A Literary Look at Luke 9

I’m learning to read the Bible as a piece of divinely inspired literature. It’s been a real paradigm shift from the set of “here’s how to understand the Bible” rules with which I grew up.  The story that Luke 9 shares is pretty amazing when one looks at it in light of the entirety of scripture.

In Luke 9:18, Jesus asks for the latest gossip on who people say that He is. Some of the proposals are, John the Baptist (come back from the dead), Elijah, or maybe one of the OT prophets. Peter then nails it when he says, “You are the Christ.” Good job Peter! It is interesting that directly following the identification by Peter… Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer, be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Notice he doesn’t mention the manner of death… but in his next statement He says that his followers must deny themselves and take up their crosses daily (Luke 9:23). He then says it’s not worth it if someone gives up his soul in an attempt to gain the whole world… an offer proposed to him by Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4:5-7).

Luke 9:28-36, the next story in Luke’s gospel, is the transfiguration… where Jesus is up on a mountain with Moses (the “prophet of old”), and Elijah. I can just hear Jesus encouraging his disciples to take a picture. See… I’m not Elijah… cause he’s right there. And by the way… I’m also not a prophet from the OT… like maybe Moses… cause he’s right here. They start talking about the “exodus” that Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Moses lead his people out of the slavery of Egypt. Jesus’ exodus was to be accomplished at Jerusalem. It had become the new symbol of spiritual slavery on earth. Then a cloud forms at the top of the mountain and everyone walks into it.

Did I mention that Jesus’ name is really Joshua? Its a confusing set of circumstances that got us to how we translate His name into the English language as “Jesus”… but his name is “Joshua”. That little gem should make this whole transfiguration scene a little more familiar. Continue reading “A Literary Look at Luke 9”

Did You Want the Long Answer?

I have two sons… and sometimes they have short attention spans. When they ask me a question, they usually want the “short answer”, but a father’s wisdom can’t always be expressed in just a few short words.

There are times when I recognize the elusive “parental teaching” opportunity. In these situations, a question that could have received a relatively short answer… often turns into a hour-long discussion.  By the end of the discussion, we’ve talked so long that no one even remembers the original question.

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Archeological dig site of the Pool of Bethesda (from John 5), Jerusalem

I don’t think my boys always appreciate it when I do that.

In the gospels, Jesus sometimes gives the “long answer”… and I’m not always sure we, as readers, fully appreciate it. Sometimes we get to the end of a red-word response… and we’ve forgotten to whom Jesus is talking.

There’s a great example of this in John 5.

Shortly after healing a man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17), there was a group of people seeking to kill Jesus.

 John 5:18 (NASB95)

18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

Jesus’ then responds to those who were trying to kill him. It’s a very long response that Jesus gives. In fact, it’s a 29-verse response! So long that by the end… you might not remember why Jesus started talking in the first place. Continue reading “Did You Want the Long Answer?”

The Noble Believer

In my last two posts, I concluded that the encounters with Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4) seem to be examples of Jesus using “believing members” of largely “unbelieving populations” to reach different groups in and around Israel. Jesus used some unlikely believers to help spread the word that Messiah had arrived.

The last few verses of John 4 may tell of yet another “unlikely believer” within another population in Israel. The royal official was probably someone that worked for Harod… and was likely not Jewish. A longstanding Roman occupation of the Holy Land, would have brought many people like him to live in and among the Jews.

Common sense says there would have been some, of the occupation, who had come to believe in God through the witness of the Jews.

This nobleman sought out Jesus at a particularly difficult time in his life. Continue reading “The Noble Believer”

You Just Had to Go There…

Jesus and the Samaritan woman. A miniature fro...

from the 12th-century Jruchi Gospels II MSS from Georgia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are usually many of places I have to go in any given day. I usually go to work. Sometimes I have to put gas in the truck. There’s always somewhere I need to visit to stock-up on something. It seems, for every place I go… there’s a reason. I’m rarely just out wandering around.

I get the impression that Jesus was like this too. When He started walking, He usually had a reason… and a purpose.

There’s an interesting statement at the beginning of the fourth chapter of John that has always caught my eye. It says that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”.

I’ve read several theories as to why people think He “had to” travel that road. History tells us that most Jews chose to travel a different route from Jerusalem to Galilee. The Jews and Samaritans had several long-standing theological disagreements that had caused separation… but for some reason Jesus chose to engage instead of ignore.

Jesus met a woman in Samaria. Most readers surmise that the Samaritan woman was terribly lost that day. While she well knew her way to the town’s source of water, it seems clear she had not been able to find all she was looking for in life.

In the end we know this woman, and many in her village, believe Jesus is the Promised Messiah. My question is… what was this woman’s spiritual condition prior to Jesus’ arrival? Was she really an unbelieving soul that Jesus converted that day… or could she have been a “true believer” from the wrong side of the tracks?

I suspect she was not as spiritually lost as many conclude. The fact that she wasn’t a Jew… shouldn’t automatically exclude her from being a believer in God’s promises. Continue reading “You Just Had to Go There…”

Nick… at Night

There’s one question I always ask when I read about someone’s encounter with Jesus in the gospels…

“What’s the spiritual condition of the person talking to Jesus.”

I mean… are they a believer… a seeker… or someone not at all interested in the spiritual side of life?

Most people assume that Jesus spent the majority of His time “evangelizing unbelievers”… so they naturally conclude that we should do the same. Our generation has focused much of its efforts on evangelism… because we believe “that’s WJD”.

Moon over Jerusalem

In this post… we’ll look at an interaction Jesus had with Nicodemus. Most understand this guy to be a “seeker” who is coming to Jesus with questions, but is it possible that he is a believer coming to Jesus to understand more about his Messiah?

Let’s see if we can pull Nicodemus out of the shadows.

What’s Going on Behind the Translation?

There is a lot happening “behind the curtain” of the English translations of John 3:1-21. While I won’t be able to take space to unpack all of it here, I would like to give you some things for further study.

First… John, the author, used one word over and over again in verses 3-5. The Greek word “pneuma“, which can mean a “breath”, a “blast of air”, or “wind” but is often interpreted as “spirit”. In scripture, this can often refer to the Holy Spirit. In John 3:5-8… everywhere the English translation says “wind” and/or “Spirit”… it’s the same word (pneuma) in the Greek language. (For a more complete discussion… please read Zane Hodges’ article).

Second… the Greek phrase that’s often translated, “born again” can also be translated “born from above” (meaning Heaven). Jesus was using this linguistic ambiguity to teach a spiritual truth. Nicodemus originally thought Jesus meant “born again” (physical birth) when Jesus really meant “born from above” (spiritual birth). Jesus liked to play with phrases like that.

Third… there are a bunch of “you” statements in the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus. The Greek language uses two different words to distinguish whether a “you” is singular (directed to one person) or plural (sometimes in English we say “you all”). English is not so clear. The English language only has one “you” that functions as both a singular “you” and a plural “you all”. I believe the English language brings a lack of clarity to Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus.

With that said… let’s take a look at the interaction Jesus had with Nicodemus. Continue reading “Nick… at Night”

Who Called the First Disciples?

The term “saved” is used many ways in the Bible. It’s easy to understand terms as one-dimensional. When we read that someone “believed” in Jesus… it is easiest to think of an “initial faith experience”, but that’s not always the case.

For many of the people in the gospels… their “faith” in Jesus was not when they began “believing” in God.

In the first chapter of John there is a quick succession of “first encounters” with Jesus. It begins in John 1:35 and continues through verse 51. Let’s take a quick look at these people and see if the text gives us any clue as to whether any of these people could have been justified “believers in God” prior to meeting Jesus.

The setting is “the wilderness”… the desert. John the Baptist is dressing very oddly, eating weird stuff, and saying some very strange things… all in a very remote and desolate place. John was either crazy… or he was a prophet sent from God. Many would conclude the former. No matter what people thought of him, the Baptist was saying things that piqued the interest of everyone in Israel.

John 1:35 (NASB95)

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples…

The first two people we will look at are these two disciples of John the Baptist. First, let’s acknowledge something; these two were not just on a day trip to check out the freak show that John had become. The text says they were “disciples” of John the Baptist. What does that mean?

Continue reading “Who Called the First Disciples?”

I Have Been, Am Being, and Will Be “Saved” Through Faith…

Some Christians need to lose their “definition of salvation”.

Our 21st-century church culture usually uses the term “salvation” to describe someone who says a prayer at an altar, or raises a hand in response to an invitation. We say things like, “Did you hear about (insert name here)? He got saved last Sunday!”

Whether it happens in a church building, at a summer camp, or at the corner table in a coffee shop… that’s pretty much the width of meaning most Christians give the term. When people use “saved” in that way, they are talking about the “point in time” event that happens when someone comes to initial faith in Christ as their Savior. That’s certainly an appropriate way to use the term, but is that the only way we should understand “salvation”?

Continue reading “I Have Been, Am Being, and Will Be “Saved” Through Faith…”