Was Jesus on TV this morning?

IMG_0121Did you see Jesus on TV this morning? With none other than Eamonn Holmes who said (with a pretty straight face) that it had been amazing meeting him. There was even a Mary alongside: Mary Luck, apparently, but happy to go by Magdalene.

If you saw the interview you probably didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (or punch your TV).

Turns out that ‘Jesus’ seems like a gentle, humble sort of a guy. Australian, as it happens. He’s 50 and happy to communicate via his website where apparently there is a truckload of free resources. Sounds as though he would appreciate a few pennies by way of donation, though – he has to make ends meet. Doesn’t sound like he’s the kind to buy a few loaves in the supermarket, multiply them, and stock up the freezer – even though you’d think that would allow the donations to go a bit further.

Not even a water-into-wine type, either. Eamonn did suggest it, but he declined; not into doing things like that to impress people. In fact, it seems that the incident at Cana of 2000 years ago was a ‘myth.’

Thanks for clearing that up then.

Of course I know that the first time Jesus came, he was not recognised. But this is not history repeating itself.

This is nonsense.

In fact, it on the far side of nonsense. It turns out that it’s not just the Australian middle order batting that has gone off the rails.

I don’t know whether this guy really believes what he says – I suspect he might. But he is not Jesus.

The man on TV this morning is not the incarnate Son of God who has promised he will come again. He will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28).

AJ Miller and his friend Mary sound more like a mix of liberal New Testament scholarship and a story from a Dan Brown novel. ‘I’m nobody’s lord, just call me AJ…’ he tells us.

Sorry AJ, the real Jesus is Lord.

When he returns, it will not be to give chatty interviews on morning television. Every knee will bow to him and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. He will appear in great glory and will be accompanied by the sound of a trumpet (he told us so himself).

That was not him talking to Eamonn on Sky TV this morning.

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I met Karl Barth’s barber

Len Sweet tells this story (I have no idea whether it actually happened or whether it is an ‘evangelilegend’) about Karl Barth:

[Karl Barth] was riding a street car in his home city of Basel, Switzerland. He took a seat next to a tourist, and the two men started chatting with one another.

“Are you new to the city?” Barth inquired. “Yes,” said the tourist.” “Is there anything you would particularly like to see in the city?” asked Barth. “Yes,” said the tourist, “I would like to meet the famous Swiss theologian, Karl Barth,” was the reply. “Do you know him?” Barth answered, “As a matter of fact, I do know him. I give him a shave every morning.”

The tourist got off the street car at the next stop, quite delighted with himself. He went back to his hotel and told everyone, “I met Karl Barth’s barber today

Sweet tells the story to make the point that we (like the early disciples) often fail to recognise Jesus when is among us. It’s about recognition (or the lack of it).

I’d like to suggest something else from the story: why was the tourist content to stop with (who he thought to be) Barth’s barber? Why not ask the man if it would be possible to set up an introduction? Why leave it where he did?

The moral of that is that some of us probably do the same with Jesus. We meet people who know him, who love him and revel in his grace. We read their books and listen to their podcasts. Some times we even get to meet them. But for some odd reason we are content to leave it at that. We are content to say ‘I met ___ ____ (insert the name of your evangelical superhero here) today.’

The crazy irony of the missed opportunity.

The Christmas Child and the threshold of a new year

Little is told us in the gospels about the boyhood and young adulthood of Jesus. Aside from the escape to Egypt and the Temple incident (at age 12), there is almost total silence on the part of the four evangelists. Only Luke helps us with his comment on Jesus’ submission to his parents (Luke 2:51) and his summary of how Jesus grew ‘in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.’

  • Wisdom
  • Stature
  • Favour with God
  • Favour with man

Although he was and never ceased to be God, and although at 12 the Temple theologians were astounded at his understanding, Jesus grew in wisdom. And he grew in stature. This was a normal child with things to experience and wisdom to gain. He grew taller and stronger as he got older.

He also grew in favour with God. As the Word, the eternal Son exists in an eternal relationship of love with the Father; as a growing child, the way he lived in such a way that he grew in favour with God. Eventually the Father would pronounce that this was his Son and he was well pleased in him.

And he grew in favour with men.

Part of the mystery of the incarnation is that when God took on humanity, he did so without shortcuts. So much so that the anonymous writer of the Hebrew letter said that ‘although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.’

Extraordinary.

There is a uniqueness and a deep theological mystery in all of this.

At the same time, I think Luke’s description of how Jesus grew and matured can help us with a template for planning our own growth and development as we stand at the threshold of another new year. As Jesus grew intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially, what about us?

Why not consider what goals you might set to encourage your development in each of these four areas for 2013?

  1. Intellectual – are there books to read (e.g. are there twelve significant books you should read over the next twelve months?), is there a Bible reading programme to follow, a Bible book or doctrine to grapple with, a new language to learn, an evening class to enroll in?
  2. Physical – growth may be the wrong word for some of us who are of a certain age: negative growth might be a better plan, but what should we do to get/stay fit and healthy?
  3. Spiritual – what do you need to do to grow in favour with God? It’s not that we need to struggle for his acceptance, but it is possible to live in a way that brings him joy and to serve in a way that wins his approval. Are there healthy, godly disciplines to cultivate?
  4. Social – are there friendships to be cultivated, new ways of encouragement to be developed, perhaps even new ministries to be started?

Why not get a journal (one of my daughters bought me a new one for Christmas) and use the first few pages to work through these areas?

What about Jesus’ grandmothers? (Thoughts on Matthew 1)

Why start the Christmas story with a list of names? Hardly the way you or I would start a biography. Put it in an appendix at the end, perhaps. Not Matthew. Rather than start at verse 18 (‘Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way…’), which is where we probably would prefer to start in our Christmas carol services, he starts with Jesus’ family line.

Some people quite enjoy digging back into their family line. It can be a fascinating business. A few years ago we had Thanksgiving Dinner with some American friends in Switzerland who could trace their generations back to the Mayflower. It turns out that there may be millions of Americans who can trace their family back in the same way, but still. It’s a good pedigree to bring out at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Matthew starts his gospel the way he does because from the start he wants to make it clear who he is talking about: Jesus, the Christ, the heir to David’s throne and descendent of Abraham.

But one of the striking things about the genealogy is the fact that Matthew includes the names of five women. Mary may be easiest understood since she was Jesus’ mother. But what about the other four? Jesus’ Old Testament grandmothers.

It was not unprecedented, though it was unusual, to include women in genealogies. So why did Matthew do this? What point is he trying to make?

By highlighting four Old Testament women, Matthew is not afraid to remind us that God’s plan and God’s work include both men and women. While it is true that there would hardly have been a genealogy had it not been for mothers, Matthew didn’t actually need to mention any of them. Perhaps it is no surprise then that in a culture where some rabbis judges it a waste of time, Jesus is prepared to speak to women like the Samaritan at the well or Mary who sat at his feet. However, if this had been Matthew’s point, why select the particular women he did? Why not include a venerable matriarch like Sara?

A look at the ethnicity of the women shows that at least three of them were Gentiles; if Bathsheba was Jewish, she had certainly married a Hittite. Ruth was a Moabite and they were rank outsiders as far as Israel was concerned. Far from descending from a pure line of true blue Hebrews, the line of God’s King included Gentiles, just as his kingdom would. You don’t have to go too far into Matthew’s gospel to discover that among the early worshipers were several ‘wise men’ from the East. In Matthew 8 Jesus both heals the servant and commends the faith of a Roman soldier. In chapter 15 he rescues the daughter of a Canaanite woman and in so doing again affirms the faith of a Gentile. And at the end of Matthew, as Jesus commissions his followers, he sends them to the nations. His Kingdom is not limited by race or flag.

In addition to their ethnicity, a closer look at the women’s stories reveals that there was a fair amount of scandal in their stories. While they may have undergone some degree of rehabilitation in the minds of many by the time that Matthew was writing (Rahab is presented as an example of faith in both Hebrews and James), three of them had some sordid stories in their past. However, if the main point is that God included notorious sinners in the line of Messiah, would the presence of Manasseh’s name in the list not have served the purpose? It’s also worth noting that in the cases of Tamar and Bathsheba the biblical text places more responsibility and culpability on the shoulders of the men (Judah and David) involved.

Which leads to another observation. The four women lived at four different periods in Israel’s history and each period saw sin and unfaithfulness on the part of God’s people. Tamar’s story belongs to the time of the Genesis patriarchs, Rahab at the time of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land, Ruth at the time of Judges, and Bathsheba at the time of the kingdom. Tamar’s story implicates Judah who is forced to admit his own unrighteous behaviour. Rahab’s decision to entrust herself, her family and her future to the Lord is in contrast with the unbelieving generation who had been left behind in the desert. Ruth’s simple decision that Naomi’s God will be her God came during the chaotic period of the Judges. Bathsheba’s story, not least the mention of Uriah, her honourable husband, throws the spotlight on the failure of David. Yet the story of the Old Testament is that not even the unfaithfulness of his people could stop the fulfilment of God’s plan, even if it meant including Gentiles, some of whom Scripture commends for their character and their faith.

The story of Jesus’ family line is the story of a somewhat motley crew of people who each became part of God’s unstoppable plan. Is that not a preview of his kingdom? For it is not limited to those with impeccable pedigree or who pledge allegiance to a particular flag. Nor is its ultimate success threatened by the limitations and lapses of its citizens.

If the story of supernatural birth to which Matthew is about to turn is not only deeply unusual, but also carries its hint of scandal (even Joseph was confused), the stories to which he has alluded in his genealogy have helped prepare the way.