Mark 2:18-22

This pericope, occurring within the middle of a pattern of five conflict stories, summaries the main idea at the heart of the emerging conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities – Jesus’ ministry is not another alternative solution for realising the hopes of the Jewish faith. Jesus’ ministry marks the beginning of a new means of relating to God that replaces and fulfills all that has gone before. Whilst the major strands of the Jewish faith (from the hyper-religiousness of the Pharisees to the guerilla warfare of the Zealots) focused on the external realities of the people of God relating to politics, geography, national identity and so forth, Jesus’ ministry focuses on the internal problem of sin; the problem is within rather than without.

Fasting, a typical sign of external religion, was a common practice within Judaism. Fasting can generally be understood as a means of seeking to attain grace under the Old Covenant. However under the ministry of Jesus we attain grace by receiving and believing in Him (John 1:12, 16-18). Jesus uses the picture of a wedding feast with himself as the bridegroom to capture the contrast between the administration under the old and new covenants.

(Verse 20 appears to be a separate idea, perhaps a later addition to the narrative, and an early allusion in Mark’s gospel to the passion of Jesus with fasting used as a literal expression of mourning).

The twin illustrations in vv21-22 express the idea that although the ministry of Jesus may appear similar (new cloth on old cloth, new wine in old wine skins), it is in fact compatible within the paradigm of the Old Covenant.

The original audience for this Gospel were Christians undergoing persecution by the Roman authorities for their faith. The story of Jesus’ conflict with the authorities along with the imagery of the abundant wedding feast with Jesus would have served as a message of great comfort to them in their time of need (1 Peter 4:13).

References

  • Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009)
  • James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary:The Gospel According to Mark (Eerdmans, 2002), 87–93.
  • David Garland, Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 102–106.
  • William Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 107–113.
  • Robert Guelich, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Dallas: Word, 1989), 106–117.

Genesis 15

Main point
God is a gracious promise-making and promise-keeping God. His people are the undeserving recipients of his promised blessings.

Main purpose
Know that God is faithful and therefore respond in belief and obedience.

Supporting arguments
In chapter 14 we read about Abram’s military success, some hints at him bringing a blessing to the nations, and his demonstration of fidelity to God (and his priest). However chapter 15 opens with Abram in a pitiful and timid state, crying out to God for confirmation of his promised offspring (12:3, 7, 13:15).

Amidst the fear, the doubts, and the questioning from Abram, the overall impression from this chapter is that there is nothing particularly meritorious about Abram but for his believing the LORD in verse 6. It is to this undeserving recipient that God promises a very great reward (v1) in the form of innumerable offspring (v5) and an expansive and complete inheritance of land (v18-21) (The 10 people groups indicating a complete and whole number).

A plain reading of the chronology of the chapter suggests that God told Abram to look into the daytime sky to count the stars. If this was the case, then this adds another element to the belief of Abram; believe that God will provide innumerable offspring (as many stars in the sky), and, believe that God will do this despite an absence of any evidence (as the stars cannot be seen during the day).

Verse 6 functions as the fulcrum of the chapter, sitting between the promises of offspring and land, and making plain that Abram’s belief results in a right standing before God (credited as righteousness), which is the foundation upon which the covenant with Abram is established. It should be noted that Abram’s right standing then leads to expression and confirmation in his right living (Genesis 18:19, James 2:20-24), and ultimately serves as the platform for God’s blessing to the nations through the obedience of the nation of Israel. Note also that Abram was not the first to be credited righteousness through faith (Hebrews 11:7), but is recognised as being the model (or father) for all who believe in God, and ultimately in Christ, through faith (Romans 4:11-12, Gal 3:29).

A covenant ceremony of some kind, similar to that described in vv12-21, would have been a common practice of the ancient near East to bind parties to a long-term partnership. The precise meaning of each of the elements in the narrative is hard to determine due to a lack of direct corollary in either the Pentateuch or other writings from the same time period. However the one clear aspect of this covenant agreement is that it is God alone who binds himself to the covenant (Abram is in a deep sleep!), and in so doing, God binds himself to be responsible for delivering on all the promises of the covenant, ultimately fulfilled in the sacrificial death of the Son of God.

As it is God who initiates the covenant with Abram, God who binds himself to the terms of the covenant, and God alone who is able to fulfill the impossible promises of the covenant, it is the LORD God alone who should be believed and obeyed. How striking then are the sinful actions of Abram at the start of the very next chapter in believing the unsatisfied self-reliant urgings of his wife Sarai.

References

  • Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (Waco: Word, 1987), 322–335.
  • John H. Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 420–423.
  • Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005)
  • Paul R Williamson, Abraham, Israel, and the Nations : The Patriarchal Promise and Its Covenantal Development in Genesis (Sheffield : Sheffield Academic Press,  2000), 260-267.
  • John E Hartley, Genesis (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 240-253

Tower of Babel: Genesis 11:1-9

Summary point:
God’s people, in God’s world, God’s way.

Summary purpose:
Know your place, as God’s special chosen people, called out of the world, to honor and obey God.

Falling between genealogy accounts, this passage contributes an anachronistic explanation for the dispersion of people groups after the flood. The area where the Tower of Babel narrative occurs is mentioned in the preceding genealogy in Gen 10:10 as one of the emerging centres of people.

The error of the people in building a city and tower reaching to the heavens appears to be two-fold:

  1. They were disobeying the creation and post-flood mandates to fill and multiply on the earth (Gen 1:28, 9:7)
  2. They were attempting to be like God, and/or attempting to bring God down to humankind’s level, by building a tower that connects the earth to the heavens, the dwelling place of God

The narrative follows a similar pattern established throughout the earlier chapters of Genesis in revealing a God who deals with his disobedient creation in ways that show both his righteous judgment along with his grace. The pattern established usually involves sin, mitigation and then punishment, and varies in scope between individuals (Adam/Eve, Cain) to groups (Noah and his descendent’s).

In this story, the pattern reaches something of a climax, as God punishes ‘the whole world’ (Gen 11:1) for their sin by confusing their language and confounding their efforts. But by scattering the people over the face of the earth, He is also showing grace and providing a blessing to the ‘whole world’ by ensuring that His good purposes for humanity in multiplying and subduing his creation are realised.

The narrative clearly portrays God as the hero of the story. God matches their devious but complex plans by his own seemingly casual and simple act of language confusion. Twice the LORD is said to have scattered the people over the face of the earth. It is not that the people scatter, but that God scatters.

The story serves as a summary and conclusion to the theology and place of humanity in God’s world established in Genesis 1-11. It also serves as the context and launching point for the next stage of God’s history established through the Patriarchs and the founding of the nation of Israel. It is as though the lens on humanity focuses right out in chapter 11 to see the big picture of the ‘whole earth’ being directed by God to multiply and fill the earth, before focusing right back down from chapter 12 onto a single family line stemming from in Abram.

Andrew E. Hill, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 94.
John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Ge 10:1–32.
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 (vol. 1A; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 466.
W. Osborne, “Babel,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 73.

My summary of John’s Gospel

The key purpose of the Gospel of John is that those who read it might believe in who Jesus is (Messiah and Son of God), and by believing, have life in His name (John 20:31). Chapter 1 introduces this clear purpose as it outlines the main message of the Gospel (Believe in Jesus and become a child of God (v12)), as well as introduce all the key truths about Jesus which we must believe in order to be saved. That is, that Jesus is God (v1), God become man (v14), Son of God (v18), Christ/Messiah (v17), and Saviour (v29).

Alongside these grand and compelling truths about Jesus, the Gospel details the ministry of one who is deeply interested and invested in people. The Gospel contains a number of distinctive extended interactions between Jesus and both individuals (e.g. Nicodemus (ch3), the Samaritan woman(ch4)) and groups (the disciples (13-17), and “the Jews”).

Based on these truths about Jesus and the account of his life, the Gospel author John masterfully brings the thoughtful reader to a compelling choice – reject Him or receive Him. The one option that is not available to us is to remain indifferent to him (1).

Some other distinctive characteristics of this Gospel:

  • The clarity with which the divinity of Jesus is argued, not only in 1:1 but later in the “I am” phrases, clearly equating Jesus with the God of Israel (Exodus 3:14) (2).
  • The Gospel is full of repeated images, patterns, ideas and emphasis that all contribute to the strong and clear case for belief in Jesus as God. For example, Jesus calls us to drink from the well of life (Ch4) and eat the bread of life (Ch6), He calls us to walk in the light Ge provides (Ch8), and live in the vine (Ch15) which is Himself.
  • The dualism that emerges in the opening chapter and then continues throughout – light/darkness (1:5), life/death, in the world/not of the world, receive/reject etc (3).
  • Many familiar accounts from the other Gospels are absent (parables, the sermon on the mount, the transfiguration) yet Blomberg argues that “almost every distinctive passage in John finds at least short conceptual counterparts in one or a handful of much shorter Synoptic sayings somewhere”. (4)

As a Christian, it’s hard not to be be moved by Jesus’ prayer for all believers (me!) in Chapter 17, and then to be struck by the distinctly tender finish to the Gospel in chapter 21 as Jesus repeats the phrase ‘Peace be with you’, and then as Jesus cooks breakfast for the disciples and charges Peter to ‘feed his lambs’.

As a slight aside, I was also struck by how John records the start of Jesus’ public ministry, by selecting the contrasting scenes of Him turning water into wine and then clearing the temple. Could you imagine a religious leader within the reformed evangelical tradition announcing their public ministry by promoting alcohol consumption, and then causing a public disturbance in a church meeting?

Structurally, there is a distinct beginning (1:1-19) and end (chapter 21), although chapter 21 may be a later addition (5). The Gospel opens and closes with Christ’s command to follow him (1:43, 21:19), again confirming the main purpose of the Gospel. I would divide the rest of the Gospel into 3 sections, split by Jesus’ long discourse with his disciples in chapters 13-17. The first section contains the main part of His earthly ministry and the latter section dealing with His arrest through to resurrection.

1. Elena Bosetti, John (n.p.: Pauline Books and Media, 2011), 8.
2. Joel Green, Jeannine Brown and Nicholas Perrin, ‘The Dialectical Theology Of John’, Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels (USA: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 2013), 400.
3. John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (New York:Oxford University Press, 2007), 387-418.
4 C. L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) , 178.
5. Graham Stanton, The Gospels And Jesus (2nd ed.; n.p.: Oxford University Press, 2002), 98.

Bootcamp reflections

I had my first ‘face-to-face’ experience of Ridley College this weekend at their (our?) 24hr Bootcamp, to start the academic year, and welcome new students (like me).

It was just under 3hr drive to the campsite at Upper Plenty. I was one of maybe one or two others that had come to the Bootcamp as online students. I met one guy who had traveled all the way from Perth. Still, it didn’t stop every single person I met from commenting on how good it was that I had travelled down for the event.

I’m really glad I went. I think it will prove invaluable over the next few years to have real faces, personalities and stories behind the names and written words that I interact with online.

It was rewarding for me to connect with a number of people on a personal level, to get a better feel for what Ridley College is all about, both formally and the vibe of the place, and to have my heart stirred more broadly and bigg-ly to consider Christian ministry in general – the call to it, different expressions and experiences of it, different pathways etc.

I picked up on a few elements of what I think are aspects of Ridley college culture:

  • An emphasis on community – based on shared life experience of studying at College, a common faith, but also community as a way to account for what appears to be a fairly diverse collection of Christian denominations. (I had a few conversations where people commented how Ridley is keen to train anyone to equip them for Christian ministry, whether they are Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist (pentecostal?) etc).
  • I enjoyed the singing. I don’t know whether it’s particular to Ridley, or this particular group of people we had, or whether I could expect it generally at any Christian college, but everyone sang with so much enthusiasm and volume (regardless of singing ability). Sure, some of the voices weren’t great, but it was the combination of all the enthusiastic voices that actually created it’s own unique musical feel – even the off notes and the droning voices combined in a weird kind of mix with the pitch perfect voices to create a rich and intriguing harmony
  • Almost all the Faculty were there, and I bumped into a few of them assuming they were students. They seemed to all enjoy being part of the experience alongside the students. They all knew each other by name and had an obvious affection for each other.
  • There were a lot more females than I expected. There was at least as many female students there as males.
  • There was a lot of talk about ‘discernment’ – or rather, that word kept popping up – the year of discernment before one becomes a candidate within Melbourne Diocese, discerning the things that are disputable matters when Christian disagree, discerning what is best from amongst all the good choices for ministry etc.

I’m really not sure how I feel about on-campus college study now. I had some good conversations with people who encouraged me to consider it. Clearly it’s preferable in most ways for people going into full-time paid Christian ministry. But I don’t think it’s always the best way for everybody.

I think my two main reservations are; leaving currently life and ministry in Albury to pursue it (and all the drastic implications of that), and that I feel like I’m not done with my current professional career yet – there’s a few aspects I haven’t quite resolved, one of which is how to be an effective Christian in a secular workplace.