Only One Book – Acts 8:26-40

We are preparing for Sunday by reading the account of Phillip and the Ethiopian court official.  This is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least which is this:  Why was the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah?

The story is that Phillip is directed to a desert road, encounters the Ethiopian, who is a high official in the Queens government, who had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was reading Isaiah – he quotes Isaiah 53:6,7.

To own a scroll involved a great expense – hand written with great care, on carefully prepared scrolls, they were beyond the ability of ordinary people to own. 

If he only picked one book, Isaiah was a  good choice – for it is  inour  opinion the most beautifully written, both in language and content, of any book in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Also, Isaiah speaks to and of the nations, and of a hope for the nations to come to the one true God of all heaven and earth, and of peace in it’s fullest extent.   There is a passage that offers hope to such a man as this Ethiopian:

Isaiah 56:3-8 ESV
    Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
        “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
    and let not the eunuch say,
        “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
    [4] For thus says the Lord:
    “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
        who choose the things that please me
        and hold fast my covenant,
    [5] I will give in my house and within my walls
        a monument and a name
        better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
        that shall not be cut off.
    [6] “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
        to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
        and to be his servants,
    everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
        and holds fast my covenant—
    [7] these I will bring to my holy mountain,
        and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
    their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
        will be accepted on my altar;
    for my house shall be called a house of prayer
        for all peoples.”
    [8] The Lord God,
        who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
    “I will gather yet others to him
        besides those already gathered.”

   Which raises for us an interesting question: If you could afford only one book of the Old Testament, what would it be?

Our choice: Isaiah – for breadth of vision, beauty, hope, and in our view, descriptions of the Messiah.  (Runner up, Genesis)

Our New Testament choice would be (today, because tomorrow I will change my mind) Luke – for it’s grace, inclusion and literary masterpieces (the Prodigal Son). Runner up: Matthew – Sermon on the Mount

 Do you have a candidate in this race?

The Body of Christ – I Cor 12 – part 1

(Friendly Warning: Sermon Excerpt!) 

           Let’s rescue the idea of the Church as the body of Christ from the bean counters.  I have a collection of books and workbooks that help people discover their place in the life of the church.   The point of the Church as the body of Christ is not how we can have the organization of the church run smoothly.  That is only a part of it.  The point is that we are to the world what Jesus was to the world in his incarnation.  

            On his last evening with the Disciples, Jesus said something that we need to think about.

            “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father.”                                                                                                       John 14:12

       When Peter was explaining the Christian message to Cornelius, he gave this summary of Jesus Ministry:

            “…you know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him…”                            Acts 10:37-38

             When we follow the life of Jesus we find an interesting pattern:

            He spent time with the Father.  The disciples noticed that Jesus would often pray – it was in asking how to pray that he taught them the Lord’s Prayer as an example of prayer.  Jesus made a practice of getting up early, getting away from distractions and spending time with the Father.  From this he got his sense of purpose and direction.

            He spent time with his disciples.  The twelve followed him everywhere. When Judas was replaced one qualification for an Apostle was the they had been with Jesus.  They ate meals together.  They did ministry together.  He sent them out to teach and heal, and together they reported on what they learned.

            He went out into the world.  As Peter explained it, Jesus under the power of the Holy Spirit that he received at his Baptism, went out into the world doing good.  He welcomed the outcasts.  He healed the sick.  He raised the dead.  He taught the people in a way that drew them.

What about us?

            We spend time with the Father.  All of us have the opportunity to  be with the Father – Jesus taught that we should go to a solitary place when we pray – so we are not tempted to show off for other people.  This spending time can take various forms. 

            We spend time with the disciples.  All of us have the opportunity to get together with other believers.  Here we are in church, as we say so often, mistaking the building for the church.  It is better to say, here we are, the church gathered.  And we spend time under the teaching of the Word of God.  We spend time in prayer and worship together.  We spend time eating together.  This is described as how the very first church spent it’s time together

    And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.                                Acts 2:42

            We are sent into the world.  The New Testament word for Church is “ekklesia”, it literally means “called together.”  This means that we are called by God to be together for set times.  But then we are sent back.  God does not intend that the Church only be those times when we are assembled in one place.  We are also the church when we are disassembled.  When you go to your houses, your places of work, to where you play or volunteer or eat…in all those places you are in the world with a mission.

The mission of God in the world is not accomplished by having individuals receive the gifts of Salvation.  That is the beginning of the work but not the end.  The mission of God in the world is not accomplished by enlarging the numbers and the effectiveness of congregations. That is the middle part of the word but not the end.  The mission of God in the world is accomplished when we go out as the Body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work of Jesus in the world.

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For the purpose of navigating here at Fresh Read, the column on the right side has several items:

Tag Cloud – click on one of the key words to find articles with this tag.

Pages – articles on beginning points in Bible study

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Intertextuality: Ezekiel 36 and John 3

We grew up with the term “cross-reference”.  Some study bibles are studded liberally with cross references – some for vocabulary, others for larger concepts or ideas.  When it is felt that one biblical text is reflective of another, the term is “intertextuality.”

We were reading Walter Kaiser in his book “The Promise Plan of God”.  In his discussion of Ezekiel 36, which speaks of being washed and of getting a new heart and a new spirit, he suggests that passage explains Jesus comment in John 3:10. 

See for yourself –

Ezekiel 36:25-27
    I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

John 3:5-10
    Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
    [9] Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” [10] Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

Mere similarity in vocabulary is not enough to show the connection. 

Kaiser says,

“No wonder Jesus marveled that Nicodemus did not know about the new birth and the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:10).  As a teacher of the Jews, he should have been familiar with this passage, and therefore the teaching on this subject.”

 p. 210

Blog on target?

I got a call from a reporter today about FRESHREAD.  He asked why?  My answer is really two fold. 

  • First, it is helpful for me to write to help think about the texts I study as a pastor. 
  • Second, I hope it is helpful for those who are not inside the church walls already to be able to understand what the Scriptures do say – as opposed to what people say that they say.

So am I on Target?

If Jesus came to Church – John 14:15-21

What do you think would happen if we told people that Jesus would come to  your church next week?

If they believed us, then we would have a lot more people in church.  Maybe the people who see cold weather and feel warm in bed would come.  Maybe some curious people would come

 There was a crowd of 100s of TV reporters at the Super Bowl this week – that was just to talk to football players.  If Jesus came, we might see even more people than the Super Bowl.  We would have to give out tickets  by lottery because there would not be enough seats.

 The truth is Jesus comes to church every week.  Every time Christians get together he is with us.   Today the Holy Spirit is at your church, but he is also with all the other gatherings of Christians.  If there are 2 meeting in China at home, and 150 in Laos in the open air, and 5,000 at a mega-church in America, and 100os meeting in house churches in India – Jesus claims to be with each of those groups. 

John 14:15-21 ESV
    “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
    [18] “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. [19] Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. [21] Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

 There are six things that the Holy Spirit does today, that Jesus did when he lived on the earth. 

1.  He is “another Helper”. 

2.  He is sent by God

3.  He will be with you forever

4.  He will bring the Truth

5.  He will give Life

6.  He will bring Unity 

I have been thinking about these things all week.  I wondered why it is that we do not experience these things in our lives all the time.  Why is the work of the Spirit not more powerful in our lives?

 This passage is like a sandwich.  A sandwich is usually something delicious between two pieces of bread.

 The Something Delicious is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Do you see all that he does:  He is a helper, sent by God to be with us forever, to bring us the truth, and to give us Life and unity.

 What is the bread?  Look at verse 15 and 21.

 15“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—

21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

 The Bread is obedience to Jesus commands.  These two verses say that we need to obey.  What has he commanded?

John 13:34
    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

About Matthew 15:24

What does Matthew 15:24 mean?

 Matthew 15:24

    He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The question we received was why was the seeker turned away (temporarily) and why did Jesus say he was “only” seeking the “lost sheep of Israel.”  Did he not care for the others?  There is an earlier related passage. 

   Matthew 10:5-6

    These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, [6] but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

 I.   R. T. France, Matthew, P. 177,178

            Re: Mt 10:5,6:

            “This startling restriction of the disciples’ mission to Israel is found only in Matthew, where it is matched by an equally restricted statement of Jesus’ own mission (15:24).  Yet this same Gospel not only recognizes a deliberate mission to Gentiles at a later period, after the resurrection (28:19-10; 24:14), but also includes sayings of Jesus which include other nations in God’s plan of salvation (8:11,2; 21:43; 25:32), and we have seen in the early chapters a clear interest in the significance of Jesus for the Gentiles (2:1-12; 4:14-16, 24-25).  Matthew cannot then be accused of anti-Gentile bias.  Rather this saying reflects the historic fact that with very few exceptions (8:5-13 deals with a Gentile in Jewish territory; 15:21-28 is clearly presented as exceptional) the mission of both Jesus and his disciples before the resurrection was in fact limited to Israel;  the time for the Gentile mission was later.  The emphasis of the saying lies not primarily in the prohibition of a wider mission, but on the primary focus of Jesus’ ministry; the call was urgent and demanded total concentration (cf. 10:23).  They were lost sheep, a common Old Testament metaphor (Jer 50:6; Ezk 34:1-16; Is 53:6)…”  

 II. Other notes.

The original Greek reads something like

“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”

 “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  King James Version

             That puts the emphasis on Jesus following his calling to Israel.  See Mark 1:35-39 for the sense that Jesus ministry was directed by the Father; John 2:4 for the importance of timing, and John 17:4 for the importance of Jesus doing what the Father directed.