Tag Archives: Reveal

Adding it Up

Adding it Up (CaD Matt 1) Wayfarer

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:17 (NIV)

I was good at math as a kid. I was always pretty good with numbers. I was mid-semester in the eighth grade when my teacher suggested that I switch to advanced math. She thought I was bored with class (probably) and really needed to be challenged (probably not). Despite my protestations of not wanting to switch classes, she kept at it until I agreed to make the switch.

As I recalled this memory in the quiet this morning, Pippin’s words to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring echoed within: “Short cuts make long delays.”

The shortcut I took to advanced math, created a long delay in my love of math. It was a waypoint in my education. By the time I switched to the advanced math class, I had already missed out on a number of foundational lessons. Without those foundational lessons, I was suddenly lost and confused. I may have been bored with the basic class, but now I was discouraged and felt stupid. Looking back, I realize that it was at this waypoint that I abandoned math as a subject I enjoyed. Through the rest of my education, I avoided math like the plague. I graduated from High School with only one year of math, and I graduated college with one remedial semester of the subject.

It’s ironic that my vocational career has been largely spent around numbers, data, and statistics. That which I was too discouraged to learn in the classroom I found I enjoyed learning on the job. I rediscovered my joy of numbers that withered in me all those years before. I grieve that it happened. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I’ve discovered that math is a core way God reveals and expresses Himself in Creation.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I begin a journey through Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a numbers guy, so it makes perfect sense that he, just like God, uses numbers to express his purpose and reveal his themes. This, however, is largely hidden from a cursory reading of the text of the first chapter, which is mostly a genealogy (which, let’s be honest, most people skip over).

A couple of things to point out:

Three times Matthew refers to “Jesus the Messiah.” Three is a number of God (e.g. Trinity, three days in the grave, and etc.). Matt’s purpose in writing this biography was largely to explain to his fellow Hebrews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He makes this purpose blatantly clear in the first chapter in multiple layers. He says it not only with text but also with the number three.

The Hebrew people knew from the prophets that the Messiah would be a King from the line of David. Not only does the genealogy make this clear, but Matthew chooses to list fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus. In the Hebrew alphabet, letters perform double duty as numbers. If you take the Hebrew letters that spell “David” and add them together, they total fourteen. Three times Matthew numerically communicates to his Hebrew readers that Jesus was the “son of David” they knew the Messiah would be.

Time and time again in the Great Story I find that God is not who humans expect Him to be. He even says that through the prophet Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways.” The Hebrews of Matthew’s day expected the Messiah to be like human kings who lord over others through power and conscription. With his opening words, Matthew lays the foundation for revealing the Messiah that doesn’t look like the Messiah his fellow Hebrews expected. Jesus, the Messiah Matthew is going to reveal, came to be Lord of those willing to follow through love, servant-heartedness, and suffering. From the very beginning, Matthew expresses clearly that Jesus is the Messiah. From His family tree to His story to the words of prophets, it all adds up.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Words and Works

Words and Works (CaD John 10) Wayfarer

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

John 10:24-26 (NIV)

Wendy and I have been regular readers of the Wall Street Journal forever. The New York based newspaper is one of a few newspapers to have had subscribers across the entire nation, even before the dawn of the digital age.

One of the things that we have noticed across the years is that you can take the Wall Street Journal out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the Wall Street Journal. The content, from news to opinion to lifestyle are clearly New York City centric and cater to wealthy business professionals in Manhattan who have always been the key constituency in their subscriber base. What this means, however, is that Wendy and I often shake our heads over morning coffee here in small town Iowa. The Wall Street Journal clearly doesn’t get life in fly-over country (even when they visit every four years for the Iowa caucuses) where life and business are still largely centered around agriculture and people see life differently based on a very different daily life experience.

In the same way, it’s often challenging for a 21st century reader to understand the context of a first century story-teller, but it’s not impossible. Learning the context reveals often profound understanding.

God’s base language is metaphor, and in today’s chapter Jesus uses one metaphor in two different messages He presents in the Temple in Jerusalem: the Shepherd. Shepherds and sheep were understood by all of Jesus’ listeners back in the day. Sheep were a staple in their lives for both food, clothing, and the religious system. In fact, the metaphor of the Shepherd was not new to Jesus. It’s all over the place in the ancient Psalms and the messages of the prophets in which God revealed Himself as the “Shepherd of Israel,” the religious leaders were, likewise, to “shepherd” God’s people, and the coming Messiah was prophesied to be a true Shepherd to care for God’s people. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Shepherd is an important metaphor in the Great Story.

In Jesus’ word picture, He is both a gate by which sheep go out to pasture and return to the safety of their home, and the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep because they are His sheep. He is not a thief, robber, or rustler who seeks to steal sheep for their own selfish aims.

John then moves the narrative to another time Jesus was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem during another national religious festival in which he again uses the metaphor of Shepherd and sheep. There is still tremendous debate and division over Jesus true identity. He is asked plainly: “Are you the Messiah, or not?”

Jesus responds with an interesting statement: “I told you already, not with words, but by my actions, my works, and my signs. You didn’t get it because you’re not my sheep.”

Actions reveal identity.

Jesus says basically the same thing as He did in the previous chapter, but with a different metaphor:

I Am the Light of the World:
– There are blind who I make see
– There are those who see who I cause to go blind

I Am the Good Shepherd:
– My sheep know my voice and follow
– Those who don’t know my voice don’t follow; Not my sheep

What really stuck out to me, however, was that His true identity was revealed by words or claims but by works and deeds. It is the same thing Jesus told The Twelve later: They’ll know you’re mine, not by your claims, but by your love for one another. Jesus’ brother, James, would pick up on this in his letter to the exiled followers of Jesus scattered across the Roman empire: “Faith by itself, with no action, is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that even when Jesus was walking the earth performing signs and wonders, there were many who remained blind and deaf to His message. Why should I think that it would be any different today? I’m also reminded that my claim to be a follower of the Good Shepherd is basically worthless. Jesus said so Himself. It is those acts of love, grace, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness that mark me as one of His sheep.

Time for this sheep to do my best to reveal my faith in action, and not just these words, on this another day of the journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

God Revealing, Then and Now

God Revealing, Then and Now (CaD Ex 10) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them…”
Exodus 10:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have some connections to east Africa. We have, for years, supported a Compassion child in Kenya named Joyce. Taylor and Clayton spent time working in Uganda, and Clayton’s doctoral research has taken him repeatedly to Tanzania where we also support another Compassion child, Michael, who is slightly older than Milo and they share the same birthday.

Because of these connections, we tend to pay a little more attention to the situation there. In case you didn’t know it, they have been battling locust swarms this year. Massive locust swarms that I would tag as being of “biblical proportions.” A second wave of swarms hit the region just as they began fighting COVID.

In my recent series of podcasts, A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story, I talk a lot about context. An adult can’t reason with a two-year-old by getting him or her to sit and listen to you read a psychology textbook that explains his or her need to modify behavior. In the same way, understanding ancient stories require me, a 21st-century reader, to think outside the box of my 21st-century thought and sensitivities. They require me to think about how God is meeting with and interacting with humanity in the context of the way they lived, thought, believed, and interpreted their world. Today’s chapter is a great example.

Locust swarms have been part of the ecosystem forever. They happen on occasion just like floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, and viral outbreaks. Our post-enlightenment, educated minds turn to science to understand these things, deal with them appropriately, and lessen the negative effects.

In Moses’ day, no one thought in such a way. In Moses day, natural phenomena were always considered to be a manifestation of the gods. If something bad happens, the gods must be angry. If something good happens, the gods must be pleased.

In today’s chapter, God tells Moses that the plagues had a purpose. The purpose was to reveal Himself and His power to Pharaoh and his officials. What is lost on a 21st-century reader is the fact that the types of plagues being visited upon the Egyptians had connections to various deities they worshiped across the pantheon of more than 1500 gods they worshiped. Because many, if not most, of the plagues were natural occurring phenomena, the Egyptians may have historically associated them with other deities. Now, the God of Moses turns them on-and-off at will, which is a direct challenge to Egypt’s religious system. Each time a plague is turned on or off by “stretching out” their hand and staff, it is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s claim of being a god who rules by “my mighty hand.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about God revealing Himself. The story of Moses is an early chapter in the Great Story. There has been no described system of worship. There is no Bible or sacred text. There is no institution or organization. God has simply revealed Himself to Abraham and his descendants in mysterious ways. The plagues we’ve been reading about are the first recorded time in the Great Story that God attempts to reveal Himself to another people group in contrast to their own gods. This is a major shift in the narrative, and this theme will continue.

Interestingly, Jesus also made it clear that His mission was one of revelation:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.

God has always been in the process of revealing Himself, and does so in multiple ways, including the very act of creation:

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.

Along my earthly journey, I have been ever-grateful to live in our current period of human history. Despite the doom and gloom peddled in the media, we live in a period of human history that is unprecedented with regard to low levels of extreme poverty, disease, starvation, war, violence, and high levels of education and safety across the globe compared with any other period of history. Humanity is in a very different chapter of the Great Story, and I believe God is revealed very differently in our world than in Moses’ day.

The basic dance remains the same. God revealing, inviting, drawing in. Me asking, seeking, knocking, humbly accepting, and receiving.

I’m glad it no longer requires a plague of locusts. In my quiet time this morning I’m praying for those who are actively trying to help the people of Africa to minimize the damage and for those who are suffering because of it.

Chapter-a-Day John 9

David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre ...
David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre Tchaikowsky for Yorick's skull in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” John 9:39 (NLT)

Wendy and I love Shakespeare, and we love to see Shakespeare staged whether it’s our local Pella Shakespeare Company‘s performance in the park or the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. One of the things that I’ve learned in watching the Bard’s work is that you always want to pay particular attention to the fool. The fool is never quite as foolish as you think he is, and quite often the fool winds up confounding the wise.

That’s why I’ve always loved today’s chapter. It has all the qualities of a great Shakespearean scene. On one side we have the wise, learned, pompous religious leaders with all of their power, wealth and education. Before them stands a lowly, poor, once blind beggar who is not the fool they think he is. Jesus gave physical sight to the blind fool so that the spiritual blindness of those who claim to see could be revealed. That’s great drama.

This morning I’m chewing on the reality that Jesus, while repeatedly reminding his followers that they were not to judge anyone, continually explained that He came to judge. I find that we love Jesus the lover and healer, but no one really wants much to do with Jesus the Righteous Judge. Today’s chapter reminds me that Jesus not only came to give sight to the blind, but to judge those who think they see for their spiritual blindness. Jesus said He came to both save and condemn. One without the other makes for both a boring story and a weak character.