Matthew 18:1-6

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 18

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Psychologist Paul T.P. Wong has listed three “hindrances to humility” in his article, “I’m glad that I’m a nobody: A positive psychology of humility.”

Competition is clearly the No.1 hindrance. Humility is probably the most difficult virtue to achieve, mostly because egotistic pride works so much better than humility in a competitive society. Think of all the star players in major-league sports; how many really stand out as a good role model of personal humility?

Success is another hindrance. Feeling good about success can easily lapse into pride, especially when others heap praises on you. Pastor Brett has this to say about the temptation of pride: “Of all the problems Pastors face, this is one of the hardest. On the one hand, you have to completely die to yourself and be a humble servant, and on the other you feel God’s power flow through you and experience His inspiration and begin to feel like God uses you because you are special. This is where pride sneaks in and your head begins to swell.”

Thirdly, even reflecting on one’s own humility can be a hindrance. Humility thrives only when one’s attention is directed away from it towards serving others. It withers away whenever attention is directed toward its presence. When I congratulate myself for making progress in humility, or when “I thank my God for my humility” (Shakespeare), I actually hinder its development.[1]

In many ways Wong’s three hindrances to humility are all present in the audacious question some of the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 18:1. In response, Jesus uses the occasion to attack arrogance and point out what true greatness looks like. He defines greatness, tellingly, in terms of humility.

Continue reading

Matthew 10:19-39

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 10:19-39

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

I would like to speak to the Christian who is in a rut, who is stuck, who believes but who feels very little joy about believing. I would like to speak to the Christian who is caught in a kind of spiritual depression, the Christian for whom his or her devotions are either nonexistent or minimal or are done purely by force of habit. I would like to speak to the non-attending Christian. You know the Lord but you feel very little pull to gather with the assembled body. I would like to speak to the Christian who does attend, who is present in body but absent in mind. I would like to speak to the distracted Christian, the Christian of bad attitude, the complaining Christian, the Christian who is lost his or her joy.

And I would like to ask you a question: do you remember what it used to be like, what you used to be like? Do you remember when you were first born again, when you came to know Christ, when the church was a privilege to associate with and to minister within?

I ask this because the writer of Hebrews asks his readers something very similar. He wants them to stop and remember what it used to be like, what they used to be like. We begin at the ending of our passage, with verse 32 and following.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

The author encourages the readers to remember, to recall, to return to what they were. Now to the beginning of our passage. For a few pretty heavy and amazing chapters the writer of Hebrews has been laying out in great detail and with beautiful arguments a case for the greatness of the person of Jesus and the work of Jesus: who is He and what He has done! In verses 19-21 he gives us his brief summary:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God

Now, he turns to the church and tells them why all of this matters.

Draw near!

Hold Fast!

Stir one another up!

Meet together!

Encourage one another!

These five exhortations are given to Christians who need to remember and who need to be restored to the joy of their salvation!

Continue reading

Hebrews 10:1-18

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 10:1-18

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Ron Sider died this week, on Wednesday, July 27. He was an interesting and, at times, controversial theologian. His best-known book is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in which he attacks materialism and indifference toward the poor among Christians. It is a fascinating book. However, I was most struck by his 2005 work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?. As the title suggests, in this book he takes a close look at the moral and ethical lives of self-professing believers. What he finds is troubling to say the least. That book begins like this:

Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion’s most basic beliefs.

In response, a renewal movement emerged, passionately championing the historic claims of the old religion and eagerly inviting unbelievers everywhere to embrace the ancient faith. Rejecting the skepticism of leaders who no longer believed in a God who works miracles, members of the renewal movement vigorously argued that their God not only had performed miraculous deeds in the past but still miraculously transforms all who believe. Indeed, a radical, miraculous “new birth” that began a lifetime of sweeping moral renewal and transformation was at the center of their preaching. Over time, the renewal movement flourished to the point of becoming one of the most influential wings of the whole religion…

Then the pollsters started conducting scientific polls of the general population. In spite of the renewal movement’s proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement’s leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.

This, alas, is roughly the situation of Western or at least American evangelicalism today.[1]

Church, the crisis of our day is a crisis in the area of sanctification. What is sanctification? Let me offer two definitions. First, Grant Osborne and George Guthrie define it like this:

Sanctification is the process by which we step by step become more like Christ, and this is a “perfect process” and goal for the Christian life.[2]

F.F. Bruce writes:

The sanctification which his people receive in consequence is their inward cleansing from sin and their being made fit for the presence of God, so that henceforth they can offer him acceptable worship.[3]

I might put it like this: sanctification is our journey toward becoming perfectly holy.

Does that trouble you? “Perfectly holy”? I wonder why it does? Surely perfection must be our goal, no? Jesus, in Matthew 5, plainly says:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So we “must be perfect.” Note that I defined sanctification as “our journey toward” perfection. Yes, we are beset by sin and the weakness of the flesh, but when is the last time you reminded yourself that the end goal of the Christian life is union with Christ in perfect holiness?

Hebrews 10 is going to argue for sanctification, but it does so in interesting ways. Above all, however, it links our sanctification to the cross of Christ. The question, then, is not, “What must I do to be sanctified?” No, the first question is, “What has Christ accomplished for us on the cross?” If we get that wrong, then any other conversation about sanctification, about holiness, about becoming like Jesus, is doomed to be misguided.

The first nine verses are essentially a restatement of the previous few chapters in which the author has argued for both the superiority of Jesus and the superiority of the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.

In verses 10-18, however, he gives further insight into what exactly was accomplished on the cross of Christ.

Continue reading

Hebrews 9:15-28

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 9:15-28

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

 

Protest signs are designed to make statements and often shocking statements, but one sign in particular may just be the most shocking one ever. The gentleman who designed it and is carrying it in the picture from a protest from some years back clearly, very much wants both attention and notoriety. After all, in addition to the sign he is wearing a t-shirt that depicts a figure tossing a cross into a trash can. But it is through the sign that he makes his most explicit statement. The sign reads: “If Jesus returns, kill Him again.” The sign is not photoshopped. It is real. And the man who created it has surely gotten the attention that he was looking for.

What strikes me about the sign—whatever motives or mind might lurk behind it—is the way that it depicts one half of the what was going on in the actual crucifixion of Jesus. Meaning, from the human perspective as well as from the demonic spiritual realities that fueled that human perspective the crucifixion was an attempt by wicked men to kill, to destroy, to do away with the Jesus who had so incensed the many who resented Him. We might say that this is the earthly half of the crucifixion, the “first floor” perspective of the cross. But there is another perspective. The “second floor” perspective of the cross, the Heavenly perspective. In other words, while the crucifixion reflects a human desire to kill Jesus, much more importantly it reflects God’s desire to save humanity through the death and resurrection of the Son.

Seen from below, the crucifixion was an act of human violence, of killing.

Seen from above, the crucifixion was an act of divine love by and through which God in Christ paid the price for the sins of humanity and enabled lost humanity to come to the Father through the self-giving sacrifice of the Son.

The devil rejoiced for a moment when Christ was crucified. But the cross turned out not to be exactly what he was expecting!

Hebrews 9:15-28 takes us into the very heart of God and shows us exactly what He was accomplishing for lost humanity through the cross.

The cross may represent the world’s and the devil’s desire to kill, but more importantly it reflects the Father’s desire to save.

Continue reading

My Twitter Account

It occurs to me that I have never shared here that I have a Twitter account…kind of. The account is James Leo Garrett Resources (@JLGResources) and it is dedicated to promoting the work of the late theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. As such, I do not personally comment on it unless I feel the need to offer personal comment on this or that aspect of Garrett’s work. I started it after realizing that the complete absence of any social media presence was a bit inimical to the Collected Writings project. I intend to keep the account running through the publication of volume 8 (which should occur next summer after the publication of volume 6 in a couple of months and volume 7 the end of this year, God willing), after which, we’ll see. But, until then, I did want to make it known here.

Screen Shot 2022-07-16 at 10.14.12 AM

Hebrews 9:1-14

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 9

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The headline certainly grabs one’s attention: “He donated blood every week for 60 years and saved the lives of 2.4 million babies.” Listen:

Most people, when they retire, get a gold watch. James Harrison deserves so much more than that.

Harrison, known as the “Man With the Golden Arm,” has donated blood nearly every week for 60 years. After all those donations, the 81-year-old Australian man “retired” Friday. The occasion marked the end of a monumental chapter.

According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, he has helped saved the lives of more than 2.4 million Australian babies.

Harrison’s blood has unique, disease-fighting antibodies that have been used to develop an injection called Anti-D, which helps fight against rhesus disease.

This disease is a condition where a pregnant woman’s blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby’s blood cells. In the worst cases, it can result in brain damage, or death, for the babies…

“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary. His blood is actually used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies. Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James’ blood.” Falkenmire said. “And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives.”…

The discovery of Harrison’s antibodies was an absolute game changer, Australian officials said.

“In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful. Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage,” Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, told CNN in 2015. “Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was quite revolutionary at the time.”

But the article ends on a fairly somber note. Listen:

Now that Harrison has given his last blood donation (in Australia you can’t donate blood past the age of 81), Falkenmire and others hope people with similar antibodies in their blood will step up and donate.

“All we can do is hope there will be people out there generous enough to do it, and selflessly in the way he’s done,” she said.[1]

The article makes us feel two things: (1) joy and (2) sadness. We feel joy that this man’s blood was able to save the lives of over two million babies! But we feel sadness that this man with the saving blood is limited and now no longer able to give.

Joy.

Sadness.

I would like to propose that, rightly understood, this is how we should feel when we look back to the old tabernacle (and temple) worship of Israel. We feel joy, for sure! God instituted the tabernacle in the wilderness wanderings of Israel as a place for worship and for sacrifice. The tabernacle meant that God had not abandoned Israel and the blood of countless bulls and goats meant that there was hope that their sins could be forgiven.

And yet…

The blood of those bulls and goats had to be shed over and over and over again, did it not?

And those priests got old and died, did they not?

And the tabernacle itself had to be packed up and moved and built back, did it not?

In other words, there was joy at what the tabernacle suggested but sadness at what the tabernacle could never quite deliver: final and ultimate salvation, final and ultimate forgiveness, and a priest that would have no end!

The writer of Hebrews wants to take us through the tabernacle, it is true. But he does not want to leave us there. He wants to take us to the tabernacle so that he can show us the greatness of Jesus Christ!

Continue reading

Hebrews 8

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 8

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Last Sunday one of the famous name-it-claim-it health-wealth-and-prosperity preachers in North America made news and stunned his followers by getting behind the pulpit and announcing that the core of his teaching and preaching for the last many many years had been wrong. He then encouraged his congregation to burn all of his tapes and books and materials. He stopped short of apologizing, however, because he said that his former teaching had brought him to where he was. Even so, he acknowledged that all of his teaching on the core element of giving had been wrong, had been mistaken. He asked his congregation to reject what he had taught them all along.[1]

That must be a confusing thing, no? To hear the preacher you have followed all those years suddenly tell you that he was wrong on the core teaching of his ministry would have to be disorienting. And it raises the question, “Are there any ministers out there who do not make such colossal mistakes? Are there ministers we can trust? Are there any ministries that will never have to apologize?”

The book of Hebrews answers with a resounding, “Yes!” Once again we turn to our High Priest Jesus, who will never have to apologize and whose ministry will never be deficient.

Hebrews 8 speaks of two realities when Jesus is compared to the high priests of Israel and, indeed, to all earthly ministers. Namely, it shows us how Jesus has (1) a better ministry and (2) a better covenant.

Continue reading

Matthew 17:22-27

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 17

22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

We have in our church folks who have been to Israel and who have visited Peter’s house in Caperneum. Fred Baltz writes of the site:

In the 19th Century the abandoned site of Capernaum was recognized and recovered from Bedouins. Excavations began in 1905. Franciscans Vendelin von Benden and Gaudenzio Orfali continued the work. These excavations uncovered the ruins of a synagogue and an octagonal church that had been destroyed by the early Seventh Century.

In 1968, Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda resumed the work. They established that the central room of the octagonal church was from a First-Century B.C. Capernaum house which had become a place of worship for Christians from very early on. They also established that the white limestone synagogue was from the Fourth Century, probably built on the black basalt foundation of the synagogue from Jesus’ time.

The central room of the octagonal church had been plastered, re-plastered, and painted with intricate designs—remarkable and unique in Capernaum. Found on pieces of plaster were prayer expressions like “Lord Jesus, help your servant” and, “Christ have mercy”. There is debate about whether Peter’s name actually appears in the graffiti…

Baltz then offers an interesting observation about an intriguing find there:

It became clear that the use of the central room had changed with the passing years. The lowest level still held evidence from daily home life—lamps, coins, cooking pots. Even fish hooks were found in that lowest level.[1]

That may sound insignificant—fish hooks—but those familiar with the biblical story will know that it is not. Peter was a fisherman. Jesus called him away from his nets in order to become a “fisher of men.” After the crucifixion Peter seemingly returned to his nets until Jesus appeared to him and commissioned him for greater things. So fishing was always kind of lurking around Peter.

But here in our text is one of the more curious fishing episodes in Peter’s life. And, strangely enough, it involved paying taxes!

Continue reading

Hebrews 7:20-28

750x422.jpeg.b46f7a8e34f14737ac39e2c1cfba5af4

Hebrews 7:20-28

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

When I was a kid I frequently walked down this hallway in the church our family went to—Grace Baptist Church in Sumter, SC—and on the wall of that hallway was a long line of equally-sized framed pictures of all the pastors of the church. The first one looked old, old, old! And the last one was of our pastor at the time. This used to be more common in churches. Many of you have undoubtedly seen the same.

The effect was always a bit moving but also a bit sobering. It was moving because it reminded me that the line of pastors and the church itself had been there for a long time. It was sobering because it was a standing reminder of the temporal nature of human ministry. The vast majority of men in those pictures were deceased.

That hallway was a statement: we are here and we have been here for a long time doing ministry.

That hallway was a memorial: stop and remember those who have gone on before us.

The writer of Hebrews has been walking down the hallway of the priests of Israel, but now He is stopping and lingering long on the last picture. The last picture is not like the first. Our final priest is different from the others.

In fact, the writers of Hebrews is going to argue that the last priest, Jesus, is the greatest priest and that, in fact, there will never be a picture to the right of his because He still holds His office! No more wall space is necessary. No more frames need be bought! Our final priest is our greatest priest and our final priest breaks the mold in many ways.

Continue reading