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Aug 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 24, 2014 – John 18:28-19:16

An Encounter with Mystery

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. John 18:28-32

Intro: We have learned something about Iraq in the last eight years

(something we probably should have known before dismantling its government)
The stability of the nation has always been threatened by divisive and explosive factions
- previously, political activists and religious radicals had been held in check
• Saddam Hussein’s “reign of terror” preempted independent acts of political violence
○ Iraq’s new, US-backed replacement government has already failed
○ now they are finding it extremely difficult to form another new government
• internal divisions have left them vulnerable to outside invasion

The current situation in Iraq can help us make sense of Pontius Pilate
- Pilate was at once an effective administrator of Rome and brutal oppressor of Israel
• this region was well-known for its unrest and rebellious past
• so Pilate decisively and mercilessly suppressed potential uprisings – for example:
○  a protest erupted after Pilate expropriated “sacred money” to finance an aqueduct
○ Pilate had soldiers dress in street clothes and disperse themselves in the crowd
○ on cue, the soldiers began to club the protestors, beating many of them to death
- eventually Pilate went too far and was summoned back to Rome

Religious history has a way of rehabilitating scoundrels
- the Coptic Orthodox Church (Egyptian Christians) – eventually regarded Pilate as a saint
- but this completely misses point of his role in gospels
• not only because it is based in pure fiction
• but the story is not about Pilate; it’s about the Galilean in his custody facing execution

Jesus was thrown in front of Pilate

It’s unlikely Pilate would have ever met Jesus otherwise

read more…

Aug 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 17, 2014 – Matthew 26:6-15

Jesus Leaves the Door Open

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
But Jesus said, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
 Matthew 26:6-10

Intro: We’ve spent the last five months with people who met Jesus

Today’s person of interest is Judas Iscariot
- until now, everyone else had been a stranger to Jesus prior to their encounter with him
• not Judas, he was “one of the twelve” (v. 14–i.e., one of the apostles, 10:1-4)
• Jesus let him in close

If I could, I would begin this morning with a recorded interview with Judas
- I imagine it going like this:

[Camera on Judas] “I really didn’t ‘get’ Jesus at first. None of us did. Good grief! His behavior had John the Baptist asking pointed questions.
“He was powerful; he healed the sick. He was charismatic and could control a crowd. But he did not fit any of our conceptions of the Messiah.”

We tend to think of Judas as a “stock” character — as one-dimensional
- “the one who betrayed Him” (Mt. 10:4)
• we’re familiar with the label, but we don’t know the person
○ he is a complex character – capable of change
○ the truth is, we have not been able to figure him out

William Barclay explored the possible motives Judas may have had for handing Jesus over
(by the way, “hand over” may be a better translation that our loaded English word “betray”)
- Barclay suggests that Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand
• that he fully believed Jesus was the Messiah, but he was moving too slowly
• he thought that engineering a show down with religious authorities would force Jesus’ hand
- remember, the disciples imagined a revolution that would bring a new empire
• the world would be turned right-side up
• all of them would be placed in positions of power and wealth (Mark 10:35-40)
○ it’s possible Judas wanted to hurry it on
○ this is certainly a different picture of him than the typical image of him as a scoundrel

We learn something from the context around the story

read more…

Aug 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 10, 2014 – Mark 10:46-52

Does Anyone Care?

Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David have mercy on me!”
And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus.
And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road. Mark 10:46-52

Intro: I cannot imagine being blind in Jericho

When it got hot–and in Jericho everyday was hot–how would a blind person find a cup of water
- or suitable shade where they were not in the way or on someone’s private property?
• without people looking after him, the blind man had slim chance of survival
○ and survival was as much as one could hope
○ on a good day, blind beggars might be able to scrounge up one meal
- it’s one thing to leisurely sit on a corner and watch people go by
• it’s another to be fixed in place and helpless
○ travelers pass on the road going this way and that, doing important things
○ meanwhile the blind sit by, begging for a bit of their life, of their happiness

This is where we meet Bartimaeus
- Neither Matthew or Luke mentions his name, but Mark makes a point of explaining it
bar is the Aramaic word for “son” — “son of Timaeus”
• in biblical cultures we don’t see the individualism of our own culture
○ people are identified by their relation to others or place of origin
○ “Simon son of Jonas” (relation), “Joseph of Arimathea” (place)
- the “of” that was added to a person’s name told who he was, where he was “connected”

Jesus was leaving Jericho “with His disciples and a large crowd”
- hearing the commotion, Bartimaeus asked what was going on
• someone told him it was “Jesus of Nazareth,” identifying Jesus by place
• when Bartimaeus cried out, “Son of David,” he identified Jesus by relation
○ “Son of David” is a Messianic reference (cf. Mk. 12:25)
- now it’s clear why Mark emphasized Bartimaeus’ name
• he drew our attention to Bartimaeus’ name to stir thoughts regarding Jesus’ title
○ he sets this up as an encounter between “the son of Timaeus” and “the Son of David”
• this was important to Mark – in fact, it is the big point of his whole book

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1)

• Mark is moving through the layers of Jesus’ identity, bringing us to the truth of God in Jesus (cf. Mk. 14:61 & 15:39-40)

Bartimaeus asked others for money; from Jesus he requested mercy

read more…

Aug 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 3, 2014 – Luke 19:1-10

The Soul In Search of Jesus

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. Luke 19:1-4

Intro: When young, I had a simplistic concept of the Bible

I thought it was this monolithic religious document
- a sacred text that explained Judaism and Christianity
• I assumed it was written in a uniform style, like an encyclopedia
• so a person could look up information regarding beliefs, rituals, and rules
- it was only later in reading through it that I discovered the truth
• the Bible is a compilation in which we hear the voices of many authors
○ it consists of several different types of literature
• even in the New Testament we can distinguish narrative, letter, essay, and prophetic genre

Nevertheless, every New Testament author shared the same goal
- to communicate their experience of Jesus Christ
• it was their conviction, we could experience him too

. . . and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory … (1 Pe. 1:8)
. . . but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pe. 3:18)

- whether or not this happens for us is another matter
• it depends a lot on how we come to the New Testament
○ whether we’re looking for information or for Jesus
- this vignette of Zaccheus suggests a way of coming to scripture to see Jesus

This is a unique incident in the life of Jesus

Even for Luke, who stresses Jesus’ interaction with tax-collectors and their crowd
- this is the only time Jesus invited himself into someone’s home
• and the only time someone was so eager to see Jesus for who he is

read more…

Jul 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 27, 2014 – Mark 10:17-31

The Simplicity of Christ

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor you father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Mark 10:17-20

Intro: In a way, the history of Christian monasticism begins with this passage

Many scholars look to St. Antony as the prototype of all monks and hermits. Born around 251 AD, he grew up to become an Egyptian peasant farmer until sometime in his twenties he heard a sermon preached on this story we are reading today. When Jesus’ words were read, “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor,” he interpreted them literally. Leaving all he owned behind, he moved from the city into the outlying necropolis. But as his reputation grew for being a wise and spiritual person, so many people came to see him that he moved further and further into the desert until he secluded himself in complete isolation for twenty years. It was this passage that inspired him to leave his former world behind to devote himself entirely to God.

Before we jump into this episode, we will take a brief look at its background
- in the previous verses, people had brought their children to Jesus for his touch
• when he defended the children against his disciples, he made two statements about children:

  1. The kingdom of God belongs to them (and the childlike)
  2. “Whoever” enters the kingdom must receive it like a child

- once inside our story, Jesus will use two terms interchangeably
• “eternal life” and “the kingdom of God”
○ “eternal life brackets” this section (vv. 17 & 30)
• for Jesus, the kingdom of God is our introduction to eternal life

What we see immediately in this man who comes to Jesus is an attractive character

Our first impression of him is formed by verbs
- “ran” and “knelt,” which indicate either eagerness or desperation
- “asked” – not for healing, miracle, justice, or to resolve a theological controversy
• he wanted life with God and he was read ready to “do” something to have it

read more…

Jul 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 20, 2014 – Luke 13:10-17

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like . . .

And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up a all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”
But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by him.
 Luke 13:10-17

What we can learn about Jesus depends on the questions we ask and our goal in asking

If we ask, How was Jesus perceived in his time and culture?
- we find answers such as Rabbi, prophet, miracle-worker, and Messiah
If we ask, How is Jesus perceived today in reference to his own time and culture
- answers include sage (wisdom teacher), mystic, apocalyptic messenger, and revolutionary
• taking these paths, we collect interesting answers
○ but when we reach to the end of them, we do not know Jesus
• the historical approach and the scientific approach do not help us come to know Jesus
○ instead, the objectivity of our inquiry keeps the person of Christ at a distance

If we ask, How can I know this person?
- the answer is, You have to meet him
• that has been the experience of millions of people, both today and in past centuries
• martyrs did not die for an idea or a doctrine
○ and they did not go to sword, lions or flames alone
○ having met and lived with Jesus, they knew he held their hands in death
If we ask, How do I meet Jesus?
• the answer is, you must begin by dropping your objectivity – close the distance
• come to his story with your heart rather than just your head and you will meet him

Luke begins today’s episode with the setting

He doesn’t give us a detailed description, but the general picture
- the synagogue was designed to serve as sacred space
• the Sabbath was structured to be sacred time
• Jesus entered this setting, this sacred environment, and taught
○ later on we’ll get an idea of what he taught

read more…

Jul 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 13, 2014 – Luke 10:38-42

Learning to Listen

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:38-42

Intro: Over the last four months we have spent time with people who met Jesus

We have observed both the kind of persons they were and the kind of problems they brought to him
- in this way, we have been able to see Jesus through their eyes
• discovering how he treated them informs us as to what we can expect when we bring our issues to him
- but our primary intention from the start has been to know Jesus
• St. Paul met Jesus in a blinding vision and continued to encounter him throughout his life (Acts 9:3-7; 22:17-22; 23:11)
○ nevertheless, his enduring passion was, in his own words,  “that I may know Him” (Php. 3:10)
• this was the goal for which he was willing to sacrifice everything (Php 3:7-9)
○ this is the passion that drives our spiritual lives, the heart of Christianity: to know God in Jesus Christ
○ there is always more

The insight contained in today’s story may be the most import we’ve discovered so far
- this has been recognized from the earliest centuries of church history

John Cassian (360-436) interviewed monks who lived alone in the Egyptian desert. One interview was with an old hermit, Abba Moses who explained to him the difference between the contemplative Christian life and the active Christian life in this way:
“Martha was performing a service that was certainly a sacred one, since she was ministering to the Lord and His disciples . . . You see then that the Lord makes the chief good consist in meditation, i.e., in divine contemplation: whence we see that all other virtues should be put in the second place, even though we admit they are necessary, and useful, and excellent, because they are all performed for the sake of this one thing.”

• it was typical of monks and devout scholars to rate the contemplative life over the active life
- we hear the same thing from St. Augustine and, nine centuries later, Thomas Aquinas

The character traits of these two sisters are instantly highlighted

They practically personify frenetic activity, on the one hand, and leisurely contemplation, on the other
- later on, we again find “Martha was serving,” true to form (Jn. 12:3)
• Martha could be direct with Jesus — her directness came out of who she was as a person
○ the Lord could be just as direct with Martha (cf. Jn. 11:21-26)
○ I would imagine that they appreciated this freedom they enjoyed in their interactions

read more…

Jul 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 6, 2014 – Mark 9:1-27

Faith That Does Not Fail

And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.
Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out fo the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, Listen to Him!” All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 
Mark 9:1-8

Intro: The first few times I read story of Moses, I felt like God treated him unfairly
- that the punishment was overly harsh

Moses had not wanted the job God gave him in the first place
• regardless of his wishes, he found himself stuck in desert forty years
○ everyone in the mass of people he had to lead was in a miserable mood the whole time
○ uncooperative, they complained, rebelled and even threatened mutiny
• then one slip-up (and not unreasonable given the circumstances) and Moses got the axe
• he was denied entry into the land
○ this was the goal, the dream for which he had struggled forty years, now taken from him
- Moses even begged,

“O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand . . . . Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” But the LORD was angry with me . . . and said to me, “Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.” (Deut. 3:23-27)

• I could not help but sympathize with Moses

Later on, when I used to have long conversations with Steve Mays, he said,
“Moses made it into the promised land”
- he reminded me of the passage we just read and pointed out that “Moses got to see the land and Jesus!”
- finally Moses stood on a mountain west of Jordan in the land of milk and honey

Let’s try to see the big picture before we look at the intriguing details

This episode is unique in the story of Jesus
- during his lifetime, his divine glory was never before and never again revealed so visibly
• how did Jesus explain this event?
○ in the prologue in verse 1, he said it was about seeing the kingdom of God in power and glory
• this was the trajectory of the entire Old Testament
○ that God’s rule would break into human history, displacing all human kingdoms
○ but then came the “mystery of the kingdom”
○ that is, the kingdom entered the world in Jesus (Mk. 1:14-15; 4:11; Mt. 13:31-33)
○ not in its spectacular fullness, but invisibly and in seed form
- this episode teaches us that God’s kingdom can break into our lives anywhere, at any time
• but also that it comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ
○ God’s commendation of Jesus: “My beloved Son”
○ God’s command regarding Jesus: “listen to Him!”
(simply reading is not listening — listening requires silence, attention, and responsiveness)

Now we can ask the “fun” questions (the rabbit trails that generally distract Bible students)

read more…

Jul 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 29, 2014 – John 8:1-11

Guilty As Charged But Not Condemned

Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women, what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. John 8:2-6a

We begin our study of this passage by looking at some of the faces John locates in the scene

We recognize the face of Jesus, of course
- also his disciples, who are no doubt nearby
- then, “all” the people coming to him
• many of them had not yet drawn a firm conclusion about Jesus

So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him; (Jn. 7:41-43)
And there was a division among them (Jn. 9:16)
A division occurred again because of these words (10:19-21)

• nevertheless, they felt the irresistible attraction of Jesus
- the woman (who perhaps hid her face, so we do not actually see it)
- the vigilantes — the scribes and Pharisees

Now we leave history for a moment and return to today
- perhaps we hear in news that the District Attorney has charged a suspect for a burglary
• what do we immediately assume?
○ the good guys caught the bad guy
• later we hear the suspect has been released — that he could not have committed this particular crime
○ it had been a case of over-zealous investigators following a false lead
- eventually the actual perpetrator is apprehended
• do we now know enough to make a judgment regarding this person?
○ most people think they do even though it is based solely on information they’ve picked up from news sources
• the reality is that sometimes people on the legal side don’t have:
1.) all the information
2.) correct information
3.) or the training, experience, or wisdom to discern fact from fiction, truth from lies
• still, they assume they have enough correct information to proceed
○ nor are the people who are responsible to arrest and charge others totally free from prejudice or distorted thinking
○ their judgment is not always perfect–or sound

read more…

Jun 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 22, 2014 – Matthew 15:21-28

She Danced With Jesus

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” Matthew 15:21-28

The brief encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is both disturbing and encouraging

Disturbing the the way he first treated her and encouraging in how the story resolves
- first we need to work our way through the disturbing part
• a woman came to Jesus for help and she was turned down
• not by the disciples (his would-be body guards), but by Jesus himself

It began when Jesus tried to take a break from the crowds and their constant demands
- notice his two-stage escape: he not only “went away” but also “withdrew”
• this is not redundant, but he went away so that he could withdraw from ministry for awhile
• Jesus assumed he’d be left alone if he crossed border into Gentile territory
- Mark tells us, “He wanted no one to know” (Mk. 7:24)
• he hoped to hide out for awhile
○ Jesus had to tend to his needs — although he had divine resources, they operated through his human body
○ he went away to get rest, restore his physical energy, and refresh his spirit
• Mark adds, “yet He could not escape notice”
○ there is little rest for people who enter the thick of human suffering
(ask anyone who’s been part of a medical relief team in a destitute part of the world)
○ the need is too great and it never takes a holiday

One of the local women came looking for him
- the same Greek verb recurs that was used of Jesus: he “went out” and she “came out”
• he left his territory to get away from people
• she left her neighborhood to get to him
- “Canaanite woman”
• she belonged to the world beyond Israel’s border
○ in a way, it was a dark space characterized by demon possession (cf. Mt. 8:28)
○ but she left her culture and its religion and exorcists for Jesus

read more…

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