Arguing over the Bread and Cup

cup-and-bread24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. . 

             Some people have really bad timing.  We are reading the account of Jesus last time with the disciples before he was taken away and crucified.

John’s gospel shows that before this meal, Jesus had washed their feet.  He gave this service as an example to them to serve each other and to forgive each other.

In Luke we read that they took the Lord’s Supper together.  In this he took the bread and the cup from the Seder Meal and reinterpreted them as being about himself.  He is the bread and he is the wine.  They gain life by believing in him.  All this is symbolized by the Lord’s Supper.

The Disciples chose this moment to have an argument over who was the greatest. It is natural whenever we get together with others to look around and compare.  We notice if we are older or younger than the others.  We notice if we have more or less hair.  We wonder who might have the most money or the most advanced degree.  It is human nature to create a sort of pecking order.

The Disciples of Jesus were not above this.  They started to Argue over who was the greatest.  We are not given their actual words.  But I imagine that it went like this:

I am sitting closer to Jesus than you are!

            Yes, but I started following him before you did.

            You always say the wrong things.

            You never say anything, but wait for me to go first.

Jesus rebuked them.  He said that they were acting like unbelievers.  The kings of the gentile nations were all about being the Lord.  The emperor of Rome claimed worship as a God.  They fought wars, raised taxes and enslaved the defeated.  The Rich dominated the poor.  It was all about power.

This is not what it means to follow Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters here.   We serve each other.  Jesus said, “If you want to follow me you need to do what I do.  You cannot fight to get to the top.  The way to follow me is to go to the bottom.”

If you want to be served, you will not be great in my kingdom.   Do you want to be great? Then serve.

we have come together today to remember and honor the sacrifice of Jesus.  On that day he gave himself for all of his followers – from those who had this meal with him, down to all who shared this meal in faith down through time.

So shall we get into it over who is greater?  Is Grace or Bethany a better church?  Is Dave or Jeremy a better preacher?  Is it better to follow Tim Keller or John Piper?  Oh we could get into a good argument.  Is a hymn better than a chorus?  Is the King James better than the NIV.  Do you follow Wesley, Luther or Calvin?

Jesus told us what He wants us to do.

26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

We need to put all that fight for greatness aside.  We need to quit trying to climb the mountain of importance.  We need to follow Jesus into the valley of service.

Whom has the Lord given to you to serve?  Will you get credit?  Will you get points or fame?  Will they be loyal to you?

None of that matters.  Jesus went into the valley of the shadow of death, to make for us a way into the Light of life.

We received that life by Faith in him.  There is not credit there.

We walk in that life by following Jesus commands..

And what does he command?  Beloved, let us love one another.

Variation in the Story of Easter

REDA lot of interesting effort can go into working out how the four Gospel accounts can be harmonized. I find that presupposition determines the outcomes. If you hold that they are traditions cobbled together, then there is no continuity.  If you hold that they are the world of God, you can work out a harmony. (“Opening the Gospel of John”, Comfort and Hawley, P. 311-312 is one example.)

My presupposition is that they each have something to say. What is included and excluded fits the purpose of the author, which is not a scientific chronology but a way to present the news.

John lines up, four stories of believing.

Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb but does not believe, yet.  Peter and John run to the tomb, but only John believes when he sees that the body is gone, and Peter does not yet.  Later Mary Magdalene meets the Lord in the garden and believes.  Jesus appears to the remaining disciples, including Peter but minus Thomas, and they believe and rejoice.  Thomas refuses to believe on their testimony, and then the Lord appears to him and Thomas believes.


  • John believes based on the grave-clothes in the empty tomb.
  • Mary Magdalene believes based on meeting the Lord.
  • The Disciples (including Peter) believe when they see the Lord and receive a renewal of their calling
  • Thomas believes when he sees and touches the Lord.

Then the question is put to the reader in verses 29-31.  Jesus said to Thomas that those who believe without seeing and touching will be blessed.  John tells us that much else could be written, but this Gospel was written so that the readers (and you the reader) might believe and receive eternal life.

John here is tying up his theme of belief in Christ which leads to eternal life.  This is, it seems to me, the main line of argument from chapter 1 to 20.  John focuses on just Mary at the Tomb (though the “we” of v. 2 suggests others were there.) He highlights John and Thomas as well.  His purpose is to present 4 individuals who believe: Mary, John, Peter (with the disciples) and Thomas.  Each has a unique story.  Then he turns to the reader or hearer of the Gospel and says, in effect,

“What about you?”

A Money Question

round tableI was at a local business group lunch and sat at a table with two men who run a dance club and another who works with a service agency.  When I said what I do, it led to a few interesting questions about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and money at the end of the world.  The question was, “Doesn’t the Bible say that money will someday be worthless?”

So I looked up what it says in the book of Revelation about what happens to money at the end of the world.  There are two relevant passages

Revelation 13:11-17 11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. (NIV)

This passage speaks of a time where a political and religious combination of power will result and all use of money will be limited to those who receive “the mark of the beast.”  This has led to lots of speculation about credit cards, tattoos and implanted electronic devices.  Conspiracy theory stuff that is just slightly scary considering what technology is capable of – just watch a police show and see how they can track you by your cell phone, credit, debit card and car gps device.

Revelation 18:11-17 – 

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’  (NIV)

This passage is about Babylon.  This is a Biblical symbol of rampant materialism and a twisted morality that places money and pleasure over truth.  Just before the end of all things, this system will fall.  The passage is the lament of all those who were rich and successful in that system.

So watch out for the “mark of the beast” (Rev 13) and the “whore of Babylon” (Rev 18).  A less apocalyptic piece of wisdom is from the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Matthew 6:17-19 – 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (NIV)

Farewell Old Friend – NIV 84

yorickI remember back (way back) in High School when the NIV New Testament was coming out.  We had at the time the choice between the King James Version, the RSV and the NASB.  The King James was dated, though still loved.  The NASB was rather wooden, though good for study (think if it as a sturdy ancestor of the ESV).  The RSV was not acceptable among most Evangelicals because of some of its translation choices.  (“young girl” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14.)

I got the NIV NT and then the NIV whole bible later, when it came out in a nice single column format.  It was my bible for years – notes and highlights in the text.  Until finally it wore out.

Its value is a combination of faithfulness to the original text along with readability.  Some translations that were more “literal” were almost unreadable.  So the NIV was a solid bible for anyone.  People who had not grown up in the church could read it.

I am been reading for a year in the New NIV – it is generally like the Old NIV – there are some changes – the most controversial is the attempt at gender neutrality.  When a male pronoun is really a generic pronoun, they translate it generically.  “Brothers” become “brothers and sisters.”  Yet God is still “Father” and Jesus is still the “Son.”  I’m ok with that.  It is how English works these days.

I have noted a few clunks – when “they” is used for “he” it can change the meaning – from singular to plural.  Psalm 32 was an example of this kind of clunk.

However, overall I find the New NIV usable.

Yet, after a transition, the NIV – 84 has been removed from the list of choices on-line.  You can not buy a new old NIV because they are no longer printed. You can not find it on Bible Gateway, because it is no longer there.

“Alas, Old NIV, I knew you well.”

One at a time: Reading about Jesus, Judas and Peter in John

JohnThe temptation is to always read the gospels together.  There is nothing wrong with that, and much to be gained by seeing side by side how each Gospel tells a story. However, we can miss their distinct voices if we only read in parallel or harmony.

So while riding the bike that goes nowhere at the gym, I was looking again at the text.  This is by the way a good place to study because there are fewer interruptions at the gym than at the office.

What I saw was that there is in John 18 an interplay between Jesus, Judas and Peter.

In John 13, the foot washing passage  when Peter said, “wash all of me” Jesus said that had all been bathed (forgiven) except for one (Judas – John 13:11).Shortly thereafter Jesus predicts his betrayal, and Judas leaves (v. 18ff). Immediately after that there is a discussion between Jesus and Peter where Peter says, “I will lay down my life for you” and Jesus answered, “Will you really…?” and predicts Peter’s triple denial.

In John 17, Jesus was praying for the disciples and said, “None of them has been lost except the one doomed to destruction…” (17:12)

In John 18 there is a comparison set up.  In 18:1-12, Jesus seems to initiate his arrest. As the soldiers came with Judas to the garden, he went them.  At the same time he sought to defend his followers from trouble (v. 8)  This was so “the words he had spoken would be fulfilled, ‘I have not lost one of those you gave me.'” (v. 9)

Then Peter draws a sword – fulfilling his own imagined role as hero and defender.  Jesus rebuked him.  Then follows Jesus arrest.  Verses 15-17 alternate between Jesus defense before Annas and Caiaphas and Peter’s denials.

  • Jesus and Annas – v. 12-14
  • Peter and his first denial v. 15-18
  • Jesus at Caiaphas – v. 19-24
  • Peter and his second and third denials – v. 25-27

In the center of all of this – and while Jesus himself is under trial and death looms – he shows concern not to lose any of those who have been given to him.  Highlighting his own obedience vs the weakness of Peter and the lack of faith of Judas.

Peter appears again at Easter, at the report of the empty tomb, he and John race to the tomb.  In chapter 21 there is an encounter between the Lord and Peter where the three-fold denial is made a three-fold affirmation.

The question is not for us, “Am I to imitate Jesus?” because he stands when all fall away.  It is rather “Am I his or not?”  John’s gospel emphasizes that the connection to Christ must be by belief – and that alone explains the difference between Peter and Judas.

What happens when you ask the pastor about predestination…

scribe.2A friend from church handed my his thoughts on election and free will last Sunday and asked for my comments.  so I thought I would delete any names and post my thoughts here.

Hi______, I looked at your notes from Sunday.

First of all, I recommend this book:  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer, IVP (it has been around forever, so it is probably cheap on Amazon). He lays out the issues.

Second, I see two overall ideas in the scripture

  • Our choices and actions are real, have significance and we are accountable for them.  How could that be true if they are predetermined without our will.
  • God knows and elects us from before the foundation of the world is an idea found in a varity of places, including Ephesians 1 and Revelation (book of life) and Romans 8-11.

Packer calls this an antinomy – two ideas held to be true despite their apparent contradiction.  (Wikipedia: Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant)

Most people resolve the antimony by

  • emphasizing God’s Sovereignty –  Election.   This is the “Calvinist” position (but really looks back at least to St. Augustine).  This position can be either rather blunt (God does all the deciding) or nuanced (our will is somehow concurrent with the will of God, or he cause it so we freely choose, or something similar – this is called “concordism” if I recall correctly))
  • Emphasize human choice, often called “free will”.  This is the Arminian/Wesleyan position.
    Basically saying that God cannot or does not negate our choices – how could he pass judgment against sin if it was determined by him?  Can God predetermine sin?  etc.  The older Wesleyan Arminians held that God knows everything in the future but somehow limited himself.  Some open theists say that God die snot know the future but makes good guesses.

I prefer to leave the antinomy unresolved and allow for the fact that somehow in the nature of God it is not a contradiction.  If you press me, I think it has to do with God’s eternity.  He is somehow outside of time (science tells us that time is a dimension;  a product of space/time)  So it would be possible for him to know in his eternal present what is future to us.  In “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis he describes it as like a man watching a parade, not from the street, where it is seen from start to finish sequentially,  but from a tower, where the viewer can see it all at once.

There are other antinomies – God is love and holy – how can he forgive sin when he is pure?  (the Cross)  

“Free will” is a specifically Arminian kind of term.  I prefer to use other words less loaded.  Our wills are not totally free or someone could have decided not to sin, but none have.  So we are effected by the corruption of sin in that way.  I use the term “choice” or “will”.  Luther was a hard liner on this point and wrote a book “The Bondage of the Will”. John Wesley talked about “prevenient grace” where God enables us to get to the place where we can hear the gospel and decide.  Calvinists will say that God saves us and only then do we believe.  (There is an old debate over the Order of Salvation – “ordo salutis” – which I find to be a lot of picayune scholasticism.

I have also found that the Bible does not “answer” some classic philosophical questions such as the problem of evil or free will.  Job and other passages deal with the problem of evil, but in the form of a narrative story and epic poetry that in the end does not give a rigorous answer but says “you have to trust me on this.”  I note that the logic of election and free choice run into a wall of apparent contradiction.  but so do other things we hold to such as:  Matter can be described as waves or particles and both are true depending on how you look at it.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is another example.   Is that a contradiction or is there some deep level of science where that will be resolved.

I hope that helps.

On buying a Bible

scribe.2So my old NIV – 84 fell apart.  After dawdling between the ESV and the new NIV, i chose a single column format NIV for the regular use bible.  My more literal reading companion is the ESV Literary Study Bible.  In both cases I avoided lots of notes and clutter (what is a library for?) and red letters (NEVER) and double columns (do any other books come in double columns?)

In the picture from top right (Greek NT), top left (Spanish – NVI English NIV 84 NT)

Multi View of John 19

Multi View of John 19








bottom left (new NIV) bottom right (ESV Literary Study bible)


John Calls his Witnesses


There is a theme about witnesses in John.  And as I wandered through a rather dry space in an analytically commentary (check the link to Commentary Soup) I found this bit:  There are 10 Witnesses to Jesus in the Gospel (Talbert, Reading John, p. 217)

  1. John the Baptist – 1:7,8,15,19,32,34; 3:26; 5:33
  2. Jesus – 5:31; 18:13-14
  3. His Works – 5:36; 10:25
  4. The Scriptures – 5:39
  5. The Father – 5:37, 8:18
  6. The Samaritan Woman – 4:39
  7. The Crowd – 12:17
  8. The Paraclete (Holy Spirit) – 15:27
  9. The Beloved Disciple – 19:35; 21:24
  10. The Disciples- 15:26

John 8:12-18 – ESV –  12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

John 15 – syntactical analysis

I attach my worksheet – it is easy on the computer to plug in the text and then to use indentions or notations (ABCC’B’A’ – for example) to lay out the text.  This is largely from Raymond Brown in the Anchor Bible Series, vol 29a  with an assist by Charles Talbert in Reading John.

I will use arrows sometimes to show relatinships of sub clauses to major clauses.  but the indentions themselves show the “shape” of the text.

John 15 syntactical

Commentary Soup

give it time

give it time

So it is a funny thing.

I like to find the academic commentaries  from the UW library, which slice, dice and analyze the biblical text.   I don’t agree with the frequent theorizing about editors, redactors, schools and emendations that they do suggest.   Also there is very little of pastoral value – that is, what can help the people keep the word.  But for analyzing the text itself, these kinds of books, typified by the Anchor Bible series are very helpful.  My motto: take what I can, leave the rest.  This is for me the soup stock.

In the case of John’s gospel, the Anchor volumes are very helpful for the ebb and flow of the book. Raymond Brown suggests that the first 12 chapters really have to do with Jesus interactions with the major festivals of the Jewish calendar.   I found that the book Reading John, by Charles Talbert does a nice job of literary analysis.  Neither of these books are that helpful on connection to life.

I like to peruse the classic evangelical commentaries, but until recently, most of these are weak in the area where the academic texts ares strong   For example, Young’s commentary on Isaiah (3 volumes) is a classic, but it is mostly a series of verse by verse comments with lots of word meanings.   I much prefer Motyer’s Isaiah commentary, thought shorter, it gives the shape and flow of the book, and there re little sermonic nuggets in the text.   In John, Leon Morris’ work is a lot like Young’s in Isaiah – words discussed by verse, but not a lot of literary structure.   F. F. Bruce is helpful at a less analytic level.  These books are the diced carrots and potatoes.

Sometimes a historic commentary such as Luther’s Works or the like adds a bit of flavor to the sermonic soup.   Consider this the herbs and spices for the soup.

I like to read someone who is or was a pastor and who gives the word a work over from a sermonic standpoint.  Lot’s of books by John Stott fit in this category, I still think his commentary on I John is the most helpful on that book.  I don’t have a good book in this category to name.  This is the meat for the soup.

Finally, what is needed is time for the soup to simmer lowly on the back of the stove.   Don’t start your reading on Saturday.  Start ahead and let it simmer and stew.