Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. — Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
Paul says to work out your salvation. Some people act like that’s all he said about it. We all know folks who try really hard to be good enough and other folks that figure salvation, whatever that may mean, isn’t worth the trouble.
As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, they had arrested Jesus and put him on trial. Since Rome had long since taken away their right to carry out a death sentence, they had to take him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate for another trial. In fact, however, Jesus never was and never can be on trial. Whoever encounters Jesus for whatever reason is on trial. The stakes are higher than life or death of the body. The outcome of the trial determines eternal destiny.
The Jewish leadership dragged Jesus to Pilate’s palace and accused Jesus of sedition against Rome.… Read the rest
44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. – Matthew 13:44-46
These three verses comprise two different parables, but neither can stand without the other. The first says the kingdom of God is like a treasure, the second that it is like a merchant.… Read the rest
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
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
The book of Romans, Paul’s most systematic statement of theology, moves step by step from the universality of sin in the first two chapters through the marvelous statement of what it means to be free of sin in chapter eight. His basic argument continues most logically in chapter twelve, but he interrupts it for an important but parenthetical discussion of the judgment of the Jews.
Near the end of that parenthesis, having concluded that Israel’s rejection of Christ and God’s consequent rejection of Israel are neither total nor final, Paul introduces the analogy of an olive tree.
Taking a branch from one tree and grafting it onto another is a common enough practice.… Read the rest
“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, but stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” — Acts 4:29-30
I keep reading of prophecies, or at least predictions, that American Christians face persecution like it has never happened here before. Quite a variety of people have written about it, and they offer a variety of evidence. Frankly, the writers exhibit quite a wide range of credibility, too.
As I read this passage from Acts, it struck me that, while I have no idea how likely we are to face systematic persecution, the Bible has already told us how to face it.… Read the rest
In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus performed his only two-part healing. In an earlier post, I pointed out the significance to Mark’s structure of the fact that Jesus had to lay his hands on a blind man twice before his sight was fully restored.
That is not the only odd thing about this miracle. Notice that Jesus and his disciples entered the village of Bethsaida, where some people asked him to lay hands on a blind man. He did not do so immediately. Instead, he took the man by the hand and led him out of the village. After Jesus healed him, he sent him home with strict orders not to enter the village.… Read the rest
In recent centuries, philosophers have doubted miracle stories. Some of them have asserted that only uneducated people who don’t know much about science could believe them, so the stories must have some time after Jesus’ live passed into the realm of legend.
Others have claimed that the biblical authors deliberately made up stories that couldn’t be true in order to gain a mass following among the unsophisticated and credulous.
One question, then: if someone made up a bunch of tall tales to make Jesus seem like more than just another teacher, why would they make up a story about a miracle that seemed not to work?… Read the rest