Sadly it's a lot easier for me to write about current issues than the Bible. I'm going to begin a series of posts on the Gospels, and it's not going to be easy. I suppose it should be said that I am now of the conviction that you can't read Paul, John, Isaiah, or Moses without a bedrock understanding of the life, character, and words of Jesus as the Gospels reveal him. If you want a scholar's perspective, there are lots of better places to go than here. My hope is that, rather than offer brilliant, deep new insight into the Bible, I will be able to uncover the soil that is being tilled in me personally right now.
I'm going through the Gospels one by one, slowly, in search of "Jesus on his own," apart from theologians and interpretations. Of course all is interpretation, so I'm not getting it all that pure, just perhaps cleansing myself from some embedded assumptions that I've been bringing to Jesus for awhile.
In my favor is the fact that Jesus rarely speaks in a way that needs exegetes. Mysteriously perhaps, but not academically.
You would think that the "Word" of God had something to do with words.
There's a lot of them in Matthew, and a lot from the mouth of Jesus himself. And despite our best efforts to explain, theologize, or ignore Jesus' words in favor of God-knows-what from God-knows-where, they are there as a constant measure and foundation with which to work. With which we must work. The Alpha and Omega, inconveniently, speaks for Himself.
Matthew's Jesus doesn't seem to have much to say about predestination vs. free will, nor about how our churches need to be dressed up. Nor about charismatic vs. reform vs. liturgical. He's very opinionated, but not about the things that we want to be opinionated about. He stresses certain issues over and over that we wanted to ignore. He totally ignores other issues that we had elevated to near canonical importance. He makes the Way narrow. And he makes it shockingly hard. About which things he has an opinion should give us a clue to the Way he is forging.
The inconvenience begins with John the Baptist. Preaching repentance. Worse, it's not only repentance, but that there must be the fruit of repentance. This fundamental command will be an oft-repeated theme throughout the Gospels. In 4:17 Jesus himself begins his ministry with the same- "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (later in the chapter the miraculous healings begin...do the message and the miracles coincide by mere accident? I'm thinking not.) What I'm getting from the order of operations here is this: If there is to be any obedience to the laundry list of commands and standards that Jesus sets, there must be this first: that we change the way we think. And that Jesus himself is to be the gage and the standard for the change.
Backing up. Just before his ministry begins, he wanders off into the desert "to be tempted by the devil." To be? It had to happen? He did this with intent? Apparently, the guy has some serious confidence in where he's coming from. I mean, I'm often told by Christians not to go near anything that could lead to temptation. And as far as possibly brushing with demonic spirits, you're obviously seriously lacking in knowledge of the spirit realm, deluded and blind, maybe even compromised on true faith if you enter these situations. For most, rather than preach the Word believingly, it's much easier to manipulate circumstances in order to gain security and power. I'm struck that Jesus does not rely on "supernatural" strength, angels, or his divine nature to meet the devil. Nor does he avoid the confrontation. Instead, he speaks words. Little words that contain The Word, which is the mind-shaping principle of his human life. And this is sufficient to counter Satan's argument, and give his own temptable self the power to resist.
Notable: Of the three temptations, none of them are sexual in nature. Of course, when we refer to temptation, almost always implicit is that we're talking about falling into bed with each other, or looking up porn on the Internet. The temptations Jesus must face are to take political power, to prove the Father's presence and love, and to feed himself on natural food.
Matthew 5 is when the fastballs start coming. And they won't stop until the end of chapter 7. Egad, does he really mean this stuff? I mean, I'm pretty sure it's just all about "the heart," right?
Next: the Sermon on the Mount.