Moses and the Burning Bush: The Presence of the Living God

The story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3) is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew baby boys killed. Instead, Moses’ mother put him on a raft so Pharaoh’s daughter would find it, and then joined her household. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s court with all of its privileges, but also with full understanding of his heritage. In his zeal for justice, he murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, then fled. God met him in the burning bush forty years later. Sometimes the story’s very familiarity keeps us from understanding its meaning.… Read the rest

Two narratives, one birth: one Jesus Christ

All we know about the birth and lineage of Jesus comes from accounts (including genealogies)  in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But they seem so different! That’s because they have different emphases and different perspectives. Before exploring the differences, it is important to emphasize what Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-3 have in common:

  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem
  • Jesus was raised in Nazareth
  • He was a direct descendant of King David
  • His parents were named Joseph and Mary
  • Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born
  • An angel told both parents (separately) to name him Jesus.
  • Herod reigned as king in Jerusalem

Matthew’s narrative

Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ legal lineage from Abraham and David in order to establish his royal credentials.… Read the rest

The violence of Jesus: cleansing the temple

We probably all have our favorite images of Jesus. In a well-known scene from Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby preferred to pray to the Baby Jesus. Others of us might be drawn to the healer, the teacher, the man who loved children. I suppose all of the favorite thoughts come under the heading “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” So what about the violent man who upset tables and drove the money changers out of the temple?

It is one of the few incidents in his life mentioned in all four gospels: Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-22. According to the synoptics,  Jesus erupted after his triumphal entry.… Read the rest

Moses’ presumption

“And Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hands.'” — Exodus 17:9 (NKJV)

Among the many gifts God gave Moses, his rod was a tangible object that he could use any way he chose in order to release God’s power. He usually used it wisely and with great effect. Sometimes he did not use it wisely, and it got him in trouble.

His best-known mistake came when God told him to speak to a rock so that water would come from it.… Read the rest

Leaving Jesus behind

We have only one story of Jesus’ childhood, when he sat in the temple questioning the teachers while his parents had already started to return home. Surely every parent can identify with the multitude of emotions Joseph and Mary must have felt as they searched for their son.

Men traveled separately from women and children in those days. A twelve-year-old, one year from adulthood, could have plausibly traveled with either group. Only when they stopped for the night and families reunited did Joseph and Mary recognize that no one had seen Jesus. They had to return to Jerusalem to find him.… Read the rest

Murderous Queen Athaliah: the self-destructive power of hatred

“When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal offspring” (2 Kings 11:1 — NASB).

Ancient Judah had only one ruling queen, Athaliah. Consumed with hatred for the God of her husband’s people, she ordered the murder of her own grandchildren. (How can anyone think the Old Testament is boring? Its stories are as powerful as anything in modern fiction or drama, and more convincingly true!) Athaliah lived out what all too many continue to live out to this day: they hang on to hatred because they think those they hate deserve it.… Read the rest

The wrath of Jesus

Christ Preaching at Capernaum

Christ Preaching at Capernaum

“And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths I the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” — Matthew 11:23 (NIV)

Christians today like to think of Jesus as loving, kind, gentle, and accepting. He is certainly all of that. The thought of Jesus getting angry or rejecting anyone bothers us. The Greek for “the depths” is Hades, or hell. That makes us very uncomfortable. Let us not make the mistake of ignoring Jesus’ wrath

Early in his ministry Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum.… Read the rest

Joseph: the forgotten man at Christmas


I just heard a speaker say she had searched the web for contemporary Christmas songs about Joseph and found only three. I know of a few more than that from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most of them are secular pieces that mock him for being a cuckold. Poor Joseph deserves so much better than that.

We can learn a lot about him by juxtaposing Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of Mary’s pregnancy. When Mary told the angel, “May it be to me as you have said,” the Holy Spirit probably came upon her immediately. In the very next verse, she was on her way to visit Elizabeth.… Read the rest

The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why his mother had to be a virgin.

Most readers of Matthew’s gospel, I suppose, skip the first chapter entirely. After all, it is only a boring genealogy. But at least look at the first six verses. Genealogies in the Bible do not often mention a man’s mother, but Matthew took time to identify four mothers, and each mother reminds us of a particular sin.

The disgusting story of Judah and Tamar, told in Genesis 38, reads like the story line of the edgiest of soap operas. God took the life of Tamar’s husband, Judah’s oldest son Er, for unspecified wickedness. It then became the responsibility of the second son, Onan, to provide his brother with an heir by having sex with his widow.… Read the rest