John T. Willis

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--2

Matthew 9:10-26 contains three stories involving Jesus. In this section of Matthew, there are several verses dealing with "disciples."

1. Jesus calls Matthew to be his disciple. Matthew 9:10-13:
    And as he [Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners
                          came and were sitting with him AND HIS DISCIPLES.
    When the Pharisees saw this, they said to HIS DISCIPLES,
     "Why does YOUR TEACHER eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
     But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician,
                              but those who are sick.
     Go and LEARN what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
     For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
     a. Verse 10 emphasizes that a disciple interacts with his teacher. Jesus and his disciples were sitting together in the house of Matthew to share a meal. Thus, there is a very close fellowship between a teacher and his/her disciple. The disciple LEARNS from his teacher by association and example.
     b. In verses 11-13, the Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples that Jesus was sinning by eating a meal with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus overheard their accusation and responded with a metaphor. Jesus is like a physician and tax collectors and sinners are sick [spiritually]. Therefore, the role of a physician is to be with the sick, not to stay away from the sick. All of us are sick spiritually, and therefore we need the great physician Jesus for healing. Following his example, his disciples must be near the spiritually sick and attempt to let Jesus heal them through our lives. As the great physician, Jesus shows mercy on the spiritual sick, and he calls sinners for healing and not the righteous. Obviously, "the righteous" do not really exist, but only pretend they are righteous. All of us need Jesus' healing.

2. A Question about Fasting. Matthew 9:14-17:
    Then THE DISCIPLES OF JOHN came to him [Jesus], saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees
                       fast often, but YOUR [Jesus'] DISCIPLES do not fast?"
     And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom
                       is with them, can they?
     The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they they will fast.
     No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak,
                      and a worse tear is made.
     Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled,
                      and the skins are destroyed;
     the new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.
     a. In verse 14, we find that John the Baptist had disciples of his own. At that time, they practiced fasting as a symbol of mourning. They asked Jesus why Jesus' DISCIPLES do not fast.
     b. Jesus gave three examples in response. Verses 15-17.
         1. Jesus is like a bridegroom, and it is inappropriate for the guests of the wedding to mourn. When the bridegroom goes away, then it will be appropriate for them to mourn. This is why right now Jesus' disciples do not mourn. They will mourn later when Jesus is crucified on the cross.
         2. One does not put an unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, because when one washes the cloak, it will tear. In the same way, Jesus' disciples must follow the example and teaching of Jesus and not adopt the teaching of the Pharisees.
         3. One does not put new wine in old wineskins, because of he does the wineskins will burst. In the same way, Jesus' disciples must follow the example and teaching of Jesus, not that of the Pharisees.

3. Jesus heals the daughter of the leader of the synagogue and the woman suffering from hemorrhages. Matthew 9:18-26.
    While he [Jesus] was saying all these things to them,
     suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,
     "My daughter has just die; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."
     And Jesus got up and followed him, WITH HIS DISCIPLES.
     Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years
           came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak,
     for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well."
     Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well."
     And instantly the woman was made well.
     When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and crowd making a commotion,
     he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.
     But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
      And the report of this spread throughout that district.
     a. When the leader of the synagogue approached Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead, Jesus went with him along with his disciples. When Jesus raised the leader's daughter from the dead and his disciples saw firsthand how Jesus deals with people in distress and need. Disciples learn by being with Jesus and following his example.
     b. Jesus' disciples were also with Jesus when he healed the woman suffering from hemorrhages, and they learned firsthand how Jesus supports and helps and encourages needy people.

These passages emphasize that true disciples are followers of Jesus, who learn from his examples as he deals with various types of people.

Share YOUR experiences and contributions and insights and thoughts and shortcomings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Knows, Discerns, Understands--IX

Three Hebrew verbs are connected with the "heart" in the sense of "know, understand, discern, be intelligent" and the like.

1. The Hebrew verb bin means "to discern, be intelligent, have understanding."
     In response to Solomon's prayer in his dream at Gibeon, Yahweh says: "I will give you a wise and understanding HEART [NRSV mind]." 1 Kings 3:12.
     Proverbs 15:14 says: The HEART [NRSV mind] of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
                                             but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
The same language and idea appears in Proverbs 8:5; 18:15; Daniel 10:12.

2. The Hebrew verb yada` means "to know."
     Moses said to his sinful people in the Plains of Moab in Deuteronomy 29:4: "But to this day the Lord has not given you a HEART [NRSV mind] TO UNDERSTAND, or eyes to see, or ears to hear."
     Proverbs 14:10 says: The HEART KNOWS [is well aware of] its own bitterness,
                                             and no stranger shares its joy.
     Ecclesiastes 8:5 says: Whoever obeys a command will meet no harm,
                                              and the wise HEART [NRSV mind] will know the time and way.
     In Jeremiah 24:7, Yahweh gives Jeremiah this assurance: "I will give them [God's people] a HEART to KNOW that I am the Lord."
     The same idea also appears in Ecclesiastes 1:17; 7:22, 25; 8:16. The point is that according to the Bible the HEART has the God-given capacity of KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING ideas and situations in life.

3. The Hebrew verb halak means "to walk, go, come." In 2 Kings 5:26, when Gehazi got some of Naaman's possessions wrongfully, Elisha said: "Did I not go with you in HEART [NRSV spirit] when someone left his chariot to meet you?" To "go in heart" means to perceive or understand.

Biblical speakers and writers emphasize that the HEART is subject to the person. God, the Creator of he HEART, can hide it from wisdom or imbibe it with wisdom, but ONLY in harmony with the will of the person. The "heart" is capable of perceiving abstract facts and personalities. The "heart" is WISE by mastering a particular craft or by mastering an individual.
   Proverbs 12:23 says: One who is clever conceals knowledge,
                                             but the HEART [NRSV mind] of a fool broadcast folly.
   Proverbs 22:15 says: Folly is bound up in the HEART of a boy,
                                             but the rod of discipline drives it far away.

Share YOUR insights and concepts and experiences and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sinners approach God in Worship--Psalm 38

The composer of Psalm 38 has been stricken with severe illness (verses 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 17). His disease is probably some form of leprosy because verse 5 refers to foul and festering wounds, verse 7 speaks of the lack of soundness in the flesh, and verse 6 says the psalmist is utterly bowed down and prostrate. The reason for this severe sickness is that he is a great sinner--verses 2, 3, 5, 18. His enemies use his severe illness as a proof that he is a great sinner against God, and they eagerly anticipate his death (verses 12, 16, 19-20). Even his own friends, companions, and kinsmen wonder whether his affliction does not prove his alienation from God, and thus stand aloof from him (verse 11). The composer prays fervently that God will stop chastening him (verse 1), preventing his enemies from rejoicing over his desperate situation (verse 16), and stand by him to help him in his terrible circumstances (verses 15, 21-22). Psalm 38 falls into three parts:

1. The psalmist prays fervently that God will not abandon him. Introduction and Conclusion. 38:1, 21-22.
    a. The psalmist uses FOUR negative verbs in his plea to God: Do not rebuke me; do not discipline me; do not forsake me; do not be far from me. These verbs assume that God is a loving father who disciplines his children when they do wrong.
     b. The Psalmist uses ONE positive verb in this plea: Make haste to help me. God is the only dependable help in every situation of life.

2. The Composer describes the severity of his Illness. 38:2-14.
    a. As a result of God's "anger" and "wrath" (verse 1), God's "arrows" have sunk into the body of the psalmist and God's "hand" has come down on him. 38:2.
    b. The psalmist explains that there is no soundness in his flesh (see also verse 7) and no health in his bones because of his sin. His iniquities have gone over him; they weigh down on him like a heavy burden too heavy for him. 38:3-4.
    c. The psalmist's wounds grow foul and fester; he is utterly bowed down and prostrate and does around mourning; he is utterly spent and crushed. 38:5-8.
    d. The poet's longing cries out to God; his sighing is wide open; his heart throbs; his strength fails; the light of his eyes is gone. 38:9-10.
    e. The composer's friends and companions stand aloof from his affliction; his neighbors stay away off from him. At the same time, his enemies plan a way to destroy him. He is like the deaf and the mute. Thus, he has nothing more to say. 38:11-14.

3. The Psalmist gives God FOUR reasons to deliver him from his severe illness. 38:15-20.
    a. In spite of all his tremendous problems, the psalmist declares that he will "wait" for the Lord, anticipating his answer. Thus, the first reason the composer gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that he depends on God. 38:15.
    b.  The second reason the writer gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that his enemies and his severe illness make his condition unbearable, and he is ready to fall if God does not intervene and deliver him. 38:16-17.
    c. The third reason the psalmist gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that now he confesses his sins and is sorry for his foolishness. 38:18.
    d. The fourth reason the composer gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that while he is trying to follow after good, his enemies render him evil for good and have hated him wrongfully. 38:19-20.

When severe difficulties in life arise, the only appropriate response is to turn to God for help.

Share YOUR reversals and disappointments and defeats and victories and positive thoughts with others.

Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--I

Over the past two hundred years, many people have written articles and books about the meaning of disciples and the activities of disciples. It is a big mistake to read one or two books or articles about this topic and adopt the position of the writer. Everyone has the responsibility of weighing each idea and of determining whether or not each person is serious about attempting to determine the meaning and function of disciples according to the Bible. In the next several blogs, I will be presenting all the texts in the New Testament dealing with disciples. I want each one to know that after I present each text, my view may be correct or incorrect. PLEASE think and study for yourself.

1. The nouns "disciple" and "disciples" and the verb "to make disciples" occur ONLY in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. There is no reference at all to the term "disciple" in the rest of the New Testament. This is just a fact. Consult a concordance and YOU will realize this is true.

2. The Greek verb "to make disciple" is matheteuo. The noun "disciple" [disciples] is mathetes in the masculine and matheteria in the feminine. Thus, obviously disciples are male and female.

3. One must determine the meaning and function of a "disciple" by examining each text, not by looking up this word in a dictionary. Context is very important.

4. I will move through the order of the New Testament, realizing that the order may not be in chronological order. For example, Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, and John is late in the first century A. D. The date of Acts is debated, but Acts probably comes from about 70 A. D.

5. Matthew 5:1: "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain; and after he sat down, HIS DISCIPLES came to him."
    a. This verse introduces the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount immediately calls to mind Yahweh sending the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20. There are obviously many parallels between Exodus through Deuteronomy and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus apparently followed that Old Testament pattern.
   b. Just before this event, Jesus called Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen, to leave their occupation and "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus.  Then Jesus called James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were fishermen, and told them to follow him, and they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Jesus.
   c. This context shows that a "disciple" is a "follower." Peter, Andrew, James, and John left everything else to "follow" Jesus. It seems that the "disciples" of Jesus in Matthew 5:1 are these four men, but it is possible that other people were included. A "follower" is NOT a LEADER!!! Many biblical texts draw a sharp distinction between a follower and a leader. God our Father is the only true LEADER through Jesus Christ our Lord, not any other human being or group of human beings.

6. Matthew 8:18-27:
    "Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
     A scribe then approached and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.'
     And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
     but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'
     ANOTHER OF HIS DISCIPLES said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'
     But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'
     And when he got into the boat, HIS DISCIPLES followed him.
     A windstorm rose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves;
                                         but he was asleep.
     And HIS DISCIPLES came to him [that is the Greek; the NRSV simply translates: and they went]
     and woke him up, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!'
     And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?'
     Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a dead calm.
     They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'
     a. The first event in this account relates a dialogue between an unnamed [anonymous] scribe and Jesus. Verse 21 makes it very clear that this scribe was a DISCIPLE of Jesus. So, obviously, by this time Jesus had quite a few disciples, not just The Twelve.
     b. This disciple called Jesus "Teacher," a term for Jesus in Matthew 9:11; 10:24, 25; 12:38; 17:24; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36; 26:18 [parallel texts also appear in Mark, Luke, and John]. This clearly indicates that a DISCIPLE is a LEARNER, a PUPIL, a STUDENT OF JESUS. This is VERY DIFFERENT from being a student or learner or pupil under a teacher in high school or a university. What is VERY IMPORTANT here is that JESUS ALONE is the appropriate teacher. In this context, the background is Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
     d. Another unnamed [anonymous] DISCIPLE of Jesus said that he needed to leave Jesus and bury his father who had recently died. But Jesus told him to FOLLOW JESUS and let the dead bury their own dead. This emphasizes the great truth that each person must make serious decisions about priorities. JESUS must always be FIRST in every aspect of life above all other people, attractions, and distractions.
    e. The second event relates an occasion on which Jesus got into a boat on the Sea of Galilee and HIS DISCIPLES followed him, and a great storm arose on the sea. Jesus' disciples became very much afraid, but Jesus rebuked them for not trusting in God his Father in difficult situations. God our Father is in control of all situations through Jesus Christ our Lord no matter how threatening a situation might be.
    f. Summarizing, this passage emphasizes that a DISCIPLE is a FOLLOWER of Jesus, which includes being a student, a pupil, a learner of Jesus. Obviously, everyone must constantly go back to the Bible, to God's teaching, to Jesus' teaching if we ever REALLY desire to be a disciple. Jesus is our only dependable TEACHER. Other teachers may be honest and influential and highly respected by the crowds, but they are all human beings may be wrong or incomplete. JESUS ALONE is the only dependable teacher for TRUE DISCIPLES of God through Jesus Christ. It is a huge mistake to emphasize that one might or should be a LEADER. God our Father through Jesus Christ is our only dependable LEADER. It is sufficient to be followers, not leaders.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights and experiences and beliefs and biases with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Heart Thinks and Learns--VIII

Gaining information and using that information discreetly and wisely are the ultimate goals of the pursuits of the heart. The Hebrew Bible uses FIVE verbs used with "heart" to suggest the idea of studying, thinking, and learning.

1 and 2. The Hebrew verb darash means "to examine, question," and the Hebrew verb tur means "to seek out, spy out, explore mentally." The author of Ecclesiastes says in 1:13, "I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven." The NRSV translates the Hebrew noun leb as "mind" rather than "heart" because modern English thinking distinguishes between mental and emotional activity. The Bible does not make this distinction. The human heart examines and explores all which happens in life. The same idea appears in Ecclesiastes 2:3: "I searched with my heart [NRSV mind] how to cheer my body," and in Ecclesiastes 7:25: "I turned my heart [NRSV mind] to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things." To "search" means to investigate the roots of a matter, and to "explore" means to investigate a subject on all sides. So, "search" and "explore" are clearly synonyms.

3.  The Hebrew verb bur means "to explore in order to explain." One brings to consciousness a thought or an idea or an event. Proverbs 15:14 says:
       The heart [NRSV mind] of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
              but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
Here, when the heart "seeks," the heart brings out into clearness what is being considered. Thus, the heart studies by inductive and deductive methods so that the heart is comprehensive.

4. The Hebrew verbs bo' means "to enter." Psalm 90:12 says:
            So teach us to count our days
                 that we may gain a wise heart.
Proverbs 2:10 says:
            For wisdom will come into your heart,
                 and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Unfortunately, modern English thought assumes that teaching, wisdom, and knowledge are mental, intellectual activities, but biblically this is a spiritual, emotional activity.

5. The Hebrew verb qanah means " to get, acquire." Proverbs 15:32 says:
          Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
                 but those who heed admonition gain heart [NRSV understanding].
The Hebrew noun leb, "heart," is sometimes equivalent to understanding. But understanding is much more than a mental exercise.
     Proverbs 18:15 says:
           An intelligent heart [NRSV mind] acquires knowledge,
                 and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
These texts emphasize that biblically the "heart" is a "studying, learning" organ. Wisdom may enter into the heart, a person can acquire a heart which possesses wisdom, and the heart is equivalent to understanding spiritually.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights and experiences and problems and issues with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis