Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Daily Devo - Tuesday, February 2008

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” – Matthew 19:23-26 (NIV)

A while back it was reported in the media that the world's richest man (worth almost 70 billion) recently completed building his new one billion dollar home. Many of us would be repulsed by such extravagance, but not all billionaires are so focused on self. In another news report, an American businessman donated the sum of one billion dollars to a UN humanitarian project. Wealth leads to power, and it seems some use this great power to feed the hungry, eliminate poverty & disease, and strive for peace. Certainly if someone could earn their way to heaven it would be an altruistic billionaire. But in the above passage, Jesus indicates the opposite. No wonder the disciples were astonished, for who then could possibly be saved?

Jesus is reply is simple: no one; at least, no one operating on human strength or initiative. Salvation is, from beginning to end, an act of God. Jesus uses an exaggerated metaphor to prove his point when he says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Some believe that Jesus was referring to a gate named the “Needle’s Eye”. By this, the sharp edge of Jesus’ statement is worn away, as a camel could get through this gate, though by first removing its load and then bending down. Thus, it is possible for a rich man to get into heaven, but exceedingly difficult. But this destroys the very point Jesus is making; namely, the impossibility of human effort to affect salvation. Regardless, the gate-theory is simply not true. As Tuner writes in his commentary on Matthew, “Despite sermonic lore, there is no historical evidence for the existence of a small gate in Jerusalem, supposedly called the ‘Needle’s eye’” [a]. Some tour guides in Israel (not exactly known for their commitment to historical accuracy) continue to support this myth by showing visitors one of the small gates in Jerusalem, assuring them this is what Jesus was referring to. Even if such a gate existed, its name most likely arose in response to this passage. Thus, Jesus was not referring to the gate; rather, the gate was referring to Jesus. Similar metaphors existed in Jesus day. In Jewish rabbinical literature an elephant passing through the eye of a needle is a figure of speech for something that is absurdly impossible [b]. The camel was the largest Palestinian animal and the eye of a needle was the smallest commonly used opening [c]. Jesus is intentionally exaggerating to prove a point, as he did elsewhere (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:41). But the language of hyperbole was intended to drive the lesson home: it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God—humanly impossible.

Human have limitations, God does not. If salvation were a human act none would be saved because by nature and will it is an impossible task. It is God who takes a willful sinner and places her on the narrow pathway towards heaven. Whatever difficulties the believer then encounters on her path to heaven are to remind her to despair of her own strength and abilities and to flee into the sovereign and merciful hands of God, to whom nothing is impossible [d].

Matthew-Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, p 252
Babylonian Talmud, tractate Berakot 55b.
[c] Craig Blomberg, Matthew – New American Commentaries (Broadman, 1992). Compare Gundry (Matthew, A Commentary on His Life and Thought), p 390.
David Dickson, A Brief Exposition of the Euangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew, 1647. Comments from Chapter XIX, verse 26

Monday, February 25, 2008

Can divorced persons serve in the Church?

Question from the Indian River Baptist Church February newsletter

Q: Can those who have been divorced serve in the church?

A: It is important to note that there is no such thing as a "Scarlett letter" sin. All Christians were sinners saved by grace, and we are all equal at the foot of the cross. The apostle Paul took part in a murder, Peter lied, David committed adultery (and murder), and Moses had a bad temper (and, yes, committed murder). One's past sins do not debar her from service to the lord. Certainly the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is a lifelong covenant relationship between husband and wife. Yet the Bible also teaches that life brings people into situations in which the ideal is not always attainable, even by the redeemed--such as cases of adultery (Mattew 5:31; 19:9) and abandonment (1 Cor 7:10-16).

The Bible nowhere forbids divorced persons from serving in the church. Christ died for all sins, even divorce. Scripture does teach us that Pastors (i.e. “elders/overseers”) and deacons are to be the "husband of one wife" (I Tim 3:2, 12). But this is a notoriously difficult expression that has led to various translations and interpretations. Translated literally the phrase says "one woman man". The context never mentions divorce specifically. Many in the Early Church period took this phrase to mean that a pastor/deacon could never remarry even if his wife were to die (or else in life he would have had more than one wife). Others took this to mean that a pastor/deacon must be married. Today, most would reject these two interpretations. Others say the phrase refers to divorce (some making exceptions if the divorce took place before conversion, some making exceptions if it were a "biblical" divorce, still others making no exception). There is good evidence that the phrase "one woman man" refers to the faithfulness of the individual (regardless if a prior divorce took place). In other words, a pastor or deacon should be one who clearly and consistently demonstrates that his eyes are only for his bride. Even if this phrase does refer to divorce (which is not at all clear), than these two offices would be the only two restrictions upon divorced persons. All other positions within the church are clearly open to them.

In conclusion, divorce is not a "Scarlett Letter". While we mourn that it has occurred, and as a church must do all we can to prevent it, we do not hold the past mistakes of anyone against them (or else we would all be barred from God's service). Christ gave spiritual gifts to divorced persons, as he has to all believers. It would be sinful not to allow these precious members of Christ's community to exercise the gifts and talents Christ gave them. While it is possible that the office of deacon and pastor are not open to divorced persons, we cannot be certain. However, we are certain that such restrictions do not extend beyond this point.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Daily Devo - Monday, February 25, 2008

“’ ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” – Matthew 19:20-22

Have you ever had the experience of hearing an evangelist? I’m not talking about the doctrinally sound and gifted ones. I love those! I mean the ones who are cheesy, pushy, and trite. I can recall one such evangelist who would walk around the stage ranting, “Do you want to go to heaven? Then halleluiah, you’ve become a Christian tonight!” I remember as a child being so very excited. I, after all, certainly did want to go to heaven and therefore I must be a Christian. Only later did I realize the absolute stupidity of this line of thinking. In my entire life I’ve never met a person who didn’t want to go to heaven [a]. The desire to go to heaven makes one a Christian about as much as the desire to fly makes one a bird.

Jesus has been pressing this young man about the law. We have already discovered that he was a religiously devout person who kept the law of Moses (and undoubtedly the oral law of the Pharisees) with precision and care. Jesus himself seems to recognize the admirable devotion in this young man (see Mark 10:21). He truly followed God’s law, was faithful to the commandments, and did all the law had required. He loved God (the first table of the 10 commandments) and he loved others (the second table).

Or did he? Jesus now forces this young man to see that the Law is a brutal taskmaster. One can never live up to its far-reaching demands. Do you think you have loved enough? The law says you haven’t. Have you been holy enough? The law says ‘no way’! Have you served God enough? The law says ‘never in a million years’. Though this young man thought he had fulfilled God’s command to love others, Jesus now asked him to sell all that he has and give his money to the poor (making him poor in the process).

The response of the young man comprises one of the truly heartbreaking verses in Scripture [b]. This bright, devout, and promising young man cannot and will not live up to Jesus’ exacting standard. The man turns away in depression, feeling that now he will never measure up. The most interesting thing about this story is that Jesus lets him walk away. He doesn’t run after the man. There is no coddling, no reassurance, no pleading. Jesus simply declares his unshakeable requirement and lets the fellow make his own decision. Narrow is the road.

Centuries ago, the greatest Christian orator of the Early Church period declared “great is the tyranny of wealth” [c]. The young man desperately wanted heaven, but not so desperately as to give up his sin. Despite all his faithful keeping of the law he never relinquished the core of his heart to the Father. His god, ultimately, was his wealth. Yes, he went away sorrowful. A fallen man will be sorrowful when he cannot have heaven on his own terms [d]. Too many Christians confuse spiritual sorrow and misery for conviction. Many times it is simply the expression of the sinful heart wanting heaven, but unwilling to give up hell. As Bernard of Clairvaux said of this man, “he did not own his possessions: they owned him” [e].

[a] I have met a few self-described Satanists who claim to want to go to hell. But they redefine hell as a place where they can engage in their debauched pleasures. Thus, their view of “hell” is simply a perverted heaven.
[b] Wilkins, p 649.
[c] John Chrysostom (347-407 a.d.). This comment is found in Homily 63 in his Homilies on the Gospel According to St. Matthew.
[d] Comm. Carm. 21.4(8)
David Dickson, A Brief Exposition of the Euangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew, 1647. Comments from Chapter XIX, verse 22.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

EXPLORING CANAAN - Tips for Pastors Who Blog

Blogging for the glory of God

Blogs are now part of our culture. No one can predict how long this cultural phenomenon will last, but it is showing no hint of slowing down. What is clear is that it is changing the way the world receives and interacts with news and opinion. Blogs can be a positive and beneficial aspect to a pastor's overall ministry among his people. They allow him to interact with ideas and offer opinion throughout the week, as well as expose his congregation to the important issues facing Christians today. However, there are dangers that should be avoided. Here are a few of the lessons I have learned.

1. Remember that blogging is not a pastor's primary, or even secondary, teaching venue. It is tertiary at best. Do not fool yourself into thinking you are fulfilling your requirement to faithfully teach the Word by posting devotions, sermons, or theological articles online.

2. Post daily. Encourage the people of your church to come to your blog by posting new articles every day. Also vary the subject matter. 25 posts in a row about the deity of Christ or the dangers (or benefits) of the emergent movement is simply not wise.

3. Post things other than your sermon. They were there, they heard it when you said it--they don't need to see it in print (much less in full form). A quick recap is good. A full sermon manuscript is not.

4. Reduce your time online. Pastors should not be sitting at their computer for an hour or more each day posting articles. I write most of my posts on Monday which is my "light" office day. I schedule no counseling appointments or meetings on this day (because my brain is too dead from Sunday), and answer email, go through the mail, clean my office, run church errands, and write my blog articles. I save these in a word file and then cut-paste-post as needed each day.

5. Blogging is no substitute for connecting with your people. Stop right now, put your jacket on, and go out and talk to an actual human being you can see and touch (well, careful with the touching part). Your congregation could care less how often you post on your blog but they certainly care how often you visit them in their homes.

6. Offer what is unique to you. The world already has a John Piper, Scot McKnight, & John MacArthur. I already read their blogs. Write about what interests you, and do so from your own perspective. You don't need to be profound, just be you.

7. Stop trying to be famous. If your blogging to get the attention of the Christian world and become on of the "blogging big boys" STOP IT IMMEDIATELY. Christ didn't live, die, and rise again so you could be obsessed with your own glory.

8. Remember that the fruit of the Spirit must be demonstrated online, too. Be humble and gracious even when your making a stand on some issue. Give others the benefit of the doubt and state your convictions with a gentleness that cannot be denied, even by your critics (note: I am the first to admit I have failed much in this area).

9. Use your blog as a tool of personal betterment.
Write posts and interact with ideas that sharpen your thinking and broaden your perspectives. An active blog forces pastors to think through their opinions on a variety of important subjects.

10. Demonstrate a Christian worldview. Anybody can comment on a football game. As a pastor, offer your readers what they cannot get elsewhere. Help people think biblically about everyday life. You don't need to be preachy, but do find opportunities to help others turn their minds to God.

11. Don't mention your blog from the pulpit, but do promote it within your church. Few in your pew want to hear about your blog. Those that like it have already read it, those that don't never will. Instead, use the church's written documents to point people towards this online resource (weekly bulletin, church newsletter, etc).

12. Protect the privacy of your people. Don't even talk about your people in round-about ways if it's negative (e.g. "Yesterday I sat down with a couple from church who is struggling with their marriage"). Your congregation isn't dumb, and they WILL figure out who you are talking about (or worse, they will perhaps guess wrongly and spread a false rumor). If it's positive, get their permission first (even if not mentioning them by name).


Exploring Canaan is a series of post that explore aspects of secular culture from a Christian point of view. Moses ordered the 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan to analyze both its dangers and wonders. Pastor Josh Gelatt writes from the point of view that we have the bible's liberty to embrace those aspect of secular culture that can be beneficial for God's people, while also following the bible's command to shun those aspects which are detestable in God's eyes.

Daily Devo - Sunday, February 24, 2008

“’Which ones?’ the man inquired. Jesus replied, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said.’” – Matthew 19:18-20a (NIV)

Often when discussing the law of God I use the following illustration. Imagine you could take all the laws of the Old Testament and put them into a vice. You then begin to crank down and compress them together. Turn after turn, the laws are “squished” together. After a considerable effort, you finally release the press. In a sense, what you would in up with are the 10 Commandments. The “10 Words” (as they are often called) are a “compression” of, or a summary of, the entire Old Testament code of laws.

The 10 Commandments originally were written on two stone tablets. Roughly speaking, the first tablet contained laws that pertained to our relationship to God (“have no other God’s before me”, etc). The second tablet contained laws that pertained to our relationship to others [a]. Jesus isn’t ignoring or undermining the importance of the first tablet. As Calvin rightly observed, the second tablet (right action) is proof that we have adhered to the first tablet (right belief) [b]. Jesus highlights these commandments because they were the easiest ones to observe in a person’s life. As such, they were a matter of great emphasis among the Pharisees.

When the young man responds “All these I have kept” he is not bragging, he is telling the truth. The Gospel of Mark adds an important detail that Matthew omits. Mark 10:21 states that “Jesus looked at him and loved him”. Jesus recognizes this man to be a devout, good-living, decent citizen—the kind of person who is a credit to any community [c]. The Leviticus command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was typically taken to refer to one’s kindness and generosity towards the poor. As a religiously devout man of great wealth he would have most certainly provided financial relief to the orphans, widows, and poor. He lived honorable and even ethically. More so, he was exemplary and genuine in his religious conduct. Those who are looking for an example of a religious hypocrite must look elsewhere. According to the Pharisee’s code of conduct, he was doing everything required of him.

Yet, in his heart he knew this wasn’t enough. There still was the old, nagging voice that told him he would never measure up to God. Still he would do more, and more, and more—hoping somehow to silence the accusing voice within. Today counselors (even Christian counselors) would try to help the man overcome his sense of worthlessness; Jesus is trying to help him embrace it. Jesus wants this man to search his soul, to consider all the good he has ever done, and to search the motivation of his heart. He wants him to sense that he has done everything humanly possible to live in a manner pleasing to God. And then, most importantly, Jesus wants him to sense the utter uselessness of it all.

It is only when we truly see our weakness that we can see Jesus’ loving strength.

[a] Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20. Jesus also adds one commandment from Leviticus 19:18 (“love your neighbor as yourself”). Though distinct from the “big 10”, it directly relates to one’s treatment of others.
[b] Institutes 2.8.52-53
[c] Douglass Hare, Matthew – Interpretation (John Knox, 1993) p 226.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Daily Devo - Saturday, February 23, 2008

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’” – Matthew 19:16-17 (NIV)

Most non-believers recognize that there must be something more to life. Although they still persist in following the world’s promise of satisfaction through material possessions and pleasures, they follow this path as hypocrites, all the while knowing the world has lied and true satisfaction is still beyond them. This young rich man sensed that riches were inadequate for true happiness. He was unhappy with his present life, and terrified about his eternal life. If he wasn’t satisfied now, he realized he had no hope of being satisfied for all of eternity.

Yet we should notice what this young man did not sense. He was utterly ignorant of justification by faith in Jesus Christ [a]. He was trapped in his thinking that he must do something, earn something, perform some great act. This man measured his life according to worldly standards. When compared to the world around him, he was the superior. The wealthy have always been a small percentage of any society, and in Jesus’ day wealth was held by even fewer than today. This young man was surrounded by social inferiors. He was the standard that everyone else used as a measuring gauge. But still he was not satisfied because deep down he knew his faults and frailties. While he may have been a standard for societal success, he knew he was no standard for moral goodness.

Jesus senses this, and takes the opportunity to clearly impress the true standard upon his mind. God is the only standard of goodness. Jesus did not mean this to reassure the man, but to frighten him. Certainly if God was the standard, who could ever possible measure up? But Jesus is also inviting this man to see something about the Jesus’ own nature. Will this man recognize Christ as God, and thus as the true standard of goodness? Will he see that he will never measure up to Jesus, and therefore only has hope by surrendering his life to Christ?

Our Lord tells him to obey the commandments if he wants eternal life. Jesus isn’t pointing him towards works, but rather towards the futility of the law to produce goodness. Clement of Alexandria correctly notes that “salvation does not depend on external things, whether they be many or few, small or great, or illustrious or obscure, or esteemed or disesteemed; but on the virtue of the soul, on faith, and hope, and love, and brotherliness, and knowledge, and meekness, and humility, and truth, the reward of which is salvation.”

Jesus knows this man has relied on himself, and therefore subtly shows that he isn’t an adequate standard. Jesus also knows this man has relied upon the law, and now begins to demonstrate that the law itself is inadequate. The young man wants his heart to be at rest. Our Lord is trying to show him, as Augustine said so well, that his heart will be restless until it finds rest in Jesus.

[a] David Dickson, A Brief Exposition of the Euangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew, 1647. Comments from Chapter XIX, verse 16.
[b] Clement of Alexandria, Quis dives salvetur? (Who is the Rich Man That Shall be Saved?), Section 18. This work is essentially a commentary on Matthew 19:16-30. An older English translation can be found in volume 2 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Love Responds to Piper

Rick Love responds to John Piper's criticism of Love's endorsement of A Common Word. Also see John Piper's document titled How Should We Love Our Muslim Neighbor.

This is an important conversation between two friends, both of whom love the Lord. Ultimately, however, I am convinced the Rick Love's position falls short of what Christ expect from his followers. Still, I appreciate his honesty and attempt to come to grips with Scripture's true teachings.

Daily Devo - Friday, February 22, 2008

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. – Matthew 19:13-15 (NIV)

Think about the people in your church. Visualize their individual faces in your mind. Which are exceptionally gifted? Who are the natural leaders? Who create the most problems? Who are the teachers? Who are the followers? Who are the stubborn? Who are the weak? A church is full of all kinds of people and personalities. Most congregations are a mixed bag. Some we are proud to know, others we secretly wish we didn’t have to. We find a similar situation in Matthew 19:13-15.

In this section of Matthew we once again see Jesus using children as a teaching experience (cf 18:1-5). Matthew uses the term “children” (pais), which could denote a child of any age. Luke’s gospel is more specific, however, and informs us that they were infants (brephe) brought by their parents for a spiritual blessing (Luke 18:15-17). Thus the issue Jesus is emphasizing isn’t the “childlike faith” of a youngster, but rather the total dependence of a baby.

The disciples began to put a stop to this situation at once. Perhaps they were annoyed because their traveling plans were being delayed, or perhaps they simply thought Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with “little kid stuff”. Jesus, after all, was an important person. Thousands would come to hear him speak, and the disciples were not about to let him be sucked into the demand for blessing by a group of pestering mothers! Many centuries ago, Hilary of Poitiers reflected on this very issue. He noted that “the disciples thought they were doing honor to Christ, while actually they were diminishing his glory” [a]. They wanted to shield him from the incessant demands of the ‘needy’ and ‘weak’, failing to realize that it is preciously amongst this group that Christ gets the most glory of all.

As to be expected, Jesus stops them and encourages the parents to continue to bring their babies to him. The text tells us that Jesus “placed his hands on them”, indicating that he recited a spiritual blessing over the little ones. Such blessings were common in the Hebrew culture. One rabbinic tradition describes the custom of bringing a thirteen-year-old boy to the elders in Jerusalem at festival time “to bless him and pray for him that he may be worthy to study the Torah and engage in good deeds”, and the Old Testament contains similar examples of blessings for infants (Gen 48:14-15).

Infants are the weakest members of society. But Jesus, the most important man on earth, insists that they are worth his time. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is for them. It is a kingdom that welcomes the weak, the screwed-up, the socially dysfunctional, and the financially strapped. It welcomes the man who struggles with his temper and the lady who sinks repeatedly into depression [b]. In his commentary on this section John Calvin imagines what blessing Christ would have recited for these weak, little babes. He writes that Jesus prayed “that they might be received into the number of the children of God”. As you identify the weak and unseemly members of your congregation, pray over them as Jesus prayed over the little ones.

[a] Manlio Simonetti, Matthew 14-28 – Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament: Ib (IVP, 2002) p. 95
[b] Davies & Allison write, “Throughout the First Gospel Jesus extends his hand, both figuratively and literally, to the marginal, those without societal status or power—not just the young but also the lame, the possessed, and the blind, lepers, Gentiles, women”. Matthew: Vol III: XIX-XXVIII (T&T Clark, 1997) p 36.

Puritan James Durham on the 30-Day Sex Challenge

Two days ago I posted an article about an emergent church who issued a 30-day sex challenge to their city. Asking married couples to engage, and singles to abstain from sexual activity for 30 straight days, the church is attempting to demonstrate that when we follow God's prescribed pattern of behavior life becomes more pleasant, fulfilling, and enjoyable.

While I immediately took issue with the church's crass titillation and MTV-esque sensationalism, I struggled even more with their underlying assumption: "Do what God says and life becomes better". I have come to realize that this underlying assumption is far more destructive to true Christianity than any edgy outreach campaign. The 30-Day challenge is simply silly; it is the assumption that is heretical.

For those who can see the irony, I found the cure for this way of thinking in the pen of a 17th Puritan. Sitting on my end table is a facsimile copy of a 1686 book written by James Durham, minister in the city of Glasgow, England. The book is called "The Great Corruption of Subtile Self" [a] and is a collection of seven sermons on Matthew 16:24 [b].

Taking his cue from John 6:26 ("I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill."), Durham describes the "subtile self"[modern day "subtle"]. He says this subtle self is a form of self-seeking where people profess Christ as great but in reality seek to make themselves great. In contemporary language we often hear, "Do what the Bible says to have a great marriage", "Become a Christian to have great relationships", "Follow these scriptural instructions to have great sex", "Do this to have great joy". There is certainly nothing wrong with people wanting great marriages, relationships, joy, or even great love-making. Similarly, there was nothing wrong in Jesus' day with people wanting something to eat. The problem arises when we use Jesus as a means to secure these things. Durham paraphrases Jesus' meaning in that verse by these powerful words: "That is, Ye seek me not out of respect to me, as God, but because ye conceive ye would have a good life under me". He goes on to say "there is nothing more abominable in the sight of God than to [pursue] a selfish end under the pretext of honouring him."

In essence, this "subtle self" takes the offer of Christ's spiritual kingdom and reduces it to a worldly kingdom for self's own advantage. Perhaps most importantly, this isn't something that only unbelievers do. Durham writes, "There is a selfishness, even among Christ's disciples, that comes in and covers itself with the shew of respect to Christ". The only cure, according to Durham, is to manifest a life where our eyes are kept upon the fullness of Jesus Christ. To achieve this life of true discipleship, Durham offer 8 pictures of Christ that we must constantly keep before us [c]:

1. We must see Jesus as our Scope and End. 2 Cor 5:15 tells us to "live to Him" and Phil 3:14 urges us to "press toward the mark". True followers of Jesus strive after him. He is both the journey, and the end of the journey.

2. We must see Jesus as our Prize. We are to follow him as one following after a great treasure and prize. He is the only thing of value, the only thing worth having.

3. We must see Jesus as the Pattern to which we must conform.
All our actions should conform to him, and he must be our example for life, thought, and conduct. How did Jesus seek joy? What activities did Jesus engage in? What was the purpose and motivation for his life on earth? When we answer these questions, we have found our answer for how we are to live.

4. We must see Jesus as our Teacher and Master. As our teacher we follow his instructions, as our master we obey his commands.

5. We must see Jesus as our Leader and Guide. Isa 55:4 foretells of a "...leader and commander to the people". He is the great ruler to whom we submit our lives to serve.

6. We must see Jesus as the Shepherd. He cares for and feeds he sheep. He provides for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

7. We must see Jesus as our Forerunner. According to Hebrews 6:20 he is approaching the throne of God on our behalf. He is advocating for us, pleading for us, demanding for us. Because of him, we will be accepted at the throne.

8. We must see Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our faith. (Heb 12:2). We only have saving faith because of Jesus. Our faith only continues because of him, and it is only through his strength that we can finish this "race" of faith set before us.

We can only defeat the heresy of subtle self when we set before our eyes the fullness of Jesus. Jeremiah 45:5 commands us not to see great things for our self. The reason is because we are supposed to be too busy seeing the greatness of Jesus.

May we fight against the subtle self which threatens all of us.

Christ is pretended, while all the
while self is intended.
- James Durham

[a] To my knowledge this book is not in print, which is perhaps one of the great scandals in contemporary publishing. It would make a great Puritan Paperback---a public hint to Banner of Truth - :o)
[b] Matthew 16:24: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
[c] He actually offers 9. I omitted his #6: "Jesus as Commander", because it seemed identical to his #5: "Jesus as Leader".

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Daily Devo - Thursday, February 21, 2008

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” – Matthew 19:10-12 (NIV)

Married people have a really bad habit. They seem to have this irrepressible desire to marry off all of their single friends. This is of course motivated by compassion. They have found love and comfort in the marital embrace and want to see their dear friends have a similar experience. But alas, so many singles put up with unexpected blind dates and high-pressure pushes onto some other single because of their married friends’ “good wishes”.

In light of Jesus earlier teaching on marriage, the disciples became alarmed. Jesus greatly restricted the Christians options for dissolving a marriage, and provided even greater restrictions regarding remarriage. Apparently the disciples took an opportunity when alone with Jesus (see Mark 10:10) to express their bewilderment. They basically declared, “If it’s so hard to get out of a bad marriage, perhaps it’s better not to get married at all!” Jesus doesn’t challenge their assessment of his teaching, and they correctly understood its radical implications. But Jesus does take the opportunity to change the subject from marriage to celibacy.

In our contemporary culture we generally equate the word ‘celibate’ with abstaining from sexual intercourse. Of course, it is true that a Christian celibate person so abstains, but that really isn’t the point [a]. Celibacy is essentially singleness. Jesus’ statement “not everyone can accept this word” refers to the disciples mention of singleness, and not back to his earlier teaching on divorce [b]. In essence, Jesus is saying, “Your right! Celibacy is good, but I recognize it is not for everyone”. Jesus is not referring to the singleness of the divorced person, but simply singleness in general. According to Roman Catholic dogma, celibacy is esteemed and valued. It is a ‘higher’ spiritual expression of devotion to Christ, and something that everyone is capable of (and something that is demanded of every priest, monk, and nun). Yet Jesus’ own words reject this interpretation. There is no hint in the text that celibates are more spiritual or morally superior to other believers. In fact, Jesus clearly indicates that only those who are specially gifted by God are capable of living such a lifestyle.

Jesus, who is decidedly “pro-family”, is even more so “pro-Kingdom”. When he discusses marriage, he highlights its importance by appealing to Creation itself. Certainly the family is central to God’s plan for humanity. But Jesus is signaling to us that there is something even more important than the nuclear family; namely, the kingdom of God. Singleness is the furthest possible thing from a curse. Jesus regards it as a precious and noble calling—something for which he has equipped only a select few. Singles have the opportunity to serve God in a manner and to a degree that no married person can (or should). A danger for singles is that they will be tempted to succumb to societal (or their married friends) pressure to get married, or else desire marriage to meet some relational or emotional need. Oh that God would raise up a generation of single Christians who devout themselves to the service of the King. Pray that some may accept this noble call [c].


[a] Though see the Apostle Paul’s discussion on this issue. He recommends celibacy, but recognizes that its implications of non-sexuality will be too difficult for many.
[b] Though see Gundry, one of the few commentators who understand this statement as referring to Jesus’ earlier teaching on divorce (Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a mixed Church under Persecution, p 381)
[c] As a rather disgusting side story, one eminent scholar in the early church, Origen of Alexandria (a.d. 185–254), took Jesus’ words regarding being “made a eunuch” with literal seriousness and performed the appropriate operation on himself. In later life he knew better; in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel he rejects the literal interpretation of the words, while acknowledging that he once accepted it, and says that they should be understood spiritually. This is absolutely pointless to the devotional, but it was just too cool not to mention.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Just when you think things can't get any worse within the Evangelical community...

The pastors at Relevant Church have issued a 30-day sex challenge. The church's stated position is this: People are not having enough sex. In short, the challenge involves asking married couples to have sex every day for 30 days, while singles are asked to abstain from sex for 30 days. Sermons on sex are nothing new for Relevant Church. A little over a year ago the Church offered a multi-week sermon series called "Real Sex" that promised "no hype, no pulling punches, no condemnation". Instead of teaching a neglected topic it seems this church is rather obsessed with the issue.

This is no small group study topic. Rather, it is a major teaching campaign complete with billboard advertisements on the highway, a website, a 30-day sex guide, a video explaining the guide, an official movie trailer, and a sermon series lasting several weeks. Church members, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s, will get a journal to track their sexual encounters - or lack thereof - and jot down their feelings.

The church has attracted the censure of the non-believing world. Their initial ad campaign with the marketing slogan "Are you up for it?" (a not-so-subtle reference to a male erection) was shot-down by the billboard company censures. That ad would have also featured scantily clad females and topless males, which the company also rejected. The church is also receiving a steady stream of criticism from the Christian community. Of course, not all pastors are upset. Emergent pastor Tim Stevens commends Relevant Church's idea. He is aware that many church leaders will criticize Relevant, but he suggests that people also criticized Jesus for his engagement with culture. Ummm....Tim, that's true, but Jesus didn't issue a 30-day sex challenge either.

The Good News: Relevant Church succeeds in discussing a topic that is prone to serious misunderstanding, both within and outside of the Christian community. One of the proposed sermons in the multi-week sex series is called "Premature Consummation" which apparently will urge singles to abstain from sex in order to lay a solid relational foundation for marriage.

The Bad News: While the church rightly stresses that sex is a gift of God for our enjoyment, it has completed eliminated the concept of purity, holiness, and righteousness from its message. For singles, they teach that refraining from sex can open opportunities to explore goals and desires without short-term distractions. Dating couples can focus on conversation and activities that determine their clothes-on compatibility. In other words, singles should abstain from sex because it will make their life happier and more enjoyable. No mention of sin, no mention of bringing honor and glory to God through lives of holiness. Interestingly, when Jesus was confronted by a situation involving a single woman who engaged in sex (the prostitute), he lovingly told her to stop sinning. He didn't say, "stop being a prostitute because your missing out on how great good sex really was meant to be". He said, "Darling, your sinning and your Father in heaven wants you to stop".

Relevant church has succeeded in creating a church environment--comprised mostly of 20 & 30somethings--who are radically and fundamentally self-focused. In essence, their gospel states that the God of all the universe sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross and carry on his shoulders the sins of the world in order for couples to have great sex lives. As the church of Christ, we are called to offer the world a message they can't get on Dr. Phil. Relevant Church has lowered itself to the culture's obsession with sex. The culture says, "It's all about sex, have it as often as you can and with as many people as you can". Relevant church says, "It's all about sex, have it as often as you can". Do we really expect the world to see a difference between these two messages? One peddles sex-obsessed & self-focused paganism and the other sex-obsessed & self-focused Christianity.

I would have thought a 30-day prayer challenge or a 30-day bible reading challenge as a couple would have produced far stronger, far more beautiful marriages. But I guess those concepts are not very relevant.

For an evening news perspective, see this video:

Daily Devo - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” - Matthew 19:9 (NIV)

The questions surrounding the issues of divorce and remarriage are confusing and troublesome. As in Jesus’ day, in today’s culture divorce is rampant [a], and statistics tell us that divorce rates among professing Evangelicals are comparable to those of the secular culture. Churches today offer a wide variety of opinions regarding the biblical teaching on divorce, though perhaps more commonly the issue is simply ignored (giving rise to widespread practice of divorce among believers).

Since this is such an important issue, it is helpful to take a brief break from the daily meditations on Matthew to explore it. As a pastor, I want to talk about the Bible’s teaching regarding divorce about as much as I want my arms ripped off by a pair of hungry lions. Still, if we profess to follow Jesus as our Lord it simply will not do to ignore his commands on these issues.

While it is hotly debated, I believe the above passage demonstrates the following:

(1) Those who have been divorced on “non-biblical” grounds may not remarry [b].
(2) Those that have been divorced on ‘biblical’ grounds are free to remarry.

Thus, those who get married after an unbiblical divorce are really involved in an adulterous, sinful relationship (which doesn’t “go away” with time). There are other passages of scripture that also support this conclusion [c], though not every pastor would agree with this assessment. Historically, the early church period took a much-stricter view and understood this passage to forbid all remarriage. John Calvin, however, taught that this prohibition of remarriage applied only to the person who had had an “unlawful and frivolous divorce”, and most Protestants have followed his assessment [d]. Based on other passages (such as 1 Cor 7:10-11 and Luke 16:18b), we are taught that it is also unlawful for a third party to marry an (unlawfully) divorced person. Today, however, most Protestant pastors hold a very open position on the issue of remarriage even if the past divorce was unbiblical.

But does this really sound like Jesus? Is he advocating that an improper divorce be a permanent ‘Scarlett Letter”? Would Jesus really “condemn” divorcees to life-long singleness because of one (albeit big) mistake in their past? Perhaps Fredrick Dale Bruner’s assessment is best. He states that “Jesus wants to make remarriage so difficult that disciples will think long and hard to save their marriages before they take this step” [a]. Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms: “don’t get divorced, but if you do so unbiblically, certainly do not get remarried”. Jesus has thrown down the gantlet, and is forcing us to deal with his teaching. Either we ignore it, and prove ourselves to be either of ‘little faith’ or ‘no faith’, or we obey and prove ourselves to be fully committed followers [f]. In the end, as couples we are called to treasure our marriages as much as Jesus does. As the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to remain faithful to his teachings on divorce and remarriage--regardless of the cost.

[a] Though in Jesus day it was probably much more common for the male to divorce the female. It was much more difficult, if not impossible in some circumstances, for Jewish and Roman wives to terminate a marriage.
[b] The issue of what constitutes a “biblical” or “non-biblical” divorce is also a matter of much debate. Jesus indicates only “marital unfaithfulness” (porneia), which is generally taken as adultery (though the Greek term seems to refer to all sexual sin). However, should we consider the use of internet pornography to constitute “marital unfaithfulness”? How about non-sexual issues such as spousal abuse (and if so, which type of spousal abuse? Only physical? Verbal? Emotional?). Paul seems to allow for divorce in the cases of abandonment, but should this include ‘emotional abandonment’? There are no easy answers to these questions.
1 Cor 7:10-11 “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.” Luke 16:18b “…the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (cf Matthew 5:32). Neither of these verses contain Matthew’s exception, though they probably assumed it.
[d] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:247.

[e] Bruner, The Churchbook, p 265.
[f] What about forgiveness of a repentant-divorced person? Should the church remarry someone who has had an unbiblical divorce, but come under conviction, repented, and failed in their attempt to make amends with their original partner? I found the following quote by C.E.B. Cranfield to be convicting and powerful. He write: “For the Church rigidly to refuse to solemnize the remarriage of a divorced person who has accepted God’s forgiveness and at the same time God’s judgment upon his or her life, who is sincerely penitent…and sincerely desirous…to order his or her life as nearly as possible to God’s will, would seem to me to involve a denial of the reality of the forgiveness of sins and therefore of the gospel of Jesus Christ itself” (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Bible and Christian Life, 1985, p 233-234).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

PASTOR'S GONE WILD: Case 013 - A Wild West Show-Down at the Slippery-Suds

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

Thanks to Eric H. in Minnesota, who drew my attention to this story.

Case #013 - The Case of the Wild West show-down at the Slippery Suds Carwash

I've always loved Westerns. Louis L'amour books (and if desperate, perhaps Zane Grey) were a common staple growing up, and John Wayne is my personal hero. I still find my self slipping into "Western-mode" every once in a while. A while back a congregant asked me out for lunch and I told him to meet me at "high noon". Sadly, I didn't have a buckskin horse to ride to the saloon in (ok, it was just a cafe), but as I rode in my air conditioned conversion van I thought cowboyish thoughts. Occasionally, I find myself imagining I lived 100 years ago in Texas. I swagger into the house and order up some grub from Miss Kitty (my wife), though in my version Miss Kitty isn't nearly as accommodating.

It seems I am not the only pastor who is a fan of gun-slinging cowboy fantasy stories, though perhaps the pastor we will discuss takes things a little too far. Johnny Coleman, pastor of Christ Baptist Church was arrested after police found him at 12:30 p.m. with a loaded Glock 9mm handgun and a loaded .25 caliber handgun in a briefcase at the Mr. Spotless Car Wash in Cold Spring [a]. Allegedly, Pastor Coleman told an officer he was in line for a car wash when he was cut off by another person. According the report, "Mr. Coleman stated he told the victim someone could get shot over this." The person who allegedly cut Coleman off told police he saw him loading the hand gun.

Seriously, nobody ever cut off John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, or Clint Eastwood [b]. If you did, it was at the risk of getting buried belly-up at boot-hill with a chest full of lead to hold you down. Can't we just get back to more simple times when disputes were settled without the need of "the law"? The wild West had a nobility all its own. You didn't steal anyone's horse (or else you would be shoot), or his woman (or else shoot), or his whiskey (or else shoot, after the shot, of course. You were allowed to finish). You never called anyone 'yella' (or else shoot, immediately) and you certainly would never cut off a gunslinging cowboy who was hosing down his horse after a long ride rustling cattle. Perhaps Coleman considers himself the last true cowboy.

Things are getting strange for men who attend church nowadays. Attend a pentecostal church and you might get scammed. Attend a Methodist or Episcopalian church and the male pastor might ask you out on a date. Attend an evangelical church and he might ask your wife out on a date. But attend a Baptist church and you might get into a shoot-out in the foyer. House churches anyone?

[a] Seriously, the name really is "Mr Spotless". Biblical imagery abounds! You simply can't make the good stuff up.
[b] My apologies to true Western aficionados for the inclusion of Clint Eastwood in the same sentence as John Wayne.

Do you have a "Pastors Gone Wild" tale? Submit your stories to pastortales@gmail.com. Please read the Submission Rules page before submitting a story. Your name, and a link to your site, will be included if the web owner uses your submission.

McKnight's Hermeneutics Quiz

Scot McKnight has recently designed a "Hermeneutics Quiz" for the January issue of Leadership Magazine. I found an online copy of this quiz, along with some statistical data. I urge any pastors, seminarians, and others with a hermeneutical bent to take the quiz (it's an old school paper and pencil deal).

I have not found too many people talking about their score online, but here are some scores I found of prominent Evangelicals, compared with my score (who is Evangelical, but not prominent):

Josh Gelatt 52
Bryan Wilkerson 59
Dan Kimball 62
David Fitch 67
John Ortberg 68

The lower the score, the more conservative one supposedly is. At 52, I am on the moderate end of the conservative spectrum. A score of 53 pushes one into the moderate category, and a score of 68 puts one into the progressive category (is that another word for liberal?).

You can read Ortberg's response here, as well as the responses of the other three men here.

All in all, the quiz provides a helpful starting point for discussion.

2/26/2008 Update: You can now take the quiz online.

Daily Devo - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:7-9 (NIV).

Many times we hear the idea that “law” is an Old Testament concept and “grace” is a New Testament concept. Certainly the Apostle Paul boldly teaches in Galatians and Romans the freedom Christian believers have from the “law”, and isn’t this the “age of grace”? Frankly, grace and law will always be part of the believer’s life. From the beginning God has dealt graciously with his people, and from the beginning he has expected certain standards of conduct. Yet many people continue to believe that there is no law Christ expects us to abide by today. Back in seminary a classmate took the trouble to look up and record every command in the New Testament. His list was impressive, and if my memory is correct he found over 500 direct commands. Clearly, Jesus has high standards!

Today we try to ‘soften’ what it means to be a Christian. People think they can sleep with their boyfriend, or tell crude jokes with their friends, or get drunk on Friday night without it affecting their “spiritual walk”. Christian spirituality is something they “do” instead of being who they are. It is an aspect of their life instead of being the center and substance of it. Jesus will have no of it, and will have none of that sort in his kingdom. The implication here is that the new era of the present kingdom of God involves a return to the idealism of the Garden of Eden. The call of the kingdom is a call to the ethics of the perfect will of God, one that makes no provision for, or concession to, the weakness of the flesh.

God does not desire divorce, in fact he hates it [a]. Yet Jesus, like Moses, offers us that possibility. Therein lies the tension. Jesus calls us to live out the perfect ethic of his kingdom, yet he recognizes the (inexcusable) imperfection of his people. But he will not allow us to use our imperfection as an excuse—not on this issue. Although he is willing to make concessions for our sinful weakness [b], he is calling us to live in such a way that he doesn’t have to. Marriage is precious to Jesus. He wrote it into the very DNA of creation. It is precious and important to him perhaps because it is such a fitting symbol of his relationship to his people (the church—his bride). Your marriage is a priority of Jesus Christ. One of the most important standards Jesus has for his disciples is to be a loving, devoted spouse. The issue here isn’t about what Jesus is forbidding (divorce), but rather about what he is commanding (healthy marriages). When you begin to believe that, you will recognize that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is buy your spouse some flowers.

[a] Malachi 2:16
[b] As did Moses, see Deuteronomy 24:1, which is the passage the Pharisees have alluded to.

Monday, February 18, 2008

2008 Band of Bloggers

For those attending the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference, you may want to consider attending the Band of Bloggers gathering (it takes place during the T4G conference). I will be at both this year (Lord willing), and looking forward to much edification and fellowship.

ASK THE PASTOR: Should Christians Anoint with Oil?

Question from Patricia in Michigan

ASK THE PASTOR: Should Christians use anointing oil for the sick?

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14 (NIV)

This passage provides the clearest scriptural support for the practice of anointing the sick with oil. I firmly believe in the importance of this practicel. However, this verse is open to multiple interpretations. The three most common interpretations are as follows:

Roman Catholic View: RC interpreters find here the legitimacy for ‘extreme unction’, a practice whereby a priest administers sacred oil (after a complicated ceremony to actually make the oil “holy”) in a rite to a sick or dying person.

Medicinal View: Many Protestants view the oil as the medicine of the New Testament day. They would see this as the first-century equivalent of going to a doctor.

Symbolic View: This view understands the oil to be symbolic. Combined with prayer and in the name of the Lord, the oil serves as a physical symbol that the sick individual is being set apart unto the Lord.

To decide among these options, we first need a better understanding of the Biblical practice of anointing. To ‘anoint’ literally means to pour or rub oil on a person or thing. In the Old Testament, the practice of anointing could be used in secular situations (such as finalizing a legal contract, or preparing a shield for battle) or for religious purposes. Regarding the latter category, objects were anointed, such as the temple and its furnishings (Ex 40:9-10), garments (Lev 8:30), and sacred vessels (Ex 30:26). Religious anointing was also used for certain types of people, such as kings (I Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 9:6), priests (Ex 29:29; Lev 4:3), and prophets (I Kings 19:16; 1 Chr 16:22; Ps 105:15). The person anointed was symbolically set apart as holy and consecrated to the Lord. In other words, they were his and to be used according to his purposes. In the New Testament anointing the sick is connected with the preaching of repentance. Mark 6:12-14 states that “they went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them….” The James passage cited above is in the same vein as the Mark passage.

The Roman Catholic view cannot be accepted for the simple reason that it is a clear elaboration of the passage. James 5:14 contains no hint of priestly oversight (“the elders”) nor is the oil considered sacred. The focus of the passage (and its surrounding verses) is on personal repentance, faith, and submission to God—not some religious rite. The Medicinal view has some advantages but ultimately fails. Certainly Olive oil, according to Old Testament and Jewish understanding, was prized for its nurturing of human well-being and for its healing properties. But the passage specifically says the elders should anoint with oil. If the issue were simply the application of medicine why involve the church elders? Certainly family members or a local physician would be better choices. If health care were in view, the contemporary application would be to bring the church leaders with you to your next doctor’s appointment!

The best understanding of this passage is that the anointing of oil upon a sick individual is a symbolic declaration that this person has been set apart to God. Medicine has failed. Human ability has failed. The leaders of the church gather together, and in the name of the Lord, symbolically pronounce their submission to and faith in the almighty God. Such an anointing in not a guarantee of healing; rather, it is a declaration of faith. If the person recovers, God is glorified because He was the agent of healing. If the person does not recover, God is glorified because the person was set apart for Him as His special treasure.

In the end, anointing with oil is never simply about healing the sick. It is chiefly about God getting the glory for being God.

You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter: twitter.com/JoshGelatt. Questions about faith, scripture, theology, or daily Christian living can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Daily Devo - Monday, February 18, 2008

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” – Matthew 19:1-6 (NIV)

A gentleman I once counseled had experienced the tragic death of his beloved and cherished first wife. Perhaps never really recovering from this, his second marriage ended in failure and divorce. As he sat in my office comparing the two experiences, he told me “the divorce was so much more painful than the death”. Everyone who has ever been divorced knows exactly what he means. Other divorcees have described divorce to me as something ‘wretched’, ‘ugly’, and ‘a living hell’. It is natural that Matthew would place a discussion of divorce immediately after Jesus’ teachings on humility and forgiveness (chp 18). In divorce, there is plenty of guilt, shame, and wrongdoing to go around (but, there is also much forgiveness to be had).

This passage tells us the Pharisee’s were trying to “test” Jesus. They were laying a trap and hoping he would take the bait. In that time period there was an intra-Pharisee debate taking place concerning the correct interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 [a]. Two prominent “schools” of rabbis existed, each named after a well-known rabbinic teacher. The Shammai school focused on the word “indecent” and said this referred to sexual unfaithfulness. Thus, divorce was granted only in cases of adultery. The Hillel school also focused on that word, but said it should be interpreted broadly. Therefore, they allowed divorce for even trivial offenses such as a wife burning her husband’s food (seriously!). The phrase “for any and every reason” at the end of the question suggest it was possibly a group of Shammai rabbis who posed the question. Possibly after hearing of Jesus’ teaching on unlimited forgiveness they suspected him of being a liberal. Now they want to hear if Jesus will affirm the liberal and more dominant Hillel viewpoint. If Jesus is soft on forgiveness, perhaps they thought he would be soft on divorce as well [b].

By what man intends for evil, God has intended for good. Out of this evil attempt to deceive and trap Jesus comes Christ’s teaching about the beauty, importance, and preciousness of marriage. They sought to weaken his reputation, but the passage that follows has been used to strengthen millions of Christian marriages. Here we see Jesus at his best. The divorcee presents herself to Jesus either as a sinner responsible for the divorce or a wounded victim of it (or both). The Pharisee presents himself to Jesus as a man with wicked and deceitful schemes. Both come wretched, ugly, and intent on living in moral hell. Jesus sees them for who they are while also inviting them to see him as he really is. He is someone who transcends our sinful and limited views. He is holiness, and goodness, and love---and he offers a better way to live.

[a] Deut 24:1 states, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…”

[b] It is also possible that they were trying to get Jesus to make a politically dangerous remark. The political ruler of the area (Herod Antipas) had recently divorced the daughter of the Nabatean king Aretas in order to marry Herodias (who was already married to another ruler, Herod Philip). If Jesus could be lured into making a negative public statement about divorce, perhaps this could be used to trap him. This seems to be the issue in Mark’s version of the account. This simply underscores how “messy” the subject was in Jesus’ day. Most likely, they knew that if Jesus would state his opinion, it would cause him serious problems of some sort.