Categories
Life Theology

Jesus Is More Than a Marriage Ref

When we read Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:1-9 (or Mark 10:1-12), it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of who can get divorced for what reason. I did that extensively once—I wrote a position paper on divorce in seminary. But I think in the context of what Matthew (and Mark, of course) is doing in his Gospel, this passage goes beyond petty details. After all, the major Pharisaical schools of thought liked to quibble over details. That was their speciality.

But Jesus is more than a marriage ref. He is attacking the very heart of Pharisaism. That’s one of Matthew’s goals throughout the gospels. Look at what Jesus does.

After some Pharisees ask about what constitutes a legitimate divorce (v. 3), Jesus starts by saying, “Have you not read?” Jesus challenges them on the authority of the Scriptures. Haven’t you ever read what God said? Of course they’ve read it. They have it memorized. Every word. But Jesus isn’t looking for information. He knows they’ve read it. But do they obey it? Jesus’ question pierces through their me-centered approach to marriage and everything else for that matter. It’s one thing to affirm the Bible is God’s word. It’s another to obey it.

Then Jesus tells them the word they most certainly have read: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” The climax of creation is God making humans “male and female.” It’s not one gender or the other.  God’s creative design was for a man and woman to be joined, not separated. “Can I divorce my wife for any cause?” (see v. 3) shows that the Pharisees get God, creation, image of God, and marriage all wrong.

Then Jesus goes for the jugular. The Pharisees appeal to Moses. Well, why did Moses command men to give divorce certificates to their wives? Jesus answers, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” At the heart of Pharisee belief was not self-sacrifice and forgiveness. It was ruthless justice and self-justification through strict adherence to the law. Moses’ law never commanded divorce, but allowed it and did so to keep vulnerable women safe in a society full of sinful Pharisee-type husbands.

This me-centered theology led to me-centered practice: what is the minimum she can do to me so that I can get out of this? That’s the crux. Jesus does say that divorce is allowable in the case of sexual immorality (v. 9), but his point is not so much to preside over divorce proceedings as it is cutting to the heart of a selfless, religious people who think they are honoring God’s law when, in fact, they are breaking his heart.

What’s going on in the bigger picture? The Pharisees are a microcosm of Israel who left their true Husband, Yahweh. And Jesus is going to show them that he is that true Husband. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, after all (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) to die for his Bride, forgive her (even of grievous sin!), wash her clean, and work mightily for her holiness—not kick her out in the cold. This is what Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5.

To the Pharisees, marriage was not about giving yourself up for the good of your spouse. It was about demanding and taking from your spouse so that you would be served. Jesus flips this on its head and shows that the religious elite truly have hard hearts, not obedient ones. Jesus will give himself up so that we come to see what marriage is all about—one man and one woman joined together before God in a loving, harmonious union of self-giving, forbearance, and forgiveness that points to a greater marriage: God’s with his people (cf. Hosea 1-3; Rev. 21:1-4).

Now the application for us becomes a bit more obvious—even for those of us with good marriages. I have never asked what’s the minimum Carly can do to me so I can send her away. But there’s a slice (sometimes a big one) of Pharisaism in my heart—and probably in yours. I too often make my marriage about me and what I can get out of it rather than about us and what I can give to my wife. I confess that my heart (which is Jesus’ point, after all) is all too ready to “send her away.” Not with divorce papers. But in the subtle, mini-divorces of angered silence, frustrated tones, sarcastic comments, and blame shifting.

If you think Jesus’ teaching about divorce is only for those with a marriage on the rocks you are fooling yourself. While we are asking what’s the minimum our spouse can do so we are justified in our literal divorces or metaphorical mini-ones, Jesus goes the distance to love his Bride by giving himself up for her. He’s saying, “It’s your hard heart that moves you send your spouse away when they wrong you. But I’m moved to run toward you and lay down my life for you, though you have wronged me.”

From the beginning, marriage was meant to be a living drama of God’s love for his people. His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always, and forever love,” as someone once wrote. That’s the kind of love he has for us. That’s the kind of love he wants in our marriages.

Categories
Theology

Why is the New Testament Reliable?

John Calvin

Let all those acute censors, whose highest pleasure it is to banish a reverential regard of Scripture from their own and other men’s hearts, come forward; let them read the Gospel of John, and, willing or unwilling, they will find a thousand sentences which will at least arouse them from their sloth; nay, which will burn into their consciences as with a hot iron, and check their derision. The same thing may be said of Peter and Paul, whose writings, though the greater part read them blindfold, exhibit a heavenly majesty, which in a manner binds and rivets every reader. But one circumstance, sufficient of itself to exalt their doctrine above the world, is, that Matthew, who was formerly fixed down to his money-table, Peter and John, who were employed with their little boats, being all rude and illiterate, had never learned in any human school that which they delivered to others. Paul, moreover, who had not only been an avowed but a cruel and bloody foe, being changed into a new man, shows, by the sudden and unhoped-for change, that a heavenly power had compelled him to preach the doctrine which once he destroyed. Let those dogs deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, or, if not, let them refuse credit to the history, still the very circumstances proclaim that the Holy Spirit must have been the teacher of those who, formerly contemptible among the people, all of a sudden began to discourse so magnificently of heavenly mysteries.

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.8.11

Categories
Theology

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Why did Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on the cross?

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is called “lamb,” of course, because of the Old Testament where lambs were designated to be the sin-bearers for the people on the day of atonement (see especially Lev. 16 for the “day of atonement,” what Jews call today “Yom Kippur”). When John the Baptizer called Jesus the Lamb of God in John 1:29, he was prophesying and essentially saying, “There aren’t going to be any more sacrifices after this man. He’s the last lamb.”Isaiah picks up this theme of atonement for sin from Leviticus 16 in his “Suffering Servant” passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. He says,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away…Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (vv. 4-8a, 10).

So Isaiah shows us that not only were lambs–and the Ultimate Lamb–sacrificed for sin, but that their sacrifice was actually punishment for the sinner (his language makes that clear). Lambs, and thus Jesus, received punishment, for what we deserved. Jesus, then, not only paid the debt for sin, but also took the punishment that sin deserved. We see this throughout the New Testament in different vocabulary:

  • Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).
  • Christ became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Christ saves us from wrath by taking wrath for us (1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Christ was condemned in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the law would be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:3).
  • Christ was put forward as a “propitiation,” which is a theological word that means Christ was given to satisfy God’s wrath (Rom. 3:25).

We can sum up the judgment of God this way: Everyone will be judged for their sins. No one anywhere at any time gets away with anything. Every sin will be punished–either in hell or on the cross.

All of this evidence leads me to believe that when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he was saying, “I am being forsaken for the sins of many. I am experiencing the punishment for sin that everyone who believes in me should bear.” Now this is tricky. Can God turn his back on himself? Does he not see what’s happening? Of course, the answers are no and no. He cannot turn his back on himself and he does see everything. However, in a mysterious, cosmic way, at that moment, all of the sins of the God’s people were poured onto Jesus. In order for redemption to be possible, God, indeed, had to forsake Jesus. Jesus needed to be judged. Jesus needed to face the wrath of God that we deserved for our sins. So while God did not turn his literal back so he did not see, the meaning is that Jesus really and truly experienced the absence of fellowship and union with the Father because of sin. Because Jesus was abandoned by the Father for those precious moments before he died we can be sure that he will “never leave nor forsake” us.

In saying, “My God, my God…etc,” Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1. In those days, when a rabbi quoted the first verse of psalm, the whole chapter was being alluded to. Jesus then implies that he is the true author of Psalm 22–the only truly righteous person who can faithfully sing that song. God will eventually restore Jesus: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Ps. 22:24). The Father has heard the cry of the Son. Why could the Father hear the cry of the afflicted One? Because Jesus is the only truly innocent sufferer who does not deserve to suffer. The evidence of this fact is that the Father raised the Son from the dead. The resurrection was Christ’s reward for a perfectly obedient life. God did not simply forsake Jesus in some form of divine child abuse (which some wrongly assert I am implying). He punished and chastised him, only to bring him through death after hearing his cry of affliction in order to bring in “all the families of the nations” to God (Ps. 22:27-28). The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was being fulfilled in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Christ took our punishment so that we will never face punishment in eternity.

Finally, was Jesus being punished until his resurrection? Did he go to hell after he died? No and no. He said on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit,” (Luke 23:46); and to the thief he said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Christ’s victory was not fully realized until his resurrection, but he certainly was not overcome by death: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps. 16:10).

Categories
Life

Words

Daily I am reminded of how careless I am with words. Thankfully, Christ died for the sins of my tongue just as much as any other sin.

Here is a “Bible verse poem” compiled from Proverbs 10:19, Ephesians 4:29, Luke, 6:45, and Matthew 12:36-37. Lord, remind us of the power of our words

Words

When words are many,
transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good,
and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil,
for out of the abundance of the heart
his mouth speaks.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,
but only such as is good for building up,
as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account
for every careless word they speak,
for by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned.

Categories
Life

Eating Jesus’ Body Means Believing His Words

When you sit down to spend time in the Bible, do you ever find yourself just reading the words, instead of ingesting them into your soul?  This year, I have been following a read-through-the-Bible in a year program.  There are a lot of chapters to read each day, and sometimes I can slip into reading letters on a page. That’s one of the things I don’t like about this reading program.

However, I have been blessed this year to get the 30,000 feet perspective on Scripture and see how the Bible connects and is completely consistent. So often we hear about how the Bible contradicts itself. Funny how the same people that say that never actually read the Bible.

I’m finishing up the year in the book of John. It has been especially delightful to read about the life of Jesus from his most beloved disciple. A few weeks back, I gave a talk to a group of college students on John 6 and Jesus being the bread of life. John 6 is incredible. But it is awfully confusing if you take Jesus literally.

After telling the crowd to eat his body and drink his blood, a lot of people stopped following him. When Jesus asked his band of twelve if they would leave also. Peter responded with words that will echo into eternity: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

After hearing Jesus use strange language for sixty-some odd verses, Peter had the correct interpretation: Jesus isn’t talking about cannibalism. He’s talking about believing his words and holding fast to them. If you want to eat Jesus’ body as the bread for your life, you’ll believe every word he speaks.

How do we feast spiritually? How do we find fulfillment in our hearts? We read the Bible and believe what Jesus says. He has the words of eternal life. Eating is believing his words. Go to the Bible and feast on Jesus. Don’t scrap for crumbs.

Father, help me to ingest and digest the words of your Son that we have in the Scriptures. Make me be satisfied by them. Make me love them. Make me be changed by them.