Category Archives: Historical Jesus

Jesus Behaving Badly

2466I like Mr. Rogers. He no doubt revealed more of Christ in his neighborhood than many evangelicals do today. But Mark Strauss says that Jesus isn’t a Mr. Rogers lookalike or the warm fuzzies, flannelgraph Jesus.

Mark Strauss (Ph.D. University of Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego. He is the author of several books including Four Portraits, One Jesus (2007) and commentaries on Mark’s Gospel in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series and Expositor’s Series. He is also the associate editor for the NIV Study Bible.

In his latest book, Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (IVP Books-Sept 2015), Mark sets out to reveal Jesus of Nazareth in all of his complexities, paradoxes, and tensions.

Echoing the refrain of Albert Schweitzer (Quest of the Historical Jesus), Mark says that we must resist the temptation to fashion Jesus into our own image or into what we’d like him to be, ignoring the parts that we don’t like or those bits we simply don’t get. It’s all or nothing when it comes to Jesus.

The book suggests that we often overlook that Jesus was judgmental, provocative, chauvinistic, racist, anti-environmental, and angry.

Or so it would seem without understanding his first-century context and the manner and method of Jesus in light of his own situation.

Mark writes:

So when  we observe Jesus’ apparent bad behavior with reference to slaves or family values or the death of pigs or the cursing of fig trees, we are asked to view him as he is, not as we wish he were–not as someone with twenty-first century sensibilities toward equality or the environment. We may not always be happy with the results, and we probably shouldn’t be. Ultimately we have to decide if we are going to sit in judgment on Jesus or listen and learn from him. (pg. 14)

In 12 chapters and exactly 200 pages, Mark addresses the following:

  1. Everybody Likes Jesus
  2. Revolutionary or Pacifist?
  3. Angry or Loving?
  4. Environmentalist or Earth Scorcher?
  5. Legalist or Grace Filled?
  6. Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd?
  7. Antifamily or Family Friendly?
  8. Racist or Inclusivist?
  9. Sexist or Egalitarian?
  10. Was Jesus Anti-Semitic?
  11. Failed Prophet or Victorious King?
  12. Decaying Corpse or Resurrected Lord?

While this book is for popular reading, it will not disappoint.

Jesus Behaving Badly looks at some of the puzzling and seemingly offensive things Jesus said and did, and tries to make sense of them. What we just might find is that when Jesus is at his most difficult, he is also at his most profound. (pg. 14)

Is your church dealing with any of these concerns? Want to read the book in a class or a small group? Well, there are discussion questions for that!

I had a brief conversation with Mark a few years ago at SBL in Atlanta. He is not only a scholar within historical Jesus studies, he is a pastor as well. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I’ll never forget the interest he took in my family and his sincere encouragement to me in life and ministry. He is a living example of a disciple who is holding the academy and the church together.

That’s why I’m happy not only to recommend this book, but also to suggest you get to know Mark better by reading all of his works.

Want a good book for Christmas? This one will do.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

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The Unseen Wrath of God (Divine Justice in a Culture of Miscreants)

underwater-jesusI’m not a Christian fundamentalist. I’m not a conservative fundamentalist or a progressive (liberal) fundamentalist. I try to be very intentional about that. I increasingly see the problems with the attitudes and biblical interpretations of both my conservative and progressive brothers and sisters on a range of theological and political issues.

I survey my Facebook newsfeed and see the stuff coming from my conservative and progressive friends and I’m like, “Say what? Huh? Seriously? You believe that? Are you reading your Bible? What about this other verse? Jesus said more than that. C’mon, really?” (facepalm)  Jesus, where are you in this mess?

I’m active, but I’m not a hipster activist. I don’t think I have to weigh in publicly on every hot button social issue. I don’t think my opinion is that important, nor do I think it matters as much as my ego would have me believe some days. I don’t want to add to the noise. (sigh) Really, I don’t.

One of the reasons I continue to blog, for now, is that people tell me all the time how I write what they feel but have trouble expressing. So it appears that I’m connecting with an overlooked audience. If I can be a voice for the voiceless and encourage others, I’ll keep sharing my views via the blogosphere.

It’s unfortunate that the voices in the middle often get drowned out in the debates between polarizing extremes. The pendulum swings back and forth, and I’d like to think I see this happening most of the time. I’m trying.

My sincere desire is to help call us back to the center.

While I often question the effectiveness of posting anything to the web, especially on social media, I do feel that I have a responsibility as a pastor to people and a teacher of the Scriptures to bring clarity, if possible, in an effort to encourage and challenge the church where I see it’s needed, knowing full well that it’s the Spirit that changes us. I’m just a conduit of God’s grace.

For me, that often means addressing neglected or misrepresented theological and biblical issues, even if it’s a bit risky in doing so. I think it comes with the pastoral territory. It’s also part of the prophetic ministry.

We’re looking for faithful followers of Christ, not nice comfy fans.

God Doesn’t Freak Out, But He Is Concerned

In response to the recent SCOTUS decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the progressive blogger Benjamin Corey posted on how God isn’t freaking out.

It’s clear that Corey is trying to challenge the conservative fundamentalists who think God’s wrath is about to be unleashed, as if all of the other American atrocities haven’t been enough to trigger it. He makes an excellent point.

It’s true. God looks like Jesus, not Zeus.

I’ve sat down face-to-face and listened to Corey’s heart for the church at a joint in PA. He is an extremely nice guy. That doesn’t always come through on his blog. While I don’t agree with all of his positions, like celebrating the SCOTUS decision as progress, I’d like to simply respond to what I sense is the theological pendulum swinging too far to the left to make his point.

In this case, you might read Corey’s post, and others like it, as saying Jesus has done away with wrath altogether (i.e. if it hasn’t come yet, it never will). Maybe he doesn’t think that, but you could be led to believe it. So let me respond to the biblical “wrath” idea, because I think it’s too often misunderstood.

To be clear, this isn’t about my brother, Ben. It’s about the biblical concept of wrath. Please allow me to challenge the thinking that there is no such thing.

The Way Wrath Really Works

Regardless of what you think about the SCOTUS decision, I’d like to try and bring some clarity and balance as it pertains to God’s wrath, in light of Christ and the NT. For what it’s worth, here is how I understand it.

Jesus’ central message was about the coming Kingdom–salvation of sinners, release for the captives, sight for the blind, the year of favor and blessing (Matt 4:17; Lk 4:14-20). He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it, welcoming all those who would believe (Jn 3:16-17). Good news, right?

He showed outrageous love and mercy to the worst of the Jewish community, and taught us to do the same for Romans (Gentiles). God then extends his agape fellowship to the whole world–initiated with Abraham, made evident in Jesus, to be lived out by his church. That’s the story in a nutshell.

As so far as he is quoted in the gospels, the Jewish Jesus reserves judgment and “wrath” language for Jewish religious skeptics and hypocrites (Matt 23:13; Lk 10:13). This ought to be sobering for all of us who count ourselves among the “chosen” and elect of God. His harshest words are for the religious.

But did you catch that? Jesus’ primary audience was Jewish. He even said that his ministry was to the children of Israel (Matt 15:23). So, Jesus isn’t interacting much with Gentiles, certainly not with all of the particular vices common among them, including homosexuality.

Yes, that’s why, “Jesus doesn’t say a word about it.” It wasn’t an issue among religious Jews. It was clear and settled for them. But he did talk about the original design for sexuality and marriage (Matt 19:1-12), and its eschatological trajectory (Mk 12:25). It’s his Kingdom effect on human sexuality.

Jesus referred back to what God intended before the Law, allowances, concessions, and “no fault” divorce, before humanity brought on confusion caused by rebelling against the good order of God, and then he pointed us forward. It’s his love his way that truly wins.

Now back to wrath.

Jesus said some tough things that are not politically correct, nor do they sit well with our individualistic, post-modern, nice, therapeutic, new-age spirituality that’s so prevalent today. Have we really accepted this? He said there will be sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). At the end of human history, some will be turned away for not being true followers (Matt 7:22-23).

I’d call that “wrath.”  This is Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s deal with it.

The OT presented shadows of God. Christ in the NT is the reality (Col 2:17). We know what God is really like by looking long and hard at this Jesus—the Jesus who does warn of a final judgment. There’s no way around it, folks.

And we can’t leave out John’s depiction of Jesus in Revelation. Here we have an apocalyptic vision of Jesus judging the nations by the power of his word (Rev 19:15). He merely sorts it all out in the end by the word of his mouth.

In the meantime, something that often goes “unseen” is happening to evildoers.

Let’s consider Paul’s words about “wrath” in Romans 1:18-32. Look at verses 18 and 24. How does Paul describe God’s wrath in his context?

Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” (v.18) and a few verses later says, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (v.24 – italics mine).

Paul says wrath is indeed being revealed. How is this happening?

According to Jesus and Paul, it’s built into the very system of creation and fall. Wrath is revealed as people get their way and do their own thing to the point of consequence. No fireballs from heaven. No divine warrior or butt-kicking stuff. Just sowing and reaping.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Paul, Gal 6:-7-8).

Greg Boyd describes it as God’s “boomerang justice” or us getting what is coming to us. Hindus call it karma, the Scripture calls it wrath. It’s the great cosmic equalizer. It’s God’s universe correcting itself.

Therefore, Paul can say that God gives people over to their sin in order to experience the natural consequences of exchanging the glory of God for lies of the devil and the flesh. He means to say that indulging in and celebrating sinful behaviors as a society and culture is in and of itself revealing (in time) the wrath of God. We sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).

The wrath doesn’t always come immediately, it comes slowly and is perpetuated by more evil that in time brings about hell on earth—chaos, destruction, and ultimately death. Whether it be slavery or sexual licentiousness, if not repented of, it leads to more evil. The “wrath” that follows is part of God’s divine program, if you will, coded into his good creation, working to self-correct.

We call it “God’s wrath” because it’s his holy programming, his divine laws, his order to the cosmos. He wired it that way, so he takes full responsibility.

An Invitation to Enter Grace

God’s grace to us is that Jesus absorbs the wrath of the system that we violated. The full consequences of our sin have fallen on him, because he chose it. He took our sins to the cross, then the grave, and set us free in his resurrection triumph. We broke his world, but he is fixing it.

The NT does not teach that we’re being saved from God, as if the Father is someone other than the Son revealed in Jesus (Jn 14:9), but instead from the wrath we essentially store up for ourselves as a result of our own rebellion against the Creator of everything, who knows better than we do.

Therefore, the invitation is to come into this Christ, to be safe and secure from all alarm, and to join him as agents of new creation. This is what God’s grace affords us! We weren’t meant to be objects of wrath, but persons of his love and affection. We were made in his image to reflect his glory into the earth, and then back to himself in worship and holy living.

To my conservative friends, if we take Jesus seriously, we need to see that God is not going after anyone with bloodthirsty vengeance. And to my progressive friends, you’re right to speak that message, but please don’t gloss over passages that bother you. To suggest such a thing is to remove any need for repentance, discipleship, and the gift we have in Christ. Let Jesus be Jesus.

Finally, I thank God for his grace received through repentance, the only way to escape the wrath we all deserve. For followers of Christ, that “wrath” meets grace and is experienced as loving discipline. For all scoffers in the culture who spurn God’s good will for human flourishing, his love will in time no doubt be experienced as wrath, in one form or another.

As long as we’re alive we can know for sure that there is hope for all of us miscreants, in this life and the next. I pray that we all will step into that costly grace and find the peace that the church and the world so desperately needs.

Shalom.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


The Resurrection of Jesus (Sermon)

Hello blog readers, I hope everyone had a blessed Easter Week 2014. Ours couldn’t have been better.

If you’re still hungry for more resurrection, I have written and posted on the resurrection of Jesus a few times over the years here at the blog.

In case you missed those posts, you may want to check them out:

This past Sunday I preached an Easter message based on research I presented in a previous article, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The sermon was entitled: Encountering God in the Resurrection of Jesus.

You may also be interested in hearing Greg Boyd’s recent sermon Resurrection Principle at Woodland Hills, and Mike Licona’s thought-provoking message Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? delivered to a church in Alabama.

If you’d like to hear a recent academic lecture, listen to William Lane Craig on Objective Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus at Yale University.

Looking for some books and/or videos on the subject?

  • The Case for the Historical Resurrection by Habermas & Licona
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
  • The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
  • Resurrection (IVP DVD) by N.T. Wright
  • Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? (Ignatius Press DVD)

The Lord has risen!

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Anabaptism 101 (Sermon Series)

Hello blog readers!

This past Sunday I finished preaching through an exciting 6-week sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101 at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) in Virginia, where I’ve been pastoring since the first of the year.

The series focuses on the historical roots and current convictions of Anabaptism. As many of you know, I didn’t grow up within an Anabaptist tradition. And since half our congregation didn’t grow up Anabaptist, this sermon series seemed like a good place to begin as pastor.

 

Here is a brief outline of each message in the series:

  1. Beginning of a Movement—A general overview of key persons, events, and issues that led to the “radical” 16th century Anabaptist movement. What does “Anabaptist” mean? Where does the name “Mennonite” come from? Where is Anabaptism going today?
  2. Radical Discipleship—The Anabaptist view of discipleship in detail. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Did Jesus really expect us to follow his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is so different about the Anabaptist view versus the popular evangelical view?
  3. Word Made Flesh—The Anabaptist view of the authority of Scripture, and a Christo-centric hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Old Testament. Do Anabaptists hold a high view of Scripture? What is so different about the Anabaptist view of Scripture versus the popular evangelical view?
  4. Church as Kingdom Community—The Anabaptists saw the church as a missional, counter-cultural family of Kingdom citizens. What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? What is the meaning of communion? Why live a simple life? What does it mean to embrace “the other”?
  5. The Politics of Jesus—The most controversial and oft-misunderstood aspect of Anabaptism: non-violence and the politics of Jesus. In what ways did Jesus resist empire? How far do Anabaptists take Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation? How do Anabaptists understand church & state? How subversive is the NT?
  6. Triumph of the Lamb—Answers to the most common objections concerning the non-violence of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus come to bring a sword? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords? Finally, does the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation contradict the Jesus of the Gospels? How will the way of the crucified Lamb conquer evil in the end?

You can download and listen to each message by visiting our sermon archive. We will be archiving all sermons on the new church website once it is up and running. Please stay tuned for that.

There was Q&A after each message, but you can only hear it following the Triumph of the Lamb. Our small groups are going through The Naked Anabaptist for further discussion and study. If you’re looking for a good overview of Anabaptism, or Neo-Anabaptism, check out Murray’s book.

If you have questions or comments, please let me hear them here at the blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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