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The Authority of Jesus Questioned August 4, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to the temple and preaches the Gospel message. There, He is confronted by the Jewish leaders, who question Him regarding His authority to preach.

He responds by querying them regarding the origin of the ministry of John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders then engage in a continuous discussion, noting that:

  • if they acknowledge that John was commissioned by God, then He would probe them on their failure to acknowledge this point during John’s ministry
  • if they assert that John was not commissioned by God, then the people would reject them.

Thus, they refuse to answer His query – and so He refuses to answer their query.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders with an incisive query. This passage furnishes yet another example of Jesus’ strategy of asking questions to reveal the thoughts and attitudes of others. Indeed, the questions that He poses during His ministry are probing – and relevant for modern-day believers. For example:

  • do we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ?
  • can we endure the suffering that He endured in this life?
  • can we refer to ourselves as His mother and brothers?

While these questions are challenging, we must confront them; if we can answer them in the affirmative, then we are confident that we belong to Him.


Promise of Restoration June 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 33.

Summary: In this passage, God reiterates the main point of the previous passage: He will bring His people out of exile in Babylon; moreover, He will restore them to their homeland.

In particular, He will:

  • allow His people to get married in their homeland
  • allow shepherds to tend their flocks in their homeland
  • re-establish the priesthood – so that He can be worshiped forever.

To lend further weight to these assertions, He appeals to His sovereignty over all celestial bodies.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God continues to assert the boundless nature of His love for His people. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 19-21:

He shows that God’s covenant with the people of Israel will be no less strong than the settled order of nature. The sun, moon, and stars are constant in their progress. This settled state of things is so fixed that in a great variety of circumstances there is no change. We have rain and then fair weather, and we have the various seasons, but the sun continues its daily course.

One thought is that this section of Jeremiah constitutes a lengthy love letter from God to His people; the language that He employs displays His ardor for them. Just as a soldier would be encouraged by a photo of a loved one during an extended tour of duty, God would want His people to be encouraged by this letter during their lengthy exile in Babylon. I hope to meet at least some of the exiles in the next life and learn how they responded to this love letter.

We also see that God will re-establish the priesthood in perpetuity. The meaning of this assertion is not entirely clear, given that the Levitical priesthood has been inactive for quite some time. In contrast, the meaning of His assertion concerning the Davidic dynasty is more clear, given that Jesus Christ is a descendant of David in His human form; moreover, we believe that the reign of Christ over all creation will never end. One thought is that while the Levitical priesthood will never be re-established, God has installed Christ as His perpetual High Priest (note that Christ is a member of the tribe of Judah in His human form). Christ always stands before His Father, having offered Himself once for all time as a sacrifice for sins; now He regularly intercedes for us with His Father. Thus, in that sense, Christ is our King and our High Priest. Now I am merely speculating here; alternate interpretations are welcome.

False Oracles and False Prophets April 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:33-40.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah for asserting that He speaks through them. He has repeatedly commanded them to refrain from prophesying in His name, yet they have refused to obey Him. Thus, He resolves to punish them – especially since they have misled His flock in the process.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the tendency of at least some believers – including myself – to put out a fleece in the midst of trials. As human beings, we rely on evidence that we can perceive with our senses; thus, it is natural to look for signs when we are caught in a bind. One thought is that we need to overcome this inherent bias towards the physical world and gravitate towards the words that God has already spoken to us in the Scriptures (albeit in general terms); in fact, we can often glean insights from His (general) Word in our specific circumstances with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Broadly speaking, perhaps we should ask Him to:

  • grant us sufficient evidence – in the midst of a particular trial – based on our current spiritual state
  • enable our faith to grow so that we would need fewer signs during the next trial.

Lying Prophets April 28, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:9-32.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in the southern kingdom of Judah. Indeed, their sinfulness exceeds that of their counterparts in the northern kingdom of Israel – as they actually sanction the sinfulness of their flock. Consequently, He resolves to punish them.

Jeremiah also exhorts the people of Judah to ignore these false prophets and wicked priests. This stems from the fact that God does not speak to them, and so they themselves formulate the prophecies that they proclaim. Indeed, a genuine prophet of God would realize that He wants to communicate a simple message to His people: they must repent of their sins.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the prophets and priests in Judah sanctioned the sinfulness of their flock. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah shows how these men surpassed other prophets in impiety by dissimulating when they saw on one hand adulteries and on the other fraud, plundering and perjury…As these prophets banished shame as well as fear from the wicked and ungodly, they strengthened their hands and gave them more confidence, so that they rushed headlong into every evil more freely and with greater liberty.

I assume that these false prophets and wicked priests condoned acts of injustice and oppression. Now I am curious as to whether they attempted to furnish a theological justification for these actions. Did they view the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow as people who were cursed by God? Did they assert that these disadvantaged people were separate from the church of God – and so He had no concern for them? Or did they passively condone these actions while secretly acknowledging their inherent sinfulness?

Here, we see that Jeremiah contends with a plethora of false prophets and wicked priests in communicating his message to his compatriots. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

As Jeremiah forbade the people to listen to such men, they must have been very confused: “What does this mean? Why does God allow these unprincipled men to occupy a place in the temple and to exercise a prophetic office there though they are all cheats, perjurers, and impostors?”

I have blogged about the difficulties that the people of Judah faced in attempting to discern truth from fiction. Since the messages conveyed by Jeremiah and the false prophets were diametrically opposed, one could only assess their veracity by looking for confirmatory evidence. Now the people of Judah knew that the Babylonian forces were pressing their siege of Jerusalem. In light of their predicament, how did the false prophets justify their optimistic messages? Were they convinced that God would never sanction the destruction of His temple? Were they assured that their foreign allies would break the ongoing siege of their capital? How did they respond when the Babylonians overran Jerusalem?

A secondary application of this passage concerns the delicate balance that modern-day pastors must strike when crafting their sermons. On one hand, they must learn from the negative example of the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah: if they neither spur their congregants to live holy lives nor exhort them to regularly assess their walk with God, then they display a lack of concern for their spiritual growth. On the other hand, if they harp on the themes of sin and guilt, then their congregants would probably grow spiritually weary and despondent. Truly it is difficult to know – on an arbitrary Sunday – what God wants to say to an arbitrary congregation. Thus, we must continue to pray for our spiritual leaders – that they would know how to discern God’s voice on a daily basis and respond to Him through their sermons.

Jesus Like Melchizedek May 3, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 7:11-28.

Summary: The author begins with the following rhetorical question: if perfection belonged to the priesthood of Levi and the family of Aaron – as this priesthood had been instituted in the law that was given to the whole church of all ages under the old testament – then why did a priest from a different stock appear? This stems from the fact that the priesthood of Levi has been abolished – and so the law that was given to the whole church of all ages under the old testament has been abolished. Indeed, Jesus Christ, who belonged to the priesthood of Melchizedek, was not in the tribe of Levi; it is evident that He rose from the tribe of Judah, and no one from that tribe had either served as a priest or attended the services. Moreover, the law that was given to the whole church of all ages under the old testament states that the priesthood did not belong to the tribe of Judah. Now Jesus Christ was appointed by God as a priest from the stock of Melchizedek; He did not become a priest through the law, yet His life and His divine nature equipped Him to carry out His office. The author supports this point by quoting from Psalm 110:4, where the Holy Spirit spoke through David.

Thus, the whole system of Mosaic institutions is now abolished, since perfection did not belong to it; instead God has brought in the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ. Perfection belongs to His priesthood, and believers now have access to God through Him.

The author then draws the following contrasts between the priesthood of Levi and the priesthood of Christ:

  • people entered the priesthood of Levi without an oath, yet Christ became a priest when God made an oath to Him – declaring His solemn, eternal and unchanging will
  • those who belonged to the priesthood of Levi were mortal men, yet Christ is immortal – and so His priesthood cannot pass away.

Thus, Christ is the surety of all believers under a better testament, and He has the power to save those who believe in God through Him, as He is living a mediatory life in heaven.

The author then asserts that believers can be accepted by the holy God through Christ, as He:

  • does not have sin present with Him
  • is free from evil
  • is unpolluted
  • is separate from sin in its nature
  • now resides in God’s presence in a glorious state.

The author concludes by drawing the following contrasts between the priesthood of Levi and the priesthood of Christ:

  • those in the priesthood of Levi offered animals on a daily basis for themselves and for others, yet Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice once for all
  • the ceremonial law added mere men – who were subject to moral and natural infirmities – to the priesthood of Levi, yet the will of God made Christ – who was free from all moral and natural infirmities – a priest.

Thoughts: The priesthood of Christ is the central focus of this section of the letter. Now the concept of Christ as a priest does not resonate as deeply with me as it would with believers who were raised as Jews; priesthood is a salient feature of Judaism, and many Jews view priests as divine ambassadors. After pondering this concept, I concluded that the concept of Christ as a lawyer – especially a defense attorney who argues my case – resonates more deeply with me. I would definitely require legal assistance in a hypothetical scenario where I was facing criminal charges. In that scenario, I would be unable to properly defend myself by formulating cogent opening and closing arguments, marshaling witnesses and evidence, or devising appropriate lines of questioning and cross-examination. Thus, I would benefit from the services of an attorney with the appropriate training and experience. Indeed, I can see Christ pleading my case before God, the righteous Judge, and I am thankful for His legal assistance.

In verse 28, the author states that God swore an oath to Christ that confirmed His appointment to a new priesthood “after the law.” I was curious as to whether this phrase is peculiar to my NIV translation, so I checked the ESV and NASB translations of this passage; they actually concur with the NIV translation in this regard. Thus, I wonder how we should interpret this phrase. Did Christ not know from the beginning of time that the Father would appoint Him to a new, eternal priesthood? Did Christ have an unspoken understanding with the Father in this regard from the beginning of time before the Father verbally appointed Him to that office after He gave the law to Moses? Could the author be referring to the fact that Psalm 110:4 was written after the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land? Of course, this may be “much ado about nothing,” but any insightful comments are welcome.