Tverberg Brings NT to Life

Tverberg_review_20200131Lois Tverberg. 2012.  Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Much like language itself, the stories we read in the Bible are laconic–they do not tell us everything that we would like to know. The Bible’s laconic stories speak into life in many contexts with meaning and power. Understanding their original meaning can, however, be difficult without detailed knowledge about their original context. Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, explores Jesus’ original context through a study of Jewish thought, both in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish writings (29).


Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus is organized into three sections: (1) Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words, (2) Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus, and (3) Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus. Chapters are brief and accessible enough to use devotionally. The chapters end in questions that can be used for small group discussion. Tverberg’s writing style is as engaging as her content is deep.

The Shema

In chapter 2, for example, Tverberg focuses on Jesus’ interpretation of the Shema. We know it as the great or double-love commandment (Matthew 2:35-43).  Love God; love neighbor. Hebrew, Tverberg reminds us, is word poor and meaning rich. In Hebrew, Shema means both to hear and obey. The Jewish version of the Shema, which has been recited daily since before the first century, as a prayer is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The second part of Jesus’ Shema (love of neighbor) is, however, found in Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew understanding of love is covered in chapter 3 and the Hebrew understanding of neighbor is covered in chapter 4. If you really want to understand the parable of the Good Samaritan, Tverberg intimates, read 2 Chronicles 28:1-15.

Prayers Reflect Theology

As a seminarian, I was amazed how accessible Tverberg made matters of faith that I struggled to learn over the past several years. Citing Abraham Herschel, Tverberg writes: The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God.  How you pray reveals what you believe about God (125). Until I understood this, my prayers were simply random words. I read Herschel, but I understood Tverberg. Tverberg understands Jesus not only as Messiah, but as one steeped in Jewish wisdom. Confronted with two commandments in tension, which one do you obey?


Who might want to read Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus? This is an excellent text for devotions and for small group discussion. Pastors will find a number of chapters that will preach. Seminary students might find it an interesting introduction to Hebrew thinking. Any Christian serious about understanding their faith will enjoy and benefit from this book

Tverberg Brings NT to Life

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

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Monday Monologues: The Person of Jesus, June 18, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra,
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a Prayer for the Co-Dependent and a reflection on the Person of Jesus.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: The Person of Jesus, June 18, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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The Person of Jesus

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

No description of God would be complete without an understanding of the role of Jesus Christ that starts with God’s transcendent nature. God’s transcendence arises because he created the known universe as revealed in the Genesis creation account:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

As creator, God had to exist before the universe that he created and he had to have been set apart from it. Time, as we know it, is part of the created universe. Consequently, God stands outside of time and space. Because we exist inside time and space, we cannot approach God on our own. He has to reveal himself to us. Likewise, we cannot approach a Holy God, because we are sinful beings, not Holy beings. Our sin separates from a Holy God and motivates our confession when we ask God to draw us to himself.

Thus, we cannot approach God on our own because he transcends time and space and because he is holy. Only God can initiate connection with unholy, created beings such as we are. No path reaches up the mountain to God; God must come down. As Christians, we believe that God came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was prophesied from the earliest days of scripture. 

For example, the Prophet Job wrote: 

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”  (Job 19:25-27)

The Book of Job is thought by some to have been written by Moses before any other book in the Bible and before he returned to Egypt, which makes the anticipation of a redeemer all the more stunning. Moses himself lived about 1,500 years before Christ.

Who then is this transcendent God that loves us enough to initiate connection with us in spite of our sin?

Later, after giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time on Mount Sinai, God reveals himself to Moses with these words:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

Notice that God describes himself first as merciful. As Christians, we believe that God love is shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, Christians do not need to offer animal sacrifices—in Christ, our debt to God for sin has already been paid. This is real mercy, real love.

Listen now to the confession given by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  (1 Cor 15:3-5)

Jesus, as the perfect son of God, is the bridge that God has given us to connect with himself through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to pray to God with the assurance that we will be heard; we are able to read the Bible with the confidence that God will speak to us; and we are able to live our daily lives knowing that God walks with us each step of the way. In this way, as Christians we are always connected with God in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is accordingly the story of Jesus in the context of Old Testament prophecy and how through him God came down from outside time and space to dwell in our hearts.

The Person of Jesus

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20, English Standard Version

Nativity_12212013In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

John Ortberg.: Who is this man?Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

John Ortberg.  2012.  Who Is This Man?  Unpredictable Impact of an Inescapable Jesus.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

John Ortberg’s new book, Who Is This Man?, is a biography focused on the unexpected influence Jesus has on the many spheres of our lives. Ortberg writes:

“After his disappearance from earth, the days of his unusual influence began.  That influence is what this book is about…Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede…Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life…after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever.” (11).

Talk about influence. Most of us would be happy if our parents and/or kids listened to us.

Details, Details

Ortberg has an eye for details and for things contrary to expectations, either today or in ancient times. For example, in evaluating Jesus as a leader, he outlines his strategy for influencing people.  Paraphrasing a pep talk by Jesus for the disciples, he writes:

“Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell  them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in.  We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.” (107)

Huh?  Who would have thought that a group using this strategy would even survive the first century, let alone influence anyone.


John Ortberg[1] is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park[2], California which is part of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), a new denomination formed in 2012[3].  According to the foreword written Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, this book started out as sermon series.  The book is written in 15 chapters, including:

  1. The Man Who Won’t Go Away,
  2. The Collapse of Dignity,
  3. A Revolution in Humanity,
  4. What Does a Woman Want?
  5. An Undistinguished Visiting Scholar,
  6. Jesus Was Not a Great Man,
  7. Help Your Friends, Punish Your Enemies,
  8. There Are Things That Are Not Caesar’s,
  9. The Good Life Versus The Good Person,
  10. Why It’s a Small World After All,
  11. The Truly Old-Fashioned Marriage,
  12. Without Parallel in the Entire History of Art,
  13. Friday,
  14. Saturday, and
  15. Sunday (5).

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and acknowledgments, and followed by an epilogue and references.  I was first exposed this this material in a men’s group discussion where we viewed the DVD.  There is also a separate study guide.

Ortberg is Well Rounded

Ortberg is surprisingly well read drawing on details from a range of resources ancient and modern[4].  For example, describing a bit of his own background from a psychologist’s perspective he writes:

“The quickest and most basic mental health assessment checks to see if people are ‘oriented times three’:  whether they know who they are, where they are, and what day it is.  I was given the name of Jesus’ friend John; I live in the Bay area named for Jesus’ friend Francis; I was born 1,957 years after Jesus. How could orientation depend so heavily on one life?” (11)

He observes that each of his 3 orientations (who, where, and when) were influenced directly by Jesus.  Pretty good influence for someone who lived 2,000 years ago!

Holy Saturday

One of the chapters that impressed me the most was the chapter called: Saturday.  Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter is starting to be celebrated as a religious holiday in itself—I often wondered why. Ortberg describes these 3 days as a typical 3-day story with a specific form: day 1 starts with trouble; day 2 there is nothing; and day 3 comes deliverance[5]. The problem with day 2 is that you do not know if day 3 is coming—faith is required. Saturday is the only day in 2,000 years when not a single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. It’s only on the third day that you know you are in a 3-day story! (175-177) Next year I think that I will look for a Saturday service to attend.


John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, offers a fresh description of Jesus, his thinking, and his life. Most Christians today have heard too many bland accounts of Jesus for our own good—so much so that we have trouble hearing God’s voice in these accounts. Ortberg’s insights come in explaining Jesus’ context so artfully that Jesus’ radical contribution is more obvious—Jesus steps out of the picture frame into the room with us. This is the kind of book that, after reading a couple chapters, you will want to buy copies for your family and friends.  In other words, drop what you are doing and read this book.




[4]As a writer and publisher, I immediately picked up on the absence of footnotes in this book.  References are given in the back of the book sequenced by chapter.  However, there are no footnotes or endnotes indicated in the text itself. Actually, I liked this style of referencing because the text flows more naturally with fewer distractions.

[5] Other 3-days stories that he mentions are:  Abraham (Gen 22:4), Joseph (Gen 42:17-18), Rahab (Jos 2:16), and Esther (Est 4:16).


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Prayer Day 4: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Eternal and Compassionate Father. Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eterno y compasivo Padre. Ayudan nos a aceptar tú en todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Gracias por crean nos en tu imagen. Bendicen nuestras familias. Perdonan nuestros pecados y rebelión. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, restauran a nosotros el gozo de tu salvación. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.


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Prayer Day 3: A Christian’s Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit. We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, amado Hijo, siempre presente Espíritu. Te alabamos por crea nos en tu imagen, por caminar con nosotros incluso cuando nos pecamos, y por restaurar nos patentemente en tu favor. Fortalece nos en tu identidad. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, destapa nuestro oídos; descubre nuestros ojos; suaviza nuestras corazones; ilumina nuestros mentes. Forma nos mas y mas en tu imagen que podemos también crecer. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 2, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Heavenly Father:  We praise you for creating heaven and earth; for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen.  We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future.  We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is ever present with us; who sustains all things; who showers us with spiritual gifts.  Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, te alabamos para creación de los cielos y de la tierra; para creación de todo que es, que fue, y que sera; para creación de las cosas visibles e invisibles. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismo en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret; nuestro modelo en la vida, redentor en el muerto, y la esperanza para el futuro. Te alabamos por el Espíritu Santo, quien está presente con nosotros que duchar nos con dones espirituales y sustentar todo las cosas. Abierta nuestras corazones, iluminar nuestros mentes, fortalecer nuestros manos en su servicio. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Jesus Christ

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Names often tell a story. The name, Jesus Christ, is no exception.

When we use the name, Jesus, in English, we are transliterating the Greek of the New Testament. Jesus’ given name was actually Joshua which means “he saves” in Hebrew. However, because Greek does not have an “SH” sound, Joshua could not be accurately transliterated in New Testament Greek. Consequently, we borrowed Jesus from the Greek.

Joshua’s role in the Old Testament is instructive. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead the nation of Israel with these words:

And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.” (Deut 31:23) [2]

Jesus’ given name, Joshua, summarizes his commission. However, Jesus’ salvation arises as he brings us, not into the Promised Land, but into Heaven (Heb 4:1–11). This salvation, furthermore, arises not from law, but from grace (Phil 3:2–11).

When we use the name, Jesus Christ, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ translates the Hebrew word, Messiah, into Greek and it means anointed one because during the commissioning process oil was poured on your head. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed. The New Testament pictures Jesus fulfilling the roles of each of these three types of messiahs.

Jesus’ messianic role is highlighted in the Book of Hebrews where we read:

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 5:5–6)

Melchizedek was the king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and he was also a priest (Gen 14:18) [3]. Saying that Jesus is a priest of the order of Melchizedek expresses the idea that he is also a king. In Matthew 24:1–2 Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which occurred later in AD 70, confirming his prophetic role.

When we confess that Jesus is the only son of God [4], we acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and exclusively as savior (John 3:16–17). God’s infinite nature poses a problem for us because we are finite. Only someone divine can cross the divide between the infinite and the finite. In Jesus Christ, God crosses the divide to initiate the conversation and mediate for us—an act of grace—as high priest (Heb 5:1) [5].

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Because of Moses’ sin at Meribah, God forbad Moses from bringing the people of Israel into the Promised Land himself (Num 20:8–12).

[3] In Hebrew Melchizedek means righteous king and some believe it to have been a title given to Shem, the righteous son of Noah (Gen 9:28). Ps 110, which is quoted in Heb 5:6, also associated King David with Melchizedek.

[4] Son of God is also, of course, a kingly title closely related to the title that Jesus preferred to call himself—son of man—which immediately brings to mind the prophesy of Dan 7.

[5] The parable of the tenants highlights the exclusively of Jesus’ role as mediator (Matt 21:33–40). The parable of the wedding feast addresses the problem created when we reject Jesus as mediator (Matt 22:2–14). When we confess Jesus as God’s one and only son, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in determining the means of our salvation.


Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online:

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.


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