As you read this week, you will be finishing up Genesis. If you have been reading all along, you will also have completed John, Romans, Colossians, 2 Timothy, Galatians and you are about to wrap up Mark. Look how easy this is! Be pleased about this discipline of Bible study you are developing and think about what this habit of reading Scripture means for you.
As you read Genesis 37-50, watch for ways the stories of Joseph and Jesus parallel.
Joseph is one of the few people the Old Testament portrays with completely positive descriptions. Even so, Joseph (like Jesus) is persecuted and betrayed. Even so, he is exalted to the highest position in the land. Joseph experiences “resurrection.”
As you read Psalms 55, 75, 107, consider Israel’s testimony to God’s faithfulness even in times of hopelessness and despair. Many of us can look back and see the ways we have been sustained through the hard times. Growing in faith means living in faithfulness even when we are in the midst of trouble and cannot see a way through. Counting on/trusting in/living with God’s “steadfast love” even when we can’t feel it is a crucial part of our journey of faith.
As you read Mark 8-10 In these middle chapters of Mark, watch the story turn as the second half of Mark’s gospel becomes an extended passion narrative when Jesus takes up his cross and once and for all accomplishes redemption and reconciliation.
In these transitional chapters, watch for Jesus’ announcement of his impending death.These three pivotal chapters have Jesus proclaim his coming death and promise his resurrection three times. Once per chapter. And still the disciples do not understand. Even in the remarkable vision of transfiguration, the disciples misunderstand.
Some scholars call this the “Messianic secret.” In Mark’s theology and anthropology, no human is able to perceive the “truly divine” mystery until the Christ is manifested in resurrection. The revealing of the Christ is always an act of God, a grace of God; it never comes from any human ability to make sense and understand.
As you read Galatians, you may be startled by some of Paul’s passionate personal attacks against his opponents.
Paul lays out his “thesis statement” in Galatians 3…
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
The total living unity of the whole people of God in Jesus Christ was Paul’s passion and mission. Evidently in the churches of Galatia, some Jewish Christian teachers were insisting that these Gentile believers must first be circumcised and become (in effect) Jews before they could be full Christians. Paul’s response is strong: “Hell No!” (“…let them be cursed!”)
Surely this would have been a very difficult concept for faithful Jews to embrace. We get that. But still, for Paul, anything less than the full inclusion of Gentile Christians was NOT the gospel and any who taught otherwise taught heresy.
For those who insist you must be circumcised, I say, let them go the whole way and castrate themselves!
Yes, it’s startling but it is Paul’s way of saying these false teachers should not reproduce their heresy and propagate such confusion among the believers. “In Christ, you are ALL children of God through faith…”
As for the other part of Paul’s thesis – male and female, slave and free – consider the state of the world in Paul’s day. Rome enforced its values all across its Empire. Slavery fueled the economy. Patriarchy stabilized the society. Both institutions were widespread and deeply entrenched within the worldview of countless people of Paul’s day. Even so, Paul boldly proclaimed his radical belief that – in Christ – there is no delineation between slave and free and male and female. In Christ, these differences are dissolved.
Paul was just one man with just a few years to proclaim this gospel of unity; there was no way he could have upended the culture of Rome and changed the entire world. But he could shape the DNA of the church. “No longer Jew and Gentile…” was the one part of his thesis he could do something about. If the church of Paul’s day failed to grasp his vision, then it might have remained a small sect of Judaism. It is Paul to whom we give credit for transforming a small Jewish movement into a worldwide multicultural reality.
Tradition has it that Paul was crucified by the Emperor Nero around 64 AD. He had only thirty years to proclaim the gospel that had turned his own life upside down and right side up. That we uncircumcised Gentiles are fully included in the church of Jesus Christ is testimony to the success of Paul’s ministry.
Even so Paul died knowing that his thesis of full inclusion was not yet lived out completely in the life of the church. Letters most likely written by Paul’s disciples in the next generation demonstrate how difficult it can be to accomplish radical change. The letters of Ephesians and Colossians, Titus and Timothy were likely penned by Paul’s next generations disciples. These epistles back away from Paul’s vision of radical equality and repeat the values of that culture and its well-established family codes: wives should obey their husbands. Slaves should obey their masters…
The church in the generations that followed Paul struggled to find its balance between the demands and pressures of the world and the demands and promise of the gospel. It’s messy. It’s risky.
Paul left it up to the church of later generations to follow his lead and to continue putting into practice the flesh and blood realities of the truth of God’s reconciling, redeeming work in Christ Jesus.
In the church there must no longer be distinctions and divisions because of our differences – male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old, black and brown and while and red and blue…
In the church, the body of Christ – of all places, of all people – we must embody the unity of reconciliation that God has accomplished for us in Jesus Christ.
Paul gave his life for this vision of the church. It’s up to us to keep the gospel vision alive. It’s up to us to make this vision a flesh and blood reality for our own time and place.