Resonance – Genesis 22 and Advent

Abraham-e-Isaac-sacrifican (1)In our Christmas Eve service, we read Genesis 22

Why should we read this story at Christmas?  Genesis 22 is maybe the most provoking passage in the Bible.  We wonder why God would challenge Abraham with this.

My answer is that it resonates with the Christmas story.  If you play a note on a piano that same string on a violin or a guitar, if they are tuned the same, will resonate.  The likeness will cause a vibration.  Consider a few facts:

Isaac was a long promised child.  We know that the Messiah was promised from the time of the Garden of Eden, later in the promise of a greater Moses, and then through he prophets in a variety of ways.

Isaac was a miracle child.  Sarah had Isaac at 90 years of age. It was so unlikely that she laughed with the Angel told Abraham that she would have a child.  It was so fantastic that his name “Isaac” means laughter.  Jesus was born as a miracle – no human father and yet Mary gave birth.

Isaac was a beloved child.  God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac and go to the region of Moriah…”  When we speak of Jesus as the Son of God, we capitalize it since he is the only one.  God took his son, his only son, whom he loves – Jesus, and sent him into our world.

Isaac was obedient to his father – as was Jesus who submitted to the will of the Father when he became a sacrifice for sin.

There was a substitute – Isaac was spared and a ram found nearby was his substitute.  Jesus was not spared, but he became our substitute.

The sacrifice was on a hill.  In fact there is good reason to believe that this hill was in the same area and perhaps the same hill where Mt Zion sits.

Are all these just by coincidence?  No.  Did we pull them out of the text when they are not really there? No, they are there.

Genesis 22 points us to John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

            God the father did what Abraham did not have to do.  If we want to imagine the gift of God, consider how hard it must have been for Abraham – and multiply it many times.   Abraham had waited a matter of years to have a son, but God and the Eternal Son had forever.

Jesus the Son came willingly.  Isaac was willing to obey his father, but he did not know what his Father was planning to do.  Jesus knew his destiny before his birth.  He fully and willingly obeyed the Father.

What string does this cause to resonate in you?  We all desire to know Love. Can you begin to feel the love of God?  Can you feel in your heart the incredible depth of his love?  With long planning and total sacrifice, he sent his son to the world to rescue all who will believe.

Jesus as Servant

washing_feetI have been to a few councils for ministry ordination. One frequent passage that is brought to the candidate is Philippians 2: 7 which says that Jesus “emptied himself.”  What exactly did he do in that passage?

Did he empty himself of his deity?  That is contrary to the teaching of the church through the ages, and contrary to the scriptures itself.

There is a passage in John’s Gospel that sheds some light in this question. It is when Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples in John 13.

I could go so far as to say that Philippians 2 is a commentary on Jesus as a Servant. If not a commentary, a song: many hold that it is actually a hymn of the early church.

Here is John 13:1-5:

 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John speaks of what Jesus knows, that he is from the Father and returning to the Father.  That he has god-like power in that “the Father had given all thins into his hands.”  As the LORD, Jesus removed his regular clothing and took on the clothing of a house servant and set out to do a very humbling work – he washed their feet.

Philippians says:

…he made himself nothing  taking on the very nature of a servant… (2:7)

The link is made stronger in that Philippians begins with an challenge to believers to serve each other, to be humble and considers others first.  (Phil 2:1-4). This is to be done in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:5).

In John 13 Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….”

So there is an ethical link – Jesus act of foot washing (John) and his submission to death on a cross (Philippians) are motives and models of Christian service.  I do not believe that foot washing is now a sacrament, but a picture of the way of life of all who follow Jesus.  If he, the Lord, the Master lowers himself to serve, what should we do?



“Evangelical” is not about Politics

greekThe word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for Gospel or Good News.  It was lifted up as the descriptor of the Protestant Reformation – The Lutheran and Reformed churches were gospel centered.  The Gospel they were talking about was that religion and church politics had nothing to do with faith, but trust in Christ does.  Trends and culture can not determine the shape of the church or its message, the scriptures do.  Doing things does not make us right with God, believing the Gospel does.

The word Evangelical in mid 20th Century  America meant all of that, and it meant to distinguish itself from anti-intellectual fundamentalism and religious legalism.  It meant to affirm careful scholarship and intellectual rigor within the fence of faith.  It meant an open engagement with our culture. It meant to be aware of the world outside of our city, state and nation.

Since about 1980, the term Evangelical has become a descriptor of a voting block. some of this makes sense.  To be pro-life affirms that God is the author of life (See Genesis 1 and 2.)  But I would say that has implication for both abortion and healthcare, both end of life and middle of life.  We can hardly be pro-life and advocate random violence on our nations enemies.

But some of this does not make theological sense.  To be pro- or anti – gun control is not a thing found in the Bible – though indirectly we might talk about justice and freedom. Some issues can not be solved in a 140 character Tweet nor with a Facebook like button.

Some evangelical leaders promoted an agenda of Christianizing America through politics.  Now I agree with being informed citizens, active voters and advocates for truth and wisdom within our culture.  But I do not believe we can legislate people into Christendom.  It has been tried many times and failed. (Read up on Constantine, the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, the New England experiment, Prohibition, and the Moral Majority.)

This idea inevitably compromises the activist. In order to support a political coalition, we have to partner with and excuse partners that are personally unethical or who advocate things that disagree with our core document.  Hence the gospel is part of the hustle and wheeling and dealing of politics.  In this process it is debased.

We do need to speak truth to our culture.  Anti Slavery laws were motivated in great part by christian concerns for the dignity of human life.  The Civil Rights movement grew out and through churches in the 50’s and 60’s.  While abortion remains legal, the numbers of them has declined from the heyday of the 70s. It was said the life was a blob of flesh, but sonograms (science!) showed otherwise.

So as individuals and people dedicated to causes, let’s advocate and vote.  But as churches, denominations and ministers of the Gospel, let us not baptize the mixed sausage or truth, near truth, half lies and deal making that is the eternal recipe for politics.

Let “evangelical” cause people to think about Jesus, not Senator X, Governor Y or President Z. But let Evangelical Citizens A through Z vote, volunteer, give, advocate, serve, engage, disagree and be like Jesus doing it.



Sexuality: Asking the Right Questions


This is a Bible study on Human Sexuality and Same-Sex relationships.  Often believers miss in the debate what the Bible does and does not say.  I discuss passages that teach positively on sexuality and then on negative passages regarding same gender sexuality.  I try to put it into the Biblical story line and I try to discuss certain FAQs


Genesis 1, 2   Humankind was created in two genders in the image of God.

1:27: So God created man in his own image,

In the image of God he created him;

Male and female he created them.

5:2b-3 When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

 God, who had declared his work to be “good” six times, said it was “very good” once.  However he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”    So he fashioned Eve.

Genesis 2:24 is the foundational text for biblical marriage.  That is, most of the biblical teaching on marriage looks back to this passage.

Genesis 2:24

    Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

             From this creative act, we see that marriage by God’s design was meant to be a life long union of a man and a woman. Note the verbs

  • Leave
  • Hold fast
  • Become on flesh

Jesus and the Apostles refer back to Genesis 2:24 as the key passages on human sexuality.

Mark 10:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12

  • I Corinthians 6:12-17,
  • Ephesians 5:31-33)

Exodus 20.  The Ten Commandments give a place of honor to the family. The Fifth Commandment, which comes with a promise of ling life, is that we are to honor our fathers and mothers.  We also point out that the 7th Commandment forbids adultery and the 10th Commandment forbids desires that violate the marriage bond.

New Testament.  Numerous passages in the New Testament affirm  the value and importance of family life.  Jesus affirmed the Wedding at Cana by his first miracle (John 2:1-11).  The Epistles address husbands, wives and children (I Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5:21-6:4; Colossians 3:18-25, Titus 2, I Peter 3:1-7).


Leviticus 18 lists numerous sexual relations that were common in other cultures surrounding Israel, but were prohibited for God’s Covenant People.  The list includes close family relations, another person’s spouse, same gender sex (v. 22) and others.  Leviticus 20 contains a similar list, adding the civil penalty of death under Covenant law. (v. 13)

The 10 Commandments forbid adultery and coveting of another man’s wife.   Exodus 20:14, 17

Romans 1:18-32 is Paul’s description of libertine paganism.  Repeatedly the pattern is that the people reject the truth of God, and God judges them.  He does this by giving them over to the consequences of their desires.  In the midst of that downward progression is the Apostle’s negative assessment of same gender sexual relations (v. 24-27)

We note that Paul does not single out one group of sinners but declares all of us to be sinners.   Romans 3:22-23

      “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

I Corinthians 6:9-12 contains a prohibition of male prostitution and homosexual offenders.  See also I Timothy 1:9-10.


It is often  said that Jesus did not talk about homosexuality.  However he did talk about marriage and sexuality. The most important passage is Matthew 19:1-12  The Pharisees  came with a question.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

The issue at hand was the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4

“If a man marries a woman who become displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.  That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord.  Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving to you as an inheritance.”

The School of Shammai  held that divorce was only proper if there was some indecency of a sexual nature.  The School of Hillel  held that any cause for displeasure on the part of the man was grounds for divorce. In Matthew 19 this long standing debate was brought to Jesus.


  1. Jesus answered their question with another question:

He said, “Haven’t you read?”

  1. Jesus went to the text behind the text.

He turned to Genesis 1,2, and 3.  He cited Genesis 1:27, that God made them “male and female”.  He cited Genesis 2:24 that said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

  1. Jesus clarified the disputed text.

They responded to his first answer by asking, “Why did Moses command divorce?”  Jesus pointed out that Moses did not command, but permitted divorce.

While not dismissing Deuteronomy 24, he looked backward past Deuteronomy.  He said, “From the beginning it was not so.”  Moses allowed divorce because of hardness o heart.


Asking the Right Question.  The controversy over Divorce was over the wrong question, so our current debate is often over the wrong question.  It is not “What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?”  It is, “What did the Creator intend for Human sexuality?”

Most of the articles and debates center on the 8 or so passages that deal directly with Homosexuality.  The controversy is over the interpretation of these Old and New Testament passages.


Q & A.

What about Sodom?  Genesis 19:1-29 describes the judgment against the city of Sodom.  The term “sodomy” has come from this account.  We need to see that Sodom was under judgment before the angelic visitors entered the city.  So there were a number of sins that fell under judgment. Ezekiel 16:49-50, II Peter 2:6-7 and Jude 7 all refer to Sodom has having participated in a cluster of sins, including sexual perversion.  It is also important to note that Abraham prayed to God for mercy for Sodom (Genesis 18).

What about Abominations?  Often Old Testament scripture is cited which calls same gender sexual practice ad abomination.  There are over 20 passages condemning one practice or another as an abomination.  Also on the list is: prostitution, adultery, divorce, prayers of the unfaithful, dishonesty, materialism, unbelief, idolatry, greed and others.

We should reject the approach that only calls some of that God calls sin an abomination.  All sin is an offense to God.  However, if we are repulses by one particular sin and not by others, we are not responding out of concern for God’s holiness, but out of our own fears.

We also reject the approach that ignores the prohibitions of a Holy God.  While certain laws of ceremony, diet and dress are not binding in our time, the moral demands of God remain in effect.  If we reject these commands, do we also reject the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments?

What about Sexual Orientation?  It is claimed that homosexuality is caused by an inborn orientation that is not a choice.  If God makes someone gay, who are we to say it is wrong?

We do live in a fallen world, and so things that exist are not always as they should be.   Children are born with propensities to disease.  Some people have a natural susceptibility to alcoholism.  Our drives can be weaker or stronger depending on our physical make up.  That those differences do exist does not make them good or right.  It is nonsensical to say, “I am born to be an alcoholic, so let me drink!”

In fact, all of us face a struggle with our sexual desires.  Jesus said that to even look at another person with lust in our hearts was to be guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:27).  Our human nature, corrupted as it is by sin, is not an accurate barometer of what is right.  In fact, we need to resist those impulses that are harmful and strengthen those which are good.

The Scripture gives none of us hope in overcoming these conflicts by our will power (Romans 7).  It is only by the working of God’s Spirit that we can overcome these desires (Romans 8).  We also make a distinction between inclination or temptation and sinful actions.  (I Corinthians 10:12-13)

Finally, science has not shown a genetic cause for homosexual feelings.  There may be evidence of an inclination or propensity.  We are all moral agents who are responsible to respond appropriately to our inclinations and desires.  For some things, such as lust, the Scripture tells us to say no, even if it is a natural part of our make up.

What about Jesus?  Didn’t Jesus side with the downtrodden and the outcast?  Some refer to Jesus’ compassion as a reason to accept all people and all lifestyles.  Two texts are frequently cited.

         Matthew 7:1   “Judge not, that you be not judged. Yet Jesus did himself judge religious hypocrites.  See Matthew 7:6, in the immediate context where Jesus talks of dogs and pigs, which is a form of judgment.

John 8:1-11 has the story of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus said to those throwing stones, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  This is a warning too all those who pass judgment on others.  Yet He also said to the woman, “Go, now and leave your life of sin.”  In this story both sides of the conflict needed to repent.

We believe in the forgiveness of sin.   Forgiveness is a central teaching of the Christian Faith.  Not that sin is ignored by God, but that God graciously forgives those who seek his mercy.

Romans 3:22-23, cited earlier, indicates that all are equally under God’s wrath, and all have access to forgiveness without distinction.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 both condemns sexual sin and offers cleansing from sin in Christ.  There is great hope in the statement:  “But such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”

We do not believe that forgiveness is a license to live as we please.  Many passages, including Romans 6 and I Corinthians 6:12-20 show us that we are to live in obedience to God’s command and holiness.


The Bible positively defines human sexuality as good, as part of God’s created order, as a mean to companionship, child bearing, and as an expression of a covenant relationship between a husband and a wife.  Otherwise we are called to live in celibacy.

The Scriptures consistently reject any practice that moves away from this design.  That includes adultery, fornication, polygamy (though this was tolerated for a time), bestiality, prostitution, same gender sexual activity, rape, incest and more.  There is not a hint of affirmation in the Scriptures.

The Scriptures affirm male and female genders as part of God’s creation, and the creation of families for love, and for raising children and caring for the aged.

The Scriptures call us to treat people with respect, and yet to speak what is true to the world around us.

Scripture Overview

  1. Positive Statements:
  • Genesis 1,2
  • Mark 10:1-12
  • Matthew 19:1-12
  • I Corinthians 6:12-17
  • Ephesians 5:21-33
  • Excuse 20
  • John 2:1-11
  • I Corinthians 7
  • Colossians 3:18-25
  • I Peter 3:1-7

Negative Statements:

  • Leviticus 18, 20
  • Exodus 20:14,17
  • Romans 1:18-32
  • I Corinthians 6:9-12
  • I Timothy 1:9-10
  • Genesis 19 (Ezekiel 16:48-50, II Peter 2:6,7; Jude 7)

Forgiveness of Sins

  • Romans 3:22-23
  • I Corinthians 6:9-20
  • Romans 6
  • I John 1

A Christian’s Attitude toward “sinners.”

  • John 4:1-42
  • John 8:1-11
  • Matthew 7:1-6
  • Luke 5:27-31
  • Luke 18:9-14
  • Romans 12:9-14

David E. Carlson, Bethany EFC, Madison, WI

dcarlson301 @

Is this a Thing? Matthew 26:6-13

alabaster-jarThe woman who anoints Jesus with oil in Matthew seems to be Mary of Bethany,if we agree that Matthew, Mark and John are speaking of the same event. Luke’s similar story has enough differences of place, time and details to indicate that it was a different story. (Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8; Luke 7:37-39)

This comes at the start of the Passion Narrative, where one event flows into the next in rapid fire succession. Matthew, however seems to continue his collecting method; the chronology of the event may not have happened right then. So then we wonder what is the thematic link.

Mary gives an extremely valuable gift, so much so that there is opposition to it. she breaks open a vial of aromatic oil and pours it out completely on Jesus head (Matthew) and feet (Mark, John).  It is an act of devotion from a disciple who expresses love.  Jesus points out that it is preparation for his death and burial.  He has been talking about that since Peter’s confession

Jesus, at the Passover meal, institutes the Lord’s supper.  He breaks bread and pours out the wine.  There is also opposition, all around this act, there are the machinations of the religious leaders and of Judas.  Jesus gives his most precious gift (his life) symbolized in every day food (bread and wine).

Are we to see these two acts of devotion together?  Broken, poured out, forgiven, love, complete, death.

Mary acted first in the narrative, but the grace of the Lord preceded any act that she offered.

That’s Harsh! Matthew 23


John Stott wrote a book called “Christ the Controversialist” which captures the section of Matthew from chapter 21 to 23.  In chapter 23 Jesus is recorded as laying into the religious leaders who opposed him and lays down a series of 7 “woes” on their brand of religion.

In the 21st Century we are supposed to be accepting.  Jesus does not model universal acceptance.

In the realm of spiritual conversations, we are not supposed to engage in diatribes, but that is one commentators description of the literary form and vocabulary Jesus uses.

Some say that this passage is anti-Semitic.  That is hard to hold in that Jesus himself and the apostles and the first generation of Christians were all Jewish.

What are we to do with this?

First, let’s avoid spending our time identifying all the others we can blame.  I could preach a long sermon against the 1st Century Pharisees, but that has the aspect of a history lesson, and not a very relevant one at that.

Second, lets try to point the finger at ourselves.  What in these accusations apply to me?

Here is a short list

  • You do not practice what you preach. v. 3
  • Everything you do is done for people to see. v. 5
  • You shut the door…in people’s faces v. 13
  • You make the trivial into the essential (v. 16-22)
  • You clean the outside…but the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. v. 25
  • You hypocritically honor the prophets of old. v. 27

This is not a finger to point at others, but at ourselves.

Recapitulation – Hosea 11:1

candleIt is not so strange really that I was not able to find a Christmas song or even a poem on the connection between Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15.  The escape to Egypt is not usually a feature in our Christmas celebrations. the nature of the fulfillment is a challenge.  Hosea speaks of the nation and Matthew speaks of Jesus – how can that be a fulfillment?  It is because Jesus life is a sort of recapitulation of the History of Redemption.  There was a first Adam and a Second (Romans 5), there were shepherds and the Shepherd, there were kings and the King.  The temptation of Jesus was in the desert just like the testings of Israel (Matthew 4).  So I put together this piece called:


Adam, born of dust and Breath

            Jesus, of Mary and the Spirit.

Adam brought death.

            Jesus bought life.

 Building a tower to the stars

            Nations began to babble.

Abraham counted the stars

            And blessed the nations.

A star pointed the way.  

             From Babel to Bethlehem.

 A shepherd became king

            faced a giant with a sling.

He built a nation like no other

            And taught us to sing.

Shepherds came to see

            A Shepherd among sheep.

He is King and Lamb

            Who rules by love and word.

 Abraham’s kin found refuge

            Then slavery in Egypt

Moses brought a staff

            To lead them to a new land

Jesus in danger

            escaped to Egypt.

Israel and the Son

            Called out of Egypt.

 Lambs and bulls slain

            To atone for men

Until a Lamb was slain

            For all of them.

They made a tent that led

            Through the lands ahead.

The Word came with glory

            That dwelt in a tent of flesh.

 What happened before,

            Has happened again.

First early then late

            Events recapitulate.

Darkness will end

            In the glory of the One.


David Carlson – 12/11/2014

Parable of the Sower – a worksheet on Jesus’ Gospel



To follow up the previous post, I have made a worksheet from Matthew on what the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom might mean.  It seems to me best to define the term from Matthew’s context first and then broaden the search.


What is the Message


Jesus, Palm Sunday and Isaiah 42



I am not to the events of Palm Sunday in Matthew, but we celebrate that day on the Church calendar.  It is fitting that the passage I landed upon is Matthew 12:15-21 which cites one of the Servant Songs found in Isaiah.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”  Matthew 12:18-21 ESV

At this point in his ministry, with many who follow and a rising force in opposition, he continued his works of compassion, but asked the people to keep it quiet.  And so the one who arrives in Jerusalem, the Messiah, arrives on a donkey, not a war-horse, and is cheered with palm branches and the cries of children.

Jesus as Servant King.