John T. Willis

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--7

After Jesus' disciples asked Jesus why he spoken to them in parables and he gave his explanation in Matthew 13:10-17, his disciples asked Jesus the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat in Matthew 13:36-43:
     Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And HIS DISCIPLES approached him, saying,
      "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."
      He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
      the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
      the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil;
      the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
      Just as the weeds are collectived and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.
      The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all the causes of sin
                                      and all evildoers,
  and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
      Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
       Let anyone who hears listen!
     a. It is interesting that Jesus' disciples had no idea what the parable meant. Jesus had to explain to them its meaning.
     b. Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians ignore or reject Jesus' message here. The message is: God our Father through Jesus Christ ultimately separates the righteous from the wicked, placing the righteous in the kingdom of God and placing the wicked in the furnace of fire, hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
     c. Would-be disciples must decide whether they accept or reject this message of Jesus, our Teacher and Only True Leader.

Matthew 14:1-12 describes the terrible act of Herod who beheaded John the Baptist. When that happened, THE DISCIPLES of John the Baptist took the body of John the Baptist and buried it. Matthew 14:12.

The next two stories about the disciples of Jesus deal with Jesus feeding the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water.

1. Jesus feeding the five thousand. Matthew 14:13-21.
    Now when Jesus heard this [the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat
            to a deserted place by him.
    But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
    When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
    When it was evening, THE DISCIPLES came to him and said,
     "This is a deserted place, and the hour is late;
     send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
     Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
     They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."
     And Jesus said, "Bring them here to me."
     Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
     Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves,
      and gave them to THE DISCIPLES, and THE DISCIPLES gave them to the crowds.
      And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces,
                            twelve baskets full.
      And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
      a. Here the disciples learned a great example from Jesus. Jesus' disciples must learn to trust in God the Father through Jesus Christ when faced with difficult circumstances.
      b. God can do miraculous things before the world. The role of disciples is to follow Jesus' instructions and to share them with the crowds.

2. Jesus Walking on the Water. Matthew 14:22-33.
    Immediately he made THE DISCIPLES get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side,
                 while he dismissed the crowds.
    And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
    When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves,
                  was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
    And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
   But when THE DISCIPLES saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a
    And they cried out in fear.
    But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I, do no be afraid."
    Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
   He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
    But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened,
    and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me."
    Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him,
    saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
    When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
    And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
    a. Here again, Jesus' disciples learned a great lesson. When a terrifying storm faces God's people, one must decide whether to be afraid or to trust in God our Father through Jesus Christ.
    b. Peter sank in the water and was afraid because of his little faith, his doubt. May God's true disciples trust in him under all circumstances.

Share YOUR experiences and troubles and questions and doubts and faith with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, October 03, 2016

A Plea for God to deliver the Defeated--Psalm 44

Psalm 44 was composed shortly after an Israelite or Judean king and his army had been defeated by an enemy army. The enemy had taken spoil from God's people (44:10), carried some of the Israelites into captivity (44:11), and  disgraced the king and his soldiers before the nations (44:13-16). The date of this discouraging event is unknown. One might think of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah during the reign of king Hezekiah in 701 BCE, or Josiah's death at Megiddo at the hands of Egyptian soldiers under Pharaoh-neco in 609 BCE, or some other unknown event recorded in ancient history, but there is not enough information in Psalm 44 to know precisely the historical setting. The speakers in Psalm 44 fluctuate between the first person singular ("I," "my," "me," 44:4, 6, 15) and the first person plural ("we," "us," "our," 44:1, 5, 7-11, 13-14, 17-20, 22-25). This individual is probably one of the kings of Israel or Judah. Psalm 44 falls into FOUR parts.

1. The psalmist declares that Yahweh has delivered his forefathers and his own people from their enemies. 44:1-8.
     a. The psalmist begins by declaring that he and his associates have heard Yahweh's mighty acts in the past because their ancestors told them.  Yahweh drove out the nations in Canaan and gave the Israelites that land. It is obvious that the Israelites did not win the land by their own sword, but only by Yahweh's right arm. 44:1-3.
     b. Because of this, the speaker declares that Yahweh is the only true king, because he commands victories for his people Jacob. While there may be an earthly king, the only real king is Yahweh. 44:4.
     c. The psalmist announces that Yahweh has delivered him and his soldiers. God's people do not win victories by bow of sword, but only by Yahweh,. Yahweh's name is a circumlocution for Yahweh. The poet and his associates boast and give thanks to Yahweh. 44:5-8.

2. Quickly, the composer declares the present situation of a recent loss which the Israelites experienced to their enemies. 44:9-16.
     a. The psalmist complains that Yahweh has rejected his people. Yahweh has not gone out with his armies. Yahweh's enemies have won and gotten spoil from Yahweh's people. Yahweh made his people "like sheep for slaughter" and scattered them among the nations. The same language appears in 44:22. 44:9-12.
     Several biblical texts use the figure of sheep led to a slaughter as a simile for an innocent, trusting  person who follows a course of life destined to lead to his/her destruction. Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 11:19:
           I was like a gentle lamb
                  led to the slaughter.
Isaiah 53:7 describes the suffering servant of Yahweh in this way:
           Like a lamb led to the slaughter,
                   and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
            so he opened his mouth.
This was the scripture which the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Philip intercepted him on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and with which Philip began as he preached Jesus unto him in Acts 8:32-35.
      Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 and applies it to Christians typologically in his powerful description of the role they must play in the world in Romans 8:36.
      b. The psalmist continues to complain that Yahweh has made his people a taunt, derision, and scorn of all those around. Yahweh made his people a byword and laughingstock among the nations. Yahweh brought disgrace and shame upon his people. 44:13-16.

3. In spite of the fact that Yahweh has rejected his people, his people have not forgotten Yahweh. 44:17-22.
    a. The composer declares that he and his companions have not forgotten or been false to Yahweh's covenant or departed from Yahweh's way. 44:17-20.
    b. The psalmist realizes that Yahweh knows the secrets of the heart, and he is confident that he has not forgotten Yahweh and gone after other gods. And yet, Yahweh has accounted them as sheep for the slaughter. 44:21-22.

4. The psalmist desperately concludes that Yahweh will come forth and deliver him and his people. 44:23-26.
    a. The psalmist declares that Yahweh acts as if he were asleep. He pleads with Yahweh to Rouse Himself and Awake. 44:23.
    b. Again, he pleads with Yahweh: "Rise up, come to our help," for the sake of his steadfast love.

When it seems that God has forsaken us, we must cling to him, knowing that he will come to our help when he desires.

Share YOUR dark days and reversals and disappointments and concerns and losses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Conceals and Reveals--XIII

According to the Bible, the heart has the capacity to conceal or reveal the thoughts and feelings of the individual.

1. The heart CONCEALS.
     a. The Hebrew expression kasah beleb means "to hide within the heart."
          The psalmist of Psalm 40 says in verse 10, speaking to Yahweh:
           I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
           I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
           from the great congregation.
Here, to hide within the heart means to keep conceal what Yahweh has done for his people.
      b. The Hebrew expression netar beleb means "to keep in the heart."
           After describing the visions of the four beasts in Daniel 7:1-27, in verse 28 the text says:
           Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me,
           and my face turned pale; BUT I KEPT THE MATTER IN MY HEART [NRSV mind].
For Daniel to keep this matter under consideration in his heart means he hid it and did not share it with other people.

2. The heart reveals.
     Four Hebrew verbs are connected with the heart meaning to reveal.
     a. The Hebrew verb qara' means "to call, proclaim."
         Proverbs 12:23 means:
         One who is clever conceals knowledge,
For the heart to broadcast folly means to openly proclaim or reveal the thoughts of a fool.
     b. The Hebrew verb galah means "to uncover."
          Proverbs 18:2 says:
          A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
               BUT ONLY THAT HIS HEART MAY REVEAL ITSELF [NRSV only in expressing
                                                personal opinion].
In this context, for the heart to reveal itself is to lay open the unfounded views of the fool.
      c. The Hebrew verb dabar means "to speak."
           Describing the condition of a drunkard in Proverbs 23:29-35, the poet says in verse 33:
           Your eyes will see strange things,
When a person is drunk, he/she may say almost anything, because his thoughts and speech are not coherent.
       d. The Hebrew verb yasa' means "to go out."
            The composer of Ecclesiastes says in Ecclesiastes 5:2:
            Never be rash with your mouth, NOR LET YOUR HEART BE QUICK
                            TO UTTER A WORD BEFORE GOD,
            for God is in heaven, and you upon earth;
            therefore let your words be few.
One cannot utter a single word unless it comes from the heart. The heart is the center of everything spiritually.

Share YOUR concerns and problems and anxieties and anticipations and remorses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--6

It is not absolutely clear WHERE Jesus was in connection with the events described in Matthew 12. He may have been a Capernaum [see Matthew 11:23], but this is uncertain, although at this juncture, Jesus was in someone's house. At any rate, Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people, apparently because of the miracles he had performed and because of his teachings. Matthew 12:46-50 relates this account:
       While he [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds,
        his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.
        Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak
                                                   to you."
    But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are by brothers?"
    "Here are my mother and brothers!
     For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
     a. In this context, Jesus' disciples were a large number of people who were following him, not merely The Twelve.
     b. Obviously, Jesus' disciples are MALE and FEMALE, not merely male. Jesus does not hesitate to refer to his "disciples" as sister and mother.
     c. Here the relationships of mother, brother, and sister are not physical relatives, but spiritual relatives, all rooted in whether a person DOES THE WILL OF GOD THE FATHER. There is a huge difference between knowing and accepting the will of God and actually DOING the will of God. A true disciple of Jesus is a follower of Jesus who does the will of Jesus' Heavenly Father. Thus, God's commandments are central for Christian living.

Matthew 13 contains a series of Jesus' Parables: The Parable of the Sower; the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat; the Parable of the Mustard Seed; the Parable of a Treasure hidden in a field; the Parable of a pearl of great value; and the Parable of a net thrown into the sea to catch fish. First Jesus gives the Parable of the Sower. Then Matthew 13:10-17 says:
      "Why do you speak to them in parables?"
      He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,
                               but to them it has not been given.
      For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance;
      but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
      The reason is speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive,
                               and hearing they do no listen, nor do they understand.'
      With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
              'You will indeed listen, but never understand,
                     and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
               For this people's heart has grown dull,
                     and their ears are hard of hearing,
                     and they have shut their eyes;
                     so that they might look with their eyes,
               and listen with their ears,
        and understand with their heart and turn--
               and I would heal them.' [Quoting Isaiah 6:9-10].
        But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
     Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it,
     and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
     a. Again, the disciples of Jesus intended here are a large group of followers of Jesus, not merely The Twelve. True disciples of Jesus follow Jesus and pay careful attention to his example and his teachings.
     b. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables to keep the crowds from understanding the meaning of the parables and to reveal the meaning of his true disciples to understand their meaning. Today, true disciples study Jesus' parables very carefully and do what the heavenly Father tells them to do.
     c. The original context of Isaiah 6:9-10 was obviously not addressed to or intended for the crowds around Jesus in the first century AD [CE], but for the Judeans whom Isaiah addressed in the eighth century BC [BCE]. Matthew uses this passage in Isaiah 6:9-10 typologically, not literally. There is a striking parallel between Isaiah's message to his audience and Jesus' message to his audience.

Share YOUR research and understandings and feelings and thoughts and reserves with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Encountering Depression--Psalms 42-43

Originally Psalms 42-43 was one psalm. For some reason, this was divided into two psalms. Several details prove that Psalms 42-43 is one psalm.
      A. Psalms 42 and 44-49 have in their superscriptions: "To the leader: A Maskil of the Korahites," but Psalm 43 has no superscription of any kind.
      B. The same recurring refrain or chorus appears in 42:5, 11; 43:5:
           Why are you cast down, O my soul,
                  and why are you disquieted within me?
            Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
                  my help and my God."
      C. There are striking similarities between 42:9 and and 43:2.
           1. "I say to God, my rock" in 42:9 has approximately the same meaning as "For you are the God in whom I have refuge."
           2. The question "Why have you forgotten me?" in 42:9 is virtually the same as "Why have you cast me off?"
           3. The question "Why must I walk about mournfully
                                        because the enemy oppresses me [because of the oppression of the enemy?]"
 is almost exactly the same in 42:9 and 43:2.
      D. 42:2 and 43:3 reflect the same strong desire to go to Jerusalem and worship God.

Psalm 43:4 indicates that the composer of Psalms 42-43 is a harp player. He was accustomed to lead ceremonial processions only holy days at the Jerusalem temple ("the house of God"--42:4; "your holy hill," "your dwelling"--43:3; "the altar of God"--43:4). But now he has been forced to leave Jerusalem and is hiding from his enemies, or is in captivity to his enemies in northern Palestine near the headwaters of the Jordan River, at the foothills of the peaks of Mount Hermon, near Mount Mizar (42:6). These enemies are not worshippers of the true God, because they keep ridiculing him about the absence of Yahweh. The psalmist has expressed his trust in Yahweh in these difficult circumstances, but Yahweh has done nothing in an obvious way to deliver him, and so his enemies kept heckling him saying, "Where is your God?" (42:3, 10). The composer is deeply depressed by these tauntings as though he had suffered a deadly wound in his body (42:9-10). His enemies are unjust and deceitful (43:1), and yet God had not delivered him. He concludes that Yahweh has forgotten him (42:9), that Yahweh has cast him off (43:2). He yearns for Yahweh to intervene and deliver him (43:1) and to allow him to return to Jerusalem and worship Yahweh at the temple (42:2; 43:3-4). The recurring refrains or choruses in 42:5, 11; 43:5 naturally divide this psalm into three paragraphs.

1. The psalmist is deeply depressed because he feels Yahweh is far away. 42:1-5.
     a. The psalmist compares himself with a deer fleeing from hunters who are determined to track him down and kill him. As he flees, he becomes extremely thirsty, not for water, but for Yahweh's presence and fellowship and protection. Human longing for God is as inborn as the thirst for water (see Psalms 63:1; 143:6). 42:1.
      b. The psalmist thirsts for the living God just as water slakes the parched tongue, Only Yahweh can satisfy his thirst. 42:2.
      c. In his present situation, the tears of the poet are his food day and night while his enemies heckle him, "Where is your God?" 42:3.
      d. The composer thinks back of his work in Jerusalem when he went with the throng of people and led them in procession to the Jerusalem temple with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude of people keeping festival, probably the Feast of Booths. 42:4.
      e. Struggling with his heart, the psalmist says to himself: Why are you cast down? Why are you depressed? Instead hope in Yahweh, because he will again praise him, his help and God. 42:5.

2. The psalmist is discouraged because troubles have rushed into his life like a flood inundating a city. 42:6-11.
     a. Since he is depressed, the psalmist remembers Yahweh while he is in the land of the Jordan and Mount Hermon, Mount Mizar. Now, deep calls to deep at the thunder of Yahweh's cataracts. Yahweh's waves and billows have gone over him, and he is about to drown. 42:6-7.
     b. Yet, during the day Yahweh commands his steadfast love, and during the night Yahweh's song is with the psalmist, a prayer to the God of his life. 42:8.
     c. Although the psalmist knows that Yahweh is his rock, he asks Yahweh, Why have you forgotten me?" Why am I constantly mourning because my enemies oppress me? His enemies are like a deadly wound to bring his life to an end, saying "Where is your God?" As in 42:5, he repeats his inner thoughts, Why am I depressed? Instead hope in Yahweh. 42:9-11.

3. The psalmist feels helpless because his enemies have falsely accused him, but he cannot prove that their accusations are false. 43:1-5.
     a. The psalmist's enemies are ungodly and deceitful. In the court, the accusations of his enemies appear to be convincing. 43:1.
     b. As in 42:9, the psalmist cries out again: Yahweh, why have you cast me off? Why do I have to mourn constantly because of his enemies' oppression? 43:2.
     c. Since the psalmist cannot guide his own path, he beseeches Yahweh to be his light and truth to guide him back to Jerusalem and resume his role as leading the throng of worshippers to the Jerusalem temple where he can give Yahweh thanksgiving for delivering him. 43:3-4.
     d. For the third time, the psalmist repeats his inner thoughts, Why am I depressed? Instead hope in Yahweh. 43:5.

The major problem today facing faculty members and students in universities is depression. Psalms 42-43 helps people to express the feelings of depression in order to embrace their inner feelings.

Share YOUR disturbing feelings and failures and doubts and shortcomings and successes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis 

The Heart Devises--XII

In the Hebrew Bible, there are FOUR verbs connected with the heart meaning "to devise, imagine, meditate."

1. The Hebrew verb bada' means "to devise, invent."
     a. Describing the practices of Jeroboam I to lead North Israel into apostasy, 1 Kings 12:33 says:
    "He [Jeroboam I] went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day
                               of the eighth month,
      in the month HIS HEART [NRSV he alone] HAD DEVISED;
      he appointed a festival for the people of Israel, and went up to the altar to offer incense."
The heart of Jeroboam I DEVISED a new festival not condoned in the Law of Moses. Yahweh specifically commanded his people to celebrate the Feast of Booths on the SEVENTH month and fifteenth day of the month (Leviticus 23:34), not the EIGHTH month and fifteenth day of the month. Jeroboam I deliberately changed God's Law.
      b. When Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab sent a report to Nehemiah that the Jews were planning to rebel against their superiors, Nehemiah responded in Nehemiah 6:8:
          Then I sent to him [Sanballat] saying,
           "No such things as you say have been done;
To invent out of the heart means to devise.

2. The Hebrew verb harash means "to devise."
     a. Proverbs 6:16-19 describes six, yea seven, things which the Lord hates. Verse 18a says:
One function of the heart is to devise or plan this or that.
     b. Proverbs 12:20 says:
              but those who counsel peace have joy.
One plans evil or conflict in the heart.

3. The Hebrew verb hagah means "to imagine, ponder, devise."
     a. Proverbs 15:28 says:
                but the mouth of the evil pours out evil.
When a problem arises, a righteous person does not respond immediately, but considers seriously or ponders. This is a function of the heart.
     b. Proverbs 24:1-2 says:
         Do not envy the wicked,
               nor desire to be with them;
               and their lips talk of mischief.
Here the meaning of the Hebrew verb hagah is a synonym of the Hebrew verb harash.
     c. Describing the sins of God's people, the author of Isaiah 59:13 says:
          transgressing, and denying the Lord,
               and turning away from following our God,
          talking oppression and revolt,
A function of the heart is to conceive words to be spoken to an audience (see also Isaiah 33:18).  

4. The Hebrew verb hashab means "to think, intend, plan, design."
    a. Psalm 140:1-2 says:
        Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
               protect me from those who are violent,
               and stir up wars continually.
One role of the heart is to PLAN various kinds of things.
    b. Proverbs 16:9 says:
               but the Lord directs the steps.
A function of the heart is to make plans for the future. [See also Proverbs 16:1; Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24].

Share YOUR plans and decisions and purposes and corrections and disciplines with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis