pharisee

    13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

Sorry, but I don’t have time to hold open the door to the Kingdom of Heaven for people. I’m too busy earning my fortune, polishing my civic image, and being active in church. My goal is to have the most impressive obituary in town.

   15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

What are you talking about, Jesus? I don’t lift a finger to convert anybody.

   16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

What I hold sacred is my own well-being. I tell the truth when I need to because I’ll be fired or sued if I don’t. Heaven, temples, and altars got nuthin’ to do with it.

   23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

“C’mon I go to church, I blog about the Bible five days a week, I don’t have time for justice and that other stuff. Anyway it sounds suspiciously liberal.”

   25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Who you callin’ blind, Jesus? Don’t you see what’s about to happen to you? You’ll never see me carrying any cross. I’m taking the right steps, slapping the right backs, saying the right things. I’m going places.

Man – sometimes I think I just don’t know you.

   27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Jesus, sometimes whitewash is beautiful. As long as no-one knows about my mistress and the money I’m making on the side, what’s the harm? Anyone who counts either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

   29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

Jeremiah and I would have liked each other. Neither of us have anything good to say about anyone.

   33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

Is the world really so wicked? Except for martyred Christians in persecuted countries and jailed opponents of PC politics in the west, I can’t think of any shed blood of the righteous. Unless of course you’re all worked up about 60 million abortions….Anyway, since when am I their keeper? Anything I do for them is strictly “extra credit.”

   37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]

All those Jews and Arabs killing each other in Jerusalem. Glad they’re not my problem. See you later, I've got important things to do and important people to impress, right here in the good old rock-solid U.S. of A.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Matthew 22 - You Don't Tug On Superman's Cape.....

You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
and you don't mess around with Him

That's my version of the old Jim Croce song that says you should never try to play Theological Gotcha with Jesus. That is the old, usually pointless game in which competitors ask leading questions that mystery-challenged theologians from Augustine to Zwingli have puzzled over without solving: sovreignty of God vs. free will, exact circumstances of Christ's return, etc. In Matthew 22, religious institutionalists - self-appointed Masters of the Game - dropped three zingers on him, and then had the tables turned when Jesus asked one of his own.

The Pharisees asked 1) can a godly man pay taxes to Caesar, 2) how can there be a resurrection if it will result in celestial adultery, and 3) what is the greatest commandment? Did they really want enlightenment? Apparently not - they were "testing" him (v. 35). But the answers of Jesus "amazed" and "astonished" them, so naturally they got out of Dodge (v. 22) rather than mutter, "maybe you've got something there, Jesus, I never thought of it like that."

Groupthink bullies, whether at the Temple two millenia ago or at a large workplace near you, when successfully challenged tend to shut up, hide, and plan their revenge for another day. Which is exactly what the S, P & S (scribe, Pharisee and Sadducee) gang did.

Nevertheless we are glad they asked their questions, because we learn not only good truths from Jesus but also take heart at their authority and originality. Our Lord really does have the goods, doesn't He?

The kicker is when he asks them: so how is it that (Psalm 110) David says, the LORD (Jehovah) asks my lord (Adonai "master"), sit at my right hand? I mean, who ever could David be talking about? And even more scary - who are the footstooled enemies? No wonder that after that "no one dared to ask him any more questions."

A word to the wise from the Only Wise God: Ask Jesus whatever you will, he doesn't mind. As long as you really want the answers for the Kingdom's sake. But if you're just playing an unending game of Gotcha, you'll lose every time. And for all time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Matthew 21 - And the cursed fig tree stands for.....

Jesus heals the sick and lame in the temple, and the Pharisees who were supposed to nurture Israel.....didn't.

Jesus compares the scribes and Pharisees to a son who said he would obey the father, but....didn't.

Jesus then compares the scribes and Pharisees to vineyard workers who were supposed to take care of their master's vineyard, but.....didn't.

So when a hungry Jesus looks for breakfast from a fig tree that was supposed to bear fruit but....didn't -

He cursed it. Call it the Sign of the Fig Tree. People, like trees, are called to bear fruit of compassion, obedience, and faithfulness. All we like fig trees have gone astray, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Matthew 20 – Who Will Be "The Greatest"?

The mother of James and John asked Jesus to place one son at his right hand and the other on the left when he came into his Kingdom. Sensing a wide disconnect between the disciples’ ambitious self-entitlement and what He knew the recipient of this honor must first endure, Jesus laid out the qualifications for sitting on his right and left hand in Glory:
1.       Disqualifier:
-          criticizing God’s grace and favor shown to others (v. 16)
-          Lording authority over others (25-26)

2.       Doesn’t matter:
-          Length of service (v. 12)

3.       Qualifier:
-          Drink the cup that Jesus would drink: betrayed, mocked, flogged and crucified (v. 19)
-          Be a servant (26)
-          Be a slave (27)
-          Give your life so that others would be delivered (28)
An employment ad might read:
"WANTED: Two persons to sit at right and left hand of Jesus in His Kingdom. Numerous years of ministry experience not essential. Applicant must not seek any worldly power or authority. Must be a servant and/or slave and eventually be betrayed, mocked, flogged and crucified, doing all with a loving willingness to give one's life to deliver others."
Here I am Lord, send me!
Honestly now - that is just NOT me. I'd be a better candidate for the Russian women's gymnastic team. But - at the risk of sounding howlingly hypocritical to those who know me all too well, I pray, "Lord, lead me, your servant to the world around me - show me the next thing you want me to do, and then show me the next thing after that. I rely on your gracious direction and empowerment to drink the cup you want me to drink, be it sweet or bitter." 

So, who WILL sit at His right or left hand?

Maybe an American slave who willingly suffered beatings at the hands of his pious slavemaster that in the twisted "law" of the plantation deserved to go to another slave who hated him - and did it because it's what he thought King Jesus wanted him to do.

Maybe a Moslem or Hindu who trusted Christ knowing she would be burned to death, and died in the flames forgiving the family members reviling her as she endured their torment.

Maybe a Rich Young Man who gave his money away and spent the rest of his shortened life on the street, begging food and washing floors and giving away his time, talent, treasure, status and comfort to street people who called him a fool, except for the few who were delivered from Satan's grasp into the Kingdom of Light. 

I guess we'll find out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Two Ways of Looking at the Rich Young Man

Matthew 19 - The Rich Young Man

The cynic is me pictures the story ending this way. A smooth, well-dressed man sidles up to Jesus, puts his arm around his shoulder, gives the Master his most sincere look of concern, and says:

"Jesus, as one ministry leader to another, let me give you a word of exhortation, brother: you missed a golden opportunity, and I do mean golden. Look at your operation - gleaning wheat from fields, catching the occasional fish, depending on your camp following women for support - you need to take it to the next level. And here, right in front of you, an idealistic young rich man is practically begging to give you his money! You almost got it right, what you SHOULD have told him is this: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and follow me by giving me the money." If anyone complains, drop your "The poor will be with you always, but you will not always have me" line on them - that's perfect for that situation."

Jesus probably would have responded with what he often told hypocritical takers: "You have already received their reward." If not something stronger in the "brood of vipers" vein. But he loves generous givers, and he hoped he might find one in the Rich Young Man. What a gift Jesus offered him, that for mere money he could change his identity from minion of the world to citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven. That's like immigration's new EB-5 program, except more so.

The non-cynic in me remembers two giving saints who said "yes", both of whom have gone on to inherit 100 times more and then some. Pop Fenwick was a school janitor and an early member of North Avenue Alliance Church. When the young North End congregation wanted to build its first building, Pop Fenwick mortgaged his house. The large sum, freely offered and given, put the effort "over the top." Years later, yours truly was saved in the "House That Pop Built." I also think of Agnes Kerr, a young woman who gave not money but her life's work to the Vietnamese people as a missionary. Years later she was my French teacher and an early influence on my development as a young Christian. She never married, but she had many "children" in the faith - I hope that in Glory now she is enjoying their company.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Guest Post" from Tim Steiner of Isle La Motte re: the Transfiguration - a "must read"

Dear One Year New Testament Blog readers:

Tim Steiner of Isle La Motte, a dear brother and one of the original "Jesus People" of the Bethel Commune in downtown Burlington in the early 1970's, has submitted this commentary on the Transfiguration. Insightful and well worth the effort to read....and by the way, all readers are welcome to contribute your thoughts. I would like this blog to be a forum of edification for all OYNTB readers and writers.

The Transfiguration always sneaks up on me in that each time I consider it, new shafts of light emerge.

On obeying the Word, one day I was considering how to validate charismatic words that entered my prayer life, when it came to me how sure I could be of words that were the Word itself.  I can always count on "Abide in Me" being a sure word for all circumstances, for instance.

Some facts that always leap at me from the Transfiguration.  Your thoughts made me think more of the Father in the scene.  He Who cannot be seen speaks directly to men from within a visible manifesation of himself.  It has only happened a few times.  Then the Son Who is the Center of the whole event.  He has taken the three disciples apart from the rest of the world, up on to a mountain, a place where the normal traffic of "path of least resistance" folk--the great majority--never bother to go.  Of course, having all power and knowing all things, it is not at though any human might wander into this scene casually anyway.

Then, there are not three humans with the Son of God Incarnate, but there are Moses and Elijah are providentially invited.  The last time we saw Moses was when he departed to the top of the mountain to die.   There, we are told God buried him so that he could not be found after the devil contended to take his body.  But, now he is here, alive and having this once-in-all-eternity-foreordained-forever discussion with the Lord about the upcoming crucifixion.  God is "not the God of the dead but of the living."  Moses is quite alive, sentient, reasoning and discussing.  Elijah is also ordained to this meeting.  He is one of but two men of whom the Scriptures declare that he was taken to Heaven without death.  Moses, on the other hand, unless he has been granted a dispensation we do not know of, has not come down from Heaven with the bodily Elijah, but has come up from Hades as a soul just as Samuel came up to speak to Saul...the only allowed necromancy in all of Scripture, at God's will, as the poor medium was freaked completely by something her imitating demons had never provided...the real thing.  Yet, Moses has clearly been in communion with God in the Paradise of Hades, and is "in on" the discussion of the impending crucifixion.  The disciples don't seem to notice or report any difference between Moses and Elijah as to their states of being...only being privy to the fact that the Lord and the two of them were discussing upcoming events.

Three quaking mortals, one with the "presence of mind" to try to contribute insight to which God the Father corrects with the right understanding of the scene:  "This is my Son (be still!) and listen to him."  One mortal who has died but is quite alive.  One mortal who has not died (and may or may not need to in the future), but who has been in Heaven, soaked in glory, and in the Presence of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and all the holy angels whilst still, apparently, flesh and blood--though the blood may be permanently altered to the substance called "glory;" we just don't know the fullness of his estate. 

By the way, at that point, only he and Enoch are the only naturally born men to occupy Heaven as the rest of the saints remain in the Paradise chambers of Hades.  Why is Enoch not also there?  "Bye and Bye," we shall have answers to that.  BUT WHAT A SCENE!

Best part is likely we shall all behold the scene in the Eternal Present as part of that "great cloud of witnesses."  Maybe, then, we will see that we were all there, too, maybe comprising the glory cloud that hides the Father.  Whew!

Friday, January 21, 2011

To anyone who would harm a child.......

In Matthew 18:10, Jesus says:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

Here is what I think. I think that when big folks hurt little folks just because they can, there are Much Bigger Folks who will, sooner or later, exact justice. Maybe in this life, certainly in the next. Repent ye therefore and believe. You've been warned.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Matthew 17: What the Transfiguration means to me

Today, I read the story of the Transfiguration over breakfast and thought about it all day long. I asked myself, what is this story's most important "takeaway" message for me, personally. Driving through Winooski hours later, it struck me:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

God told the disciples back then: "Listen to him." God told this disciple today: "Listen to him." So I will try to listen to him, and not settle for only the distorting filter of nature, the kind word of a friend, and books about him. I want to hear directly from God's son. The best way for me, right now, to do this is to continue to read the gospels daily with eyes to see and ears to hear.

I must listen with a good servant's commitment to understand and obey his Master. The Pharisees asked plenty of questions, but in this sense they didn't "listen to him."

I must listen to him even if he tells me my beloved country must repent in ways that will sound strange to me and my conservative friends.

I must listen to him even if obedience means not defending myself when others criticize unfairly (oh boo hoo!).

I must listen even if he tells me to give away my treasure without getting any glory for it.

I must listen with perseverance, resisting the temptation to stop after 2 seconds and start building my personal equivalent of Peter's silly shelters. Write songs? Write letters? Write a blog?

I must listen.....and believe he is talking about me when he says "if you hear these things, blessed are you if you do them."

This is big, holy talk.

How daunting is the big, holy cross of the ramifications of "listen to him." And yet I know he does not only challenge. There will be support and love and understanding that is literally beyond human comprehension. 


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Matthew 16: the sign of Jonah, and my brother makes a fool of himself

from Andrew's journal - 
Today the Master sounded sad after the Pharisees demanded a sign even though they clearly wouldn’t follow the Master if the birds of the air wrote his name in the air in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Instead he said they would only see the Sign of Jonah. Everyone knows that story, about the self-righteous Jew sent out against his will to preach repentance to a militaristic empire that would eventually destroy and enslave Israel. Was he saying Rome might do likewise to Israel? And whatever could spending three days entombed inside a fish mean?

And Peter, my brother……oy. Leave it to Peter to tell the Master His business. When we were kids he was always tell the farmers how to grow wheat better and us kids how to get what we want from our parents. He always meant well, but it usually didn’t end well, because his high opinion of himself got in the way. But like me he is a disciple of the master and a child of the Kingdom – what this bodes for him, God only knows. Perhaps his cross will be learning just how weak his arrogance makes him.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Matthew 15: the bottom line is money; Jesus astonished, again

Gotta admire those Pharisees, they know how to keep their eye on the money. No matter how often they wash, their hands are dirty with money that should be going to the aged and infirm. I don't want to make a social issue out of this, but it is clear that Jesus wants the old and infirm well provided-for in dignity and love. The Pharisees were more interested in building their own retirement fund, and they had a clever investment plan: get the fish to "give money to God" instead of supporting their parents. Hey, what could be more important than giving to God, right? No doubt there are well-advertised perks and advantages in this world and the next that accrue to such generous givers. And Mom and Dad? No doubt God will take care of them, too - just have faith.

The more I read Matthew, the more convinced I am that Jesus (like Isaiah and Amos and other prophets before him) were telling Israel that God is heartily sick of religion without love informed by God's law. The  awful corruptions coming out of the heart of man are hidden in false piety. Adultery: 'Let me pray with you, sister." Murder: "Slay the infidels." Theft: "It's okay to take the Indians' land because they are heathen Canaanites and we are the Israel of God." The heart of man is desperately wicked and self-deceived. Lord give us grace to choose.

P.S. notice that Jesus appears surprised, again, by the faith of a Gentile seeking a miracle. How refreshing it must be to him, and how challenging to the decadent children of Israel watching the exchange. God is pleased by faith, not lineage.

Matthew 14: Just you wait, Herod.....

Poor Herod. The mighty king believes he controls life and death. Yet he is manipulated into murdering John the Baptist by two scheming women. Then his guilty conscience makes him think that Jesus is a resurrected John the Baptist, empowered by God to do great miracles.

Herod, you murderous, self-deceived old fox: keep your eye on this Jesus of Nazareth. If you're worried about a wrongfully-executed Jewish prophet coming back from the dead and doing such great wonders that your authority is threatened, YOU AIN'T SEEN NUTHIN' YET!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Matthew 13: Deep Soil, Deep Theology

In the Parable of the Sower and Seed, aka the Four Soils, Jesus touches on not one but two of the Conundrums of the Faith - those really tough questions that make one wonder how God can be loving, just and omnipotent. 

First question: in a universe ruled by a loving God, why does he allow dreadful things to happen to people?

Note the explanation for the Rocky Soil - the believer with no roots who withers when afflicted by scorching trials. So flip that around - let's say a plant instead has sunk deep roots into good soil and is drinking good water. Does the sun still wither it? No - in fact, sun is essential to its growth. In the same way, the trials that would wither a believer without roots are actually essential to healthy growth in the believer with roots sunk deep into the Word and drinking from the springs of Living Water. As sunlight is a catalyst for growth under the right conditions, trials are an opportunity to trust the Word and rely on the Spirit.

Second question: does God want everyone to be saved?

In his explanation of why he speaks in parables, Jesus seems to answer the above question with a flat no. He seems to say that the Kingdom is meant for some people and not for others: "the knowledge of the secrets of heaven has been given to you, but not to them."

But upon reading the rest of the chapter, which is all about who makes it, who doesn't, and why, I hear him saying something like this: People make their own choices, and thus are their own judges. The person who won't make a token effort to understand a parable of Jesus doesn't have a Kingdom-seeking heart. Parables are like the shepherd's call: if you are ever hearing, understanding and responding, that's how (or at least one way) you know you are a sheep of his flock and under his protection. "My sheep know my voice."

God sovereignly chooses us, the sheep of his flock. In his inscrutable wisdom he allows us to choose Him also. I still don't "get it", but in the pages of the Bible, from beginning to end, mankind is asked by God to choose Him. The message is insistent and I must believe our ability to respond, or not, to God's calling is no mirage.

Matthew 12: "I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice: The Sequel"

Dear blog reader:

Today's storyteller is Guy, not Andrew. So this morning (Saturday) I woke up, made myself a hearty breakfast, and then settled down to read Matthew 12 and write this blog entry.

In Matthew 12, Jesus is starting to repeat himself, because the Pharisees aren't getting the message. So for the second time he quotes Hosea 6:6 at them: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." It is the Sabbath. His hungry disciples eat a few pieces of grain on the sabbath; the well-fed Pharisees wag their fingers. He heals a man with a shriveled hand; more finger-wagging about rule-breaking. He drives a demon for one of its victims, and is accused of being the Prince of Demons.

In response, Jesus advises them - at times in the same tone that a police officer "advises" a gun-toting suspect to drop the gun and raise his hands - that the God they profess to serve better than anyone else cares less about their religious sacrifice and more about them helping needy people. I've said it in a wussy way; Jesus didn't.

So, back to my real-life, Saturday morning. As I am firing up the laptop to deliver these pearls of wisdom to my thousands of breathlessly waiting readers, my wife - hungry, physically impaired, and not always able to attend religious services due to her health - wakes up and asks me for help. And my first thought is:

"Rats, now how am I going to finish my bible-reading blog entry?!"

God sees the nations, and laughs. In a sad kind of way, like the Dufflepuds of Narnia, we can be pretty funny.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Matthew 10 - From Andrew's Journal: Thoughts Upon Being "Sent Out"

Entry from Andrew’s Journal: I have been sent out

So much has changed since my last entry. Yesterday I awoke as just Andrew, Peter’s quiet little brother. Today I awoke as….as….well,  SAMSON, filled with power to conquer the enemy. I am ELIJAH, healing the sick and raising the dead and preaching to kings. I have seen and done things that weeks ago were inconceivable and yesterday were conceivable only when done by the Master himself. But he sent us out with orders to do these things and WE HAVE DONE THEM. Praise God!

But no, that’s not quite right…or at least it’s not everything.

Yesterday I woke a disciple. Today, I woke an apostle. I went from learning about the kingdom to telling others about it. They truly are the lost sheep of Israel. Some hear the master’s voice, and follow Him. But most just wander around even when they hear the clear teaching and see the healing and deliverance. I am learning from the Master to treat them with gentleness and patience.

But that’s not all, either.

Yesterday I awoke a disciple. Today, I awoke a servant. Once I could just sit and learn. Today, I still sit and learn but I also stand – and kneel – to serve.  I am learning that a servant should never expect better treatment than his master, and that the Master himself expects opposition. Even hatred. That preaching to kings I mentioned above – it will happen after I am arrested. Most of all I am grateful that, no matter what, my name is written in the book of life.

I will learn of the Kingdom. I will teach the Kingdom. And I will work and submit and suffer as a servant of the Master’s Kingdom must. Disciple, Apostle, Servant, and yet still Peter’s little brother Andrew  - this is my calling, and my choice. Praise God.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Matthew 9 - Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Matthew 9

When a pack of pharisees kvetched about the moral character of Jesus' dinner companions, he invoked Hosea 6:6 when he said, "go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'."

So I went. I went to Hosea and learned that his word for mercy is "hesed", translated elsewhere as "love" and meaning right conduct towards your neighbor and God. Sacrifice refers to the religious ritual of giving offerings, presumably to God.

The religious establishment considers sacrifice a win-win. When they do it, they feel superior; when others do, they get rich. Hesed doesn't really figure into it. The whole operation could go on quite nicely without a whiff of it.

On the other hand, hesed is a win-win for humanity and God. Because when they do hesed, they will sacrifice - really sacrifice, really lay down their lives. Even for tax collectors. And as always, God leads the way: "for God so heseded the world, that he sacrificed his only begotten son." Or something like that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Matthew 8: The man who astonished Jesus

Click here for Matthew 8

Hard to imagine an astonished Jesus. This is "The Word Made Flesh" we're talking about. And yet Jesus was "astonished" when a Roman centurion confidently predicted Jesus could heal his servant without even touching him because, frankly, a Roman army officer knew real authority when he saw it.

I don't think Jesus was astonished at the concept of healing faith. What astonished him was hearing it from a Roman.

Like hearing your toddler say, "It's January, let me download Turbotax for you."

Or hearing your teenager say, "Someday I too will be a parent of teenagers; can you give me a few good pointers?"

What you're hearing is wonderful, it's music to your ears. It's a shockingly unexpected sign of good things to come.

There's hope for me yet.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Matthew 7 - Planks A Lot

Click here for Matthew 7

Yesterday a dear Christian friend and I had a sharp disagreement. It got personal and painful, fast. I was upset and disconnected for the rest of the day and as I opened my Bible last night for another installment of one-year reading, I asked God if there were anything in all of that teaching about the Kingdom that would help me out. I doubted it.

Shouldn't have. The son of a carpenter (so he should know, right?) told me,

"How can you you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

My friend and I were both suffering from Tabula In Oculus Morbus (Plank in Eye Disease), a common spiritual condition in which the patient suffers from a lack of information, understanding, and/or compassion yet still renders harsh, inaccurate, and hurtful judgements. The appearance of the planks vary from person to person. The plank of pride looks sleek and gorgeous to its owner, but just oversized to everyone else. The plank of bitterness is rough and splintered, causing pain to owner and acquaintance alike. The plank of self-interest usually looks both warped and indistinguishable from its owner. Appearance aside, they all have the same function: to blind the owner while making him look rather silly, too (except to himself). Full-blown, it can lead to death. The remedy for Tabula In Oculus Morbus is immediate and complete removal. Unfortunately, no other person can perform the actual operation, it must be done by the patient himself.

So now I must acknowledge my planklessness to my friend and seek forgiveness. How grateful I am that Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom includes dealing with real human conflict.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

January 8 - Matthew 6 - Andrew's diary

See Matthew 6 online

Dear Diary:

As I wrote a little while ago, I once followed John, the baptizing prophet. John was usually right, and he sure was when he said he wasn't fit to untie the Master's sandals. No-one is. At last I have met a truly holy man. There has never been anyone like him.

The events of the day were so memorable I have asked my fellow disciple Matthew to write them down for me. Matthew was a tax collector once and they are great ones for writing down facts correctly, if only so they know how much someone really owes before they double it.

But Matthew isn't like that, anymore. He is what the Master calls a son of the heavenly father and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Master today continued to teach us about living in the Kingdom. As best as I can understand it, our lives won't look very different on the outside. We get up, get dressed, eat, go to work, earn money. We pray, we give to the needy, we fast. Most of us have been doing this stuff all of our lives.

What's different is how we are doing it, and why. When we get dressed, we don't worry about having fancy clothes or looking right or making enough money to keep buying the fancy clothes. According to Jesus, the flowers look just fine to God the way He has dressed them. And since our heavenly Father loves us more than these flowers, he will keep us looking just fine too. So we needn't worry about it. And we don't have to worry about what we eat or drink, because God loves us more than the birds, and he feeds them, too. Kingdom people have more important things to focus on than worrying about food and clothing.

My friend Forrest liked that part especially. As we were walking down the mountain, he turned to me and said, "He said we don't have to worry about money no more. That's good. One less thing."

As for the religious stuff - the praying and fasting and giving - boy did the Master ever poke the Pharisees in the eye for their "look at me" religion. He said God is invisible and we must pray and give and fast in secret. "Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." He said that three times. Makes sense doesn't it? If God sees and hears all, what do I care if people see my charity or hear me talking to him? But that's the Master's Kingdom - secret, but sensible.


P.S. Even Peter kept his mouth shut and listened.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chapter for January 5 - Matthew 5 - Sermon on the Mount: Jesus didn't tell people to go to church....

click here to read Matthew 5

Ever noticed how Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount telling his disciples who THEY are? Very little about God, Jesus or the Bible. Instead he tells them who they are. He gives them their identity.  

For example, he says to them, you are the light of the world. Imagine Andrew thinking, "light of the world? I'm not even the light of my family. Peter gets all the attention, I'm in his shadow. And yet, and yet.....this is who he says I am. What does He mean?"

One answer (of many) was shared recently on Facebook by my friend Pastor Mike Murray of United Christian Assembly in Jericho: "Jesus didn't tell people to go to church. He told the church to go to the people."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jan. 4's Chapter – Matthew 4 – the Great Temptation

Did Satan really think he had a chance in His Ever Lasting Lock-up of convincing Jesus to worship him by offering him lordship over the nations of the earth in all their splendor? I mean, what was the supposedly Supreme Tempter thinking?

Well, it’s just speculation, but here’s my two cents. Satan and Jesus both knew what a terrible hash mankind had made, and would continue to make, of government. The injustice and oppression that delighted Satan saddened and infuriated Jesus, and all the more so because in just a few short years, they would be done in his name. And so like Lord of the Rings' Galadriel and Gandalf and their temptation to seize the Ring, Jesus faced a temptation unknown to the average man: if your motive for seizing power is to make things right, the end will justify the means.

Jesus told him to get lost. Then he walked the road of pain and suffering that led to the creation of an eternal Kingdom of Heaven – one in which love is the only law.

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 3 - Matthew 3 - John may be weird, but what if he's right?

John the Baptist. You’ve seen this guy. He wears funny clothes and stands around preaching way serious about unquenchable fire and The Judgment.

His behavior is annoying, embarrassing, and out-of-place. If he knows, he doesn’t care. He is a prophet.  Right here on our street. Criticize him, turn my back on him, either way he calls me a snake fleeing the wrath to come.

Can he be right?

Why am I the only person on the street taking him seriously?

What seemed like an irrelevant nuisance suddenly strikes me as the one way to avoid certain judgment, for myself and for our nation. My heart is so warm. This man and his God care nothing about my worldly status and everything about my eternal welfare. What shall I do? Then he says:

“Repent – for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And so I do. My name is Andrew. And my adventure has just begun.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Matthew 2 - Herod or Joseph: which am I?

Matthew 2 shows a battle of life and death between two very different men, both of whom I at times resemble:

Herod. Proud of his position. Angry when crossed. Deceitful when it serves his purposes. Sacrifices children, including his own, on the altar of jealousy and power. A clever opportunist who embraces and perpetuates the "way of the world."

Joseph. Of the royal line of Judah, but not hung up about it, or about speaking his mind or getting his own way. When God speaks, he listens. As God directs, he acts. Aware of real threats to his family, he protects his wife and children.

By God's grace I choose the way of Joseph. That's what I see, friends - your insights are welcome in the "comments" below.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 1, 2011 - Matthew 1

Welcome, brothers and sisters, to the One Year New Testament Blog.

Reading the New Testament from cover to cover in a year can be a solitary, at times challenging experience. To provide incentive for myself and others, I have created this blog. It is open to all, and especially to those who have resolved to read the New Testament through for 2011. Your thoughts are welcome! Until I have refined this blog to receive posts from others, I encourage you to share them in the "comments" section.

Speaking for myself, as one of many participants, I expect to keep my comments brief and to the point. If you're looking for exhaustive, learned commentary - you won't get it from me! But if you enjoy sharing and receiving with a fellow trekker on the year-long journey through the New Testament, you may find this blog helpful. If you do, please share it with other regular readers of God's word.

Thanks to, you can read today's chapter here .

Today's thoughts on Matthew 1 -

Our favorite Christmas card this year came from Arnold and Paula  Baizley. It says:

"If our greatest need have been information,
God would have sent an educator.

If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money,
God would have sent us an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.

 But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a savior."

I thought of this card as I read the genealogy of Jesus. Frankly, it is a mixed bag. There are some sorry characters there. A very quick count shows at least three actual or would-be murderers: Judah (would have killed Joseph), David (had Uriah killed), and Manasseh (sacrificed his own son to a false god). Jacob the trickster, Solomon the compromiser, the list goes on and on. It is true that like the sinner writing this post, most of the forefathers of Jesus had some godly qualities. But none had redeeming qualities - else they would not have needed a savior. And hallelujah, WHAT a savior!

Lord Jesus, through 2011 I look forward to learning of you and from you and through you as I work out your great salvation for me.  

Guy Page
Cambridge VT