Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Come Follow Me - Easter

This lesson covers the entire Holy Week leading to the death and resurrection of Christ. It includes Matthew 21-28, and the manual includes a suggested daily reading of those events that occur on each day. What a wonderful way to worship through the entire week.

The Return of the King
Matthew 21

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With the exception of important festivals, Jesus spent most of his 3 year mission teaching away from Jerusalem, mostly in small towns and villages. While annoying and frustrating to the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes, they did not move against him while his movement, like that of the Essenes (Dead Sea Scrolls) stayed primarily in the outskirts of Judea. However, Jesus moves closer to the capitol city as Passover approaches. Preaching and serving in the area, he raised Lazarus from the dead just a few days prior to entering Jerusalem for the Passover.  This miracle was greater than any other Jesus had previously performed. It was believed that the spirit of the dead remained near the body for 3 days, after which the spirit was gone forever. Here, Jesus called forth Lazarus on the fourth day, showing he even had power over the grave, something even Moses and other great prophets never performed The news spread quickly, and the Jewish leaders began to plan the murder of Lazarus and Jesus..

During Jesus' mission, he gained followers throughout Israel over the preceding three years, but he also gained many enemies. His critique of the Sadducees and Pharisees increased with each visit to Jerusalem, especially at the previous year's Festivals of Tabernacles and Dedication,
where he called himself the Light of the World, and performed many miracles.

It is Springtime, and the animals are birthing in the fields. It is the time of Passover, when Israel solemnly remembers the Ten Miracles of Moses in Egypt, culminating in the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb, sprinkling its blood on the doorposts so that the Destroyer will pass over that household, and eating its flesh as a symbol of salvation.

And now the Messiah enters triumphantly into the city of David. He rides while his followers wave palm fronds and lay their cloaks out for him to ride upon. The laying out of cloaks was a sign of submission, while the palm fronds represented victory. First century Jewish coins had a palm leaf symbol with the phrase “redemption of Zion” on them, signifying that the Jews sought a Messiah who would save them from Rome’s oppression. Jesus’ riding on the ass’ foal fulfilled a prophecy of Zechariah (Zech 9:9). Jesus chose a donkey to ride upon. Horses were used for war. Donkeys were a symbol of peace. The colt especially was a harmless and peaceful animal, just as Christ was come to be the Prince of Peace and not the violent warrior many Jews wished for.





New Testament scholar N.T. Wright (recently quoted in General Conference by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland), noted that whenever a triumphant king came back to his city after battle, the people would come out to him, cheering and praising him. Here, we see the people accepting Jesus as their king and Messiah/Savior. Wright notes that at the Second Coming, the righteous will be translated up to the sky, to meet the triumphant, resurrected and glorified Lord, as he returns to reign during the Millennium.

The people shouted out, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matt 21:9). Hosanna means “save now” or “save us”. So the people were asking Christ to save them. As Son of David, they recognized him as their king. King David successfully defeated the enemies of Israel, and they expected Jesus to do the same.

The shout comes from Psalms 118:


10 All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.
11They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
12 They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.
15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord:
20 This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
29 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

We will see that Jesus will quote a portion of this later to the Jewish leaders, telling them he is the stone which the builders (they) had rejected. For now, the people are begging him to “Save now” (Hosanna) and to send prosperity (in the highest). Yet the people do not fully understand the Messianic meaning of the Psalm. For them, the sacrifice would be the destruction of Rome. However, Jesus knows, even as he enters triumphantly into the City of David, he is the sacrifice bound with cords to the altar of the temple.

This triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday will be very different than his exit out the gate on Friday. Instead of riding, he will be carrying his own cross. Instead of shouting “Hosanna!”, the people will shout “crucify him!” Instead of being Son of David and King of Israel, he will be a traitor, blasphemer and a criminal worthy of the worst death imaginable. Instead of being surrounded by believers, he will have thieves to each side. Instead of reviving the dead Lazarus on the Saturday before, he will die.
Crucifixion and Resurrection

Standing before the crowds, Pilate offered them a choice. Every Passover, as a sign of support for the Jewish faith, one criminal's death sentence would be pardoned. Barabbas, or Bar Abbas (Son of Father) stood next to Jesus. Barabbas was a Zealot Messiah, one who truly did seek to overthrow the Roman captivity. While Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Barabbas murdered his Roman enemies. While Barabbas' name claimed him to be the son of God and the Messiah, Jesus' name in Hebrew was Yeshua/Yehoshua/Joshua, meaning "God is Salvation." The prophet Zechariah foresaw a Joshua who would be Messiah.  The name "Christ" means "Messiah" and probably wasn't a last name for Jesus in his day, but a descriptive term: Jesus the Christ/Messiah.

The people chose Barabbas, suggesting where their hearts lay. In 70 AD and in 135 AD, Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans because the people followed Zealot messiahs attempting to overthrow Rome's control. Such pride is in great contrast to the humility that Jesus displayed as he was tried, found guilty, whipped, and crucified.

The Pharisees and Sadducees succeeded in turning Jesus from the Returning King, to a treasonous and blasphemous criminal.

The Pharisees and scribes constantly demanded a "sign from heaven." Healing the sick was good, but to ensure that Jesus was truly Messiah and prophet, he would have to do better than that for them. Raising Lazarus from the dead was such a sign, but drove the hypocrites from anger to murderous intent. Even while upon the cross, many still demanded a sign from Jesus: have God rescue him from death. Imagine hearing those surrounding the crucified Christ, "he could heal others, but cannot save himself!"  But he would save himself, and all the rest of us as well. Death and Hell no longer held any power over him, or over us, if we but turn to him.

Finally, there are no greater words ever spoken than these:

He is Risen

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Previous blog posts on this lesson

Matthew 21-23 - Triumphant Entry and Teaching in the Temple
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/05/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-20.html

Matthew 24 - Jesus' Teaching on the Last Days
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/05/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-21.html 

Matthew 25 - Teaching in the Temple
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/05/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-22.html

Matthew 26 - Gethsemane
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/06/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-25.html

Matthew 28 - He is not here. He is Risen!
http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/06/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-27.html

Festival of Tabernacles in Jesus' Day
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/04/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-15.html

Jesus and the Passover/Last Supper
https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/06/lesson-23-love-one-another-as-i-have.html

N.T. Wright, "How God Became King"
https://www.amazon.com/How-God-Became-King-Forgotten/dp/0061730602/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=n.t.+wright+how+god+became+king&qid=1555430840&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Elder Holland quotes N.T. Wright
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/my-words-never-cease?lang=eng

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 16–17; Mark 8–9; Luke 9

Come Follow Me - Matthew 16–17; Mark 8–9; Luke 9

Previous blog post on this lesson found here: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-13.html

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The Signs of the Times

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the smoke from the temple fires would be observed as it rose in the sky. It would be a predictor of how much rain would fall in the following year. Much rain was a blessing to the poor, but not for the rich (who feared their crops and fruit trees would be washed out by too much flooding). The Jews were constantly looking for the signs regarding planting and harvest.

Jesus obviously was a threat to the two major factions of Judaism: Pharisees and Sadducees, because they came together as a group to test Jesus. These two groups were fierce competitors, having a constant balance of power between themselves. They differed on many important doctrines: resurrection, the temple, oral vs written teachings, how strictly to observe the teachings in scripture, etc.

Here, they ask Jesus for a sign. Why? Had he not performed one sign after another for the previous year or so? The Pharisees and Sadducees had been present for many of his miracles. Yet, like those of the 5000 he fed (previous lesson), who then asked for a sign, they would not be satisfied with anything Jesus would do. Had he provided a miracle, they would only have said it was from Satan (as they previously had done).

In desiring a "sign from heaven" they were looking for a very big miracle, that could not be caused by faked. While Jesus had performed earth bound miracles, he had not shown power over the heavens (Joshua stopping the sun, Elijah calling fire from heaven, Moses darkening the sun for a day). Even in Elijah's day, many saw the fire, but did not remain committed to the worship of Jehovah. Israel saw Moses' great miracles, but still disbelieved. Only a conversion of the Spirit can make a lasting difference.

In saying there would be no more signs, except the sign of Jonah (Jonas), Jesus was explaining in a cryptic form that he would resurrect.  The Benson commentary tells us:

A wicked and adulterous generation — As if he had said, Ye would seek no further sign, did not your wickedness, and your love of the world, which is spiritual adultery, blind your understanding. There shall no sign be given, but — of the Prophet Jonas — Or the miracle of Christ’s own resurrection, a sign greater than any of those showed by the ancient prophets and messengers of God, and consequently a sign which proved Jesus to be superior unto them all.  https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/16-4.htm

Thou Art the Christ

Matthew notes, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," while in Mark, Peter simply says, "Thou art the Christ." Finally, Luke has Peter profess, "the Christ/Messiah of God." While each makes a slightly different statement, they all verify that Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew's statement, however, adds an additional note of understanding--the Messiah was not just an angel prophesied by Daniel, but was the actual son of Heavenly Father!  Establishing a literal sonship relationship with God, was something that Jews of Jesus' day were not ready to understand. Scholar Margaret Barker, in her book, "The Great Angel, A Study of Israel's Second God" http://www.margaretbarker.com/Publications/GreatAngel.htm  we learn that ancient Israel did understand that God (Elohim or El Elyon) was anthropomorphic (man-like) and he did have a divine son (Yahweh). In declaring Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Peter was establishing Jesus' true role as Israel's second God, the literal son of Heavenly Father - restoring an ancient belief that was long lost by Israel as they combined Judaism with Hellenistic (Greek) and other beliefs.

In restoring this understanding of God and Christ, we could only then understand our relationship with God, as taught by Jesus. We call him "Our Father in Heaven" because He IS our father! As with Jews and traditional Christians today, the concept of God being a physical being that understands and loves us and truly made us in His image, has been lost. Again, a restoration of this important teaching had to occur, this time through the prophet Joseph Smith.

For most Bible believers today, God is a nebulous spirit that neither feels nor is moved. For many Christians, God has already chosen his elect, not because of their righteousness, but because God simply chose them. God, for many of them, is not a loving Father, but a monarch who chooses on a whim who will be saved and who will burn in hell. He is Aristotle's Unmoved Mover for much of Christianity. He can act,  but not be influenced by any of his creation. He is also believed to be of a different substance than his creation, meaning his creation can never be like him.

However, with Peter's confession, we see a different view of God. What is more perfect and correct: God as a Spirit that is disconnected to man; or Christ who has a physical body, who weeps with those who suffer, and is impacted by his creation?

Jesus is the "Son of the Living God!" God has offspring!  Jesus only does those things he sees God do, and so in Jesus loving and caring and weeping for mankind, we know that God is not the Unmoved Mover, but the Most Moved Mover. As Jesus has a body and spirit, so too does God. As Jesus has invited us to be the children of God, even as he is, so it is.  These truths were restored in Jesus' mortality and in our day through the Restoration. Without such understanding, our relationship with God could not truly be understood. And as Jesus explained, Peter's witness did not come through the philosophy of the times, but through revelation from God.

Mount of Transfiguration

Jesus promised Peter to give him the keys of the priesthood/kingdom. With this power, he would be able to seal and loose things on earth and in heaven. This bestowal of power would soon come, as Matthew 17 tells us concerning the Mount of Transfiguration.

As Jesus, Moses and Elias/Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple to give him the keys of the priesthood (D&C 110), so these appeared before Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration.

In chapter 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees insisted upon a "sign from heaven," but received no such sign. However, Peter, James and John did receive such a sign from heaven. Jesus was transfigured. Moses and Elijah appeared from heaven, and in a cloud they heard the voice of God proclaiming that Jesus is his Beloved Son. Signs follow those who believe.



 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; John 5–6

Come Follow Me - Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; John 5–6

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I've discussed some of the events previously on my blog, here: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-12.html
and here: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-13.html

For this lesson, I wish to focus on a couple other events.

Feeding the 5000

People were flocking to Jesus, causing him to have to teach in the wilderness, where there was space and less pressure from the Pharisees and Sadducees in the cities. Thousands flocked to him to be healed. Later, he fed them from a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus showed that he was able to provide for the needs of the people. He could feed them, even as God fed the people of Moses with manna. He could heal them, even as some of the greatest prophets, like Elijah, had done. This is the beginning of Christ showing forth his grace, by showing he is able to provide the necessary things to his people. 

Jesus Walks on Water and Grace

Jesus sent his disciples off by boat to other other shore of the Sea of Galilee. Only later, would he go to join them. When Jesus walked on water during a tempest, he displayed several important aspects of his power. First, he has power over the elements. The boats were stalled due to the storm, but were quickly able to make it to shore once he climbed aboard.

John adds an event that the synoptic gospels do not contain. In this story, Peter asks Jesus to let him climb out and walk with him on the water. Jesus permits it, and Peter is able to miraculously walk on the water towards Jesus. However, as Peter loses his focus, and sees the tempest brewing around him, his faith waivers and he begins to sink. "Master, save me!" is his plea. Jesus mildly chides him for losing his faith, but reaches down and lifts him up, taking him back to the boat.

In this event, we find one of the best descriptions of the Grace of Jesus Christ, how it applies in our lives, and our role in receiving the grace. Jesus calls out to us to "Come unto me." In doing so, he provides the power for us to do so. We have only a couple things to do: have sufficient faith and step out from the safety of the boat.

Jesus can heal and provide bread and water. He can cause us to walk on water and provide true safety. But we first must have the faith to come to him and move in his direction. No works of our own can save us. Even though it feels safe, the boat can sink in the storms. In this case, the disciples were unable to make it to shore because of head winds causing a strong current against the boat. Without Christ, all their efforts to make it to shore were in vain. So it is with us. Our efforts, without Christ's grace, are in vain.

As with Peter, only when we focus our minds and hearts fully on Christ, can his grace be activated in our lives. We must be moving toward Jesus. Just standing still and seeing the fearful waves of life crashing around us will not bring forth his power in our lives. In our daily lives, we must increase our faith, repent, and walk towards Jesus steadily. In doing so,, his grace is sufficient. 2 Nephi 25:23, Nephi tells us, "it is by grace we are saved after all we can do." The question then is, what is "all we can do?"  In this case, the story of Jesus walking on water illustrates the answer: we can have faith, we can repent, and we can come unto Christ.

We cannot walk on water, get our own boat to the safety of the shore, or even move forward against the storm. The power to overcome the tempests of life, to save and rescue, to give power to walk above the storms, and to bring us safely to shore, all come through the Grace of Christ.

Rejecting Christ

Those whom Jesus had fed, crossed the sea and flocked to see him. Did they seek to adore him? No. They only wanted free food. When Jesus told them about the Bread of Life, they asked for fish and bread. When he told them to believe him as Messiah, they asked for signs. Yet, they had seen healings and the miracle of the bread and fishes just the day before. When he told them that God provided manna through Moses as a temporal blessing, but he offered eternal life, they weren't interested. They did not understand his parable of partaking of his flesh and blood, thinking he was asking them to be cannibals. They left him, because he would no longer satisfy their fleshly desires.

So it is today. Many people stay with Jesus while the blessings are coming. However, when Jesus calls us to come unto Him on His terms, we often begrudge him and turn away. In doing so, we may be able to temporarily satisfy our own flesh, but the spirit dies from hunger. Only in coming to Christ and continuing in Christ, can we receive his Grace.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13

Come Follow Me - Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13

My previous blogging on this lesson is here: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-11.html

Parables



 
In this lesson, Jesus gives many of his parables. The word "parable" comes from the Greek, "parabole" which means a comparison of parallel things. In this context, Jesus' parables take every day events and compares them with the Kingdom of Heaven - the promise that heaven would come to earth for the Millennium. Unlike fables, which often give animals human characteristics and include magic, parables are ordinary and mundane normal events that have a spiritual meaning. The Hebrew form of the word, "mashal"also suggests something hidden, as in a riddle.

Here we have several parables, some long, others short. Each with a particular lesson. The parables were designed to have a hidden spiritual meaning, which only the true followers would understand. For the Pharisees, the parable of the sower would only seem like a story of someone planting a garden. For the believer, it would have far more important connotations, telling them what kind of people accept the gospel and retain that faith in their hearts.

In the same sense that these parables were hidden to the nonbelievers, so it was with the kingdom Jesus was building. The kingdom was hidden, initially being found only in the person of Christ. Only later would it expand to engulf much of the world through Christianity. In this instance, as with the good seed of the sower, some Christian faith would yield 30, some 60 and some a fullness (hundredfold - the full Restoration of the Gospel).

Framing the Parables
 
In chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus encountered opposition by the Pharisees. They insisted he was healing by the power of Beelzebub (Lord of the Flies). Jesus countered that a house divided cannot stand, and so Satan could not heal and remain Satan. They then asked to see a sign, of which he only gave them the sign of Jonah (3 days in the fish/ground), calling them vipers, snakes that lie in wait to strike and poison.

It is in this context that Jesus begins speaking in parables. Even though the Pharisees had seen miracles, they still demanded a sign. When he did show miracles, they insisted it was from Satan. While miracles are sacred, Jesus' teachings were even more sacred. He was not about to throw his pearls before the swine. Instead, he taught openly through hidden means, parables. In this way, true disciples would understand through the Holy Ghost, while unbelievers would remain clueless.

Finishing his parables, Jesus is rejected by those he was teaching. They were amazed at his authoritative teachings and miracles, but in a bad way, "And they were offended in him" (Matthew 13:57).

Even speaking in hidden forms, the people were offended and rejected Christ. Mormon had similar results from the Nephites, in writing to his son Moroni, he noted:

"Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them." (Moroni 9:4)
 Now, think of those who proclaim to follow the Savior today, but who reject the teachings of living prophets. Even among the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many who reject the apostolic warnings against modern sins and worldliness. When the prophets speak in parables, or quietly and kindly, they are ignored. When they speak with strong words, they are condemned for being the white male patriarchy.

Christ explained the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth in parables. For us, with all the commentaries and books on the New Testament, we are able to see many hidden teachings without pondering on the things of the Spirit. Yet, that knowledge doesn't help us anymore than the Pharisees and people seeing the miracles Jesus performed, and then rejecting him.

As in the parables, we must seek Him diligently as did the widow seek her coin, the man sought to obtain the pearl of great price, or in leavening our own spiritual bread. As the seed in the story of the sower, we can let it land in a good heart, or allow our hearts to be hardened as rock.



Previous blog post on this lesson: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-11.html


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 10-12; Mark 2; Luke 7; 11

Come Follow Me - Matthew 10-12; Mark 2; Luke 7; 11

The Twelve are Ordained
 
In discussing Matthew 10, 19th century Bible scholar Matthew Henry noted:

This chapter is an ordination sermon, which our Lord Jesus preached, when he advanced his twelve disciples to the degree and dignity of apostles. In the close of the foregoing chapter, he had stirred up them and others to pray that God would send forth labourers, and here we have an immediate answer to that prayer: while they are yet speaking he hears and performs. What we pray for, according to Christ’s direction, shall be given,

 In chapter 9, Jesus implored them to pray for laborers/missionaries to share the gospel. Immediately, the Lord now is preparing the way by setting apart his 12 apostles. They have been told to follow Jesus, and would be "fishers of men," and now will have the authority to do so. Jesus teaches them their role as apostle: preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and preparing a people for the coming of Christ.

Previously, there was no established process to develop an organization of prophets. The Old Testament mentions a school of prophets, but rarely do we see how a prophet is called, especially to replace the previous one (Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha are the main examples). Usually, we just see that a prophet is called of God, and he proclaims himself as such. Now, Jesus is establishing an organization that will plant the seed for his message to go throughout the world, and not just stay in Israel. Without a quorum of 12 apostles, there would have been no mission to the Gentiles, and the mission of Jesus would soon have failed after his crucifixion, as there would have been no witnesses to tell the tale of Christ's triumphant mission and resurrection.

Is It Easier to Heal or Forgive?

In the story of the palsied man who is let down through the roof to Jesus, we find an interesting teaching moment by Jesus. Instead of just healing the man, he first states that he forgives the palsied man of his sins. When the Pharisees murmur about blasphemy (for who can forgive sins, except God?), Jesus then responds with a question.  Which is easier: forgiving or healing?

Our first thought, and that probably of the Pharisees, was that forgiveness was easier. And in some ways it probably is easier. Forgiveness only requires an emotional effort towards empathy. Healing requires faith and the power of God. However, in today's world, we find that mankind can now do an amazing amount of healing through technology and nutrition. Yet, it becomes harder and harder for us to forgive those around us, those who offend us (intentionally or not). We are eager to condemn others and hold onto grudges for decades, instead of seeking to forgive, as Jesus so freely offers to all of us.

Would it be more important to us to be healed of a long term illness, or to receive forgiveness of God and those around us? Yet, we will jump at medical miracles to heal us of aches, pains, and rejuvenate our skin through plastic surgery. Meanwhile, we move much slower in forgiving others, even though Jesus proclaimed in teaching the Lord's prayer that we must forgive others, so that God will forgive us our trespasses.

Healing is a miracle. Forgiveness from God is an even greater miracle.

The Disciples of John the Baptist

John is imprisoned. His disciples understand that he may not have long to live. John sends them to Jesus with a question to ask, not for himself, but for his disciples to hear: Art thou the Messiah?  They needed to be weaned off John and onto Jesus, who was the Promised Savior. They did not need to look any further for a Messiah. Jesus' answer was clear, he was doing the works that were foretold the Messiah would do: healing the sick and afflicted, and proclaiming the gospel.

Humans tend to connect to their leaders, seeing them as saviors. This can include modern politicians, philosophers, singers, actors, and even modern day prophets. Listening to and considering what they have to offer is a good thing. But when it comes to true discipleship, we must ensure we are not following John the Baptist, while Jesus is available. We do not want to love a dead prophet so much, that when the Lord speaks something new through his living prophet, we stick with the old discipleship of dead prophet worship. Whether John the Baptist lived or died, discipleship to his being a prophet should have been overshadowed by discipleship to the Messiah.  John understood this, which is why he frequently sent his disciples to join Jesus.  Because of John's devotion to leading people to Christ, Jesus could not say enough good things about him. He was definitely among the greatest of prophets, who allowed himself to diminish so that Christ's role as Messiah could increase in the faith and lives of all Israel.


Bibliography

Matthew Henry: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/10.html



Sunday, March 03, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Come Follow Me - Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

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Matthew and the Miracles
Many scholars believe that most of the events in Matthew 8-9 probably occurred prior to the Sermon on the Mount. However, Matthew combined them. As the 3 chapters on the Sermon on the Mount focus on the spiritual teachings of Jesus, these two chapters focus on the miracles Jesus performed.

Each of these miracles suggest a particular power that Jesus possesses. The first miracle, likely occurring immediately after the Sermon, was the healing of the leper.

This healing is very important, because leprosy was viewed differently than any other disease. Under the Law of Moses, leprosy was an uncleanness that reached to the very soul of the person. A leper could not dwell in Jerusalem, attend the temple, and clean people quickly learned to avoid them to avoid being contaminated themselves. In healing the leper, Jesus showed that he had power over clean/unclean, righteousness/sin.

While Matthew has Jesus asking for discretion on not broadcasting around his miracles, Mark seems to encourage it, as when he tells a young man he cures to return to his family and tell them of the miracle.

The Centurion
 
Jesus not only heals the unclean, but also gives time and consideration to the Gentiles in the area. A Centurion was a Roman military man in charge of 100 soldiers. While it is possible this was a centurion under Herod Antipas (and thus, a Jew), it is more likely to have been a Roman centurion. He notes that he is not worthy of having Jesus enter his house, as he is forced by Caesar's decrees to worship Caesar and other deities, as well as perform some terrible military actions. In this healing, Jesus shows that he is not only the Messiah of the Jews, but of all the Roman world. He is to be worshiped and believed in, even though the world forces down terrible paths. Even when we deem ourselves unworthy, Jesus is there to heal us when we call upon him.

Jairus' Daughter and the Woman with the blood issue
In this dual story, we find Jesus healing a rich and powerful man's daughter, and a poor woman considered unclean. This story shows the power of faith, as Jairus' daughter dies as Jesus is en route to heal her. The faithlessness of those mourning her death and mocking Jesus was palpable. But so was the faith of Jairus and his wife. It was a living faith that sent Jairus perhaps several miles to seek a miracle. Jesus raised a girl from the dead, so he had power over life and death. Jewish belief was that the spirit remained with the body for 3 days, and so was recoverable by a miracle as this. Later, Jesus' bringing Lazarus back from the dead on the fourth day, will show he has complete power over death.

For the woman with a blood issue (a menstruation cycle that never stops), the woman was considered unclean. Women were unclean during their menstrual cycle, and had to go through a cleansing period afterward, so they could be considered clean to enter the temple, to touch others, and to be accepted into all of society. For this woman, her issue was as bad as being a leper. She could never become clean. The scripture notes she saw many physicians, to no avail. Given how terrible medicine was practiced back then, it could have been painful, embarrassing, and harmful to go through the prescribed treatments. In this instance, only faith was sufficient to heal her. Unlike the leper, who walked through the crowds up to Jesus, this woman quietly sought a secret healing and then to go on her way. Having felt his power heal her, he stopped, even though the crowds pressed on him and his disciples. Jesus didn't have to stop. He could have continued walking. But the woman needed a moment to be recognized by her Savior, who looked upon her lovingly, saying her faith made her whole.

"Peace, Be Still"

In going by water to cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus made an interesting choice. He could have easily went around by land. The storm that occurred would seem to have awakened the average person, but Christ continued sleeping on his pillow in the back of the boat, even while the others struggled to keep it afloat. The waters came in and the boat began to founder. Only then did they awaken Jesus, afraid they would perish. In saying, "Master, we perish," were they pleading for him to save them, or were they informing him that all, including Jesus, were about to meet a watery grave?

In commanding the storms to be still, Jesus showed that not only did he have power over disease and do over the elements. Taming the waters of a great sea is reminiscent of Moses controlling the Red Sea. Jesus, then, showed he had the same power and authority that Moses had. He was not just a prophet, but a new Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, he replaced much of the Mosaic Law with the Christian Law. As with Moses, Jesus performed many miracles. Now he tamed the waters.

"We are Legion"

Arriving on the opposite shore in the land of the Gadarenes, Jesus encounters two men (one man in Mark), who are possessed by several demons. They are powerful, being able to break fetters and chains. Upon seeing Jesus, the demons proclaim who he is, and pray he won't torment them.

I've pondered without success, why demons would go out of their way to approach Jesus and proclaim him as the Son of God? Why didn't they go hide in a cave or elsewhere, until Jesus departed a few days later? What invisible force caused them to come before him?

Interestingly, those who had fought against God in the war in heaven, now came to Jesus for mercy. They did not want to be cast out of the country they were in, but to be cast into some swine instead. What did it do for them to enter the swine, when the swine immediately ran over a cliff into the sea? The swine were probably being raised for the Romans and other Gentiles in the area to eat, as Jews wouldn't have come near them even to care for the pigs. So, the town people likely were not Jews. Seeing a Jew with such power as to heal the possessed, while also destroying two thousand pigs (possibly one of the town's major livelihoods), would have unnerved those not accustomed to such power. Was the slaughter of the pigs partially due to the Jewish cleanliness laws, which taught that swine were unclean?  What does it mean when an unclean demon enters into an unclean swine? What is the symbolism beyond Christ seeking to cleanse the land of all uncleanness?

We do learn one important thought from this story. Jesus does not remain long with those who reject him. As the Gadarenes asked him to leave for killing their swine, so Jesus will not remain long with us when we ask him to depart from us, as well. We can use whatever reason we have to reject the Lord,  and he will not force himself upon us. Whether through sin, or a conscious demand to have him out of our lives, Jesus will not remain where he is not wanted. Still, he is not far off. Christ did not threaten them, brush his feet off as a testimony against them, nor anything else. He simply left at their request.

Yet, we also learn from those he healed, that when they came to him and asked him to bless them, he was ever ready to lift them up. He forgave sins, healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storms, but only when the people first sought him and then exercised faith in Christ. As we turn to him in faith and ask him for his blessings, we will not be turned away.





Sunday, February 24, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 6-7

Come Follow Me - Matthew 6-7

(My previous blog post on this lesson: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/02/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-9.html )

Image result for sermon on the mount

Traditional Christianity's Continuing Struggle with the Sermon on the Mount

This lesson continues Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. For modern scholars, as discussed somewhat in last week's lesson, the Sermon on the Mount means different things.  For Luther, it was Jesus describing what is impossible for us to accomplish, and so it doesn't mean anything in regards to salvation by faith/grace without works. Michael F. Kearney noted,

Some thinkers, such as Albert Schweitzer, have placed so much emphasis on the eschatology* of the Sermon on the Mount that they have rendered it meaningless—Schweitzer’s work led him to believe that Jesus was mistaken in His anticipation of an imminent eschaton**, and if one understands the Kingdom of God to be solely expressed in an earthly rule under the absolute sovereignty of God as the King, then this places the Sermon in a sort of limbo, not having a home in this present world with its [presumably] unfulfilled arrival of the Kingdom.
Such are the struggles for traditional Christianity, which does not have the blessings of the Restoration. Jesus believed and taught that his kingdom would come forth on earth, literally and completely. The purpose of spreading the gospel in the days of the original apostles and in our day, is to prepare the way for that great moment when Jesus returns a second time in power and glory.

Earth life isn't expected to go on forever as it always has, but to have an ending to the telestial world it now is.  Jesus' teachings in chapters 6-7 prepare us to think, live and prepare ourselves for that day. Further, many teachings have both a spiritual and temporal fulfillment, and often times will have many partial temporal fulfillments. While the fullness of the kingdom may not yet be here, there are things that bring it partially into fulfillment.

The Lord's Prayer
 
Interestingly, Jesus begins with common activities, which he felt the Jewish leaders (he calls them hypocrites) are doing wrong. Two of the most common activities in religion are alms giving and prayer, which he discusses first.

In the Lord's Prayer, we read:

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (Matthew 6:9-13)
Breaking down the prayer, we first find Jesus establishing the proper relationship with God. He calls him Father, but not just any father. He addresses Father in Heaven. And to ensure the relationship is a respectful and reverent one, Jesus notes that even the name of God is hallowed or sacred.

Next, Jesus notes his belief that God's kingdom will come upon the earth. Many Christians no longer believe in a Second Coming, but that the earth will go on forever in its current state, perhaps becoming better on its own in a Star Trek fashion, where there is no longer hunger or need (as one can whip up a nice meal using a replicator).  But there is a kingdom and it will be on earth, even as it is in heaven.  And the only way it can be done is by doing God's will here on earth, even as his will is done in heaven.

He asks for the basic need of life: bread. He doesn't ask for lands, gold, power, or fame - but only the basic necessities needed to maintain physical health.

More important are the spiritual needs: being forgiven and delivered from evil. These require some work on our part, as we must forgive to be forgiven, and we cannot be running towards evil while God is trying to keep us from temptation.

Finally, Jesus reiterates the importance of God's kingdom in heaven and on earth, and all things belong to God, not us. This focuses us on other important teachings we will read in the Sermon - such as seeking first the Kingdom of God, and not spending our entire lives seeking material goods that perish and are stolen.  God will provide an open path for us, if we seek him first, a path that leads to all God's blessings and promises.

The Sermon on the Mount as a Temple Experience

LDS Scholar John Welch showed that the Sermon on the Mount, with the additional concepts from Jesus' Sermon at the Temple (3 Nephi 11-14) are directly connected to concepts in the temple. As the temple ceremonies take us from the basics (baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost), to higher laws, commandments and teachings, so the Sermon on the Mount begins with the beatitudes, which begin with simple actions (poor in spirit, meek), and move higher up the righteousness ladder to pure in heart, peacemaker, and being a prophet (and persecuted like a prophet).

Then Jesus discusses concepts that turn the Law of Moses and the traditions of the Jews on their head. Alms are to be done in secret. Prayer is to be done in secret. Let God reward you, don't seek the praise of men.  Judge only righteous judgment, for you will be judged as you judge.  Fix your own problems (beams) before you focus on others' weaknesses (motes). 

In chapter 5, Jesus mentions adultery as a sin we must avoid, but adds onto it that we cannot covet another man's wife in our heart, either (the word "lust" is used in English, but Moses' law against coveting comes closer to what is meant).

In the context of the modern LDS temple, where one moves upward to higher knowledge, covenants, and blessings, the Sermon on the Mount makes great sense.

The Kingdom

As mentioned, Jesus stated that the kingdom of God was at hand. For Latter-day Saints, we are called to build the kingdom of God today. The Restoration is all about preparing a people and the world for the Second Coming of Christ. A portion of the kingdom is already here: the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the key to the mysteries of godliness and of seeing God. Today, we have over 200 temples in operation, under construction, or announced. Inside the temple, we find the kingdom of God here on earth, as each Celestial Room represents the presence of God and his kingdom. With each ordinance for the living or for the dead (vicarious work), we are establishing the kingdom of God in individual's lives.

Then, as we walk out the front door of the temple, returning to this world, we seek to live the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, until the day comes when we can obey the highest commandment Jesus gave in his sermon:

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)



Bibliography

"The Sermon on the Mount: Is It Livable?"  Michael F. Kearney
http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/328/the-sermon-on-the-mount-is-it-livable

*Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

 **Eschaton:  the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.

John W. Welch. "The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple". Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009