John T. Willis

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--12

Matthew 21-23 contain FIVE references to Disciples.

1. Two events involve Disciples in Matthew 21.
     a. Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Matthew 21:1-11.
         When Jesus and his traveling companions arrived at Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent TWO DISCIPLES to go into the village ahead and find and bring a donkey and a colt to Jesus. The two disciples did this, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king would (see 1 Kings 1:33). The crowds spread branches broken from the trees on the road, and proclaimed: "Hosanna to the Son of David."
     b. Jesus Curses a Fig Tree. Matthew 21:18-22.
         The next morning Jesus returned to the city and was hungry. He came to a fig tree which had no fruit. He said to it, "May no fruit every come from you again!" The fig tree withered. When THE DISCIPLES saw this, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" Jesus told them, If you have faith and do not doubt, you can cause a fig tree to wither or a mountain be thrown into the sea. "Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
The Bible does not tell the hearer or audience who these disciples are.

2. Matthew 22 relates one event involving the DISCIPLES OF THE PHARISEES. Matthew 22:15-22.
    Trying to trap Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians sent their disciples to Jesus, asking him, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" Jesus asked him to give him a denarius. Then he said: "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

3. Matthew 23 contains one event involving the DISCIPLES of Jesus.
    Jesus taught the crowds and HIS DISCIPLES about the nature of the scribes and Pharisees. He told them to follow whatever the scribes and Pharisees teach, but not to follow their example, because they do not do what they teach, for they do not practice what they teach. Obviously, Jesus warns his disciples against practicing hypocrisy.

 As in all other texts concerning disciples, here disciples often misunderstand what Jesus teaches and does. Jesus sternly warns his disciples not to be hypocritical, but to be honest and forthright.

Share YOUR experiences and shortcomings and anxieties and losses and concerns with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Boastful versus The Humble--Psalm 52 [53]

Psalm 52 is very brief. The superscription alludes to the occasion on which Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and told Saul that David came to the house of Ahimelech (1 Samuel 22:9-10). But this is a later addition, and has no foundation for connecting Psalm 52 with 1 Samuel 22. The author of Psalm 52 is unknown. Psalm 52 falls into two parts.

1. The Psalmist sharply denounces his Boastful Mighty Enemy. Psalm 52:1-7.
     a. The psalmist strongly condemns the "mighty one" whom he addresses. This mighty one has done mischief against the godly. He has plotted destruction against the godly all day long. His tongue is like a sharp razor, a worker of treachery. He loves evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. He loves all words that devour helpless people. He is very deceitful. The hearer or reader would like to know specifically who this person is and the situations which are involved. But in this psalm, all this is very general and vague. 52:1-4.
      b. The psalmist then declares confidently that God will break down this mighty one. God will snatch and tear him down from his tent. He will uproot him from the land of the living. God has ways of overthrowing boastful people. 52:5.
      c. While this is happening, the righteous will see and fear [respect, honor], and laugh at the evildoer, saying: "Look at the person who would not take refuge in God,
                              but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!"
This same approach to life re-enacts in every generation. Many people trust in wealth rather than trusting in God. 52:6-7.

2. In bold contrast to the Mighty One who Boasts and Trusts in Wealth, the Psalmist trusts in God's Steadfast Love. Psalm 52:8-9.
    a. In contrast to his boastful enemy, the psalmist states that he is like a green olive in the house of God. He trusts in God's steadfast love forever and ever. God empowers a small plant to grow and bear good fruit. Godly people are like a green olive. 52:8.
    b. The psalmist will thank God forever for what God has done. He will proclaim God's name in the presence of the faithful, because it is good. 52:9.

[Note: Psalm 53 is a dittograph of Psalm 14. These two psalms are almost identical, with very few differences. Thus, it is not necessary to deal with Psalm 53, since we have already dealt with Psalm 14].

Share YOUR concerns and feelings and experiences and oppositions and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Heart Grieves--Part III--XIX

The word "grief" is depicted in two Hebrew words denoting "bitterness."
   1. The Hebrew verb chamets, "to be soured, embittered," appears once with "heart" in Psalm 73:21-22:
            "When my soul was embittered,
                    WHEN I WAS PRICKED IN HEART,
               I was stupid and ignorant;
                    I was like a brute beast toward you [Yahweh]."
    2. The Hebrew noun marrah, "bitterness," occurs once in Proverbs 14:10:
                    and no stranger shares its joy."

There are NINE other words with which "heart" occurs to describe "grief," some of which are very graphic. These include FIVE Hebrew verbs which appear with "heart."
    1. The Hebrew verb laqach, "to take," appears with "heart" in Job 15:12-13 in the second speech of Eliphaz addressed to Job:
                  and why do your eyes flash,
            so that you turn your spirit against God,
                  and let such words go out of your mouth?"
     2. The Hebrew verb yabhesh, "to be dry, dried up, withered," appears with heart in Psalm 102:4:
                 I am too wasted to eat my bread."
     3. The Hebrew verb tamam, "to be complete, finished," appears with heart in Psalm 143:4:
          "Therefore my spirit faints within me;
     4. The Hebrew verb hamah, "to murmur, growl, roar, be boisterous," appears with heart in two biblical texts.
           Jeremiah 4:19 says:
           "My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
                  Oh, the walls of my heart!
                  I cannot keep silent;
             for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
                  the alarm of war."
           Jeremiah 48:36:
             for the riches they gained have perished."
      5. The Hebrew verb haphakh, "to turn, change, destroy," appears with "heart" in Hosea 11:8:
           "How can I give you up, Ephraim?
                   How can I hand you over, O Israel?
             How can I make you like Admah?
                   How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
                   my compassion grows warm and tender."

The Hebrew verb ka'ah, "to be disheartened, cowed," appears with "heart" in two texts.
     Psalm 109:16 [Heb. 109:17] says of the wicked person:
         "For he did not remember to show kindness,
                 but pursued the poor and needy
                 AND THE BROKENHEARTED to their death."
     Denouncing false prophets among God's people, Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 13:22-23:
         "Because YOU HAVE DISHEARTENED the righteous falsely,
           although I HAVE NOT DISHEARTENED them,
           and you have encouraged the wicked not to turn from their wicked way and save their lives;
           therefore you shall no longer see false vision or practice divination;
           I will save my people from you hand.
           Then you will know that I am the Lord." 

Three Hebrew nouns appear with "heart" connected with grief.
    1. The Hebrew noun mikhshol, "stumbling-block," appears with "heart" in 1 Samuel 25:30-31.
         Abigail makes this plea to David:
          "When Yahweh has  done to my lord [David] according to all the good that he has spoken
                                   concerning you,
             and has appointed you prince over Israel,
             my lord [David] shall have no cause of grief, OR PANGS OF CONSCIENCE [literally
                                   or stumbling-block of heart],
             for having shed blood without cause or having saved himself.
             And when Yahweh has dealt well with my lord [David], then remember your servant
    2. The Hebrew noun `inyan, "occupation, task," appears with "heart" in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17a.
     "WHEN I APPLIED MY MIND [literally when I accepted the task of my heart] to know wisdom,
        and to see the business that is done one earth,
        how one's sees see sleep neither day nor night,
        then I saw all the work of God,
        that no one can find out what is happening under the sun."
    3. The Hebrew noun tsarah, "anguish, trouble, distress, persecution," appears once with "heart" in Psalm 25:17:
                 and bring me out of my distress."

All the words connected with heart having to do with grief describe the undesirable nature of sorrow, and suggest the laborious warfare which the heart must wage against it. Grief is the antithesis of joy.

Share YOUR joys and grievances and remorses and losses and successes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--11

Matthew 19-20 contain SIX events in the life of Jesus. In these texts, there are FIVE references to disciples.

1. Jesus' Teaching about Divorce. Matthew 19:1-12.
    a. Jesus left Galilee and went into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan River on the east. There he cured many people in large crowds. 19:1-2.
    b. Some Pharisees asked Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" Quoting Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, Jesus replied that "what God has joined together, let no one separate," that is, a man cannot divorce his wife. 19:3-6.
    c. These Pharisees said, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" (citing Deuteronomy 24:1-4). 19:7.
    d. Jesus responded that Moses allowed this because God's people are HARD-HEARTED, but from the beginning it was not so. Then Jesus said, "Whoever divorces his wife, except of unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."  Throughout all centuries, people have tried to find ways to avoid clear teachings about all the issues connected with sex: fornication, adultery, lust, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography, etc., etc. To practice or approve sexual sins is unacceptable to God, which Paul makes very clear in Romans 1:18-32. 19:8-9.
         e. JESUS' DISCIPLES respond to Jesus, concluding that in light of this teaching, "it is better not to marry" at all. Of course, this brings up the other extreme, which also is clearly contrary to God's will as portrayed in Genesis 1-2. So Jesus said that not everyone can accept this teaching. Some can be eunuchs, but certainly not all. 19:10-12.

2. Jesus blesses little children. Matthew 19:13-15. [See Matthew 18:1-4]
    a. Parents brought little children to Jesus so Jesus would lay hands on the children and pray. But JESUS' DISCIPLES spoke sternly to these parents. 19:13.
    b. Jesus rebuked his disciples and said, Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such little children. Then Jesus laid hands on these children. 19:14-15.

3. Jesus teaches his Disciples about the value of Money and Possessions. Matthew 19:16-30.
    a. A "young man" asked Jesus, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus replied: ONLY God the Father is good. Then he said, If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. The young man asked, Which ones must I keep? 19:16-18a.
    b. Jesus quoted several of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21, and the commandment, Love your neighbor as yourself in Leviticus 19:18. 19:18b-19.
    c. The young man said: I have kept all these commandment. What do I still lack? 19:20.
    d. Jesus responded, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. 19:21-22.
    e. Jesus took this opportunity to teach his DISCIPLES about the importance of money and possessions. He told them, "It is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven." To illustrate this, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Obviously, Jesus is saying it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. 19:23-24.
    f. When JESUS' DISCIPLES heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus responded that human beings cannot make this possible, but with God all things are possible. No one can enter the kingdom of heaven with God's grace. 19:25-26.
    g. Then Peter began to defend himself. We [The Twelve] have left everything. What then will we have? Jesus replied, Those who have truly followed me will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Anyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for Jesus' name's sake will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. Many who are first will be last, the the last will be first. 19:27-30.

4. Jesus teaches the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Matthew 20:1-16.
    Jesus told his hearers that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers. During the day, he hired more laborers at 9:00 a. m., at noon, at 3:00 p. m., and even at 5:00 p. m. When the work came to an end, the landowner gave each laborer the very same wage. Many of these laborers were angry because they worked longer than others. The landowner told them that work is an opportunity, a gift, and the giver can give his laborers whatever he wishes. The point is: No one is worthy for the opportunity of serving God, because God is the creator, sustainer, and giver of everything. Be thankful for this opportunity. 20:1-16.

5. Jesus Predicts his Death and Resurrection. Matthew 20:17-34.
    a. As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took his DISCIPLES aside themselves to be with Jesus. He told them, and at Jerusalem, Jesus will die, be buried, and rise again on the third day. 20:17-19.
    b. The mother of the sons of Zebedee knelt before Jesus, and asked him to let Jesus place James and John at Jesus' right hand and at his left hand in the kingdom. Jesus told her that she did not know what she was asking. Only God the Father can grant this request. 20:20-23.
    c. When the ten DISCIPLES heard this mother's request, they became angry. Jesus rebuked all of them, because God did not choose them to be rulers or tyrants like worldly people do. Whoever wants to be great among you must be a SERVANT, and whoever wants to be first must be a SLAVE. Jesus set this example: "Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve; and to give his life a ransom for many." 20:24-28.
    d. As Jesus' DISCIPLES were leaving Jericho, a great crowd followed him. As they moved forward, two blind men beside the road cried out to Jesus, Have mercy on us. The crowd sternly rebuked them, but they cried out louder. They asked Jesus to open their eyes. Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately their received their sight. 20:29-34.

These two chapters teach us three important lessons about TRUE DISCIPLES:
   1. Repeatedly, Jesus' disciples thought, said, and did wrong things. After all, they are FOLLOWERS, not LEADERS.
    2. Jesus' Disciples desperately wanted to receive notoriety and praise for their so-called position. Jesus sternly rebuked them for this self-centered attitude.
    3. All true Disciples are Servants, Followers, Ministers, not Leaders.

Share YOUR concerns and insights and problems and hopes and dreams with others.

Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, December 19, 2016

Confession of sins, Prayer for Cleansing and God's Acceptance--Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of the most powerful prayers of confession of sins in the Bible. The Superscription of this psalm connects it with David's confession of his sins about adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband at the time when Nathan the prophet approached him with a court case to condemning him for his sins (2 Samuel 12:1-5, 13). However, there is a problem with this in Psalm 51:18 in the prayer: "Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem," which suggests the period between the Babylonians tore down the walls of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. At the same time, it is possible that after David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, he began to build a stronger wall and to repair the old wall of the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-9). Psalm 51 fits well into the account of 2 Samuel 12. Psalm 51 falls into three parts.

1. David prays Yahweh for forgiving him for his sins. Psalm 51:1-9.
    a. Here the poet uses THREE terms for SIN:
        1. Transgressions--51:1, 3. The Hebrew term for "transgression" comes from the practice of deliberately stepping over a boundary line into another person's property and trespassing on that piece of property. So, transgression means to deliberately rebel against God. Exodus 20:13-14 specifically forbid adultery and murder. David knew this very well. But he deliberately committed these sins.
        2. Iniquity--51:2, 9. The Hebrew term for "iniquity" comes from the practice of violating an established standard.
        3. Sin--51:2, 3, 4, 5, 9. The Hebrew term for "sin" comes from the idea of missing the mark as when someone shooting an arrow at a target and misses it or missing the path or road when one is traveling from one place to another.
    b. The poet uses THREE terms for God's attitude toward sinners.
         1. Mercy.
         2. Steadfast love.
         3. Abundant mercy.
All three of these terms in Psalm 51:1 are synonyms emphasizing Yahweh's compassion and grace on sinful people.
    c. The poet uses THREE terms for Yahweh's FORGIVENESS.
        1. Blot out--51:1, 9. The Hebrew term "blot out" comes from the ancient practice of removing or striking something from a record or a tablet by scraping it off or rubbing it down or washing it off-- see Exodus 32:33; Numbers 5:23; Isaiah 43:25.
        2. Wash--51:2, 7. The Hebrew term for "wash" comes from the practice of washing clothes in a stream that has large rocks as a bed by treading them with the feet--see Exodus 19:10.
        3. Cleanse--51:2. The Hebrew term for "cleanse" is a ceremonial word used in connection with the cleansing of leprosy--see Leviticus 13:6. David seems to be thinking of his sin as spiritual leprosy connected with 51:7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." Hyssop is a small plant used in the ritual of cleansing a person from leprosy--see Leviticus 14:4, 6. Furthermore, the statement in 51:15, "Open my lips," is probably connected with the practice of cleansing a person from leprosy. Leviticus 13:45 says that when the priest determined that a person had leprosy, that person had to let the hair of his/her head hang loose, cover the upper lip, and cry out loudly to all around: "Unclean, Unclean!" To open or uncover the lips means to cleanse a person from his/her spiritual leprosy.
    d. To emphasize the genuineness of his repentance, David uses FOUR expressions.
         1. David knows his transgressions; his sin is ever before him. He acknowledges that sin has gained control over his life. 51:3.
         2. David recognizes that he has ultimately sinned against God, not against himself of others even though that may be involved. 51:4.
         3. David accepts full responsibility for his sins. 51:3-4.
         4. David avoids any suggestion of his own merit. 51:1, 5.
    e. 51:5 poses a controversial problem: "Indeed, I was born guilty,
                                                                       a sinner when my mother conceive me."
Some argue that this means that a child inherits son from his/her parents traced back to the so-called "original sin" of Adam and Eve. Others argue that this verse means that David's mother sinned by committing adultery or fornication to conceive David. The true meaning of Psalm 51:5 is that David, like all human beings, is PRONED to sin because he was constantly surrounded by sinful people.
     f. David declares that Yahweh desires TRUTH in the inward being. Truth hear does not mean correct facts, but Genuineness or Honesty. David desires Yahweh to teach him wisdom in his SECRET HEART, not mere external acts of religion. Right attitudes and motivations are of paramount importance. 51:6.
     g. When Yahweh forgives a sinner, that person will be WHITER THAN SNOW. 51:7. The Bible portrays SNOW for different reasons. Here, snow denotes purity. See Isaiah 1:18.

2. David beseeches Yahweh to CREATE in him a CLEAN HEART. Psalm 51:10-13.
    a. No human being is able to mold or make a pure heart.True cleansing of the heart is a MIRACLE. The verb CREATE appears ONLY of God throughout scripture. There are certain things which God alone can do. One of these is CREATE a clean heart. 51:10.
    b. A leper was banished from normal society--Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 12:15; 2 Chronicles 26:21. As a sinner, David beseeches Yahweh to thoroughly forgive him and not cast David from God's presence. In 2 Samuel 7:15, David prays that Yahweh will not take his kingship from David as Yahweh did with Saul. The prayer, "Do not take your holy spirit from me," does not refer to the Holy Spirit as in the New Testament, but is a circumlocution for God himself--Do not take yourself from me. 51:11.
    c. By forgiving David and creating in him a clean heart, Yahweh restores the joy of Yahweh's salvation and sustains him. Naturally, by this divine action, David will be able to teach others Yahweh's ways of forgiveness. 51:12-13.

3. David beseeches Yahweh to accept him in public worship. Psalm 51:14-19.
    a. David does not offer Yahweh his gifts; rather, David offers himself to Yahweh. Yahweh has no delight in sacrifice or burnt offering. This has always been the case. There is a spiritual sacrifice to Yahweh, namely, a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. 51:14-17.
    b. David concludes by asking Yahweh to do good to Zion, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and then Yahweh will delight in RIGHT SACRIFICES, that is, external acts of religion offered from genuine hearts and penitent lives. 51:18-19.

Share YOUR experiences and questions and reconsiderations and confessions and anxieties with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis