Tag Archives: Jesus

Embrace the Biblical Story Arc

Though God Doesn’t Change, the Way People Perceive Him Does

 Embrace the Bible’s story arc.I enjoy a good book, one with a satisfying story arc. The Bible has an arc, too, a biblical story arc.

Some people see the Old Testament as focusing on God’s rules and judgment, with the New Testament focusing on God’s love and freedom. Though there’s some truth to this, it’s simplistic. The Old Testament also has its share of God’s love and freedom, while the New Testament gives us some new rules (though not as many) and contains judgment (check out Revelation).

However, on a more nuanced level we see changes that occur throughout the Old Testament and even the New. But it’s not God doing the changing, it’s people. As the biblical story arc progresses, the way we interact with God changes.

Aspects of the Biblical Story Arc

Intimacy with God: In the beginning is Adam and Eve, basking in the Garden of Eden and hanging out with God each evening. How cool would that be?

Distant from God: Then Adam and Eve are kicked out of paradise. Their relationship with God changes. It’s their fault, not his. From then until the time of Noah, people aren’t close to God at all. He seems quite distant.

Rescued by God: Then God looks at humanity and how they messed up his creation. He considers Noah and makes a plan: a boat, a flood, and a rescue. God is at work. He makes a promise to Noah. Man seems to be back on track with God, but not for long.

Promises from God: The next notable biblical character is Abraham, Father Abraham, a man of faith. Abraham has a closer connection with God and a deeper faith. God makes a new covenant with Abraham and promises he’ll be the father of many nations.

Guidance from God: Then we witness another transition with Moses. Moses sees God face to face. They hang out. They talk. Moses glows. God gives guidelines on how to live, moving his people beyond the barbarism of the world around them. God promises to bless others through his people, but they don’t do their part. They fail to live up to their potential. They don’t do much to bless others.

Closeness with God: Then David comes on the scene. He has the heart of God. God promises that from David’s line will come the messiah, the savior, who we know as Jesus.

Patience from God: But things go downhill after David. Future kings make a mess of things. But from the prophets we see God’s love for his people (us), his despair over their (our) actions, and his patience toward them (us). A cycle occurs: human despair, godly rescue, embracing God, backsliding, and repeat. Over and over. It’s a dark time spiritually. But this is the people’s doing. God’s always present.

Supernatural Provision from God: As we transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament and consider the books of the Apocrypha, we see a new level of spiritual engagement emerge, with supernatural acts. It’s as if the people finally see and accept the Holy Spirit at work. This is a great primer for what happens next.

Saved by God: In the New Testament Jesus becomes the star, as God always intended. Need I say more?

Community with God: In reading the Gospels, we gain a fresh perspective of God’s plan for us. Yet this viewpoint shifts as we move through Acts and more in the epistles. The people live in community and connect with God like never before.

Restored to God: By the time we get to Revelation our perception morphs yet again. We witness a supernatural battle, victory and judgment, and a new heaven and a new earth. Intimacy with God is restored. Just as God intended for us all along. God doesn’t change, but how the people in the Bible perceive and approach him does. And it’s a beautiful thing. Click To Tweet

This is a most pleasing biblical story arc.

Yet from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we see consistency in God and his desire to live with us. God doesn’t change, but how we perceive him and approach him does. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Do We Need to Know Hebrew and Greek to Study the Bible?

Ministers who flaunt their knowledge of Hebrew and Greek often do more harm than good

As part of their training, many ministers must study Hebrew and Greek. Sometimes when they prepare a sermon, they go back to the Bible’s initial languages so they can study the words in its original tongue: Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New.Do We Need to Know Hebrew and Greek to Study the Bible?

Then they talk about these other languages when they give their sermon. Sometimes this helps but other times it seems they’re just trying to remind us of how smart they are—or at least how smart they think they are. This often turns me off.

Yet other times I wonder if I would understand the Bible better if I could engage its words using Hebrew or Greek. It’s not that I want to learn another language; I have enough struggles with English. Instead this impulse occurs as I grapple with the English version of a particular text. I consult various translations and sometimes find clarity, but other times, confusion persists.

The Limitations When Studying the Bible

After all, when I read the Bible in English, I’m reading it through the theological filter of its translators. There’s no way for them not the color their work through the perspective of their beliefs. Some may call this a bias. I get that.

Yes, most everyone who embarks on a project to translate the Bible from its original languages into English—or any other language—strives for accuracy. Yet even the most sincere and conscientious still introduce the slant of their worldview into their work.

If only I could cut out the middleman and read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek.

Yet to do so, to read the Bible in Hebrew or Greek, would mean relying on others for their explanation of each Hebrew or Greek word. Again, their definitions would suffer from the influence of their perspectives and what they learned from other scholars, who hold their own biases and influences.

The reality is that studying the Bible in its original languages wouldn’t really help resolve my dilemma. It would still require me relying on the viewpoint of others to comprehend the text.

The only way I could gain real value by studying Scripture in Hebrew and Greek would occur if I understood these languages in the day and the culture in which the writing took place. And that’s impossible.

The Key to Studying the Bible

Though my desire to study the Bible in Hebrew and Greek carries an admirable intent, the reality is that I would still face frustrations; I would continue to struggle to understand its nuances. Yet, I have more resources available to help me engage with this holy text then at any time in history. There are scores of translations for me to consider. And for that I’m most grateful. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can study the Bible for ourselves. Click To Tweet

We, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can study the Bible for ourselves. We don’t need a Hebrew or Greek-speaking guru to guide us. All we need is the text, the mind God gave us, and the Holy Spirit. We can pray for supernatural insight and have faith God will direct the outcome.

Having religious experts tell us what the Bible says or what God means is an Old Testament mindset. Jesus changed this when he fulfilled the Old Testament. Through him, we become priests. And he sends us the Holy Spirit to guide us. That’s all we need to study the Bible. If you happen to know a little Hebrew and Greek, great! But if not, no worries.

We should all study the Bible using whatever resources we have and trust God to guide us in our journey.

How Many High Priests Are Named in the Bible?

The Bible talks about priests, chief priests, and high priest

What’s the difference between priest, chief priests, and high priest?

How Many High Priests Are Named in the Bible?

From Mark 14:53 we see there are several chief priests but only one high priest. This is also confirmed in Matthew 26:3. With this as our basis, let’s explore each of these three roles: priests, chief priests, and high priest.

Priest

Though many nations in the Bible have priests, for the Hebrew people, a priest is specifically a male descendent of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. This means there are a lot of priests. Using the NIV is a reference, the word priest occurs 864 times in the Bible.

(Sorry ladies. I don’t like it that only some guys can be priests in the Old Testament, but I’m just reporting how it was. Jesus changed all that, but that’s another discussion for another time.)

Chief Priests

In the Bible the phrase chief priests seems to imply a special selection of priests, namely the leading ones. Chief priests (plural) occurs sixty-six times. However, chief priest (singular) occurs seventy-five times. While this may seem contradictory, it could be that the chief priest (singular) is a key leader who rises above the other chief priests, who are above the other priests.

High Priest

High priest (always singular, except for two times) is mentioned seventy-eight times in the Bible. We see reoccurring mentions in the Gospels: Matthew (seven times), Mark (eight), Luke (three), and John (ten). High priest also occurs in Acts (eleven times). However, the book leading the way with mentions of high priest is Hebrews (seventeen).

The fact that high priest is singular lets us know there is only one high priest at a given time. If the chief priests are over the priests, then the high priest is likewise over the chief priests. In the Bible there is only one high priest at a time. How many do you know? Click To Tweet

The Bible mentions many men who serve as the high priest. How many do you know? Here are the names of high priests in the Bible:

In addition, there are several men who carry the title of chief priest:

The Ultimate High Priest

However, there is one more priest. He is the priest of all priests. What’s his name? His name is Jesus. The writer of the book of Hebrews talks at great length about Jesus being our high priest (Hebrews 2:17, 3:1, 4:14, 5:5, 6:20, 8:1). One way Jesus fulfills the Old Testament is by being our high priest. Ponder the implications.

The Old Testament talks about priests to prepare us to embrace the ultimate priest, the highest of priests, Jesus. Jesus who became our once-for-all sacrifice to make us right with God and restore us back into relationship with him.

Thank you, Jesus.

The Holy Spirit Lives in Us, But Do We Realize It?

God’s Holy Spirit exists in those who follow Jesus

Before Jesus leaves this earth to return to his father in heaven he promises his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who Father God will send them. The Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of what Jesus said (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit Lives in Us, But Do We Realize It?

A few weeks later, the Holy Spirit shows up. He comes with power and might. He supernaturally enables the disciples of Jesus to do amazing things (Acts 2:1-4).

What about us today? For people who see no evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they assume this promise of Jesus only applied to his disciples, that the Holy Spirit is not a present-day reality.

However, other people operate under the power of the Holy Spirit most every day. They see Jesus’s promise as one that applies to all his followers throughout time. They believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us—all of us. Which is it?

We get a hint at the answer in Paul’s letter to his protégé Timothy. Paul affirms the Holy Spirit lives in Timothy, as well as in all of us (2 Timothy 1:14). This confirms that Paul believes in Holy Spirit power. Paul moved in that power, and Timothy could tap into that same power. What are we doing with this Holy Spirit power that God gave us? Click To Tweet

Neither Paul nor Timothy were disciples of Jesus, but they are his followers. As followers of Jesus they have the Holy Spirit in them, even though they weren’t his disciples. The same applies to us today. As followers of Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit lives in us.

The question is, what are we doing with this Holy Spirit power? Are we ignoring it, or using it to accomplish amazing things for Father God and Jesus?

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 1, and today’s post is on 2 Timothy 1:14.]

Speak Truth in Love

Being both honest and kind is how we grow in our faith and mature through Jesus

When Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he tells them to speak what is true with love. This should be our guide in all that we say. While this makes sense, it’s harder to put into practice.Speak truth in love.

Truth: This phrase, to speak truth in love, starts with a call for honesty. As the saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy.” Better still, the Bible commands us not to lie (Leviticus 19:11).

Yet how often do we tell a tiny fib to protect someone’s feelings? Is this okay? How often do we tell someone an untruth because it is expedient? Or maybe we lie to avoid a confrontation or having a difficult conversation.

While some of these issues may be shades of gray, others are black-and-white. The point is Paul tells us to speak truth.

Love: The guiding principle in how we express ourselves honestly is love. Love should temper what we say and how we say it. We want our words to help and not to hurt. Love is the framework for truth telling.

Yet sometimes out of a desire to love, we hide the truth. We obscure what is real because it is the easier path to take. This is a show of love, but it’s outcome isn’t truth.

We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude.We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude. Click To Tweet

Grow: Though speaking the truth in love feels like wise advice, it’s not always the easiest path to take. Being both honest and loving at the same time can be a challenging thing to do. But we must persist in this effort.

When we speak the truth in love, Paul tells us that we will grow in our faith and develop maturity as the group of people—the church—who follow Jesus.

That’s why speaking truth in love is so important. We do it for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Ephesians 4, and today’s post is on Ephesians 4:15.]

How Do We Respond to Jesus?

We should show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us

The Bible records many things Jesus did when he was here on earth. A reoccurring action is Jesus healing people from their physical and spiritual maladies. Matthew 8 records several of these instances, and we will focus on one of them.Live for Jesus

Jesus goes to Peter’s house; his mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. (Note the reference to Peter’s mother-in-law. This tells us Peter was married.) Though we may not think too much about a fever today, this illness was bad enough to keep this woman in bed. She wasn’t merely resting, waiting to get better. She was incapacitated and not able to do anything. The situation was serious.

Jesus walks up to the bed and touches her hand. When he does her fever leaves her body. The next phrase is curious. It says she gets up to wait on him.

The cynic might say that Jesus healed her with selfish intentions, that he made her well only so she could take care of him, likely preparing some food for him to eat. Though this is a humorous thought and one many women likely nod their head in agreement with and might make men snicker, this misses the point.

Instead, I see Peter’s mother-in-law taking care of Jesus as a response to show her gratitude to him for what he did to make her better. Her example is one for us to follow.What do we do to show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us? Click To Tweet

Jesus has done so much for us. What do we do to show our gratitude to him?

It’s too easy for us to move from day-to-day and take Jesus’s work in our lives for granted, to not bother to show him our appreciation.

Jesus saved us, forgave us, and restored us to right relationship with his father. Plus, Jesus loves us, teaches us about God, and shows us how to live.

For all Jesus has done, what should our response be? What can we do to show Jesus how much we appreciate him?

Perhaps we should live for him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 8, and today’s post is on Matthew 8:14-15.]

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

False teachers slander what they don’t understand, and they will be destroyed

Over the years I’ve heard many ministers talk about things they didn’t understand. Not biblical or spiritual things, but worldly things. Out of ignorance they condemn certain people for their actions, slandering them in the process.Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

This is why the world doesn’t understand Jesus and his church. This is why the world thinks Jesus hates them. Though he doesn’t, the words people say when they talk about things they don’t understand sends the wrong message that Jesus has something against humanity.

In Peter’s second letter he talks about these ministers and those who parrot their uninformed views. Peter explains that these teachers who slander what they don’t understand are false teachers. They’re irrational like wild animals. They’re creatures operating under instinct, void of intelligent thought. What is the outcome of these false preachers who speak of what they don’t understand? Peter makes it clear. They’ll be destroyed (2 Peter 2:12).

Jesus is all about love. Jesus loves everyone, especially those on the outside, the people on the fringes of society who religious folks reject.Many people, who claim to represent Jesus, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately too many people who claim to represent Jesus, often the ministers of his churches, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. These false teachers cause the church to reject those in the world and condemn them, even though this isn’t what Jesus wants.

We should reject these false teachers. We should ignore what they say and disassociate ourselves from them. These false teachers will be destroyed. Peter says so.

Instead we need to align ourselves with Jesus and the love he offers to everyone. When we do this, our love will point them to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 2 Peter 2:12.]

The Bible Teaches Us How to Live With One Another

Scripture is packed with instructions of how Christians should treat each other

Last year I shared 13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible, and I periodically expand upon one of those thirteen reasons. Today we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us to live with each other. Although these lessons occur throughout the Bible, let’s focus on one reoccurring theme. I call these the “one another” commands. These instructions teach us how to treat each other. The Bible teaches us how to live with one another.

The Bible contains thirty-one of these one-another instructions. Most only occur once, but four of them occur multiple times. This must mean they’re more important, or else they wouldn’t be repeated. They are:

Love One Another: The command to love one another occurs ten times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. John writes about this the most but so do Paul and Peter.

Unfortunately our society today has a skewed understanding of the word love. Consider the following.

  • I’d love to go to the movies with you.
  • I love pizza.
  • I love to read the Bible.
  • I love my family.
  • I love God.

These are all phrases I’ve used. But they convey different meanings of the word love, ranging from preference to passion. What is love? Our society often treats love as an emotion, but let’s consider love as an attitude that prompts unselfish action. When it comes to loving one another, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us some helpful instructions on how to do this. By following these verses we can begin to love others in a biblical way.

Encourage One Another: In four places, both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us to encourage one another. Using positive words to lift others up and inspire them in their life and faith is a simple thing, yet most of us fail to do so most of the time. This is a skill we need to learn and then apply.

We all know people who encourage us. We enjoy our time with them, because we feel better about ourselves afterwards. May we be like them.

However, we also know people who we don’t enjoy being around because they discourage us, either directly through negative talk or indirectly through their attitudes. May we not be like them.

Let us encourage others and provide a positive, nurturing relationship that motivates them to do better.

Live in Harmony With One Another: Paul and Peter tell us we’re to live in harmony with one another. This is key. Harmony comes out of biblical love and is bolstered by encouragement, but there is more to harmony than that.

Two words come to mind that relate to harmony. The first is peace. We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

The second word is unity. It’s critically important for followers of Jesus to live in unity with one another. When we do so, we point others to Jesus. When we fail to do so, we push people away from Jesus. May it never be so.

Unity—that is, harmony—is important to Jesus. In one of his prayers he asks his father that we will live in unity, that we will be one just as he and his father are one (John 17:21).

Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss: The fourth of the one-another commands that appears multiple times in the Bible is a perplexing one. It’s the instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. What does that mean?

I explored this in another post where I speculated that this command might be a “sacred act of intimacy for the church community.” Then I admitted that I’m not really sure.

Another thought is that greet another with a holy kiss might be like a secret handshake, a way to express Christian affinity without saying a word. I suppose that works, too.

Or we could interpret this command to greet one another with a holy kiss as a principle that implies acceptance and affection with all others who follow Jesus. This also might be a viable interpretation of this confusing phrase.May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us. Click To Tweet

In addition to these four, there are twenty-seven other one-another commands in the Bible. As we strive to follow them and put them into practice, the Church of Jesus will grow, and the world will be better for it.

May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us.

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What Does the New Testament Say About Temples and Priests?

Through Jesus we become his priests and his temple, which should change everything

In the Old Testament the people go to the temple to encounter God. The priests help them in this; they act as a liaison between them and God.

In many ways we still do this today. We go to church to encounter God. We look for our ministers to help us in our quest, to act as a liaison between us and God.Jesus makes us his priests and his temple.

But this is a wrong perspective. We cling to the Old Testament practice and largely forget how Jesus fulfilled it. Peter helps us understand this in his first letter. He says we are living stones built into a spiritual temple, prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus (1 Peter 2:5).

Yet from our perspective of going to church to encounter God, this verse is confounding. It turns what we do upside down, and that’s the point. Jesus came to turn the old ways upside down and make something new for us.

We need to embrace this. We need to change our perspectives.

Living Stones: As living stones our actions matter. We live for Jesus. We live to honor him, praise him, and glorify him. We live to tell others about him through our actions and even through our words. Our faith is alive, and our actions must show it.

Spiritual Temple: As living stones we become part of the construction of his spiritual temple. And if we are part of his temple, we don’t need to go to church to meet him because, as his temple, we are already there and can experience him at any time.

Holy Priesthood: As living stones we are being made into a holy priesthood. If we are truly priests through what Jesus did for us, then we don’t need ministers to point us to God, explain him to us, and assist us in encountering him. God is preparing us to do that for ourselves as his holy priests.

Spiritual Sacrifices: As living stones and holy priests, serving God in his spiritual temple, we offer to him a spiritual sacrifice. This spiritual sacrifice negates the need for many of the animal sacrifices and offerings we read about in the Old Testament.Through Jesus we do things in a new way. Click To Tweet

This thinking is so countercultural to the way most Christians live today that it bears careful contemplation. Through Jesus we do things in a new way. We are living stones built into a spiritual temple, being prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices.

This can change everything—and it should.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 1 Peter 2:5.]

One Way That Jesus Fulfills the Old Testament

Jesus turns the celebration of Passover into the celebration of Communion

As the Israelites prepare to leave Egypt, Moses instructs them to have a special meal with their families and neighbors. They celebrate the first Passover. From then on Passover becomes an annual celebration.One Way That Jesus Fulfills the Old Testament

Fast forward a couple millennia. Jesus gives his disciples instructions to celebrate Passover together. As they eat the Passover meal, Jesus adds something new to their tradition and gives it fresh meaning. Taking the bread they’re eating, Jesus uses it as a metaphor for the sacrifice he’s about to make. Then he repeats this with the wine.

The Bible records this event in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:15-20. Paul also gives instructions about this remembrance in his letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:22-29.

These passages provide us with the basis for how we celebrate Communion. We may also call it the Lord’s Supper, The Holy Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or Holy Eucharist. They all mean the same thing. They all direct our attention on Jesus and what he did for us to reconcile us with Papa.

When Jesus institutes what we turned into the sacrament of communion, he fulfills the Old Testament practice of the Passover. That means he takes something old and adds his own twist to make it something new.

From this we see three key elements of Communion:

Part of a Meal: We see the practice of Passover and Communion in the Bible as part of a meal. Matthew and Mark note that Jesus’s reflections happen as they eat. Luke adds some additional detail. He records a second mention of the cup after the meal. The key point is that communion is part of a shared meal, not an act separate from it.The key point is that communion is part of a shared meal, not separate from it. Click To Tweet

With Family: Neither Passover or Communion take place in a large church gathering or religious ceremony. Both happen as a private gathering within a community of family or close friends—our squad. The people celebrate Passover in homes with family (or with neighbors). The Communion Jesus shares with his disciples occurs in an intimate setting with his close friends. This shows us Communion isn’t something that happens at church but apart from it, usually in homes.

As an Annual Celebration: Jesus says we are to celebrate Communion in his honor to remember him. Paul adds to this, writing that Jesus also said, “do this, whenever you drink it” (1 Corinthians 11;25). Though we may interpret Jesus’s words to mean every time we have a meal, the context is Passover, so a better understanding is every time we celebrate Passover, which is an annual event.

When we observe Communion every week at church, even once a month or quarterly, it can become routine and lose its meaning. Instead we should treat it as an annual celebration that we greatly anticipate and highly revere.

When we add this to the concept of a family meal, Communion could elevate to the level of a treasured family celebration similar to Thanksgiving or Christmas: a special time with family gathered.

The ancient practice of Passover and Communion bears little similarity to what we do today. I can’t ever recall celebrating communion in church as part of a meal. Communion was always a ceremonial representation, included as part of a church service.

The bread was reduced to a small bit of bread or a cracker. The wine was reduced to a mere sip, barely enough to wash down the morsel of food we ate just before it. In doing so we trivialize Communion by making it less than what it should be.

Let’s take back Communion. We can return it to an annual celebration in our homes with our family. And we will do it in remembrance of Jesus.