Thursday, February 25, 2010

'the good shepherd' in 3-D

Here's an example of how reading the New Testament in 3-D works practically.  Grab your Bible and turn to John 10.  This is a familiar passage where Jesus talks to the Pharisees about who He is using shepherding metaphors.  John tells us that Jesus spoke figuratively and that the Pharisees missed the point (10:6).  (Note: This is no surprise, because Jesus has just called them 'blind' (9:39-41) and made clear that He has taken up Isaiah's mission to blind the Jews.  Their inability to fully understand His words is what buys him enough time to make disciples.  When they eventually figure out what He is saying, they crucify Him.)

So let's try reading this passage using our 3-D glasses (explained more fully in the previous post).  Lens #1 - Jesus is the true Israel. First, we need to see how Jesus' announcement that He is the 'good shepherd' (John 10:11) relates to Israel.  Is there any history to this metaphor being used of Israel?  Yes!  Perhaps the best example is found in Ezekiel 34:

"'Son of Man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  ... You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd ..." (Eze 34:2-5)

The leaders of Israel had historically failed to shepherd God's flock under them.  In fact, in the preceeding story (John 9) the Jewish leaders showed a blatant lack of care for the blind man in their midst and treated him and his family harshly.  It's no wonder that Jesus launches into this metaphor!  It should be obvious by now that Jesus did well what Israel's leadership failed to do, that is, He cared for God's flock.  When he says He is the 'good shepherd' it is in contrast to the many bad shepherds who have successively destroyed the flock.  But that is only half of the picture.

Lens #2 - Jesus is Yahweh.  If we read on in Ezekiel 34 we find something remarkable.  Because of the complete failure of Israel's shepherds, Yahweh announces:

"I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. ... I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD.  I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak ..." (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

The expectation is that Yahweh Himself is the good shepherd who will come and care for His flock!  And Jesus has just demonstrated such care for the neglected blind man.  His announcement that He Himself was the good shepherd should have sent shock waves through the crowd.  To claim that He was the good shepherd was tantamount to claiming deity!  This is not the only relevant passage either.  Psalm 23 naturally contributed to the idea that the LORD is the true shepherd of Israel.

So we have two options.  We can read John 10 as a creative illustration made by a good teacher who tended to be a bit mysterious.  Or we can put on our 3-D glasses and read His words in light of their bold claims.  Jesus is establishing Himself as the true leader of Israel.  He is also indicating that He is Yahweh Himself, come to shepherd His flock.  It took the Jews a while, but they eventually figured out what He really meant, and tried to stone Him (John 10:31-33)!  Let's not be counted among those who miss the significance of His words.

To read more about the significance of the 'Shepherd' metaphor in Scripture, I highly recommend:
Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My own Heart: Pastoral traditions and leadership in the Bible (NSBT Vol 20; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the New Testament in 3-D

I've been reading some GREAT books on the New Testament lately, and I honestly feel like I've been handed a pair of 3-D glasses with which to read (and understand!) the Bible more profoundly than ever before.  What used to be flat, bland, or even puzzling has come alive and started to pop off of the page. Rather than keep this treasure for myself, I wanted to pass it on to you!

If you can image a pair of 3-D glasses (at least the ones from long ago), there was a red lens and a blue lens.  With these working together, an image that was specially produced for viewing with those glasses comes to life.  Without them, the same image is rather blurry, and if you stare at it too long you get a headache.  So too the Bible for many people!  A growing number of scholars are beginning to pick up on major themes in the New Testament that were missed in recent centuries.  For some reason the lenses most scholars were wearing just didn't allow them to see what was there all along.  If the NT was written with these twin ideas giving shape to everything, then we'd better put on our 3-D glasses so we can figure out what it means!

So are you ready?  Here are the 2 major keys that have breathed life back into the pages of Scripture for me this month.  They are distinct from each other (like the blue and red lenses), but when taken together they form a startlingly clear picture.

Lens #1 - Jesus is the 'true Israel.'  A lot of what Jesus says and does makes perfect sense when viewed through this lens.  Israel was called 'God's son' in the Old Testament (Ex 4:22), but they failed to do what God designed them to do (Deut 32:5).  They were supposed to obey him fully and in that way become a light to the nations (Isa 42:1-9).  But because they rebelled and were carried off into exile, they, too were in need of salvation (Isa 49:5-7). 

When Jesus is called God's Son it should be a flashing red light that he is the one who will do and be what Israel was to do and be.  His perfect obedience is patterned after Israel's failures.  One of the most poignant examples is the temptation account (Matt 4:1-11).  There Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness being tested by satan.  He resists those temptations by using scriptures from Deuteronomy which described Israel's time of testing in the wilderness.  There could not be a more intentional parallel.  Jesus does perfectly what Israel should have done, and that qualifies him to be the light to the nations that they should have been.  Now, through faith in Jesus (the true Israelite) we become spiritual Israelites as well.  The promises made to them are fulfilled in us.  Obviously much more could be said.  But on to the next one.

Lens #2 - Jesus is Yahweh.  Much of Jesus' ministry was an acting out of what the Jews expected Yahweh (God) to come and do for them after the return from exile. The miracles, the victory over satan, the calming of the sea, the regathering of (true) Israel, and the establishment of His kingdom were all things that the OT predicted Yahweh Himself doing (Isa 52:7-10).  Jesus' deliberate journey to Jerusalem at the climax of his ministry was actually the promised return of Yahweh to fill Jerusalem with His presence (Matt 21).  But because of the failure of the Jews to recognize and believe in Him his coming was marked by judgement. 

I've only just begun to watch for the ways in which Jesus dramatizes OT prophecies or fulfills them through his actions, and my list is growing.  What excites me about this is that it is an entirely different angle from which to demonstrate His deity!  My Jehovah's Witness friends have already heard all the usual 'proof texts' about Jesus being God and they have answers for them.  But this cuts underneath all that debate to reveal the profound truth about who He is.  If we truly believe the OT prophecies, and then we see how Jesus does what Yahweh was supposed to do we have only two options.  We can suppose that God changed his mind and settled for an ambassador instead of coming Himself as He promised (NO!), or we can recognize that Jesus was Himself Almighty God.  Why didn't He just say it plainly?  Because a direct announcement would have resulted in a premature crucifixion.  All along the way He acted out His message boldly and let those actions speak for themselves.  Those who had eyes to see and ears to hear figured it out and gave Him their full allegiance.

If you want more about how to read the NT in 3-D, I recommend the following great books:

N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (he has many other books which touch on similar themes)
G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission (reviewed in more detail below)
G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (eds), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (This commentary is worth its weight in gold.  If you can only afford one NT commentary, make this the one!)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

seminary or cemetary?

I was warned by a friend after high school that I was taking a big risk in heading off to Bible college.  He thought it would only be a matter of time before I lost my faith altogether.  "There's a reason," he told me gravely, "that seminaries are often called 'cemetaries'."  Multnomah proved to be a spiritually vibrant community.  After 4 years I was more in love with Jesus and more fascinated by His Word than ever before.

Now seminary.  And some may wonder if such academic study slowly sucks the life out of faith.  Isn't exegesis like pulling the wings off of a butterfly?  Once you have it all in pieces your flying days are over!  But for me it has been quite the opposite.  The more I study the more I am captivated by Jesus.  The more I read the more I want to read the Word.  Seminary has breathed new life into my worship, has enlarged my vision of God, and has shown me that I am only on the very edge of a vast country yet to be explored.  I can think of nothing I would rather do than spend the rest of my life traversing the hills and valleys of His kingdom, drinking deeply from its streams and eating its fruit.  And while I would be willing to do it alone, if that was my only choice, my deep desire is to take many others along on this journey.  We weren't meant to walk it alone!  Come and see!

Friday, February 19, 2010


There is something really special about a four-and-a-half year old girl.  Emma is so full of life!  Her wide eyes just sparkle as she tells me her latest idea (usually related to a birthday party which is still, unfortunately, 6 months away). 
One of the biggest thrills of being a parent, I think, is teaching my kids to read. Emma is really getting the hang of it and is so motivated to practice every day so that she can get a special prize when she makes it to the end of her phonics book (a Lunchable!). She'll be surprised to find out that "vengtable" doesn't have an 'n' and "unrase" is not a word, though it makes a lot more sense to me than 'erase.'

She's decided, by the way, to be a doctor when she grows up, and also a "saver," which means when people are in trouble and need help she'll rescue them. She gets pretty good practice on her little brother. Today she announced that she would be gone for a while and wondered if I would be willing to watch her baby (i.e. Easton). I told her I would be glad to do that for her. She was so pleased and said to me with great seriousness, "You'll have to keep an eye on him. He's rippable and messable!" (translation: If you don't keep an eye on him he'll rip things and mess them up!) And she's right! So I watched him closely.

We spent Valentine's weekend at a missionary guest house in Virginia.  It's basically a bed and breakfast, except you get lunch and dinner, too, and it's FREE.  We had been talking with the host for a while when he said, "Well, I'd better go study for my Sunday School lesson."  Emma had been playing quietly on her own, but she perked right up and came to me with eyes like saucers.  In a fierce whisper she said, "I didn't know misters studied!"  It was so precious.  One of these days I'll have to take her along to class to see that most of the ones studying are misters!  In her little world, studying is for mommies. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

what good is the old testament?

Top 3 Reasons to Read the Old Testament:

(1) It is impossible to truly understand Jesus without it.
(2) It is impossible to truly understand the New Testament without it.
(3) It is impossible to truly understand our identity as Christians without it.

These are not the only reasons.  But they are enough to make my point.

John Bright argues the same thing in his book, The Kingdom of God, where he says it is impossible to understand the New Testament apart from the Old because “Christ has come to make actual what the Old Testament hoped for, not to destroy it and replace it with a new and better faith” (193). This is bad news for the church today because it has long since forgotten the Old Testament. Bright laments the “widespread biblical illiteracy” that characterizes our generation of Christians. And he points out the danger of reading only the New Testament because it results in a superficial understanding of the Bible. Bright uses a building to illustrate his point: “If the Old Testament be a building without a roof [i.e. because its hopes are yet unfulfilled], the New Testament alone may be very like a roof without a building—and that is a structure very hard to comprehend and very hard to hold up!” (192-193)

A wonderful example of this is the book of 1 Peter. If you crossed out all of the Old Testament quotations and illusions in that short NT book there would be hardly a full sentence left over!  Peter bases his entire message for how the church should behave on their identity as the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10) and in the example of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21-25).  How does that relate to the OT?

The ‘identity’ language is taken straight from Moses’ words to the Israelites in Ex 19:5-6 (which are later repeated in Deuteronomy 7:6 and several times later) where he calls them a “holy nation,” a “kingdom of priests,” and "God's treasured possession." Peter was not just making up nice things to say about NT believers.  What Moses said about Israel, Peter applies to a mixed church of both Jews and Gentiles! This radical shift is made possible by their faith in Jesus, the Messiah, who is the only true Israelite (because of his faith and perfect obedience). As Jesus took on the role to which Israel was called in Isaiah (Isa 42:1- as a light to the nations), he became the Servant whose suffering brought healing to the nations (52:13-53:12). Now the church, in following this suffering Servant, can expect also to suffer. Understanding the background for Peter’s words brings the rich depths of his theology into view. Without it we may scratch our heads and wonder why so many different metaphors are crowded into such a short letter.

This is just one example of why knowing the Old Testament is so vital.  It would not be exaggerating to say that it is impossible to accurately and fully understand the New Testament without a basic understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I challenge you to read 1 Peter and underline everything that you think you've read in the Old Testament before.  I'm going to try it one of these days.  I've heard there are as many as 40 quotations and allusions there.  (And if you're really up for a challenge, try Romans 9-11, where there are reported to be no less than 100 quotes and allusions in just 3 chapters!)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

the best Valentine ever

It's that time of year.  Red roses and heart-shaped balloons flank the check-out aisles at Wal-Mart.  Rows of syrupy cards and boxes of chocolates are agonized over, purchased and delivered.  At our house, though, every day has been Valentine's Day for quite some time now! 

Danny thrives in helping, planning, organizing, and making life happen.  His love language has always been 'acts of service,' and these days I am sure feeling loved! 

He loves me on Mondays when he cleans the kitchen, bathes the kids and puts them to bed while I'm at school listening to lectures. 
He loves me on Tuesdays when he he does it all over again so I can memorize funny-looking German words.
He loves me on Wednesdays by working an extra long day so our crazy schedule will work.
He loves me on Thursdays when he asks me about what I'm learning and listens even when its obscure.
He loves me on Fridays when he gives up his free time so I can 'get ahead' on my reading.
He loves me on Saturdays when he watches the kids all day while I study and I come home to a clean house, dinner on the table, and happy children.
He loves me on Sundays when he takes out the trash and plans our week to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

He loved me 2 weekends ago when he took all 3 kids ... by himself ... to the beach ... for 3 days ... so I could study.

He loved me the day I came home from a long day at the library and he told me to go have some free time to myself (without homework!).

In some ways this may be the happiest season yet in our marriage.  We're both doing what we love to do.  Thanks, Honey!  You're the best Valentine ever!!