As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Your Martyrdom

It's not a pleasant thought to contemplate being imprisoned and murdered for your faith. That thought has been on the minds of many Christians throughout history, and is presently on the minds of Christians in places such as India, China, Iraq and Iran. In the politically free world, our battles are only whether or not we may proselytize on a public sidewalk in front of a school, or whether the church may influence politics. In many countries, Christians meet in secret, fearing for their lives.

The death of John the Baptist is described in Matthew 14:1-12. Why did God allow such a faithful man to be murdered at the whim of a corrupt politician? Political corruption is commonplace. Our leaders are well known for taking bribes and labeling them as innocuous contributions or inducements of office. Many are also known for their sexual promiscuity. How should Christian leaders react to this? Should we keep silent?

John the Baptist did not keep silent, but publicly condemned Herod for his illicit marriage. He did not worry about having his tax status rescinded. There was not special tax status for prophets. He did not even worry about his own life. He was only concerned with doing the job of a prophet and that included condemning sin.

A prophet is simply a spokesman for God, and if he is to fulfill his job, he must speak God's mind whether or not that is politically acceptable, changes his tax status, or even condemns him to death. In being murdered, John the Baptist was following in the footsteps of many prophets before him.

Does God care about his servants? Jesus and most of his disciples also suffered death for their faith. From God's perspective death is not the worst enemy, because Jesus overcame death and in him, we also overcome death. God has fixed the death problem, but alienation from God is far worse. So we pity those who murdered John the Baptist far more than him.

This is the conundrum of faith. Those who murder believers are at that moment dead in their sins. The martyred faithful in Christ will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Jesus' Home Synagogue

Have you ever known of a great preacher who returned to his home church to deliver an address, perhaps where he grew up? How well do you think he was received? Did you know that Jesus once preached in what was very likely his childhood synagogue? How do you think that he was received? We read about it in Matthew 13:53-58 where many translations describe the location as "their" synagogue. It is a reasonable deduction that this was the only one in Nazareth and thus Christ's boyhood place of worship.

The greatest preacher of all time was debuting at their house of worship, but they were too overly familiar with his family to be filled with faith. Despite their initial amazement at his great preaching, they were unmoved. Why?

They asked, where did this one get wisdom and miraculous powers, implying that it was not from a good source. Here we find another interesting lesson. Jesus did not perform many miracles because of their unbelief. In other words, Jesus, who is capable of performing any miracle at any time, would not do miracles to offset unbelief.

To back up their prejudice, the townspeople spoke of Jesus' being only the son of a local carpenter and their familiarity with the rest of his family, his mother and brothers and sisters. They seemed to impute a certain arrogance to Jesus. They probably had an attitude of, "Who does he think he is!" Perhaps they thought that any idea that Jesus was anything more than just an ordinary man was pretentiousness. Thus, Jesus spoke his famous saying, that a prophet is honored everywhere, except in his own hometown and among his own family.

Limiting people to their past is not the stuff of faith. Although a person's background often induces prejudice in our minds, we should not let it. A Tasmanian apple grower can be used by God just as mightily as a Cockney carnival worker from London, a West Virginia coalminer, a New Zealand sheep farmer or a Canadian logger.

As we say, familiarity breeds contempt. That is also perhaps why the Gospel was not so well received among the Jews. Because of their familiarity with the Bible, they did not accept the message of their Messiah as readily as the Gentiles did. Is this sometimes also the case with the children of Christians? Because of familiarity, do they sometimes accept Christ with greater difficulty than those who did not grow up in a Christian home? Does this danger also exist among long time Christians? Because of familiarity with the Gospel, do they too find it difficult unlearning old preconceptions?

The New Scribes

Why would a Christian want to become a scribe? Jesus was somewhat disgusted with the scribes and Pharisees of his day, and yet there is one place where he encouraged us to become a new kind of scribe. You may have missed it. In Matthew 13:52 Jesus described those scribes who become disciples of the kingdom of heaven as like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things old and new.

What could that mean? A scribe was simply a Jewish Bible teacher. Jesus did not criticize them for their excellent education in the Scriptures, but many of them had rejected the very Messiah that those Scriptures pointed to. Now, there is a new kind of Bible teacher, one instructed in the things of the kingdom of heaven. The key is the combination of new and old things. That is also a key to understanding the parables of Jesus. Jesus constantly contrasted the law and the gospel, the new and the old. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are vital components of a comprehensive gospel message. Jesus' parables were a mixture of old and new.

The continuity and discontinuity of the two testaments has been a 2,000 year long discussion among theologians, and the discussion is not over yet. What continues and what does not? For some Christians Saturday Sabbath continues. Some transfer that principle to Sunday. For others, only the principle of rest continues and their rest is in Christ. For some Christians, modified versions of the Old Testament tithing laws continue. For others, only the principle of generous giving to God continues. For some, clean and unclean meats continue. For most, the principle of cleanness in sanctification or being made holy by God is what is important. Few Christians actually circumcise in the flesh today for religious reasons. All Christians however, do believe in a circumcision of the heart.

Christians are in agreement that there is both continuity and discontinuity. Indeed, that is the point of Jesus' comments, that even though we Christians are under a new covenant, ratified in blood on the cross, we also learn so much from the old. Christianity is very much a New Testament religion, but incorporates both Old and New Testaments.

Why Parables?

When the disciples asked Jesus as to why he taught the public in parables (Matthew 13:10-17), he made a seemingly strange statement. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are not for public consumption. Why did Jesus hide the meaning of his teachings in veiled parables? Is God just arbitrary and unfair?

The key is the receptivity of the individual. Those who are open to learn from Jesus will receive divine illumination to understand further. Those who reject the message of the kingdom from the start, any little bit of understanding they may have had will vanish. They will no longer be able to plumb the depths and real meaning of Christ's parables.

Many of Christ's hearers were diligent students of the Bible, but even that understanding would be removed by God, because they rejected the message of the Messiah. The Greek implies a willful closed-mindedness of seeing but not wanting to see, hearing but not wanting to hear. Why?

Jesus goes on to quote from Isaiah 6:9-10 which describes a people with hard hearts who do not want to see or hear. It is the people who are culpable. It was their unwillingness to repent at the gospel message that made it impossible for them to understand the Messiah's teachings. On the other hand, the disciples were willing to repent, and therefore God gave them understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

So, to those who respond, the parables of Jesus provide further insight into the kingdom of heaven. However, to those who do not repent, those same parables remain a mystery. What a privilege we have when we come to know the deeper things of Christ!

How to Read the Bible without becoming a Wacko

How can you read your Bible without becoming a total loon? Is it possible? Some people read the same Bible that you and I do, but end up with the weirdest, half-baked ideas on the planet. Others read it and yawn.Yet the Bible contains the most important words that you and I will ever read in this lifetime. They are the most important written words on the entire planet. So we'd better get it right. If we don't know what something means, we'd better be honest about it. How can we read it and get the meaning that God intended, and not end up with some twisted cult ideas?

1. Read the Text

What does the text actually say? What does it NOT say?

2. Exegete, don't Eisegete

Exegesis is extracting what the text says. Eisegesis is inserting what we want to say. Ask, what did the text say when it was written? What did it mean in the cultural context of its day? Do not read backwards what our culture says something means. For instance, when Jesus said "if the salt has lost its flavor...", don't define that as sodium chloride, that's our language. What Jesus meant by salt was not sodium chloride, but a substance that usually came from the Dead Sea that contained some of what we call salt and also contained white gypsum. That "salt" could lose its saltiness, because the gypsum content became too high as the other leached out. What we call "salt" cannot lose its saltiness. Different meaning today, which we cannot retrofit as some have done trying to claim that Jesus didn't know what he was talking about.

3. Exegete Completely

The exegetical process involves several key components. It's no good just asking, hmm, I wonder what that meant to ...? We need the involvement of God, the author, the text, the ancient audience, the cultural context and finally the modern audience. When God is involved this is revealed exegesis. Some modern exegesis is called rational exegesis, because it leaves God out of the picture. The idea is that somehow God is not rational. So, we have the "God is dead" people and the "resurrection of Christ is a myth" people, who simply don't want to believe that God could or did do such things.

So, start with a belief that God can do anything, then do some really good research.

4. The Plain Sense Makes Common Sense

A golden rule of Bible Study (read "exegesis") is just that. Too often we want to overcomplicate Scripture with some high falutin' theory of numerology, prophecy or some esoteric secret meaning, as if God can't speak plain. He can and he does.

5. Don't abuse the Concordance

Some people think that the concordance means that we can find the keys to one verse in a string of other verses. More often than not, that is a BIG mistake. For instance, Romans 8:8 says that they that are in the flesh cannot please God, yet 1 John 4:3 says that Jesus came in the flesh. Stringing those two verses together could lead to a wacky conclusion. That's really an easy one to figure out, but some other combinations are not so easy. How do we overcome that? Most theologians (read "good Bible students") will tell you to usually stick to one passage of Scripture at a time and its context, because mixing contexts will often get you in trouble.

6. Be Careful of Application

The whole process is technically hermeneutics, but this step of application is most commonly referred to as the hermeneutic. One of America's top 20th century preachers, Haddon Robinson, once said that more heresy is introduced into the church through application than exegesis. Application tends to become law. For instance, the idea of not offending in meat and drink becomes a ban on alcohol, the idea of women dressing modestly becomes a church rule about dressing in "plain" clothes, etc. A good application matches the biblical truths, matches the biblical author's intended purpose, and clarifies the relevant truth rather than twisting it into man-made rules and regulations or heresies.

Proper application cannot, can-not, CAN NOT come without careful exegesis first. Bible Study is irrelevant theory until we have an application for today. Rather than rules, stories of how some have applied the relevant Scripture is a better example.

7. Sit at the Feet of a Bible Scholar

Don't sit at the feet of a back yard know-it-all who got his Bible knowledge from a public library, like I once did. Find yourself a teacher who really knows the Bible, has taken the effort to study at least Greek and preferably also Hebrew, who knows what words like exegesis and hermeneutics mean. Avoid those teachers who are fond of weird and wacky fads, like British Israelism, prophetic over-indulgence, conspiracy theories, or who otherwise think that they know better than most of the church, or if they think they are God's end-time gift, or use grandiose egotistical titles for themselves, or love money. Run far, far away.

Those who are willing to learn from what the Holy Spirit has taught others down through the ages about the Bible are often the most balanced and faithful to the truth.

Why the Bread and Wine?

When we partake of communion, we may have our special thoughts and ideas that go through our minds. No matter what the details of our theology are, or the particular practice we engage in is, we all do roughly the same thing, partake of bread and wine as Jesus instituted it.

So why do we do it? Jesus clearly explained why we ought to partake of the bread and wine. In Luke 22:19 he said that we do this in remembrance of him.

The word for remembrance in the Greek is άνάμνησις (anamnesis) and is only used in the New Testament 4 times, 3 times to describe the Lord's Supper in Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 and once in Hebrews 10:3 to describe something that the Old Testament people were to hold in remembrance. In Hebrews 10:3 we are told that the sacrifices were a reminder of sin, year after year.

Now isn't THAT a great word study! Do you get it? The Old Testament sacrifices provided Israel with a continual reminder of their sins. The New Testament communion provides you and me with a continual reminder of Jesus, who took away all our sins. Isn't that an absolutely wonderful contrast!