December 29, 2012


Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Genesis,Bible - OT - Isaiah :: Permalink

Isaiah 56 describes the good news of coming salvation in terms of the inclusion of eunuchs in the house of God.  Formerly, they were excluded from the assembly of Yahweh; they could not draw near to God (Deut 23:1).  But why were they excluded?

As with many other exclusions from the assembly — for instance, the exclusion of those who have an emission or who have touched someone who is dead — the reason is symbolic, symbolic of something in the Old Creation so that when Christ comes and we enter the New Creation these exclusions no longer apply.  Death results from sin, and if you touch someone dead it spreads so that you yourself are symbolically dead, and you may not bring that stench of death-as-a-result-of-man’s-sin into God’s presence.  So too with the eunuch.

What is a eunuch?  A eunuch is a man who is physically unable to beget, a man who by reason of damage to his organs of generation barren and fruitless.  His fruitlessness symbolizes those who do not bear fruit to God’s glory, and, as Jesus teaches, those who do not bear fruit will be cut off and burned (John 15).

But now associate that with Mark 11:12ff. and the cursing of the fig tree.  In my previous blog entry, I noted that Jesus, in his temple action, quotes from Isaiah 56 about his house becoming a house of prayer for all nations.  This is not a statement about how it was always supposed to be, but about the salvation that was still future in Isaiah’s day.  And Jesus makes it clear that that time of salvation is now here.  But the context in Isaiah 56 also talks about the eunuch who is not to see himself as a withered tree.  The fig tree that represents the fruitless temple and those who take refuge in it withers under Jesus’ curse, but when Jesus comes, eunuchs are no longer fruitless; they may enter God’s house and have a fruit better than sons and daughters and a name that will never die.

One step further: What’s the first reference to fig trees in the Bible?  Genesis 3, where Adam and Woman sew fig leaves into garments with which they hide their genitals from each other.  (Not from God: When he comes, they want something bigger to hide behind and so they hide behind the trees of the Garden.)  Specifically, then, the first appearance of fig leaves is as garments that cover the source of man and woman’s fruitfulness.

The temple and those who use it as their hideout have fig leaves but no fruitfulness toward God.  They are Adam and Woman, covering their fruitlessness.  But Jesus exposes their fruitlessness.  They are eunuchs who are banned from His house.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:18 pm | Discuss (0)

Withered Trees … and Unwithered

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Isaiah :: Permalink

I have read many, many commentaries on Mark 11:12ff. All of them mention that Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” But none of them mention what is in the context.

They focus on the “all nations” and point out that the “son of a foreigner” will be welcome in the temple (Isa 56:3a, 6-8).  But in the same context, we have this: “Let not the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a withered tree'” (Isa 56:3b).  In the Septuagint, the Greek word translated withered here is exactly the same word that Mark uses in this context to describe the fig tree that Jesus curses.

He sandwiches Jesus’ temple action between two accounts of that fig tree — the cursing and the result — so that we will read what Jesus does in the temple in light of what he does to the fig tree and vice versa.  The temple that rejects Jesus and has become a hideout for robbers is a barren, fruitless fig tree and Jesus’ curse will make it wither.  But the eunuch who trusts in Jesus is not withered; he’s fruitful, and he will have a place in Jesus’ house and an everlasting name that will not be cut off (Isa 56:4-5).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:59 pm | Discuss (0)
December 28, 2012

Ephemeral Inheritance

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

A book is a gift that keeps on giving.  If you write a book and have it published, it has a certain weightiness to it; it ends up (you hope) in someone’s library; it gets passed on to someone’s children.  Maybe — just maybe — it becomes a classic.  But even if it doesn’t, it may still influence generations to come.  I hope that happens, for instance, to Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes.  How awful if that were forgotten by the next generation.

Blogging, however, isn’t nearly as weighty or as lasting.  When I am dead, will someone collect all of my blog entries and pass them on to my children and they to theirs?  Never mind me.  My thoughts may not be worth collecting.  What about Peter Leithart?  There’s gold in his blog entries, of which he sometimes turns out two or three a day.  Some of them will show up in books, and for that I’m thankful because that form of publication will give them longer life.  But will the individual blog entries last into coming generations?  I doubt it.

Facebook and Twitter?  They’re useful tools.  You can draft a sentence or two and send it out and find out immediately that a bunch of your friends have read it and liked it, and God may use that to influence a lot of people in good ways.  But they’re ephemeral in the extreme.  Ever remembered something one of your friends said and then tried to track it down?  Even if you remember who said it, good luck finding it on his Facebook page.  It’s not that sort of medium.  Nothing in it lasts into the future.  Except those embarrassing photos someone tagged you in.

By all means post helpful comments in your Facebook status or Tweet a sentence you’ve just read.  But if you want your thoughts to last a bit longer and for people to be able to find them again, don’t shut down your blog (as some people seem to have).  And if you want your thoughts to be preserved for future generations, there’s still no substitute for a book.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:58 pm | Discuss (1)

Preaching the Text or Preaching the Event?

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

When you’re preaching the narratives in Scripture — and this is particularly true when you’re preaching the Gospels — you have to answer the question: Am I preaching a particular text or am I preaching the event described in that text?

Here’s what I mean: At a certain point in his earthly ministry, just as he leaves Bethany one day on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus sends two men out to get a colt for him to ride on.  That’s an event and it is recorded in all four Gospels.

But it isn’t recorded in exactly the same way; it’s not as if Mark, Luke, and John all say what Matthew says, word for word.  Rather, each evangelist tells the story in his own way.  Matthew and John cite Zechariah 9:9, which speaks of the king coming to Zion, lowly and riding on a donkey, but Mark and Luke don’t.  Matthew tells you that the disciples brought two animals, a donkey and its colt, but the other evangelists mention only the colt, and Mark and Luke don’t even indicate that the colt was a donkey (which, I submit, suggests that they expect you to know that from reading Matthew).  Mark and Luke make the point that the colt must be one on which no one has ever ridden, but Matthew doesn’t say that.  Mark says that the crowds shouted a welcome to the kingdom of David, but the others don’t; Luke says that they shouted “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” but the others don’t.   And there are a host of other differences, too.

So what do you do when you preach this passage?  One approach is to preach the event, perhaps attempting to include (and harmonize) all the details from all four Gospels.  The event actually happened and all the details of it (though accepting that the various details do harmonize and being able to show that they do are two different things).

This is sometimes a valuable thing to do.  For instance, in John’s Gospel Jesus comes to the temple and overturns tables and drives out the sacrificial animals, and he does something similar in the other three Gospels.  But there is a huge difference.  John is describing an event that takes place early in Jesus’ ministry, but the other three Gospels report something that happened just before the cross.  For a number of reasons, I take these to be two distinct events, one at the beginning and one at the end of Jesus’ ministry.  No one Gospel reports both, but it wouldn’t be improper for a pastor to preach a sermon on both texts, perhaps showing how Jesus inspects the temple twice, just as a leprous house is inspected twice in Leviticus.

Preaching the event in that way has its place, just as a topical or thematic sermon has its place (e.g., a sermon on infant baptism that draws on a number of texts). It seems to me that this is what Klaas Schilder does in the meditations (not sermons) in his magnificent Christ in His Sufferings trilogy, often with breathtaking results.   But here’s the problem: A sermon like that — preaching the event of the “triumphal entry” — isn’t preaching what any one Gospel actually says.

By trying to focus on the event and drawing in all the details from all the Gospels, such a sermon fails to say what a particular Gospel says.  Matthew has a reason for drawing attention to Zechariah 9:9, but Mark and Luke have a reason not to.  Mark is interested in Jesus as the son of David and his kingdom being the restored Davidic kingdom, but that’s not Luke’s point; Luke is interested in showing how the crowds shouted something similar to (and yet different from) what the angels shouted when they appeared to the shepherd, but that’s not John’s point.  Each one is doing his own thing, drawing attention to one detail or another in order to make his own point, and if you preach the event, you miss that distinctiveness.

That said, there’s also a ditch on the other side, namely, preaching one particular text while ignoring what other texts about the same event say.  And so I read commentaries on Mark 11:1-11 that say, for instance, that the colt could have been a horse.  Not according to Matthew.  Or they say that it wasn’t the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” and later on “Crucify him” because the ones shouting “Hosanna” were the Galilean pilgrims traveling with Jesus and the ones who shouted “Crucify him” later were the people of Jerusalem.  Except that where Mark tells us the people traveling with Jesus shouted “Hosanna,” John 12 says that there was a crowd shouting the same thing that came from Jerusalem to meet Jesus — and some of them may have been shouting “Crucify” later.  (Mind you, so may the Galilean pilgrims who traveled with Jesus, since, after all, they were still in Jerusalem at that time!).  I read a commentary last night that talked as if these acclamations were offensive to Jesus, but Luke 19 says that Jesus refused to rebuke the crowds and told the Pharisees that if they kept silent even the stones would cry out, which certainly doesn’t sound like disapproval.  In each of these cases, it appears that commentators have so focused on Mark that they have forgotten that Mark is describing an event and that he isn’t the only one to do so.

Now it’s not necessary for your sermon to include everything the other accounts say.  If you’re preaching Mark 11, you don’t have to mention what John 12 says about there being a crowd coming from Jerusalem to meet Jesus or what Matthew 21 says about the colt and its mother being brought to Jesus.  You may simply talk about the crowd with Jesus and the colt.  But you do have to avoid saying something in your sermon on Mark 11 that would contradict those other passages.

Preaching the event is certainly permissible, sometimes particularly valuable.  But it isn’t the same thing as preaching the text with its distinctive focus.  And on the other hand, preaching the text allows you to say what the Spirit inspired a particular author to write, but it isn’t helpful if it focuses on the text to the exclusion of the actual event and the other accounts of it.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:36 pm | Discuss (0)
December 21, 2012

Isn’t Jesus’ Love Enough?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Marriage :: Permalink

This morning, I read most of Justin Buzzard’s little book, Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide.  The title is somewhat misleading — very little of the book is really about having a “date” with your wife — and I have some quibbles about certain aspects of the content (religion vs. Christianity), but there’s some good, practical, and gospel-grounded stuff here.  I could say more, but this isn’t a book review and I have something else on my mind.

The foreword to the book is by Tullian Tchividjian and it contains a line that made me raise my eyebrows.  Here it is in context:

I enjoy receiving love from my wife.  I’m ecstatic when Kim loves me and expresses affection toward me.  Something in me comes alive when she does that.  But I’ve learned this freeing truth: I don’t need that love, because in Jesus I receive all the love I need.  This in turn liberates me to love her without apprehension or condition.  I get to revel in her enjoyment of my love without needing anything from her in return.  I get love from Jesus so that I can give love to her (10-11).

The line in question is in the middle of that paragraph: “I don’t need that love” — the love of a wife — “because in Jesus I receive all the love I need.”  At first, that sounds right.  Jesus is all we need, isn’t he?  If we have him, we have everything.  Doesn’t Paul say “For me to live is Christ”?

And yet here’s what raises a question in my mind.  In the beginning, on the sixth day, God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes the Spirit into his nostrils and Adam becomes a living soul.  God then plants a garden in Eden and puts Adam into it.  This is not Adam’s garden; it is God’s garden, God’s sanctuary, and Adam is there as a priest to tend and guard it (language associated with priests later in Scripture).  God speaks to Adam and gives him permission to eat from every tree in God’s garden, with the exception of one.

But then God says something that ought to surprise us more than it does: “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”  How was Adam alone?  Didn’t he have fellowship with God?  Of course he did!  Isn’t that fellowship enough?  Apparently not.  Shouldn’t Adam have said “I don’t need a wife (or her love or anything from her) because I have God (and His love) and that’s enough to meet all my needs”?  No. Adam had fellowship with God, but he also needed a wife.  And he needed a wife, not an angel, not an animal, but also not a male buddy or a female friend; he needed a wife, someone who was bound together with him, one flesh with him.

Of course, Jesus’ love for us is the foundation of all our blessings.  Certainly Jesus’ love empowers a man to love his wife, even when she isn’t lovely or isn’t loving him in return.  But a man who has Jesus and in him has fellowship with God still needs other people.  It is not good for him to be alone.  And it’s right for him to say to his wife, “I need you.”

Posted by John Barach @ 2:33 pm | Discuss (5)