Categories
Commentary

Why Black Lives Matter

She left her water bottle at the well and sprinted into the village. Nearly out of breath, she gasped, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. He’s never met me before. How? Why? Could this man be the Messiah?”

Her life was turned upside down. That’s how it was when people met Jesus.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples rejoined him. What a day to remember. That woman’s whole village, of Samaritans no less, came to believe in Messiah! Jesus told his friends about how God was harvesting–that is, gathering–people from every ethnicity on earth to be a part of his family. Even among the Samaritans. And the disciples would reap the benefits, even though they didn’t lift a finger.

“But Jesus,” objected Peter, “Samaritans? They are, uh, unclean.”

“Half-breeds. Don’t trust ’em,” Matthew chimed in. “Can’t see it.”

“I’d only trust one as far as I can thrown one!” Andrew quipped. Other disciples chuckled. Some smirked but held in their laughs.

But Jesus didn’t laugh.

He looked each of the twelve right in their eyes, his face sad and stern.

“Samaritan lives matter,” he said.

No one said anything for half a minute. They seemed, well, flabbergasted. Samaritans?! Jesus waited, took a few sips of water and a bite of bread. Peter was the first to speak up. (He always is.)

“Master, we believe that all lives matter. It is written that in the beginning, ‘God made humans in his image.’ This is true. All lives matter.”

Jesus smiled at Peter in the way he did so often. It was a smile that pierced Peter’s soul.

“Samaritan lives matter,” Jesus repeated.

“Jesus, why do you have to say it like that?” asked Peter. “I mean, that seems to be really, well, Samaritan-centered. What about Jewish lives? Don’t our lives matter, too?”

“Peter,” Jesus said in the way only Jesus could, “isn’t it obvious to all of us right here that ‘all lives matter’? And that ‘Jewish lives matter’?”

“Yes, Rabbi, it’s obvious,” Peter said looking right back at Jesus.

“But what do you all think? Does the average Samaritan feel that his life matters to you–Peter, son of Jonah–or any Jewish man or woman for that matter?”

“I suppose not, Rabbi,” Peter admitted.

“And do you suppose that the maltreatment of, suspicions about, and snarky remarks toward Samaritans has caused this people, who are loved by God, to feel devalued and denigrated?”

“I suppose that’s true, Lord.”

“And, dear Peter,” Jesus said, “do you suppose that when you say, ‘All lives matter,’ and avoid saying ‘Samaritan lives matter,’ they still sense that you do not see them or hear them because you cannot even give them the dignity of identifying their uniqueness among all the peoples on the earth?”

“I suppose that, too, Master,” Peter said.

“And suppose you sensed that you loved and cared for one Samaritan, but another said to you, ‘I do not feel loved or cared for by your people.’ What matters more–how you feel about your actions or how they have received and perceived the actions of another Jew or Jews as a whole?”

“I suppose,” Peter said, “it’s the latter, Jesus.” This time, his head was hanging low.

“Peter, lift your head. Be encouraged. And hear me: Samaritan lives matter.”


I hope the point of this imaginative conversation is clear enough. Sometimes an experiment like this on a conversation that never happened–but could have–is helpful for me as I think about what Jesus still has to say to us today. It also reminds me that Jesus was a real person who had other conversations that weren’t recorded in the Bible.

If you have no idea of the context, Jews hated Samaritans. They considered them less-thans for a variety of religious, theological, and cultural reasons. Centuries of hate and discord. The situation is not parallel to what we are dealing with today in the United States. But the racist sin in the heart is.

You can read the actual account, as it’s recorded, in John 4.

Why, you might ask, did I pick on Peter? Well, the Bible is pretty honest about Peter’s struggle with discrimination against non-Jews. You can read more about it here and here.

And while you’re at it, consider that time Jesus asked a simple question to a man who couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” out loud. It’s akin to saying, “All lives matter.” Of course “all lives matter.” But saying that is a convenient tactic to avoid the issue at hand. Black people have not felt honored, valued, and cared for by our system, by white people in general, and by particular white people. Neither you nor I get to determine what they have experienced and felt. This is their reality.

If you’re a Christian, we should be leading this charge with empathy and a soft heart ready to listen. Jesus is the One who brings together what is divided.

That’s why we need to get this right.

That’s why Black Lives Matter.

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

Psalm 16 and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how seemingly flippant the apostles quote the Old Testament in relation to Jesus? On the surface, it appears that they use the Hebrew Scriptures as a grab bag, just pulling whatever the want out of context in order to built up Jesus’ reputation. This could not be further from the truth.

In Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, Jesus said that the law and prophets bear witness to him. So in Acts 2:25-28, when Peter quotes David in Psalm 16, he is following Jesus’ most basic interpretive principal: everything in the Bible is about Jesus.

In Psalm 16, David asks God to preserve him and be a refuge for him. Peter quotes verses 8-11. In the context of David’s life, he’s making a holy argument for why God should not abandon him, and he seeks ultimate hope, joy, and pleasure in God.

Peter interprets this Psalm through the lens of the resurrection. He says in Acts 2:29-32, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Peter’s main point is this: Jesus is the true and better David. David’s corpse is still rotting in a grave. Jesus has risen. David prayed to avoid Sheol. Jesus abolished Sheol. Jesus will never see corruption or be abandoned to Hades because he is the only one whose life has never been corrupted. He is the only one who has perfectly set the Lord before him. He is the only one who perfectly rejoiced in the Lord. He is the only one whose pleasure in life and all things was ultimate a pleasure in the Father. Though Jesus did die, his flesh did not see corruption in the grave. Because of Jesus’ perfect life, the Father justified him by resurrecting him from the grave. Jesus therefore defeated corruption and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

Only when we see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 16 will we overcome the grave and the corruption it brings. Only then will we avoid eternal judgment and wrath. Only when we look to Jesus, who sought true joy and pleasure in his Father, will we experience pleasure forevermore.

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.

Categories
Life

Growing in grace and knowledge is easier said than done.

Early this morning, a friend texted me and asked a question about 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”  His question boiled down to: “How do you grow in grace?”

I gave him an answer you’ll read below, and then he asked, “How do you keep from getting puffed up with knowledge.”  My answer?  I haven’t figured that out yet, other than begging God for mercy. It is so easy for me to think theoretically and conceptually about the Bible. It is much harder for me to think practically — that actually requires effort and action.

What does it mean to grow in grace? From the immediate context of 2 Peter 2:14-18, it means taking caution, by God’s grace, to not be carried away with doctrinal error and losing your spiritual stability by believing man-made philosophy. It means studying, knowing, and loving what the Scriptures say, particularly the hard parts of Scripture (like what Paul writes, says Peter). It means not distorting those hard parts of Scripture, but instead, with the power of the Spirit, staying faithful to what the text says. It means means being found by Christ “without spot, or blemish, and at peace” (v. 14).

We know from Philippians 2:12-15 that being blameless before God is ultimately rooted in God’s work in us for his good pleasure. So to grow in grace also means that we come to a deeper love that God is in control of our lives and our sanctification. We are not the ultimate cause of anything good that happens in and through us. God is.

How does this, in fact, play out practically? It means begging God for mercy to constantly have this on our minds. It means laboring over Scripture (especially the hard parts) and memorizing it so that God’s words — not ours — consume our thoughts when we are tempted to doubt our sanctification or take credit for it. So often the epistles begin with “grace to you” and end with “grace be with you.”  We must be in God’s word if we want grace!  Finally, it means confessing sin and looking at the person and work of Jesus, because he is the only one who can present us blameless, without spot or blemish, to God so that we might have peace with him.

Father, help your people grow in grace, and we need grace even to do that. Make us people who love your word, take it seriously, trust in your sovereignty, and look to your Son as our perfect righteousness.