JOHN 3: Humility and Love

By Stephen W. HiemstraMrPersonality

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,

you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3-4 ESV).

Have you been born again?

The Apostle John actually uses the enigmatic expression, born from above, to talk about spiritual rebirth (vv 5-6).  Commentators often wonder why Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ teaching because the prophet Ezekiel wrote something similar:  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:27).  Nicodemus was perhaps surprised, not because he does not know his scripture; he is surprised because the usual Jewish teaching focused on complying with the Law of Moses.  Pharisees taught that the law could be obeyed if the proper rules were known and followed—God’s intervention was not required to comply with the law.

Being born again implies that God comes to us—we do not come to him.  Following the law; being good; attending the right church will not bring you closer to God.  God is not far from us in terms of physical distance; He is far from us in terms of holiness—moral distance.  He is infinite; we are finite.  God must choose us; because we cannot choose him.  And when God chooses us, we are radically changed.

The discourse with Nicodemus is the first of three sections in chapter three.  The other two are Jesus’ teaching on love and further comments by John the Baptist.

The dialog with Nicodemus ends with a series of statements by Jesus which ends in verse 21.  Among these statements is the familiar passage:  John 3:16—For God so loved the world…

God’s love of an unholy world is unexpected.  The rebellion of the created order from God sets the world in opposition to God.  This was, for example, the reason for God sending the flood but saving Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-7).  Jesus, as God’s son, is the champion promised in Genesis 3:15 who would defeat Satan.  God’s love in Christ not only allows God to keep his promise, but Christ’s example also sets God’s people apart from the world—when they pay attention.   By looking to that example, we are saved (Numbers 21:9).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV).

In our own lifetime, Bishop Desmond Tutu applied this principle of love for enemies when he formed South Africa’s Truth and Justice commission.  The abolishment of Apartheid accordingly became an opportunity for healing rather than an excuse for genocide.  John the Baptist, who recognized the power of God in Christ, voluntarily gave up his own ministry to make room for Jesus saying:  He must increase, but I must decrease (v 30).  In like manner, the people of South Africa gave up their legitimate claim for revenge to make room for Christ’s love and became an example to the entire world.

Do you want to love the world?  Give up your rights and practice Christ’s love.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. Who was Nicodemus? (v 1)
  2. Why might he have come at night to see Jesus? (v 2)
  3. How does Nicodemus describe Jesus? (v 2)
  4. What is a sign? (v 2) How does it differ from a wonder, a miracle, or healing?  For example:  And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people(Acts 6:8 ESV).
  5. What does Jesus say? Why is it surprising? (v 3)
  6. Why does Nicodemus respond the way he does? (v 4)What does he say?
  7. How many times does Jesus repeat the phrase born again (v 3, 5, 7)? Why?
  8. What does “born again” mean? What does it imply?
  9. What is said in verse 6? Why is it important?
  10. 10.Does Nicodemus understand? (v 9)
  11. What do verses 10 through 21 have in common? Is Jesus speaking throughout this section?  For example, who is speaking in John 3:16?  Why?
  12. 12.Where does Jesus go in verses 22-23 and what does he do?
  13. Why is verse 24 interesting?
  14. 14.Who is carrying on the discussion that starts in verse 25?
  15. 15.What is discussed in verses 26 through 36?

JOHN 3: Humility and Love

Also see:

JOHN 4: The Evangelist of Samaria 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Juan 3: Humildad y Amor

Por Stephen W. HiemstraMrPersonality

Les aseguro que a menos que ustedes cambien y se vuelvan como niños, no entrarán en el reino de los cielos (Mateo 18:3 NVI)

¿Ha nacido usted de nuevo?

El apóstol Juan en realidad utiliza la expresión enigmática, nacido de lo alto, para hablar de renacimiento espiritual (vv. 5-6). Los comentaristas se preguntan a menudo por qué Nicodemo fue sorprendido por la enseñanza de Jesús, porque el profeta Ezequiel escribió algo similar: Infundiré mi Espíritu en ustedes, y haré que sigan mis preceptos y obedezcan mis leyes (Ezequiel 36:27). Nicodemo era tal vez sorprendido, no porque él no sabe su escritura, él se sorprende porque la enseñanza judía siempre se centró en el cumplimiento de la Ley de Moisés. Fariseos enseñaban que la ley podía ser obedecida si las reglas apropiadas eran conocidas y siguiendo–la intervención de Dios no estaba obligada a cumplir con la ley.

 Ser nacido de nuevo significa que Dios viene a nosotros, nosotros no venimos a él. A raíz de la ley, ser bueno, asistir a una iglesia correcta no le llevará más cerca de Dios.  Dios no está lejos de nosotros en términos de distancia física, Él está lejos de nosotros en términos de distancia santidad moral. Él es infinito, somos finitos. Dios tiene que nos elegir, porque no podemos elegir a él. Y cuando Dios nos escoge a nosotros, somos cambiados radicalmente.

El discurso con Nicodemo es la primera de las tres secciones en el capítulo tres. Los otros dos son la enseñanza de Jesús sobre el amor y otras observaciones por Juan el Bautista.

El diálogo con Nicodemo termina con una serie de declaraciones de Jesús, que termina en el versículo 21. Entre estas declaraciones es el conocido pasaje: Porque tanto amó Dios al mundo… (Juan 3:16)

Amor del mundo impío que Dios es inesperado. La rebelión del orden creado de Dios pone el mundo en oposición a Dios. Este fue, por ejemplo, la razón de que Dios envía el diluvio pero el ahorro de Noé y su familia (Génesis 6:5-7). Jesús, como hijo de Dios, es el campeón prometido en Génesis 3:15 queiría en contra de Satanás. El amor de Dios en Cristo no sólo le permite a Dios cumplió su promesa, pero el ejemplo de Cristo también establece el pueblo de Dios fuera del mundo–cuando prestan atención. Al mirar a ese ejemplo, somos salvos (Números 21:9).

En el Sermón del Monte, Jesús dijo: Pero yo les digo: Amen a sus enemigos y oren por quienes los persiguen,para que sean hijos de su Padre que está en el cielo. Él hace que salga el sol sobre malos y buenos, y que llueva sobre justos e injustos. (Mateo 5:44-45).

En nuestra propia vida, el obispo Desmond Tutu aplica este principio del amor a los enemigos cuando formó la Comisión de la Verdad y de Justicia de Sudáfrica. Por consiguiente, la abolición del Apartheid se convirtió en una oportunidad para la curación más que una excusa para el genocidio. Juan el Bautista, que reconoció el poder de Dios en Cristo, renunció voluntariamente a su propio ministerio para dar cabida a Jesús diciendo: que él crezca, pero que yo mengüe (v 30). De la misma manera, el pueblo de Sudáfrica renunció a su derecho legítimo de venganza para hacer espacio para el amor de Cristo y se convirtió en un ejemplo para el mundo entero.

¿Quieres amar al mundo? Renuncia a sus derechos y practicar el amor de Cristo.

Juan 3: Humildad y Amor

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JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

By Stephen W. HiemstraWeddingRings

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do (Genesis 41:55 ESV).

How does God reveal himself to you?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not enough wine).  More generally, God reveals himself through super-abundance of wine (2:1-11), bread (6:5-14), and fish (21:3-13).

Chapter one ends with Jesus encountering Nathanael and offering a prophecy paraphrasing Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12):  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51).  Nathanael came from Cana (John 21:2).  In chapter 2, this prophecy is fulfilled in a wedding at Cana.

The miracle of water being turned into wine is rich in messianic imagery.  The prophet Isaiah, for example, writes of the messianic banquet:  the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces… (Isaiah 25:6-8).  When Moses sends spies into the promised land, they come back with a huge cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:23).  Building on the vineyard theme, many of Jesus’ parables tie vineyards to God’s judgment (e.g. Matthew 21:33-40).

In case we missed the significance of Jesus’ first miracle, John writes:  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).  John’s use of the word, glory, to refer to Jesus associates him with God’s Shekinah cloud revealed at Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17) and associated with the tabernacle (Numbers 14:10) and, later, with the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).  John makes this temple association explicit in verses 19-21.

When Jesus cleanses the temple with a whip, he prophetically acts out divine judgment as a prelude to temple abandonment (Psalm 69:9; Isaiah 56:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11).  When Jesus died on the cross, the temple sacrificial system became redundant because the atonement for sin had been made for all time (Hebrews 10:12).  Jesus’ resurrection completed the symbolism (John 2:18-21; Acts 17:30-31). God abandoned the temple and it was destroyed by a Roman army in AD 70.

Which of Jesus’ miracles do you remember best?

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. When did the events in chapter 2 take place? (v 1) Where?  (Who comes from there?  Hint John 21:2) Why are these details important?  Why is Jesus’ mother mentioned?
  2. Who was also invited? (v 2)
  3. What is the significance of the wine running out?(v 3)  Who gets called?
  4. What is Jesus’ response? (v 4)
  5. How does Jesus’ mother react? Why?  (v 5) What does this remind you of?  (Hint: Genesis 41:55)
  6. What does Jesus do? (vv 6-8)
  7. What is the role of the master of the feast? (vv 8-9)
  8. How does the master of the feast react to the wine given him? (vv 9-10).
  9. How do we know that he is not being sarcastic?(vv 10-11)
  10. 10.Where did Jesus and the disciples go after that?  Who else was there?  Why? (v 12)
  11. 11.When did all this happen?  Where did Jesus go next? (v 13)

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Also see:

JOHN 3: Humility and Love 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Juan 2: Vino, Látigos y Residuos

Por Stephen W. HiemstraWeddingRings

Cuando también en Egipto comenzó a sentirse el hambre, el pueblo clamó al faraón pidiéndole comida. Entonces el faraón le dijo a todo el pueblo de Egipto: Vayan a ver a José, y hagan lo que él les diga (Génesis 41:55 NVI).

¿De qué manera Dios se revela a usted?

En el Evangelio de Juan, Jesús primero revela a una pareja de recién casados ​​en peligro de ser estigmatizados por su pobreza (insuficiencia de vino). Más en general, Dios se revela a sí mismo a través de gran-abundancia de vino (2:1-11), pan (6:5-14), y el pescado (21:3-13).

El capítulo termina un encuentro con Jesús a Natanael y ofreciendo escalera de una profecía paráfrasis de Jacob (Génesis 28:12): Ciertamente les aseguro que ustedes verán abrirse el cielo, y a los ángeles de Dios subir y bajar sobre el Hijo del hombre (Juan 1:51). Natanael vino de Caná (Juan 21:2). En el capítulo 2, esta profecía se cumple en una boda en Caná.

El milagro del agua en vino es rico en imágenes mesiánicas. El profeta Isaías, por ejemplo, escribe sobre el banquete mesiánico:   el SEÑOR Todopoderoso preparará para todos los pueblos un banquete de manjares especiales, un banquete de vinos añejos, de manjares especiales y de selectos vinos añejos…Devorará a la muerte para siempre; el SEÑOR omnipotente enjugará las lágrimas de todo rostro, y quitará de toda la tierra el oprobio de su pueblo. El SEÑOR mismo lo ha dicho (Isaías 25:6-8). Cuando Moisés envió espías a la tierra prometida, vuelven con un enorme racimo de uvas (Números 13:23). Basándose en el tema de la viña, muchas de las parábolas de Jesús empatar viñedos a juicio de Dios (por ejemplo, Mateo 21:33-40).

En el caso que nos perdimos el significado del primer milagro de Jesús, Juan escribe: Ésta, la primera de sus señales, la hizo Jesús en Caná de Galilea. Así reveló su gloria, y sus discípulos creyeron en él (Juan 2:11). El uso de Juan de la palabra, la gloria, para referirse a los asociados con Jesús le Shekinah nube de Dios revelada en el Sinaí (Éxodo 24:16-17) y se asocia con el tabernáculo (Números 14:10) y, más tarde, con el templo en Jerusalén (1 Reyes 8:10-11). Juan hace esta asociación templo explícita en los versículos 19-21.

Cuando Jesús limpia el templo con un látigo, que proféticamente actúa juicio divino como preludio de abandono del templo (Salmo 69:9, Isaías 56:4-7, Jeremías 7:9-11). ¿Cuándo Jesús murió en la cruz, el sistema de sacrificios del temple se convirtió en redundante porque la expiación por el pecado se había hecho para siempre (Hebreos 10:12). La resurrección de Jesús completó el simbolismo (Juan 2:18-21, Hechos 17:30-31). Dios abandonó el templo y que fue destruida por un ejército romano en el año 70.

¿Cuál de los milagros de Jesús a recordar mejor?

Juan 2: Vino, Látigos y Residuos

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Boletín de autor: http://bit.ly/Advent_Mas_2018

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JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

By Stephen W. HiemstraJesus

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

Who is Jesus Christ?

The session of my home church asks each new member three questions:  Tell us about your walk with the Lord?  Why do you want to join this church?  And, who is Jesus Christ to you?

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel, in part, to answer this final question.  John’s answers include:  Jesus is the incarnate word of God (v 1); the pre-existent one  (v 2); the creator (v 3); light and life of the world (v 4); the victorious light that drives out darkness (v 5); the one about who the prophet John (the Baptist) spoke (v 7); the unknown one (v 10); the one rejected (v 11); the one who introduces us to the family of God (v 12); the one born of spirit rather than flesh (v 13); the one who shows the glory of God (v 14); the one who ranks above the prophet John (the Baptist);  the one who brings grace (v 16); the one who brings both grace and truth (vv 14, 17); the one who is worthy (v 27); the one on who the spirit of God rests (v 32); the one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit (v 33); the Lamb of God (v 36); the sought after teacher (v 38);  God’s Messiah (v 41);  The one who says “follow me” (v 43);  the good thing that came from Nazareth (v 46); the one who knew Nathaniel before he was born (under the fig tree!; v 48); the Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v 49); the one of whom Jacob was given a vision (Genesis 28:12; v 51).  The Apostle Peter answered directly:  You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).

Who is Christ to you?

Chapter one of John’s Gospels divides into three parts.  The first part is sometimes thought to have been an early church hymn with four stanzas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13, and 14-18) [1].  The second part focuses on the witness of John the Baptist.  The third part describes the calling of the first disciples.

John’s Gospel is thought to have been the last one written, in part, because it is the most spiritual.  For this reason, it was known in the early church as:  The Eagle.


[1] Gary M. Burge. 2000.   The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Page 53-61.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. What is “in the beginning” alluding to? (Hint Genesis 1:1)
  2. Why is Jesus called the Word? Why not the vision?  What is special about the process of hearing? (v 1) (Hint:  how many people are involved in hearing versus seeing?)
  3. How many descriptions of Christ can you count in this chapter? Which is most meaningful to you?  Why?
  4. What is meant by the references to light and darkness? (vv 4,5 8,9) What is meant in Genesis 1:3-5)?
  5. Who are God’s children? (vv 12-13)
  6. Who is John and why did he come? What was his mission? (vv 6-7, 15-36)
  7. Which of John’s disciples went to follow Jesus?Why do we care?  (vv 35-37, 40)
  8. What was special about Andrew and why do we remember him? (vv 40-42)
  9. What is strange about how Nathaniel came to Christ? (vv 46-48)

JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

Also see:

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Juan 1: ¿Quién es Jesucristo?

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia (iStockPhoto.com)

Dios, en el principio, creó los cielos y la tierra. (Génesis 1:1 NVI).

¿Quién es Jesucristo?  La sesión de mi iglesia le pide a cada nuevo miembro a tres preguntas: Háblenos de su caminar con el Señor? ¿Por qué quieres unirte a esta iglesia? Y, ¿quién es Jesucristo para ti?

La Pregunta

El apóstol Juan escribió su Evangelio, en parte, para responder a esta última pregunta. Respuestas de Juan son: Jesús es la Palabra encarnada de Dios (v 1), el uno pre-existente (v 2), el creador (v 3), la luz y la vida del mundo (v 4), la luz victoriosa que lleva a cabo oscuridad (v 5) el de que el profeta Juan (el Bautista) radio (v 7), la incógnita (v 10), el rechazo (v 11), el que nos introduce en la familia de Dios (v 12), el nacido del espíritu más que carne (v 13), el que se muestra la gloria de Dios (v 14), el que se ubica por encima del profeta Juan (el Bautista), el que trae la gracia (v 16), el que trae la gracia y la verdad (vv. 14, 17), el que es digno (v 27), uno a quien el Espíritu de Dios reposa (v 32), el que bautiza no con agua, sino con el Espíritu Santo (v 33), el Cordero de Dios (v 36), la prestigiosa maestra (v 38), el Mesías de Dios (v 41), el que dice: “me siguen” (v 43), lo bueno que venía de Nazaret (v 46), el que sabía Nathaniel antes de nacer (debajo de la higuera;! v 48), el rabino, el Hijo de Dios y Rey de Israel (v 49), el uno de los cuales Jacob se le dio una visión (Génesis 28:12; v 51). El apóstol Pedro le contestó directamente: Tú eres el Cristo (Marcos 8:29).

¿Quién es Cristo para usted?

El capítulo uno de los Evangelios de Juan se divide en tres partes. La primera parte a veces se piensa que fue un himno de la iglesia temprana con cuatro estrofas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13 y 14-18)1. La segunda parte se centra en el testimonio de Juan el Bautista. La tercera parte describe la vocación de los primeros discípulos.

El Águila

El Evangelio de Juan se cree que ha sido el último escrito, en parte, porque es el más espiritual. Por esta razón, era conocido en la iglesia primitive como: El Águila.

Juan 1: ¿Quién es Jesucristo?

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Referencias Relativas al Evangelio de Juan

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Bauckham, Richard. 2007. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Burge, Gary M. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Keener, Craig S. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1 & 2. Peabody: Hendrickson. Morris, Leon. 1987. The Gospel According to John. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Referencias Relativas al Evangelio de Juan

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References for Gospel of John

Books reviewedBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Bauckham, Richard. 2007. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Burge, Gary M. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Keener, Craig S. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1 & 2. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Morris, Leon. 1987. The Gospel According to John. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

References for Gospel of John

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

Continue Reading

A Few Good Stories

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In May I graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  Commencement was held at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church—a large African American church in Charlotte, NC.  The experience seemed a bit otherworldly, in part, because I still have classes to finish this summer and, in part, because this was my first commencement in spite of multiple degrees.

 I commenced for the first time because when I graduated high school, the senior class protested graduation–a very 70s kind of thing to do; when I graduated in college, I was sick with mononucleosis; when I received my master’s degree, I was an exchange fellow in Germany; and when I received my doctorate, I was frankly too poor to travel back to Michigan.  So commencement gave me a new story to tell.

Seminary has taught me the value of a good story.

From epistemology we know that the existence of God cannot be proven (or disproven).  What logic would you use?  Logic starts with assumptions—which ones are irrefutable and who says so?  Consequently, our experience of God starts with a story.  A story is a model of reality.  In financial modeling, the adage goes that it takes a model to kill a model.  Because all models are imperfect, only a better model provides a suitable critique.  Questioning the use of a model is, frankly, not to understand the challenge of risk management in complex modern financial corporations. Likewise, as Christians we need to ask:  which story best fits what God has revealed about himself and what we know about our world?   Arguing for no story is not to understand the human dilemma. The Christian witness is that:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

An important postmodern challenge to the Biblical witness comes from literary critics who argue that the meaning of words is arbitrary.  Words have no inherent meaning and, in effect, pose a kind of Rorschach test exploited by power-seeking individuals and groups who impose their meaning on the texts—especially ancient texts taken out of social context.  They employ this critique to discount the historical testimony of the church and the biblical record.  The Bible’s use of stories, however, deconstructs this critique itself!  Stories provide context.  Hebrew doublets restate particular sentences in different words.  The meaning of particular words is then obvious from context and the use of doublets. Stories transcend the arbitrary meaning of word-symbols by drawing on experiences common to all human beings.  As Mark Twain used to say:  It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

In clinical pastoral education, I learned to listen actively and, in particular, to listen for the stories that people tell.  The hospital visit, for example, is a transition story—a patient comes with a problem, seeks a cure, and is released.  Economist studies to be a pastor is a reinvestment story.  Anniversaries can made both tragedies and victories on a particular date each year.  The pastor that tells a story about a new acquaintance—is probably being autobiographical.  Biblical stories are often rehearsal stories—stories from the past with current meaning.  Identifying the story that a person tells helps establish emotional connection—an important vehicle for sharing the gospel.

The Gospel is the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  The apostle Paul invites us to join in Jesus’ story with these words: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11 ESV).  Life has meaning because we know where we fit in Christ’s story.

Seminary has taught me the value of a good story.

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Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard, Mark 4:35-5:20

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA

Invocation

Heavenly Father; God of all seasons and all times; Lord of places familiar and places unfamiliar; God of our emotions and our thinking.   In the power of your Holy Spirit silence any voice in our ears but yours.  Make your presence known to us today in the words spoken and the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Story of Reluctant Swimmers

In thinking about this afternoon’s message, I kept coming back to my experience in high school as a swimming instructor at Goshen Scout camps. At one point I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. Talk about scary moments. The image of a lake full of drowning scouts still comes to mind.

By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts, Elmer and Freddie, had passed their swim test. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course.

Elmer

Elmer swam the American crawl perfectly, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He loved to show off his great form, but in his heart of hearts he thought swimming was a scam.  He became visibly upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water.

Freddie

Freddie swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would begin his swim test and swim a lap or two. Then, a great big smile would come across Freddie’s face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me as I got mad at this drowning scout—that is, until they saw Freddie stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? (2X)

Stop focusing on myself and finish the race?  Who me, Lord?

Swim into deeper waters and trust you to support me? Who me, Lord?

The moment we get over our pretensions and really appreciate how much Christ has done for us, we want to tell the whole world.  When we do, we become spiritual lifeguards.

Scriptural Background

Our scripture lesson is taken from the book of Mark who recorded what is believed to be the witness of the Apostle Peter.  The story of the healing of a man with an unclean spirit appears in the three synoptic Gospels and in each case follows the account of the storm on the Galilee [1].  Mark’s version is the longest and offers details of obvious interest to a modern reader.  The length of Mark’s account is particularly striking because Mark wrote the shortest Gospel.  Why does Mark spend twice as much time on this particular story as does Matthew or Luke? [2]  (2X)

Uniqueness of Mark’s Account

Only in Mark, for example, do we learn that the crossing of the Galilee involved multiple boats and took place in the evening (Mark 4:35-36).  The storm on the Galilee inspired fear, in part, because it happened after dark.  Nightfall might also explain why Jesus was sleeping [3].

The Man with the Unclean Spirit

Two details suggest that Mark expressed great sympathy for the man with the unclean spirit [4].

The first detail is his use of the term, unclean spirit (ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτω (Mark 5:2 BNT)).  By contrast, Matthew starts by saying the man is demonized (δαιμονιζόμενοι (Matt 8:28 BNT)) while Luke reports that he has a demon (ἀνήρ…ἔχων δαιμόνια (Luke 8:27 BNT)) [5].  The term, unclean spirit, is less judgmental and evokes the image of ritual impurity rather than demonic manipulation.

The second detail is also unique to Mark.  Only Mark tells us that this man cuts himself with stones (κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις (Mark 5:5 BNT)).  In other words, he was a cutter.

What is a Cutter?

In case you have never known a cutter, a cutter is someone, usually a young person, whose emotional pain is so deep that self-induced physical pain comes as a relief.  Cutters feel abandoned by their friends and family.  Cutters are not normally suicidal although they may accidentally kill themselves.  Mark gives us a picture of a young person in unbelievable anguish which is in sharp contrast with Matthew’s image of a raging, fearsome maniac (Matt 8:28) [6].

Can you feel the pain being communicated here?  (2X) If you could heal this kid, would you take the risk to step into his messy life and do it?

Moral Ambiguity

Other details in this passage evoke less pathos but focus more on moral ambiguity.  The synoptic Gospels, for example, differ on the location of this pericope but all place the location in Gentile territory known as the Decapolis, region of ten cities.  Mark and Luke locate this story in the Gerasene while Matthew cites the area of Gadara [7]. Scholars place the location at Gergesa, a relatively unknown location on the Sea of Galilee with a steep slope. The Gerasene and Gadara locations, while better known, are not on the Sea of Galilee [8].

In summary, the location, the man’s lack of clothing, his presence in a graveyard, the presence of demons, and the local raising of pigs (Lightfoot 1979, 254) all reinforce the image of the man as ritually unclean and probably a gentile.  The idea that this man was a gentile makes sense because Apostle Peter led the church in accepting gentile ministry (Acts 10).  Peter’s leadership in accepting gentiles into the church may also explain Mark’s special interest in this story.

Jesus’ Pathos

Jesus’ pathos for the pain of this young man is obvious.  There is a sense here that the man with the unclean spirit is the personification of unrepentant sinner undergoing a difficult conversion (Garland 1996, 212).  As the Apostle Paul put it:  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17 ESV).  Through the story of this young man, Mark has painted a picture for us of both the old self and the new self in Christ (Eph 4:20-24).

Salvation Message

What does God’s salvation look like to you?  (2X)

The Apostle Paul described salvation in these words: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:9-10 ESV).

Exodus as Salvation

For me, salvation evokes memory of the Exodus story when God rescued the people of Israel and brought them out from the land of Egypt.  Remembering the Exodus, the Prophet Isaiah writes:  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:1-2 ESV).

Downing as a Metaphor

Have you ever felt in over your head?  Do the waters of life leave you grasping for life-preservers that are nowhere to be found?  Do you feel like Jonah trying to run away from God and end up being thrown overboard?   Here in Mark we find the disciples in a raging storm in the middle of the night on the Galilee.

As the Psalmist  writes:  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:28-30 ESV).

The Lifeguard

Do you see the lifeguard at work?  (2X)

Jesus simply says:  “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:39 ESV).  What’s the big excitement?  Where is your faith? Jesus asks.

But what if the storm in our lives is more personal?  (2X)

Postmodern Haunting

What if we find ourselves in a strange land, surrounded by strange people, confronting death or, worse, confronting people living hollow, haunted lives?

Jesus, why are you still here?  Jesus, why do you torment me?

But our lifeguard is still on duty.  Jesus asks:  what is your name?

Name?  We have many names!  What name would you like?  Anger? Depression?  Fear? Guilt? Grief?  Humiliation? Shame?

Our lifeguard simply says—you have my permission to give them up.

Anger…(snap) gone.  Depression…(snap) gone.  Fear…(snap) gone.  Grief…(snap) gone.  Guilt…(snap) gone.  Humiliation… (snap) gone.  Shame…(snap) gone.  Gone…gone…gone…(Snap 3 X)

But what happens when the storm is over?  Jesus says:  Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you (Mark 5:19 ESV).  We are called to be witnesses of our own healing and lifeguards for those around us.

Closing Story

Let me close with another story.

A woman by the name of Debra used to live outside my office when I worked downtown in Washington.  Debra lived on the sidewalk there outside my building for seven years—longer than I had worked there.  When I was feeling all full of myself and generous, I would visit with Debra and give her lunch money.  When I was mad at the world and feeling sorry for myself, I sneak out the building so as to avoid her.  I felt the judgment of God in her presence because I was rich, warm, and well-fed while she was poor, cold, and hungry.  For this reason, I prayed that God would cure her of her mental illness and cure me of my moral cowardice [9].

Confronted with someone in pain in a morally ambiguous situation, what do you do?  (2X)

Confronted with a young man in great emotional pain, Jesus set aside his own agenda and healed him.

Prayer

Almighty God.  Father of all compassion.  Beloved son.  Holy Spirit. Thank you for your presence in our lives.  Calm the storms that plague us.  Heal us of the names that haunt us.  Make us whole people created in your image.  Help us to model your love to the people around us.  In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Footnotes


[1]Mark 4:35-5:20, Matthew 8:18, 23-34, and Luke 8:22-39.  Note also the allusion in Revelations Rev 21:2. In each account the man with the unclean spirit declares Jesus to be the Son of God (Matt 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28).

[2]The word count in Greek is approximately:  Mark (472), Luke (407), and Matthew (236).  This is shocking because the Book of Mark (12, 015) is the shortest compared with Luke (20,683) and Matthew (19,474) (BNT, BibleWorks).  This implies that almost 4 percent of the Mark text is devoted to this story while less than 2 percent is devoted in either Luke or Matthew.

[3]An episode of near drowning in a boat on the Galilee evokes a dramatic image of the exodus from Egypt—a communal baptism.  Because baptism is frequently thought of as a symbolic death and resurrection (Rom 6:4) which is similar to the allusion evoked in mental illness (Foucault 1988, 16), the storm on the Galilee is thematically related to story of the demoniacs that follows.  Both are also miracle stories and display Jesus’ authority (France 2007, 333).  By contrast, Saint Jerome (1977, 163) saw an allusion to the prophet Jonah (Garland 1996, 193).  Taken together, the literary argument is implicitly from the greater to the smaller, if Jesus can command the wind and waves, he can surely cast out demons in a possessed gentile.

[4]The OT provides at least two examples of demonic possession (Judges 9:23 and 1 Sam 16:14-16), but no exorcisms. Casting out demons is a NT innovation.  ἐκβάλλω (exorcise) is frequently used in this sense in the NT, but the LXX uses this word primarily in a military sense of driving one’s enemies out.  The allusion most likely in mind for a first-century Jewish audience is:  then the LORD will drive out [ἐκβαλεῖ] all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you (Deut 11:23 NIV).  ἐκβάλλω (BDAG 2328) . The only hint of a spiritual use of the word in the LXX arises in 2 Samuel 7:23 (driving out nations and their gods), Isa 2:20 (cast away his idols), and Jeremiah 23:31 (against the prophets).

[5]Even authors that question Jesus’ divinity acknowledge that he performed exorcisms (Sanders 1993, 149-154).   Porterfield (2005, 36-37) cites John Meier writing:  What made Jesus unusual, if no unique, was not simply his role as an exorcist but rather his integration of the roles of exorcist, moral teacher, gatherer of disciples, and eschatological prophet all into one person.  She also notes that in Mark, the first even in Jesus’ public life was the healing of a possessed man (Mark 1:23-27).   The early church routinely performed exorcisms as part of the baptism ritual and exorcist was a church office, much like elder or deacon.  For example, see (Hippolytus AD 215, 21:10; Cyprian AD 250).

[6]Because Mark is thought to be recording the experiences of the Apostle Peter, is this sympathetic view of this man a reflection of the heart of the Apostle Peter for the mentally ill?

[7]France (2007, 340) reconciles this discrepancy citing Josephus (Life, 42) who places Gerasene within the jurisdiction of Gadara—a Roman stronghold .  This is more subtle way to make a political inference than naming the demons:  Legion (the name of a Roman military unit).  Later manuscript variants explicitly substitute the Gerasene for Gadara in the Matthew account suggesting that the inference may have been too subtle for a gentile audience to pick up.

[8]Schnabel (2004, 255-256) writes:  Gergesa is identified with ancient Chorsia and located near ruins of modern Tel el-Kurst (Kersa) situated on Wadi Sermakh on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area that belonged to the Decapolis.  Near Tel el-Kursi there is a steep slope toward to the lake….A localization in Gergesa, a small and insignificant settlement, could well have been changed by a copyist in West to the well-known city “Gerasa,”  which copyists in the East would have “corrected” to “Gadara.”

[9] Foucault (1988, 26) sees mental illness as a metaphor for death (p. 16) and as a mirror on society.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. <BibleWorks. v.8.>.

BibleWorks. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC., 2011. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Cyprian.  Epistle XVI. Translated By Ernest Wallis.  Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. ANF5.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.  In BibleWorks, V.8. AD 250.

Foucault, Michel.  1988.  Madness and Civilization:  A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York:  Vintage Books.

France, R.T.  2002. The Gospel of Mark.  New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

France, R.T.  2007. The Gospel of Matthew.  New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Garland, David E.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Mark.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Hippolytus.  The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. Translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb.  Cited:  31 March 2010.  Online:  http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html, AD 215.

Jerome.  Commentaire Sur S. Matthieu (398).  Translated from Latin into French by Emile Bonnard.  Paris:  École Normale Supérieure, 1977.

Josephus.  Life of Flavius Josephus.  1:42. In BibleWorks, V.8.

Lightfoot, John.  1979. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica Matthew – I Corinthians (1859).  Vol. 1.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House.

Porterfield, Amanda.  2005. Healing in the History of Christianity.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Sanders, E.P.  1993.  The Historical Figure of Jesus.  New York: Penguin Books.

Schnabel, Eckhard J.  2004.  Early Christian Mission.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard,

Mark 4:35-5:20

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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