Not peace, but a sword

Jesus with sword

Jesus with a sword. 14th-century fresco, Monastery of the Ascension, Kosovo

Have you ever noticed that Jesus can be downright offensive?

Even many people who don’t claim to be Christian find Jesus very attractive. As a great moral teacher, he told some wonderful stories. He was always kind and compassionate to people in need. He “spoke truth to power” in taking on the religious establishment.

But then he says things like

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ [quoting Micah 7:6] – Matthew 10:34-36 (NIV)

How do Christians today respond to passages like that?… Read the rest

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us

While the stories of Jesus’ birth provide the narratives and symbolism for the religious observance of Christmas, Christians who attend churches that follow a formal lectionary, at least, hear John 1:1-18 on Christmas day. After all, we do not worship a baby. We do worship a man, but not just any man. We worship the man who from the beginning is also God. Here is what we learn from the appointed reading from John’s gospel:

  • The divine Word, referred to subsequently as “he” and not “it,” existed in the beginning. The divine Word, a person, was somehow both with God and God himself.
Read the rest

How to eat the Bread of life

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. . . If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” His audience of devout Jews grumbled. So did his disciples, so much so that some of them stopped following him (John 6:66). It’s still a disturbing thought, but for the Christian, the obvious application of this metaphor is communion. Jesus said the bread is his body and the wine is his blood.

Jesus compared his claim to the manna in the desert, except that everyone who ate that food eventually died. Yet Paul makes it clear that the manna was spiritual food, as well as physical food.… Read the rest

Hearing the voice of God

Back in the mid ’80s I had an apartment in what used to be a storefront. My door opened directly onto the sidewalk. One winter it snowed a lot, and there was a stretch of several days when there was just a deep puddle during the day, then at night it would freeze. I didn’t know what my liability was, but I didn’t want to be responsible for someone slipping on the ice and breaking a hip or something.

I felt kind of helpless. There’s not much you can do about either a puddle or a sheet of ice with a cheap snow shovel.… Read the rest

The power and limits of intercessory prayer

God showed Amos a swarm of locusts that he prepared to punish Israel. Amos, a citizen of the rival kingdom of Judah, begged him to be merciful. God relented. Then he showed Amos a consuming fire. Again Amos begged for mercy and God relented.

But then God showed Amos a wall, and next to the wall, a man with a plumb line. Amos could persuade him not to destroy the apostate kingdom with locusts or fire, but God would not allow his prophet to dissuade him from punishing the sins of his people.

King Jeroboam II had built a prosperous and militarily powerful kingdom, but he refused to heed Amos’ words.… Read the rest

A promise about prayer, with conditions for abiding

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” — John 15:7 (NASB)

I’m sure every Christian loves Jesus’ promises about prayer. So many of them seem, on the surface, to say that we can ask for anything and our heavenly daddy will do it. Of course, every Christian has the experience of praying and not having it done.

Jesus never made that promise glibly. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he made it in the context of comparing his church to a grapevine. He is the vine and we are branches.… Read the rest

Seed sown in rocky places: the dangers of shallow faith

In gardening or farming, sun gives life to well-rooted plants, but death to others. That is why, in Jesus’ parable of the sower, seedlings in rocky places and scorched by the sun represent people who hear the word of God and fall away in times of trouble and persecution.

American Christians may not suffer persecution, or at least not to the extent that Christians in other places and times have, but no one gets through life without trouble and affliction. I don’t suppose that many would compare persecution, trouble, and affliction to the sun, but Jesus did.

The sun is good; it gives power and light.… Read the rest