N.T. Wright Muses on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Speaking of Bishop Wright (see previous post). Here is an exquisite devotional piece on Jesus as he prayed in Gethsemane. See what you think (and pick up the book).

Read Matthew 26:36–56

Put this passage alongside the other time when Jesus took Peter, James and John away with him by themselves. In chapter 17, the four of them went up a mountain, and the disciples watched in amazement as Jesus was transfigured before them, shining with the glory of God and talking with Moses and Elijah. Now the same group of three are together in a garden, and the disciples watch in amazement as once again Jesus is transfigured, this time with the sorrow of God. Again, he is very much aware of the ancient scriptures which said it must be like this (verses 24, 54, 56).

This scene in Gethsemane is absolutely central to any proper understanding of who Jesus really was. It’s all too easy for devout Christians to imagine him as a kind of demigod, striding heroically through the world without a care. Some have even read John’s gospel that way, though I believe that is to misread it. But certainly Matthew is clear that at this crucial moment Jesus had urgent and agitating business to do with his father. He had come this far; he had told them, again and again, that he would be handed over, tortured and crucified; but now, at the last minute, this knowledge had to make its way down from his scripture-soaked mind into his obedient, praying heart. And it is wonderfully comforting (as the writer to the Hebrews points out) that he had to make this agonizing journey of faith, just as we do.

‘If it’s possible—please make it that I don’t have to drink this cup!’ The ‘cup’ in question, without a doubt, is the ‘cup of God’s wrath’, as in many biblical passages (Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15, and elsewhere). Jesus was resolutely determined to understand this fateful moment in the light of the long scriptural narrative that he saw now coming to its climax in his death. But, precisely because of that, he realized in a new and devastating way that he was called to go down into the darkness, deeper than anyone had gone before, the darkness of one who, though he was the very son of God, would drink the cup which symbolized God’s wrath against all that is evil, all that destroys and defaces God’s wonderful world and his image-bearing creatures.

We can see this very process working its way out as the story unwinds. All the strands of evil in the world seem to rush together upon him. The power-seeking politics of the local elite. The casual brutality of imperial Rome. The disloyalty of Judas. The failure of Peter. The large systems which crush those in their way, and the intimate, sharply personal, betrayals. And everything in between, the scorn, the misunderstanding, the violence. The story is told in such a way that we see and feel, rather than just think about, the many different manifestations of evil in the world. Matthew invites us to see them all converging on Jesus. That is what this story is all about.

We are encouraged to see this scene, too, as somehow a revelation of the glory of God. It is one thing to be transfigured in the sense of shining with the dazzling light of God’s glory. It is another thing, perhaps equal if not greater, to be seen in agony, sharing the sorrow and pain of the world. Perhaps the two scenes need each other to be complete. Certainly our own pilgrimage, if we are faithful, will have elements of both. One of the reasons we read and reread this extraordinary story is because we know, in our deepest beings, that the scriptural story to which Jesus was obedient must be our story too. Matthew, telling us that Jesus’ disciples all forsook him and fled, wants us by contrast to stay the course, to see this thing through, to witness the glory of God in the suffering face of his crucified son.

Today

Teach us, good Lord, to watch with you in your suffering, that we may learn also to see your glory.

—Wright, T. (2011). Lent for Everyone: Matthew Year A (pp. 124–128). London: SPCK.

Michael F. Bird: How God Became Jesus—and How I Came to Faith in Him

Feeling particularly cheeky about your superior intelligence over and against all of us ignorant and gullible Christians? Check out Bird’s story and see what you think.

39353Some have great confidence in skeptical scholarship, and I once did, perhaps more than anyone else. If anyone thinks they are assured in their unbelief, I was more committed: born of unbelieving parents, never baptized or dedicated; on scholarly credentials, a PhD from a secular university; as to zeal, mocking the church; as to ideological righteousness, totally radicalized. But whatever intellectual superiority I thought I had over Christians, I now count it as sheer ignorance. Indeed, I count everything in my former life as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing the historical Jesus who is also the risen Lord. For his sake, I have given up trying to be a hipster atheist. I consider that old chestnut pure filth, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a CV that will gain me tenure at an Ivy League school, but knowing that I’ve bound myself to Jesus—and where he is, there I shall also be.

Read it all.

Kenneth Matthews: The Atonement and the Scapegoat: Leviticus 16

Do you know anything about the Day of Atonement (in Hebrew, Yom Kippur)? How is the Day of Atonement related to the Christian faith? Why should you care? Check it out and see what you think.

39324Hebrews 9-10 give a sustained explanation for the typological significance of the Day of Atonement and the parallel ministry of Christ. The author refers to the roles of Christ as eternal high priest, perfect animal sacrifice, and his blood’s perpetual purging of sin and corruption of the heavenly Tent of Meeting by the sprinkling of his own blood based on the one-time act of his death and ascension into the heavenly throne room of God (Heb. 9:1-10:18).

Read it all (as well as the other installments in this series).

CT: Surprised by N.T. Wright

Read about the world’s premier evangelical scholar (who just happens to be an Anglican bishop). I cannot tell you what a massive influence Wright has had on my thinking and preaching. Simply remarkable.

39046People who are asked to write about N. T. Wright may find they quickly run out of superlatives. He is the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the most important apologist for the Christian faith since C. S. Lewis. He has written the most extensive series of popular commentaries on the New Testament since William Barclay. And, in case three careers sound like too few, he is also a church leader, having served as Bishop of Durham, England, before his current teaching post at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

But perhaps the most significant praise of all: When Wright speaks, preaches, or writes, folks say they see Jesus, and lives are transformed. A pastor friend of mine describes a church member walking into his office, hands trembling as he held a copy of Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. “If this book is true,” he said, “then my whole life has to change.”

The superlatives are striking, considering Wright’s goal in his teaching and writing is to massively revise the way Christianity has been articulated for generations. Christian faith, for Wright, is not about going to heaven when you die. It is not about the triumph of grace over the law of the Old Testament. He says its key doctrine is not justification by grace alone, the cornerstone for the Protestant Reformers. The church has misread Paul so severely, it seems, that no one fully understood the gospel from the time of the apostle to the time a certain British scholar started reading Paul in Greek in graduate school.

Read it all and get to know this brilliant and faithful scholar, writer, and bishop.

 

Today in History

April 14th has not been a kind one in the history books.

UnknownOn this date in 1865, Good Friday, President Abraham Lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth while watching a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington. He died the next morning.

 

 

images On this date in 1912, the British liner RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 11:40 p.m. ship’s time and began sinking. The ship went under two hours and 40 minutes later with the loss of 1,514 lives.

Albert Mohler: It’s Back—The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” and the State of Modern Scholarship

Well, it’s Holy Week and Easter’s coming. Time for more sensationalist tripe to appear in the media that purports to disprove Christianity and stuff. Surprise, surprise. Mohler does a thorough job of demolition in his piece, not of this particular scrap of papyrus but of the state of modern scholarship. See what you think.

Gospel_of_Jesus_Wife-300x197Heresy is not an abstract issue — it is a denial of the truth that leads to salvation.

That’s why Christians can never respond to heresy with indifference. As the late Harold O. J. Brown observed, “the important thing about heresies is the fact that they are not just permissible variations, options, or choices, but by their very nature so undermine Christian faith that they may well render salvation unattainable for the one who makes the mistake of embracing them.”

So much of what is presented as modern biblical and theological scholarship is an effort to destroy the very idea of orthodox Christianity and to erase all distinctions between orthodoxy and heresy. That is why so much attention is devoted to marginal issues of scholarship like this tiny fragment of papyrus. The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” tells us nothing about Jesus and very little, if anything, about early Christianity. It tells us a great deal about modern scholarship, however — and that is the real message of this controversy.

Read it all.

Cory Willson: Why Resurrection People Remember the Dead

A thoughtful piece. From Christianity Today online.

39322Nearly three decades ago, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff issued a protest over the death of his son, Eric, in a hiking accident. “Death is shalom‘s mortal enemy,” wrote Wolterstorff in Lament for a Son. “Death is demonic. We cannot live at peace with death.” For him there is only one response until death is finally overcome:

I shall keep the wound from healing, in recognition of our living still in the old order of things. I shall try to keep it from healing, in solidarity with those who sit beside me on humanity’s mourning bench.

The families of Isaac, Poppy, and Eric will not be fully healed until the trumpet sounds, the dead are raised to life, and Death our final enemy is trampled underfoot. Only then will we shout the protester’s triumph: “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Only then will memories cease to be the only tie that binds us to our loved ones. Only then will we be delivered to complete shalom—to wholeness, joy, and peace with each other.

We proclaim that our deceased loved ones who trusted Christ are in the hands of a loving Savior. This is central to biblical faith. Yet on this side of the Resurrection, memory also plays a central role in keeping hope alive. Remembering our loved ones who have died is part of our Christian understanding of hope.

Read it all.

An Account of How Palm Sunday Was Celebrated in the Fourth Century

The following day, Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, which they call here the Great Week. On this [Palm] Sunday morning, at the completion of those rites which are customarily celebrated at the Anastasis or the Cross from the first cockcrow until dawn, everyone assembles for the liturgy according to custom in the major church, called the Martyrium. It is called the Martyrium because it is on Golgotha, behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered His Passion, and is therefore a shrine of martyrdom. As soon as everything has been celebrated in the major church as usual, but before the dismissal is given, the archdeacon raises his voice and first says: “Throughout this whole week, beginning tomorrow at the ninth hour, let us all gather in the Martyrium, in the major church.” Then he raises his voice a second time, saying: “Today let us all be ready to assemble at the seventh hour at the Eleona.” When the dismissal has been given in the Martyrium or major church, the bishop is led to the accompaniment of hymns to the Anastasis, and there all ceremonies are accomplished which customarily take place every Sunday at the Anastasis [Church of the Holy Sepulcher] following the dismissal from the Martyrium. Then everyone retires home to eat hastily, so that at the beginning of the seventh hour everyone will be ready to assemble in the church on the Eleona, by which I mean the Mount of Olives, where the grotto in which the Lord taught is located.

At the seventh hour all the people go up to the church on the Mount of Olives, that is, to the Eleona. The bishop sits down, hymns and antiphons appropriate to the day and place are sung, and there are likewise readings from the Scriptures. As the ninth hour approaches, they move up, chanting hymns, to the Imbomon, that is, to the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven; and everyone sits down there. When the bishop is present, the people are always commanded to be seated, so that only the deacons remain standing. And there hymns and antiphons proper to the day and place are sung, interspersed with appropriate readings from the Scriptures and prayers.

As the eleventh hour draws near, that particular passage from Scripture is read in which the children bearing palms and branches came forth to meet the Lord, saying: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The bishop and all the people rise immediately, and then everyone walks down from the top of the Mount of Olives, with the people preceding the bishop and responding continually with “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” to the hymns and antiphons. All the children who are present here, including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents’ shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led. From the top of the mountain as far as the city, and from there through the entire city as far as the Anastasis, everyone accompanies the bishop the whole way on foot, and this includes distinguished ladies and men of consequence, reciting the responses all the while; and they move very slowly so that the people will not tire. By the time they arrive at the Anastasis, it is already evening. Once they have arrived there, even though it is evening, vespers is celebrated; then a prayer is said at the Cross and the people are dismissed.

—Egeria, Abbess, Pilgrimage

Palm Sunday: Hosanna to the Messiah We Do Not Want!

Sermon delivered on Passion (Palm) Sunday A, April 13, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH

If you would prefer to hear the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Matthew 21.1-11.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The passion narrative we just read is clear enough, straightforward enough, and rich enough to speak for itself and so I will not comment further on it other than to encourage you to muse on Christ’s passion frequently this week and to make yourself part of the narrative for reasons we will soon see. Instead, I want us to look very briefly at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the so-called Triumphal Entry, that we read in Matthew’s gospel during the liturgy of the palms this morning because doing so will help us grapple with the very heart and nature of God.

What do you think? Did Jesus know that he was God’s Messiah, or was he just basically swept along by the events of his day so that he became the victim of a story that started out well but ended very badly, a rebel without a clue, so to speak? Believe it or not, there are some who argue that Jesus had no self-consciousness about his mission or that he really was the Messiah. To have such an opinion is to either be badly misinformed or to have read and understood the gospel narratives badly because clearly Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem gives us every indication that Jesus knew what his role was and what he must do once he arrived at the city that all Jews believed was God’s dwelling place on earth.

But before we go there, we must ask what the title, Messiah (or its Greek equivalent, Christ), means and what people expected the Messiah to do once he arrived. Messiah comes from the Hebrew term that means “anointed one.” From the very beginning Israel’s kings were anointed with oil as a sign that God had called them to be Israel’s king on God’s behalf. The Messiah was generally seen as God’s ultimate king who would come from king David’s line to do two things. First he would liberate Israel from all its oppressors, which in Jesus’ day meant the Romans, and establish God’s righteous rule. Second, he would cleanse the Temple. Both these actions imply that many in Israel were looking for a military hero in the manner of David whom God would use to finally bring an end to Israel’s long exile and this surely would have been the prayer of many of Jesus’ contemporaries. They were looking for God to make good on his promise to return to his Temple and people to finally liberate them and live with them forever.

And based on what Matthew tells us in our first gospel lesson, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people with him clearly saw Jesus as their Messiah. But how do we know that? Tom Wright, the former Anglican bishop of Durham England and prolific scholar and writer, tells the story of Sir Walter Raleigh allegedly throwing his cloak over a puddle of muddy water so that Queen Elizabeth I of England would not have to walk in it. While no one can prove this actually happened, Wright’s point is that if it did, such an action would be an act of extraordinary devotion which stated in a powerful and symbolic way the high esteem we hold a person. How many of you have ever heard of this being done for a head of state or foreign dignitary in our day? I have not and I certainly know that none of you throw down your cloak in front of me when you see me approaching, which is baffling and more than mildly irritating considering what a big shot you all hold me to be, and that is Wright’s point. Here we have the followers of Jesus literally giving him the shirt off their back, the only one they probably owned, to honor Jesus as Messiah.

Not only that, they took palm branches, an ancient symbol with royal implications, and cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Hosanna means save and Son of David had definite political and Messianic overtones. If you wanted to wave a red flag in front of the bull that was Rome, you couldn’t do a better job than the crowds did that day. No wonder all of Jerusalem was in an uproar when Jesus hit town. And here it is crucial to our understanding of this story that we see exactly what is going on here in terms of the people’s perspective. They were hoping that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah so that their prayers for liberation, cleansing, and an end to their long national exile would finally be answered. In other words, they wanted Jesus to address their immediate perceived needs. Sound familiar?

But this is not the kind of Messiah Jesus intended to be and we must also understand this clearly if we are to understand what Matthew is trying to tell us. First, Jesus chose to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, not a warhorse. As Matthew reminds us, this naturally brought to mind passages like Zechariah 9.9 that talked of Israel’s king returning in great humility to usher in God’s kingdom. This powerful symbolic act of humility is also consistent with what Jesus had tried to tell his disciples earlier when he warned them three times of his impending death and resurrection (Matthew 16.21-13, 17.22-23, 20.17-19). These things show us clearly that Jesus thought himself to be God’s Messiah and what kind of Messiah Jesus intended to be.

Jesus would indeed come to rescue his people from their exile, but not in the manner they expected or even wanted. He would not usher in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven as a mighty warrior who defeated all of Israel’s enemies by the sword. No, he would usher in the kingdom and end his people’s exile through his suffering and death on the cross. The end of exile Jesus had in mind was our exile from God that our sin has caused and our restoration as God’s true children in Jesus the Messiah (cf. Colossians 1.19-22; John 1.12-13). In other words, Jesus would indeed answer his people’s prayers but at a level far deeper and more profound than they were hoping for or wanted. By going to the cross and bearing God’s wrath poured out on the sins of all people, Jesus would release us from the grasp of Satan, our real enemy, and all the sin and evil that clings to us so tightly and dehumanizes us. Jesus would do so, not in power and vainglory as the world prizes, but in suffering and humility. This is what both Isaiah and Paul are telling us in our OT and epistle lessons respectively. Jesus’ great act of humility started when as God he took on our flesh to die for us so that we will not ultimately have to die. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once observed, how could Jesus save us if he were not fully human? How could Jesus save us if he were not fully God? Here is food for thought worth our best devotional musing.

This is what Matthew wants us to see and grapple with because like the people of Jesus’ day, we too would prefer Jesus to come in great power and glory, all guns blazing so to speak, to strike down all the bad guys and then let us join with him to rule over everything in pomp and circumstance. We’re all about that, baby! But that is not how God has shown us the kingdom comes. It comes through the cross of Christ and in Jesus’ call to us to be like him by taking up our own cross in suffering and humble love. We are not so eager to take that path!

That is why Holy Week matters. We dare not rush to celebrate Easter without first musing on Jesus’ passion and death. Yes, Easter is God the Father’s mighty vindication of Jesus the Son. It is also the preview and promise of our future as citizens in God’s new creation. But we get there through the cross and by imitating Jesus’ suffering love in our own life and that is never easy. Simply put, without the cross we are dead people walking who have no hope. But we do have the cross, thanks be to God, so that those of us who believe can live as people with real hope.

So this week, before you hurry to see the empty tomb, take time on Thursday evening to sit with Jesus as he initiates the Lord’s Supper and explains to us in it the meaning of his death. Then afterwards stay to begin the vigil of our Lord’s passion and death, and remember he died for you so that you might live, starting right now. On Friday, participate in the stations of the cross and the Good Friday liturgy as you reflect on the terrible price God paid for our sins so that we might find peace and reconciliation with God, and with it our ultimate healing as human beings. Then on Saturday evening, come and hear the story of salvation as we await our Lord’s mighty resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Doing all this will help make you ready to celebrate the great Easter Feast on Sunday because you will have contemplated what it cost God to bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven, to win your release from the power of evil, sin, and death, and what kind of people we are called to be in our Suffering Messiah. Remember too that this same Messiah who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey is available to you right now in the power of the Spirit to answer your prayers and heal you beyond your wildest hopes and dreams so that you will be able to live your life with joy and meaning in any and all circumstances. You can do so because you know that you have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.