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“Humble Would Be How”–A Poem for Sunday of Passion Week

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“Humble Would Be How”
Passion Week 2015

In all the weeks that ever were,
None had begun like this:
The Nazarene sent men to find
A scene they must not miss–

A donkey tied beside a colt,
And both he needed now.
For Scripture said the King would ride,
And humble would be how.

He rode into Jerusalem
And heard the crowd proclaim:
“Hosanna be to David’s son,
And blessed be his name!”

“From Dust You Shall Arise”: Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

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I had the honor of contributing an article to the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT 18.4 [2014]). The journal focused this issue on “resurrection,” and just in time for Passion Week drawing nigh.

I wrote on resurrection hope in the Old Testament: “From Dust You Shall Arise” (pp. 9-29 of the journal).

 

Out of the Heart Comes Law-Breaking

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Typically the Ten Commandments are divided into ones dealing with our relationship to God (Commandments 1-4) and our relationship to others (Commandments 5-10). In Matthew 15, Jesus engages Pharisees who fail to see their law-breaking hearts. Over the course of the chapter, Jesus references the second category of the Ten Commandments, and in order.

15:5-6, “But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Later in the same chapter, Jesus tells his disciples, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (15:19).

Let’s take them one by one.

  • Fifth commandment: “honor” your parents
  • Sixth commandment: do not “murder”
  • Seventh commandment: do not commit “adultery” or “sexual immorality”
  • Eighth commandment: do not engage in “theft”
  • Ninth commandment: do not bear “false witness”
  • Tenth commandment: do not covet, which may be manifested in “slander” 

Jesus shows that breaking God’s law begins inwardly. The phrase “evil thoughts” confirms the inner source of the acts which follow it. Given the order of the commandments and their correspondence to the Old Testament list in Exodus 20, the reader may be surprised that the last word in 15:19 is “slander” rather than “covetousness.” Yet perhaps Jesus uses “slander” as a manifestation of covetousness. Since Jesus in some way alludes to Commandments 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, it is plausible to expect the final term to relate to Commandment 10, right?

Jesus’ words are a corrective challenge to the Pharisees’ complaint that his disciples break God’s law by not washing their hands when they eat (Matt 15:1-2). Countering the notions of the religious leaders, Jesus showed that keeping God’s law is fundamentally a heart issue. And if the Law of Moses is a mirror, we are all guilty of breaking it.

But the heart of Jesus was different. If the Law of Moses was a mirror, Jesus’ life perfectly reflected it. He never spoke or did what was evil. From his heart never came evil thoughts. Irrespective of washed or unwashed hands, in the midst of sinners Jesus was the only one truly clean.

Prophecy and Patterns: How Isaiah Prophesied about Jesus’ Religious Opponents

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Biblical prophecy doesn’t necessarily function as a direct prediction that meets a single exhaustive fulfillment. The Bible’s authors also considered patterns to be prophetic. Such patterns could have multiple fulfillments as time marched on.

Consider Matthew 15:7-9. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

In Matthew 15:7, Jesus introduced a quotation from Isaiah 29:13. Now if you dissect Isaiah 29:13 carefully, there is no indication that it is any direct prophecy. Isaiah didn’t mention Pharisees when he quoted Yahweh’s words for his eighth-century B.C. readers, yet Jesus told them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you.”

How exactly did Isaiah prophesy about the Pharisees? Jesus discerned Isaiah 29:13 to be a prophetic pattern. The Pharisees were a typological fulfillment of the kind of people Isaiah addressed, people who had fraudulent hearts. When Isaiah prophesied about those who worshiped in vain, his words applied to (or would be “fulfilled” in) anyone whose worship was also vain despite their lip-service and religious ritual. People in Isaiah’s day fit the pattern, people in Jesus’ day fit the pattern, and so do people in our day. This means we too should be warned, lest Isaiah’s words be “fulfilled” in us.

Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Raising the Dead

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In the Old Testament, there were three occasions when people died and were brought back to life. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, Elijah raised a widow’s son. In 2 Kings 4:18-37, Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son. And in 2 Kings 13:21, a dead man revived when his body was thrown into a grave with Elisha’s bones.

In the New Testament, Jesus raised a ruler’s daughter (Matt 9:23-25), a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus (John 11:38-44).

So far, if you’re keeping score, physical resurrections in the Old and New Testaments pan out like this:

  • Elijah, 1 person
  • Elisha, 2 people
  • Jesus, 3 people

The power of Jesus’ ministry surpasses the greatness of Elijah and Elisha. Like Elijah, Jesus raised a widow’s son (1 Kings 17; Luke 7), but the number of people raised by Jesus was greater than the number by Elijah. Jesus also raised more people than Elisha did. Furthermore, like Elisha, resurrection was associated with Jesus’ death, but in a greater scope. When a dead man was thrown into a grave and touched Elisha’s bones, that one body revived (2 Kings 13). But when Jesus died, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52).

Did Jesus Do Miracles as a Child?

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A second-century document known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas claims Jesus did miracles as a child. In it, Jesus makes clay birds and brings them to life, he causes a child’s body to wither, he strikes some neighbors with blindness, he resurrects a friend who died, and he heals his brother from a snake bite.

But when we look into the Four Gospels of the New Testament, we see reports about Jesus’ birth, a later visit by Magi, an escape to Egypt, a move to Nazareth, and an episode of his teaching in the temple when he was twelve (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2). No childhood miracles are reported at all. Not one healing, not one extraordinary feat.

At least two excerpts from the New Testament can be bolstered to argue that Jesus was not a wonder-working child.

  1. The miracle of turning water to wine. In Cana, Jesus attended a wedding where the wine ran out. After he made jars of water to become wine, the narrator said, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory” (John 2:11). The miracle was called his first. A reasonable implication from this is that working miracles was not a part of Jesus’ childhood.
  2. The visit to his hometown synagogue. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he made a visit to Nazareth and entered the town synagogue (see Matt 13:53-54). The response of the people included a reference to the miracles they’d heard about: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt 13:54-56). Their response expressed surprise. Nazareth was a small town with a synagogue, and they all knew Joseph and Mary and Jesus and Jesus’ siblings. And when Jesus was growing up, apparently the attitude in the synagogue wasn’t “This kid who works miracles is really going to be someone someday. Let’s see what happens with him!” Jesus seemed like every other kid, with parents and siblings, and from a small town as well. The questions from those in the Nazarene synagogue suggests that Jesus’ miracles (“these mighty works”) were unexpected and unprecedented. When the Nazarenes thought of the Jesus they knew, there was nothing extraordinary to say at all.

The Four Gospels do not reveal much about Jesus’ childhood. Luke tells us that as Jesus grew up, he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52). Wisdom, yes. Jesus demonstrated it as a twelve-year-old in the temple, which he called “my Father’s house” (2:47, 49). He also displayed obedience to his parents (2:51). But was he known as a miracle-working child growing up in Nazareth? No.

During his earthly ministry, when Jesus began performing miracles, they served as kingdom signs and signals. Prior to his public ministry, Jesus did not perform these mighty deeds. He was no wonder-working child. And this isn’t bad news, for the purpose of his miracles was never for amusement, convenience, boredom, or shock.

At the appointed time, however, Jesus would do and say all that the Father gave him to do and say (see John 5:19-20). Lepers would be cleansed, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lame would leap, the mute would speak, and the dead would live. Demons would be overcome, stormy wind would be stilled, crashing waves would fall flat, fish and bread would be multiplied, and a fig tree would wither. And then, when the appointed Hour arrived, sin would be atoned for, justice would be satisfied, the earth would quake, the temple veil would split, and graves would send back their dead.

7 Ways Genesis 1 Stands Out from Ancient Near Eastern Creation Accounts

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It is no secret that there are connections in Genesis to ancient Near Eastern creation accounts. Debate exists as to how that relationship should be explained, though that’s not the purpose of this post. I want to highlight seven elements in Genesis 1 that, when compared with other creation accounts from the Near East, shine brightly like diamonds on black cloth.

(1) There is one God in Genesis 1. This truth flies in the face of the ancient Near Eastern creation accounts which consistently speak of multiple deities. One God made the world.

(2) The one true God has no past genealogy. This too is different from creation accounts which speak of gods who were born because other gods came together. There never was a time when God was not.

(3) God is omnipotent. This all-powerful Being is superior to all he’s made, with no equal rivals. His power differs from gods in the ancient Near East who were restricted, vulnerable, and could be defeated.

(4) Creation happened according to God’s command. “Let there be,” he said, and there was. Gods of the ancient Near East often had to contend with creation, to wrestle with material and divine forces.

(5) God did not use already-existing materials when he began to create. By his power, he made everything from nothing. The gods of the Near East, however, relied on coexistent material (and even other gods) to create.

(6) God is majestic and set apart. Ancient Near Eastern accounts tell of immoral deities who acted in surly, immature, temperamental, undignified ways. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.

(7) God made creation “good,” even “very good.” No warfare, no skirmishes between gods, no tainted world. In Genesis 1, the Lord evaluated what he made and declared it good!

The creation account in Genesis 1 may stand out in other ways when you compare its language with other accounts from the ancient Near East, but the previous seven distinctions certainly are a start.