Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are you without blemish?

Summary Statement: of Ephesians 1:3-5
God finds pleasure in adopting us into His family. He does not see all the ways we fall short or fail to live up to the standards we absorb from the world around us. God sees us as holy and perfect without defect.

Historical Context:
Alexander the Great had conquered vast territories in a shorter time than anyone else in recorded history. One of the reasons he was so successful because imported Greek values to all the areas he concurred. Alexander insisted on making major cities the center for education and philosophy.1 2
Alexander was driven by certain ideals. These ideals are reflected in Greek myths and poetry. The Greeks saw humans as the center of everything. The naked human form was the highest for of beauty and worship. The Greeks were driven by their ideal of beauty, courage, achievement. How good are you , how well can you climb to the top, how good looking are you, how brave are you... So Alexander wants to make the world Greek. He wants to take the Greek world view and wants to make it everyone’s world view everywhere.
He would conquer a city and in the process destroy it and then re-build. He would build a gymnasium A key idea of the Greek worldview is that it is holistic. So you would go the the Gym and you would offer incense to the Gods, you would do all these sports (discus, javelin,) sweat, work out, tone your body. And then along the edge of the gym would be all these classrooms where you would learn to write classical Greek, learn poetry, and philosophy, and the myths of the Gods. So you would send your kids to school each day and he/she would be immersed in the Greek world view. Ephesus had all the conveniences of a modern Roman city: a gymnasium, a stadium, theaters, and a central marketplace.3
The Greeks would build a beautiful temple to the Gods. In Ephesus Alexander would incorporate the Greek goddess Dianna and Artemis. The Greeks restored a huge temple to this goddess and increased its splendor and reputation 4 They made it the banking capitol of Asia minor bringing wealth and success.
The Greeks were masters of using mass media for propaganda. The theater in Ephesus, which had a seating capacity of some twenty-four thousand,5 would put on the stories of the Greek Gods. Often times a Greek theater would have no back and would be built in such a way that the back of the stage would overlook the city. So when you sat in the theater and watched these dramas featuring Greek mythology and philosophy your own city would be the backdrop 6, People would quickly begin to see their stories in the myths they encountered in the theater.
The main street of Ephesus connected the theater with the harbor and was flanked on either side by a colonnade. Another important feature the Greeks added to the the city was the agora, the marketplace, located southeast of the harbor bringing goods from all over the world to their doorstep.7 The people of Ephesus were able to dine on food from far off lands, wear fashions from exotic regions, and read literature from scholars they would never meet in person.
The Greek worldview was designed to just move in and take over. Something happens, however, when you begin to place the worth of a life on how much you achieve and how pretty you are. If your value comes from how pretty you are, if you worth comes from how you do at athletics, if your merit and standing in the community is based on how well you do in class and how clever you are you begin to view others in that same light. What subtly happens is you are going to end up putting worth on human life.
Soranus of Ephesus wrote “a practical guide to gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics.” In it he described a method of assessing the health status of newborns titled “How to recognize the newborn that is worth rearing.” He suggests that the following characteristics are indicative of a worthy infant: “... its mother has spent the period of pregnancy in good health, it has been born at the due time, when put on the earth it immediately cries with proper vigor, it is perfect in all its parts, members and senses, its ducts are free from obstruction and the natural functions of every member are neither sluggish nor weak ... conditions contrary to these indicate the infant not worth rearing.”
Classical Greek literature asserts this same philosophy. Aristotle said “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” In his work The Republic Plato writes: “The offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret, so that no one will know what has become of them.” A deformed child just doesn’t fit into the Greek world view.
An infant that was deformed or even weak was viewed as a sign of divine displeasure. It was thought to be a curse from the gods. A family with a deformed baby must somehow have a problem with the gods. So they had to get rid of the baby because they didn't want any of that divine displeasure to rest on their household, and they certainly didn't want their neighbors to know, that would be a blow to the status of the whole family.
This gruesome practice, that was perfectly legal under roman law, is sometimes translated as exposure and encouraged throughout ancient Rome. To get rid of an unwanted infant one might resort to abortion (very risky in those days) or drowning, but the preferd method was infant exposure where, “the family would simply take the child out beyond the city and abandon it to die from exposure to the elements.”8
Ephesus had a mountain on the norther edge of the city. This mountain is considered by some scholars to be the sight of the baby dump, others place it closer to the main city gates. If you lived in this city in the ancient world, this is where you would take a deformed, weak, or unwanted child and leave it to die.
Since Ephesus was a large port city with commercial traffic coming and going to both Rome and Asia Minor it also became a slave trade center. A common practice in the ancient world was to raise children into young adulthood to be slaves. People would go up and would sort through the rejected babies looking for ones who might make good slaves. So they would look for deformed babies who still held some potential. They would then bring babies back home and raise them ether as personal slaves or to be sold.

Literary Context:
In Ephesians Paul addresses masters and slaves, so his intended audience is both masters and slaves. The people who first heard this letter would have included folks who had gone up on that mountain and sorted through babies who they thought might make good servants and it would also have included folks who had been raised as slaves, knowing full well their status was because they had been rejected at birth.

I. God sees us with our blemish (1:3-4)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 9
The word for blameless is ἄμωμοςa and it means “without defect, without blemish.’10 God chose you before the creation of the world to be holy and without defect. He looks at you and He doesn't see a long list of how you don't measure up. He sees you as holy and with out defect.

II. God chose us (1:5)
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will9
This is the verse that cinches it. God chose to go up the mountain and rescue us not to raise as slaves but for adoption into His divine family even before we were born. He did not just do this on a whim it is all part of His eternal rescue plan.

Original meaning:
It is doubtful that the first people who heard this got into a heated discussion about predestination vs freewill. The first people to hear this probably wept. Adoption for them was going up the mountain and taking the abandon babies that were all screwed up and raising them as your own.
Paul begins “in love God decided beforehand to make you His children.” This text calls out the idea that a deformity is a sign of Gods displeasure. This text says God is the God who hikes up on the mountain and brings home the unwanted, the discarded, and makes them part of his family.

Modern meaning:
Think of the messages we are sent about our value, our worth, and how we measure up or more likely all the ways we don't. We live in a culture that constantly reminds us that we are not good enough. If you go through a checkout isle you are confronted by a plethora of magazines telling you are not the right shape, you don't make enough money, you have bad hair... If you turn on the television or radio you are blasted by marketers telling you how bad your life is and how if you just had their product you could finally measure up.
According to this text the gospel is me coming to the place of realizing I was the baby on the hill left for dead and God hiked up there to get me. God created each of us, He chose us to be adopted into His family. He looks at us and does not see all the ways we fail or don't measure up to some standard. He looks at us and loves us, He takes pleasure in bringing us into His family.
If we can live this text it will profoundly effect the way we live. Every time we are reminded about our deformities about all the ways we fall short this text should leap into our hearts and onto our tongue. If we can take this text seriously we must recognize that God has some weird kids and He loves them all, even if we find them strange or even offensive.

Implications for Ministry:
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once said "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning.” The Church has a way of becoming a social club. If we are going to take this text seriously we need to accept that we are not called to be tolerant!
The very idea of tolerance implies enduring or putting up with something you don't like or value. Tolerance does not value people but simply puts up with their behaviors or beliefs. We cannot build authentic relationships with each-other on tolerance alone, because tolerance can only look the other way.
Tolerance might deal with differences, but it can't embrace us in full. God far exceeds mere tolerance, He showers all of us with grace. We are to represent God and so we must not just occasionally tolerate people we don't like, we too must show grace and acceptance.
The church should be a gathering of people where we can stand up and say we are wretched, and everyone will nod and agree and then remind us that we are also beautiful...
When we look through the eyes of Jesus, we begin to see new things in people. In the murderers, we see our own hatred. In the addicts, we see our own addictions. In the saints, we catch glimpses of our own holiness. We can see our own brokenness, our own violence, our own ability to destroy, and we can see our own sacredness, our own capacity to love and forgive. When we realize that we are both wretched and beautiful, we are freed up to see others the same way
God loves each of us just as we are, but he loves us so much he doesn't want us to stay that way. We must never confuse acceptance with agreement. Acceptance is not an agreement of people’s choices, beliefs, or behaviors. We must see ourselves as in-process, none of us has arrived or achieved some ultimate level of spiritually superiority. While we must always extend grace and acceptance to everyone, we should always hope and pray that none of us will remain spiritually stagnate.
There is a place for "appropriate judgment," but only among disciples who are in close personal relationships with each-other in which they have invited one another fully into their lives. This kind of judgment is done only in private and it takes the form of discernment and loving feedback. The end goal is for both disciples to be continually transformed by this relationship.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.
The Apostle Paul to the church in Rome 58 A.D. (Rom 7:15-20)

Works cited:
1. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ac 18:23). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2. Discipleship Journal, Issue 32 (March/April 1986). 1986. NavPress.
3. Discipleship Journal, Issue 122 (March/April 2001). 2001. NavPress.
4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 19:27). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
5. Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (342). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
6. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 19:29). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
7. Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (342). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
8. Price, Christopher. 2004. “Pagans, Christianity, and Infanticide.” www.christiancadre.org
/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html Last accessed August 11, 2012.
9. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Eph 1:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
10. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (699). New York: United Bible Societies.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jesus and Geography

Robert Pattinson

The Pentagon




Oval office

Capitol Hill

What do all these have in common?

They give is a concrete picture, an image we can see in our mind.

Names like praetorium Golgotha and Antipas were loaded with meaning in Jesus time.

Who was the king who committed to try to kill baby Jesus?

Herod the Great

Herod Antipas was his son. He came to power when Herod died.

That's when the Angel told Joseph that it was safe to return to Jerusalem with Jesus.

They settled in the town of Nazareth in Galilee.

That is about the time Herod Antipas began his rebuilding and expansion project for the city of Sepphoris...

Sepphoris has been revealed as a cosmopolitan city of great wealth and beauty, the largest and most important city in all Galilee (according to roman historians). Even after Herod built Tiberias and moved his capital and residence there, Sepphoris continued to be a prominent and influential city.

Sepphoris was "perched like a bird" on a four hundred-foot hill. The city commanded a panoramic view of Lower Galilee, including the towns of Cana, and Nazareth, four miles to the south. The Jewish historian Josephus called it "the ornament of Galilee."

Sepphoris boasted a 4,000-seat amphitheater, built into the eastern side of the hill. Its stage was 156 feet wide and 27 feet from front to back. Herod’s rebuilt city included his palace, an upper city and a lower city, a new city walls, an extra large market place, a colonnaded street, and a residential area. Several large cisterns (like water towers of today), one holding a thousand gallons, supplied running water for the city. It was a fancy sophisticated and rich place.

During Jesus’ early years, Herod Antipas was restoring, developing and fortifying Sepphoris. It served as his principle residence and the administrative center of Galilee, until he built Tiberias in A.D. 18-20.

Why are we talking about Sepphoris?

Well it was less than 4 miles from a tiny village named Nazareth.

Jesus father, Joseph, was identified by the word tekton.

This word was used to identify, a carpenter, a builder, or any craftsman.

This would mean that they were construction craftsmen, skilled in wood and or stone work. Since it was the practice of a father to teach his son his trade or skill, and since we don't see Jesus studying under a rabbi (remember he got his authority at his baptism) Joseph probably trained Jesus for this vocation.

Nazareth was a very small village, presumably lacking in the kind of construction projects that would provide sufficient work for skilled builders. With extensive building in progress less than an hour’s walk away, it is likely that Joseph and Jesus would have been employed in Sepphoris.

There is evidence to lend credibility to this theory because Jesus was well acquainted with much of the predominantly Greek and Roman culture.

When He used the word "hypocrite" for instance:

The word Hypocrite means actor or pretender, literally "one acting under a mask," . It is a Greek word, not Jesus native Aramaic, and would be primarily used to speak about the actors in a Greek style theatre. Such as the one built at Sepphoris around when Jesus would have been a teenager.

So Herod the king who's father had committed genocide, and who maintained his power with the roman military muscle ran the kingdom from his fancy city on a hill.

Imagine what it would feel like to look up at the spectacle from the poor little village of Nazareth below it. Only a few hundred people lived in Nazareth, it had no civic structures... People still went to a well for water...

Herod then built another huge town called Tiberius (named after Ceaser and built on a grave yard).

So what does all this mean...

Jesus is recorded as going to Nazerath,Cana, Capernum (a small village next to Tiberius) and all kinds of other places around this great wealth and power. But he never goes to these places during his ministry. He never goes to the capital to lobby or seek an audience with the powerful folks there who were running the day to day political operations of that whole region.

In fact the text is very careful about where he goes and what roads or paths he takes to get there. He always avoids the places of imperial power. Although he does go to the places of religious power (as we have seen at the temple and we will see with pagan temple at cessarea philipi)

By the lake in the area of Zebulun and Nephtali these were land allocations given by God to the former Egyptian slaves (not the fancy Greek names provided by the empire). By using these names the text is underlining the fact that the land is Gods not the empires.

Jesus reminded people why they had come to the desert in the first place. They could gone to Sepphoris the theater... and watched a great play about a girl who meets a boy who happens to be a vampire and who's vampire family takes her in and defends her against other vampires, culminating in a fiery battle inside a dance studio... until she wakes up in the hospital with a broken leg...

Sorry that was totally uncalled for ;-)


They could have gone to tiberous to lobby the rich rulers and advisers to the king to "take their countyr back to its religous roots...

But they came to the desert to seek a new way to live, to seek a truth that was/is deeper than the plastic and fake ways of the world. They came out because they has a sense that a new world was possible and they needed to see/hear that a new world that was emerging.

Luk 7:24
After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?
Luk 7:25
If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.
Luk 7:26
But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

This takes place at Capernum just a stones throw away from Tiberius (Herod's new shinier imperial city) where John sets on death row waiting to be beheaded...

Why didn't Jesus rush to save John?

More on that next time...