Archive for December, 2009

“Jesus Never Talked About X”

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

So, Jesus was a Jew.  He didn’t come to begin a religion; he came as the culmination of the Old Testament, in its prophecies & promises.

With that in mind, does anybody really think Jesus had to repeat everything from the Old Testament in his teachings–or we can dismiss it?  That would be a pretty odd expectation.

And yet, modern religious discussion seems to have a new trump-card:  ”Jesus never talked about ______.”  If Jesus never talked about [insert traditional/conservative/disliked belief], then supposedly it has no place in true Christianity–it’s just man-made.  (The argument also has a more reasonable form, which I’ll talk about below–but first I want to look at the dismissive form.)

It might be used against any view seen as “traditional”–anything part of widespread assumptions about Christianity.  As an experiment, I googled “Jesus never talked about”.  Six of the first ten results were on homosexuality.  Another says that all sex-related rules are just man-made.  (That one’s odd, since Jesus did talk about sexual morals.)  Another says that Paul can’t be legit, because Jesus never talked about him.  I tried again, excluding “homosexuality” from the results, and came up with:  Original sin, “saying The Prayer”/”becoming a Christian”/”salvation”, legislating morality, and purgatory.

The Problems

Does anyone really think that if Jesus didn’t explicitly, directly mention something, it’s not sin? Did he talk about rape?  Child abuse?  Did he mention the common infanticide practiced in the Roman Empire?  Did he mention bestiality?

We know he spoke about murder, and sexual immorality in general.  But we don’t know that he ever mentioned these.  Does that mean he condoned them?

So where does this thinking go wrong?

The first problem:  The written gospel accounts don’t pretend to record everything Jesus said.  We can’t say, “Jesus never mentioned X.”  We can only say, “The gospel writers didn’t include anything about it.”  Each gospel writer included and emphasized different portions of Jesus’ teaching; they don’t claim to include all of it. (On the contrary.)

Even if Jesus himself actually did directly mention every moral issue during his time on earth, we don’t have everything he said.

The second problem: Red-letter Christianity.

Sometimes, modern printings of the Bible put the words of Jesus in red letters.  And some people view the red letters as the only part that’s really Scripture, really God’s word.  Oddly, people will reject Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures.  He appealed to the Old Testament as the word of God; he affirmed Moses and the Psalms and the prophets.  They spoke by the Spirit of God–the same Spirit by whom the apostles & prophets of the New Testament spoke.

If you try to separate Jesus from the Scriptures, reading only the red letters, you can’t get very far.  You have to excise all the red letters that talk about Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  (That’s exactly what Marcion tried to do.)

And that takes us back to the third problem: Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion.  He’s not dropping in out of the blue and starting with a blank slate.  Jesus is a Jew; Christianity continues & builds on Judaism.  And according to Jesus, he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

Jesus’ birth in Israel wasn’t an accident of history.  He’s not a moral teacher who just happened to appear in Israel, and when he spoke about the Law he wasn’t simply commenting on the prevailing morality of his surroundings–he certainly wasn’t affirming some and discarding the rest.  (It’s not as though he set out to ratify the valid parts of Old Testament morality and ignore the parts he didn’t like.)  The Law was from the Father, with whom Jesus is one.  When he criticized the prevailing morality, it was because they departed from the Law for the sake of man-made traditions.  But the Law itself was the word of God.

If we take Jesus in the gospels seriously, we have to take the rest of the Bible seriously.  Jesus, the Word of God, affirmed Scripture as the word of God.  You can’t separate its teachings from his.

On The Other Hand…

More reasonably, “Jesus never mentioned ___” does raise a question about importance and emphasis.  It’s silly to assume that Jesus mentioned every moral issue and theological truth, but he did specifically teach about his purpose in coming, the kingdom of God, and the central meaning of the gospel.  So it seems reasonable to expect that the main things would show up coming from Jesus himself.

It’s a slippery question, but at least it raises food for thought.

Aside from that, the criticisms people are making might still be valid, even though “Jesus never mentioned X” is a bad argument.  Going back to the list from Google, I certainly agreed with some of the critiques–against purgatory, against some forms of legislating morality, against “praying-the-prayer”-as-magical-words-that-grant-eternal-security.

But to make a valid critique on anything, you need a lot more than this argument from Jesus’ supposed silence.

To Sum It Up

Saying “Jesus never talked about ____” isn’t a good trump card.  It doesn’t do much, though it can raise food for thought.

“Jesus Didn’t Come to Start A Religion”, or “Jesus is a Jew.”

Friday, December 25th, 2009

“[The mystery] was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3:5-6

If you say, “Jesus didn’t come to start a religion,” where do you put the emphasis?

Usually, people put the emphasis on “religion”.

  1. They might be saying, “I think he was just a good moral teacher”. (In which case they have to disagree with much of what he taught about himself, or dismiss the idea that he really said any of it.)
  2. Or they might be evangelical Christians using some form of the saying, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”  (And that saying can be either helpful or inane, depending on how you flesh it out.)

Today, on Christmas, I want to put the emphasis on “start”.  Jesus didn’t come to startnew religion.

Jesus is Jewish.  The Messiah.  Jesus came to inaugurate the new covenant–hinted at in the Torah, foreshadowed in the Psalms, promised in the prophets.  He came to live the life we couldn’t and die our death so we needn’t.  He came to reveal–in the flesh–the mystery of how the Jews would be a blessing and a light to the nations.

Today, we should remember–not the beginning of a religion, but its continuation and gracious expansion.  Today, we celebrate Jesus, our foundation, the cornerstone of inclusion:  The inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant of the promise made long ago by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Today, we remember how we Gentiles are grafted in, becoming children of Abraham, God’s chosen people.

Today, we remember:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Communion: Discerning The Body

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I led communion at my church, Hope Chapel of Austin, TX.  It was an honor and a responsibility, and I’m very happy that Pastor Geno entrusted me with it.

I think it went well.  It was both easy and difficult to prepare.  Easy, because of some excellent sermons & commentary on the Lord’s Supper that were percolating in my brain.  Difficult, to condense it to a concise, clear reflection.  The material on it in 1 Corinthians 10-11 is fairly rich, and I couldn’t begin to do it justice in 5 minutes.  I focused on an element that has not been emphasized, in my past church experience:  How communion relates to community and love and relationship, and what it means to examine ourselves.

There was so much more, though.  I’d like to do a series of posts expanding on it, from the gospel accounts and from more of 1 Corinthians.  I’ll try to get it done during the month of December.

You can listen to or download the recording at our sermon archive, if you’d like.  Or, here’s the transcript.  Also, here’s the short description from the archive:

What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body? The answer is rooted in Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice–and in the gathered church as the body of Christ. We unite in love to participate in Christ, proclaiming the gospel and showing its power.

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Good morning, Hope Chapel, my name is Tim Margheim.  Please hold the elements until we all partake together.  If you’re a guest, know we invite all Christians to join with us.  Parents, we leave it to you to determine whether your children are ready to participate.

Today I’d like to speak from 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s discussion of communion, in order to draw out something that wasn’t often emphasized about the Lord’s Supper, in my upbringing.

We know that the Lord’s Supper is a thing of joy and grace.  But Paul wrote in disappointment with the church in Corinth, saying, “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.”  They were taking this meal in a way that turned it from a blessing to a curse.  He cautioned them, saying,

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

So Paul is concerned about the way we approach the Lord’s Supper.  What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body?

The more familiar part of the answer is that we should take the meal seriously, remembering Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, in our place, for our sins.  And judging ourselves rightly means that we know we can’t make ourselves worthy.  He didn’t say, “Only come if your life is where God wants it to be,” or “if you pray enough”, or “if you read your Bible enough”, or “if you’ve done enough good deeds”. There is a worthy manner of celebrating, with humble, repentant awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  But we come depending on God’s gift, in the middle of our failures.  This is the gospel, the central meaning of the Supper.

But it might be less familiar that Paul’s main criticism was about the way they were treating each other.  He said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” and “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you”.  Some ate full meals while others went hungry.  Paul asked, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”  They came together, but they came divisively.

In this light, what does it mean to examine ourselves and “discern the body”?

In the fall, our elder Cotton Hance pointed out a double-meaning in the phrase, “discern the body”: On the one hand, there’s Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice.  On the other hand, we are the body.  And when they came divisively, they twisted the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

If we remember the work of Christ to save us, we should remember what he saved us for.  He died, not just to save us as individuals from hell, but also to bring us together into a family.  He says “discern the body”, and in the very next chapter he says that we are one body, with many members.  That we need each other, and are called into the most excellent way of love–the love of the Spirit, by which all the world will see that we are Christ’s disciples.  We’re called to be servants, opening our lives and surrendering our time, allowing God to knit us together in true relationship–not just here on Sunday, but throughout each week, in Hope groups, in phone calls, in meetings in coffee shops, in inviting each other into our homes to share meals. This love, this community, where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world, is intended to be a light of hope, both proclaiming the gospel and showing its power, to a broken world of sinners in desperate need of salvation.

So now, having come together, let us examine ourselves.  Let us be one, in humble repentance, remembering the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, and rejoicing in the gift of his work among us.  Let’s pray.

Father, we receive, and we thank you for your work among us.  Please Father, continue your work of love.  Give us the peace and freedom of loving each other well.  Help us not to keep records of wrongs, and forgive us for sometimes failing each other, and give us hope for new change.  May we approach this meal today with love, and with openness, and with reverence; it is Christ’s body and blood, for us.  And may we approach our relationships with one other with something of the same importance, because together, we are Christ’s body.  May our lives display the work of your love, and may the world see Christ in us.  May we be quick to speak the words of life, the words of good news, calling the world to repent and receive this gift.   May we have the joy of baptizing many into the body of Christ, to be part of your family, adopted through Jesus.  And Father, may every celebration of this table be a renewal and a reminder and a proclamation of all the grace and peace and truth and love that is in Christ.  In the name of Jesus, as his body, by his work, we pray, amen.

So let us eat together, from Christ’s body, broken on the Cross for us.

And let us take the cup together, and drink from Christ’s blood, the new covenant with God, poured out for our sins.