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Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XI–“Come to me, . . . and I will give you rest”

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XI–“Come to me, . . . and I will give you rest”.”

See also:

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The disciple is not bereft of consolation from Christ in the midst of the fierce battle against evil that precedes the full coming of the kingdom.  There is joy in the forgiveness of sins that comes from Him, and Him alone.  There is joy in serving Him accoring to His will.

In Matthew, and only in Matthew, are “the comfortable words” (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, p.76) of Jesus:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28 ESV)  These words are employed in a hymn written by Horatio Bonar, set to a tune by sixteenth century English composer, Thomas Tallis, “I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say.”

At the center of the maelstrom that is the world the disciple finds comfort in His relationship with Christ.  The heavy laden disciple is invited to rest in Christ.  Then Jesus continues: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Mattrhew 11: 29 ESV)  The disciple is heavy laden, but Christ gives rest; Christ places a yoke on us, but despite the yoke the disciple will yet find rest.

How can this be?  Matthew 23 may give us more insight.  The Greek word for burden in its nominal and verbal forms is rarely used in the New Testament   In Matthew it occurs in Chapters 11 and 23.  In Matthew 23 Jesus delivers sharp criticism of the scribes and Pharisees.  He instructs the disciples and the crowd to follow what the leaders say but not what they do.  The Lord finds in them a contradiction in what they preach and practice. One must practice what he preaches.  It is in this chapter that Jesus again uses the word for burden.  The Jewish leaders burden the people with heavy burdens, but they do not burden themselves.  They do their deeds to be seen.  Thus far, we find three criticisms of the Jewish elite.  They burden others but not themselves; they do not practice what they preach; and they do good deeds to be seen by others for their commendation.  Jesus calls the people to humble, not exalt themselves.

Then follow woes, rather than blessings, against the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus accuses them of shutting people out of the kingdom of heaven; corrupting new believers, called proselytes; teaching a moral casuistry (reasoning) that does not lead to righteousness; failing to teach “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23: 23b ESV)  The scribes are accused of taking care to follow rules of cleanliness, but are full of greed and self-indulgence.  The leaders are clean on the outside but unclean on the inside.  They are hypocrites and lawless, not righteous.  The leaders assert that they would have not killed prophets and wisemen of the past, yet they persecute those of their time.  Ironically, Jesus’ death would occur in a few days at the hands of the Roman governor and the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem.

Jesus calls the leaders hypocrites, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, lawless, serpents, and a brood of vipers.  He follows His criticism with a lament that the people of Jerusalem have rejected His protection. Judgment will take place.  Jesus does not follow the rules of engagement concerning not calling people names.  But, He explains why He calls them what He does.  The names are accurate descriptions.  May we also use accurate descriptions in debate and use them sparingly, if at all? Finally, Jesus is pronouncing judgment as the Son of God.  We are sons and daughters of God, but not the Son of God. He is the Son by nature, we by grace.  We do not consign people to heaven or hell.  Only God does.

Jesus is the opposite of these false leaders.  He practices what He preaches and calls HIs disciples to righteousness.  In the Sermon on the Mount, where He also criticizes the leaders of the time, He calls on His disciples to bear fruit, practice righteousness, and put the kingdom of heaven first.  But, how can we live sup to the standards of the kingdom?  Is not Christ’s yoke a heavy burden also?

The yoke which Christ places on us is for righteousness and the kingdom; that of the leaders is for hell.  There is the enormous difference.  Christ gives us the rest and the easy burden that is associated with the kingdom that He announces has come and is coming.

The disciple of Christ finds rest in Christ and knows the joys of serving Him.  The way of discipleship is difficult, but it is not measured by its difficulty but by the joy one knows in service of Christ.  Through difficult times, the witness and apologist of Christ will find rest in Christ and His burden light.

Michael G. Tavella

December 1, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics X–“Fear not, do not be afraid”

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics X–“Fear not, do not be afraid”.”

See also:

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In Matthew 14 Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the sea.  They were terrified when they saw Him, thinking that He was a ghost.  Jesus responds to their fear by saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid..” (Matthew 14: 27b ESV)  In this article we will consider the use of the word, fear/afraid, in the Bible.

The basic question for each believer is, shall we fear the things of the world or God or neither?  The word fear is used many times in its substantive and verbal forms in the Gospel of Matthew.  In Matthew 1: 20 the angel comes to Joseph and says to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 20b ESV)  Joseph was going to end marriage plans because of Mary’s pregnancy, for he did not want to put her to public shame. In a dream an angel told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife.  He is also told that Mary is a virgin, the theotokos, the Christ bearer, that will save the people from their sins.  Joseph feared the public repercussions of this apparent “illegitimate pregnancy,” for  “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1: 19b ESV)  When he was instructed to return to Israel from Egypt, Joseph was afraid to go to Judea, but went to Galilee instead, because Archelaus was ruling in Judea in place of his deceased father, Herod. He must have thought that Archelaus was dangerous to the child as Herod was. Again circumstances caused fear in Joseph.

Jesus counsels the disciples not to fear those who would persecute them.  He instructs them not to be afraid of those who can kill the body but not the soul, but fear those who can kill both body and soul in hell.  (Matthew 10: 26ff)  If God cares for the sparrow, will He not much more care for us who are “of more value than many sparrows?”  (Matthew 10: 31 ESV)  We should not be reluctant to acknowledge Christ, even when danger draws close  (Matthew 10: 32).  Our witness and defense should not be weakened or non-existent because of the hostility of others.  This is a good reminder as we keep in mind our American culture whose opposition to Christianity increases.  Though far from there yet, our culture is moving in a direction that looks more and more like the situation for Christians in the early centuries of the church, that is, the threat and reality of persecution.  The word for fear/afraid indicates a trepidation that comes from the dangers we experience in life, mostly from other human beings, or fears about the future.  Disciples of Christ are most especially susceptible to danger.

The word fear also refers to human reactions to encounters with God.  In the prophet Isaiah, the word fear is used by God when he speaks to human beings.  “Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”  (Isaiah 44: 8 ESV) Isaiah had the personal experience of encounter with God in the Temple in Jerusalem. His reaction was, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6: 5 ESV)  At the burning bush Moses had an encounter with God.  The Lord said to Him, “‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3: 6 ESV)  Another example is found in Matthew at the resurrection, where the angel tells the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” (Matthew 28: 5 b) In encounters with the divine, we are told not to fear. In Luke’s story of the Nativity of Christ, the messenger angel says in his announcements, “Do not be afraid.” To Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.  But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for you prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1: 13 ESV)  and to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1: 30 ESV)  And to the shepherds, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2: 9-11 ESV)

In the Scriptures the word, fear, is equivocal, that is ambiguous, having more than one meaning.  Equivocal is the opposite of univocal, or unambiguous, having only one meaning.  Fear is a reaction to immediate danger.  In Psalm 55: 4-7, the composer writes: “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.  And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from raging wind and tempest.” (ESV)  The Psalmist describes the reason for his fear.  “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.” (Psalm 18: 4-5 ESV)  Of all things, the prospect of death is feared the most.  We are not to fear dangers or the divine presence, yet the Scriptures also call us to the fear of God.  “You who fear the Lord, praise him!” (Psalm 22: 23 ESV)  “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115: 11 ESV) Fear has to do with respect for the Lord.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  (Proverbs 1: 7 ESV)  Fear may come in an encounter with the Lord in HIs otherness and holiness.  He would call us to put aside our fears and listen to Him.  Fear is also a response to danger and threat.  And, finally, fear describes a respect for the Lord.  Context reveals the particular meaning.

We are to fear the Lord and have no other fears, something difficult to accomplish.  We are to reverence HIm, listen to Him, and do His will, for He is the holy God that created and redeemed us.  In our witness and defense of the faith we are to worship and serve Him above all other things including the gods of this world. We are to fear Him and nothing else.  Such is the foundation of the work disciples are called to do in the world.

Michael G. Tavella

Day of Thanksgiving 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics IX–The Parable of the Sower

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics IX–The Parable of the Sower.”

See also:

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Jesus told the parable of the sower while sitting in a boat on the sea with the people standing on the beach.  Only with His disciples did he give an interpretation of the parable.

The sower cast seed upon various types of soil, some on the path; some on rocky ground; some among thorns; and, finally, some on good soil. While much seed was lost, itself astounding, the seed on good soil produced a huge return, also astounding.  The Lord ends the telling with, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13: 9 ESV)

With regard to Jesus’ ministry, what does the parable mean?  The sower is generous with the seed, but careless with its distribution.  Yet, the harvest is abundant.  Earlier in Matthew, when Jesus looked out onto the crowd with compassion, He said to the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  (Matthew 9: 37 ESV)  The harvest are those who respond to the Gospel.  In the following parable of the weeds, the wheat and chaff are separated at the end of time.  The wheat represents those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The parable of the sower, then, is a reference to the abundant harvest for God at the end time.  However, Jesus gives to the disciples a certain, more complex interpretation, called allegory.  In His interpretation the seed along the path represents those who hear the word of the kingdom but the devil snatches the word away from the heart.  That falling on rocky ground greets the word with joy, but does not endure when persecution and tribulation come.  That sown amidst thorns allows the cares of life and the deceit of riches to choke the word so that it is not fruitful.  That on good soil hears the word and understands it and bears much fruit.  Jesus is the sower of the seed who proclaims the kingdom of heaven.

What interferes with the reception of the word?  The devil, hard times, and the cares and distractions of life, in other words, sin, death, the world, and the power of the devil, those things that are renounced in Baptism.

When we witness to others and defend the faith, we must be fully aware that people are bogged down with so many things that distract them from transcendent matters.  Each individual with whom we speak must be considered in his/her individuality.  This means that we should listen carefully for those life issues that encourage disbelief, atheism, or non-participation in the life of the church.  Atheism does not only have an intelllectual basis, that is, produced by rational argument; but also, has to do with the personal history of an individual.  From one person to another this factor and other factors vary.  We will be dealing more with this when we begin a series on “Personal Encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John.”

Michael G. Tavella

November 21, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VIII–Mission to the Gentiles

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VIII–Mission to the Gentiles.”

See also:

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In more than any other Gospel, Matthew uses the word Gentile or Gentiles, referring either to non-Christians or non-Jews.  Gentiles are unbelievers to whom the Christian mission is directed along with Israel.

The Gentiles fall short of those who follow Jesus.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” ((Matthew 5: 47 ESV)  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls on the disciples to a higher righteousness that includes greeting those who are not brothers (Christians).  In Matthew 6: 7 Jesus criticizes the Gentiles for how they pray.  “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (ESV)  The Gentiles’ religious practices falls below the standards of discipleship as described in the Sermon on the Mount.

In the section on anxiety in the Sermon Jesus says that the Gentiles seek after what to eat, drink, and wear.  The disciple is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6: 33 ESV)

Outside the Sermon later in the Gospel Jesus predicts, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”  (Matthew 20: 18-19 ESV)  In the same context Jesus responds to the mother of the sons of Zebedee who requested that they may sit at His right and left hands in the kingdom by saying that He does not grant such a thing, only the Father does.  Jesus then says to the disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matthew 20: 25-28 ESV)

In the other passages where the Gentiles are mentioned, they are seen as those along with Israel who will be the beneficiaries of the Christian mission.  During Jesus’ ministry the disciples are to go only to Israel.  Mission to the Gentiles begins after His resurrection.  The resurrected Lord says to them on the mountain, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20 ESV)  Here the Greek word translated “Gentiles” elsewhere is translated “nations.”

In the mission discourse in Matthew 10 Jesus warns the disciples: “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10: 17-18 ESV)  Here the Gentiles are distinguished from the Jews.  But, the Gentiles are also to be distinguished from the Christians that will be arraigned before them.

The word, Gentiles, is used in a prophecy from Isaiah that Matthew quotes (Matthew 12: 18ff).  There it says the servant will proclaim justice to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles will hope in Him.

These days we do not call non-believers Gentiles, but the situation is the same as it was during and after the ministry of Jesus.  Many people are non-Christians; some are atheists of which there seems to be a growing number.  The essential task of the church remains the extension of the message of the Gospel to others both in our immediate area and around the world.  Our witness needs to be attended by our defense of the faith.  While this task may turn unpleasant in a hostile world, we as disciples must continue to be committed to it.  An earnest view of our mission affirms the necessity of witness and defense until the end of time.

Michael G. Tavella

November 18, 2019

St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, 680

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VII–Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VII–Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins.”

See also:

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The life of a disciple is one grounded in repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  It is life in Christ that impels the believer to fulfill the imperatives of discipleship.  It is life in Christ that impels the believer to defend the faith when its is challenged and to witness to others so that they too can know the joys of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that He, the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins on earth.  One day the Lord encountered a paralytic whom some people brought to Jesus.  Instead of pronouncing words of healing, Jesus said, “Take heart, my son: your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9: 2b ESV) The paralytic was healed. Christ addresses these words to every son and daughter of His.

At the very beginning of the Gospel in the narrative regarding both the location and the manner of Jesus’ birth, Joseph decides “to divorce her (Mary) quietly,” because she was found to be pregnant “before they came together.” An angel came to Joseph to announce, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 21 ESV) Jesus’ mission is one of rescue for those dwelling in darkness:  ” . . . the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has shined.”  (Matthew 5: 16)  Then, immediately afterward, Jesus begins His ministry with the announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  (Matthew 5: 17 ESV)

Near the end of the Gospel, where is recorded the Last Supper, Jesus says over the cup, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 27b-28 ESV)  The forgiveness of sins is granted through the expiatory death of Jesus Christ.  While Matthew contains large amounts of teaching material in five discourses, the purpose is to advise disciples on what they are called to do in their discipleship, not an encouragement to an attitude of works righteousness.  The foundation of discipleship is the forgiveness of sins granted by Jesus Christ, and by Him alone.

The great irony of the crucifixion is that in not saving Himself, Jesus saves others.  The religious leaders revile Christ with words that actually speak the truth, “He saved others ; he cannot save himself.” (Matthew 27: 42a ESV)  Jesus will not save Himself so that He can save others.  The end of the Gospel returns to the angel’s message to Joseph that the child will save people from their sins.  To save the people is Jesus’ mission.

Forgiveness of sins is accompanied by repentance.  At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus calls people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God.  Participation in the kingdom now means the assurance of forgiveness of sins for those who repent and entrance into heaven.

The life of discipleship is built upon God’s granting of forgiveness.  In our apology and witness we wish others, who have not known the mercy and compassion of God, also to participate in the kingdom Christ brings.

Michael G. Tavella

November 14, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VI–A Sword, Not Peace

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics VI–A Sword, Not Peace.”

See also:

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We call Jesus the “Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9: 6) but He said that He brings a sword (Matthew 10: 34).  How can we reconcile these two? Because of Jesus, division will occur, even in families. Christ requires us to make a choice of following Him or not. ” . . . and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10: 38 ESV) No other choice is more important in our lives.  The disciple must place Christ above all things and all others, even at the expense of peace.

Christ’s call is urgent and requires an immediate response.  He tells a man who wished to bury his father before becoming a disciple, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”  (Matthew 8: 22 ESV)  The fisherman at the sea and Matthew, the tax collector, follow Jesus immediately upon their call. “Immediately they (James and John, the sons of Zebedee) left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4: 22 ESV) Jesus said to Matthew, ” ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”(Matthew 9: 9b ESV)

So in the battle in which Jesus is engaged, and in which we are to participate (See Gregory Boyd, God at War regarding Jesus’ conflict and eventual victory over cosmic and human enemies), we must take up our cross. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16: 24 ESV)  We bear our own cross of suffering, knowing that the cross of Christ, that only He bears and can bear, is our shield and defense and our weapon against evil (See the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers). Our commitment to Christ involves a willingness to die in the cause of the kingdom.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16: 25 ESV)

The account of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels is one of conflict from beginning to the end.  If we would be disciples, we must be willing to face the conflict that arises from our confession of Jesus’ name. Each disciple must bear his/her cross of suffering as he/she serves Jesus Christ in the battle.  Those who would eliminate war and battle language in our hymns are gutting the meaning of the ministry of Jesus and of our discipleship.  We are soldiers in full panoply (Romans 13: 12) in the cause of Christ, in the battle of light against darkness.  We are soldiers who avoid violence!  Our weapons are those of the Holy Spirit (See Luther’s battle hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God).

We are peacemakers, but we do not make peace with darkness and evil.  We do not give up our faith for those who oppose it, even in the family.  We make peace where we can but not at the sacrifice of our following of Christ.  The church is an instrument of God’s peace in the world.  It is important that the church manifests peace in its own life as example to the world.  The Church must also be always prepared for battle, and fight the way Jesus fought.

External peace is not achieved until God through Christ wins the day against the foe.  Complete and utter peace is an eschatological gift; that is, it is established in all its fulness with the full coming of the kingdom.  Let us pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as we engage in the battle.

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, may Thy soldieer, faithful, true, and bold,

Fight as the saints so nobly fought of old

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Th (Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 677)

Let us extend the peace of God as soldiers of the Lord.

 

Michael G. Tavella

Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours, 397

November 11, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XII–The Tree is Known by Its Fruit

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XII–“The Tree is Known by Its Fruit”.”

See also:

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In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells His disciples that the tree is known by its fruit.  The Sermon on the Mount in which this text is found emphasizes the importance of doing good works, even toward the enemy.  Programmatic to the Sermon is the text: “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 16 ESV)  These works of the disciple serve as a witness to the light who is Jesus Christ.  Christ commands certain actions  among them being: do not retaliate against violence with counter-violence; love your enemy;  and “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (ESV)

Christ condemns lip service when he says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21 ESV)  Jesus condemns the religious leaders of the time when He says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23: 2-3 ESV) Moses’ seat was a chair of honor and authority for interpreters of the Law.

Healthy trees bear good fruit, says the Lord.  No diseased tree can do this. The disciple is true from inside all the way out, from internal condition to good works.

Now this condition of a healthy tree bearing good fruit is not a human achievement but comes as a result of divine action in the forgiveness of sins. The disciple is the one Jesus saves for good works. From the inside out the disciple conforms to the will of God.  When the follower fails, he repents and is forgiven.  Christ’s final words to the disciples indicates this thought. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20 ESV)  In Baptism forgiveness of sins is granted to the person who will then follow Jesus’ commands. The dynamic of repentance continues throughout life and is granted, for example, in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 27 ESV)

The disciple expresses in life the unity of internal condition and outward behavior in conformity to the Lord’s commands, and the unity of word and action in all that he does.

Witness involves doing the will of God. It requires a unity of words and deeds.  It comes from the heart to public awareness for the conversion of those who do not believe.

Michael G. Tavella

December 10, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics V–Doing the Will of the Father as Peacemakers

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics V–Doing the Will of the Father as Peacemakers.”

See also:

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The “ethics of the kingdom” are found in the Sermon on the Mount (a title coined by Saint Augustine of Hippo) in Matthew 5-7.  The Sermon is a manual that disciples are called to follow as they tread the pilgrim’s path in this world.

How do the commands of Jesus apply to apologetics and witness?  Among the Beatitudes that introduce the Sermon the one that applies to the defense of the faith most imnmediately is “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  All of the beatitudes apply to every disciple including the call to be peacemakers.  The Greek word for peacemakers in our text is found only here in the New Testament.

Disciples are to be peacemakers.  The body of the Sermon tells us more about how we are to conduct ourselves as peacemakers. After the beatitudes Jesus explains with metaphors who the disciple is.  The disciple is the one who is salt and light.  “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5: 14a ESV)  and “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 16 ESV) As light we provide witness to and defense of the faith in peace as Jesus calls us to do.

The emphasis in the Sermon is how a disciple is commanded to act.  In what are called the antitheses, “You have heard that it was said to those of old” . . . “But I say to you . . .” (Matthew 5: 21-22 ESV), Jesus broadens the meaning of the commands against murder and adultery.  One commits murder when angry with a brother or sister.  One commits adultery when looking improperly at a woman.  Jesus doesn’t make the commandments easier to follow but harder.

The disciple is not to retaliate against one who is evil.  Instead, “Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5: 39 ESV)  This non-retaliation is characteristic of disciples.  The disciple engaged in a defense of the faith should stand firm in his witness, but never use violence.  He is to be a peacemaker.

Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”(Matthew 5: 43-45a ESV) The enemy is not easy to love, yet we are called to do it. In the beatitudes Jesus says that the persecuted disciple is blessed by God. The disciple may be persecuted but does not persecute anyone, even the enemy. The disciple is a peacemaker.

Anger, violence, and hatred have no place in our defense of the faith and our witness.  We fail at times to follow the Lord in these matters.  But, God’s “property is always to have mercy.” (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, Prayer of Humble Access)  God in Christ shows mercy to us when we fail.  Out of His mercy we are to be faithful to Him.  We are to be peacemakers.

A strong emphasis in the Gospel of Matthew is the command to do the will of the Father.  Others are to see our good works so that they may glorify God. (Matthew 5:16 ESV)  Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7: 21 ESV)  The disciple responds, “Thy will be done.”  Thy will be done by me and through me. In Matthew 12: 50 in response to the man who told Him that His family was waiting to speak with Him, Jesus says, ” . . . whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.” (ESV) His will is that we are to be peacemakers.

We apologists and witnesses have clear guidelines from the Gospel on how to conduct ourselves in conversations with those who do not believe. The central thing here is to do the will of the Father, who before anything we do according to His will, has shown His mercy to us.  His will in part is that we are to be peacemakers.

Michael G. Tavella

November 4, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship and Apologetics IV–Family Conflict

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship and Apologetics IV–Family Conflict.”

See also:

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In His instructions to the apostles before He sends them out on mission, Jesus warns them that “Brother will deliver brother over to death and the father his child,, and children  will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my namesake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10: 21-22 ESV)  Apparently, death is administered by the government and the synagogue. (See Matthew 10: 17 ESV)

The discussion last time was about endurance.  This time it is about the conflict that arises from peoples’ profession of Jesus Christ as Son of God.  Not only enemy, stranger, and acquaintance but also family members can bear the rod of persecution.  Families in the great time of persecution in the first Chrsitian centuries, as well as now, have had the experience of contempt and persecution from those close to them. American Christians are not imprisoned or executed for their faith.  But, the pressures in our society toward Christians are growing.

Some Christians in our country have experienced reviling from others. Secularists and atheists have attempted to limit the guarantees of the First Amendment, protecting the “free exercise of religion.”  Close family members have discouraged church attendance and have been sharp in their criticism of active church membership among their Christian kin.

In the United States Christians are not being killed for their faith, as was the case at the time of Matthew. But it could happen.  We must keep alert to these developments and continue a gentle and respectful defense of the faith and witness to Christ.  We can also send correspondance to our representatives in Washington and the state capital.

What should we do in our families if a member or members have a deep problem with our faith?  First, keep partaking of the Word and Sacrament.  Remain active in church life. Do not become discouraged in your faithfulness. Gently witness to those who despise Christ and His church.  Bear under the pressure with prayer, especially for increased faith and strength.  There may be other issues in the family.  Be a constructive force in working these out.

The family is the primary arena of our witness.  We must not be overbearing in this work, but neither should we be timid.  We are Christ’s disciples, no matter what context we find ourselves in, including not always the safe ground of the family.

Michael G. Tavella

October 30, 2019

Eve of the Festival of the Reformation

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics III–Endurance

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics III–Endurance.”

See also:

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In the English Standard Version two Greek words are translated, endure. Matthew 13, where the Greek word used means temporary, contains among other parables the story of the sower.  Jesus tells the parable and then to the disciples gives an interpretation of it.  The seed sown on rocky ground receives the Word with joy but does not endure when persecution and tribulation come because of it.  These people “fall away,” that is, they will not hold to the faith in adverse circumstance. In Matthew Jesus warns the disciples that persecution will come and that they will witness before hostile religious and governmental officials.

In both Matthew 10: 22 and 24: 13 Jesus says that those who endure (the Greek participle is used in both cases) will be saved.  The first text is found in the mission discourse where Jesus forecasts persecution.  After He tells the disciples that families will be divided with family members turning over other members to death because of their faith for which they will be hated, Jesus says, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10: 22b ESV)  At the end of time when Jesus returns, He will bring faithful disciples into His kingdom.  In Matthew 24: 13, the eschatological (pertaining to the last things) discourse, Jesus says the very same thing.

What is endurance in Matthew and the New Testament?  The word is used to signify the disciples’ ability to continue on in faithfulness until the end of their lives or until the end of the age when Jesus returns.  To endure is to hold up under persecution by continuing to witness and provide a defense for the Gospel.

But, what does this have to do with modern American society? We live in a free land where the first part of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to exercise freely our religion.  It protects not only freedom of worship, that some would claim as its meaning, but freedom of religion in all aspects of life.  Statutes and court decisions clarify the meaning of free exercise.

Threats of limiting freedom of religion have come from the political community.  These are signs of the possibility of persecution in the future, even in America.  The secular element in our society has become more aggressive.  It is a good habit for Christians to keep abreast of the news of developments pertaining to the expression of our religion in society.  It helps to apprise us of what we are up against  and what action to take.  The Church and its teaching are a threat to secularists who have extreme political goals. We must not take our freedom for granted.

A Christian is one who has the ability to endure no matter what the circumstances.  It takes a lot of prayer and discipline (a word that comes from the same root as disciple).  Most especially, we must remember that the Lord will sustain us in any adversity.

Michael G. Tavella

October 15, 2019

Teresa of Avila, 1582, Teacher and Renewer of the Church

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