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Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XVII–The Judgment

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 XVII–The Judgment.”

See also:

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Moderns of whatever generation are not comfortable with the idea of judgment with some exceptions.    When judgments are made, another cries out, “Judge not.”  Of course, without judgment we could not have a court system or a church.  Criticism of judgments usually has to do with those made in reference to sex.  Our modern American culture is allergic to limits on sexual behavior except that pertaining to minors.  It is to be greatly feared that strictures in this regard will eventually fall.  Then, there will be no limits.  America needs to change direction in terms of its attitudes about this matter.  We need to teach our children that sex should remain within the bounds of the marriage covenant.  People will fall short, but this failure is no excuse for changing the rules.

In Matthew 18 Jesus warns those who would corrupt children.  “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever receives one such child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”  (Matthew 18: 4-7 ESV)  Little ones, mentioned here, can also refer to adult Christians as well as children.

“Judge not, that you be not judged,” Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.  What does this mean?  It can not mean that all judgment is suspended.  Jesus teaches procedures for excommunication in Matthew 18 where he explicitly mentions the church as the agent of judgment on behalf of the Lord.  Jesus says to Peter and the other disciples here,” . . . whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 18: 18 ESV)  This same command, described as the giving of the keys of heaven, is addressed to Peter and the other disciples at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16: 19. It is interesting to note that the word church, not used in any of the other Gospels, is used in both Chapters 16 and 18 of Matthew.  Christ gives the church the power of judgment against sin.

“Judge not that you be not judged.”  What Jesus means in this command is that one who judges will be judged in the same way.  The passive voice here refers to God.  God will judge us in the same way that we judge others.  Further we are to be aware of our own sins and shortcomings when we judge.  The speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye (members of the church) is matched by the log in our own eye.  We are to take the log out of our own eye before we attempt to take the speck out of another’s eye.  In other words,  we are to be aware of our own sin and take the recourse of repentance.  Any judgment must include judgment of ourselves.

So far, we have been talking about judgment among humans and in the church.  Let’s proceed to the judgment of God.  God judges through the church.  He will judge at the end of time when the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven.

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus mentions the final judgment several times.  In the mission discourse in chapter 10 Jesus tells the disciples that judgment in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah will be more bearable than for that town that rejects them.  Similarly, the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida where Jesus performed miracles will be judged because the people did not repent  In Tyre and Sidon the people would have repented long ago if they had seen the miracles of the Lord.  On the day of judgment it will be more bearable in Tyre and Sidon than in those towns.  The people of Nineveh “will rise up with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12: 41 ESV)

In Matthew 19 the apostles are given the task  of judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  Responding to Peter’s exclamation, “See, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?” (Matthew 19: 27 ESV)  Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19: 27-28 ESV)

In Matthew 24-25 we find parables about judgment and a grand judgment scene.  The parable of the ten virgins is about readiness.  Five of the virgins had their lamps filled with oil; five do not.  When the coming of the bridegroom was announced, those who did not have oil went to buy some.  When they returned, the bridegroom told them that he did not know them. The moral is, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25: 13 ESV)

The parable of the talents follows. In this story the individual given by his master only one talent does not produce more, that is fruit, and is thus thrown into outer darkness where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25: 30b ESV)

In the last section of chapter 25 Jesus describes a judgment scene where the sheep and the goats are gathered before the Son of Man, that is Himself.  The sheep reached out to those in need; and, therefore are invited into the kingdom; the goats, who were not obedient to the Lord, are sent to the eternal fire.  Jesus told both groups that when they served or did not serve those in need they served or did not serve Him.

In Chapter 24, just previous to the one we have been considering we read a version of what is commonly known as “the little apocalypse,”  found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) with variation.  Jesus’ disciples ask Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”  (Matthew 24: 3b ESV)  The age is this time before the full coming of the kingdom; the age to come will occur when the kingdom of heaven comes in its fulness.  Jesus describes the signs of the end, the beginning of the birth pains, and warns against false Christs. He tells them of the persecutions against disciples that are coming.

In this time, “. . . many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24: 10-14 ESV) While we await the end, our task is to extend the kingdom, commanded by the resurrected Jesus at His parting.

Natural signs in the heavens will bespeak the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.  The elect will be gathered from all over the earth. Disciples must be ready at all times, for we do not know the day and hour when Christ will return (See Matthew 24: 42-44 ESV)  Like the wise virgins, we are to have our lamps full of oil when the bridegroom comes.

Disciples, committed to a defense of the faith and witness to others, learn from these texts of judgment that we are to witness to the Gospel right up to the end of time.  We need to pray for endurance to outlast persecution because of our commitment to Christ.  We are to anticipate an increase of wickedness and less commitment to the good.  We are not to predict when the end will occur, yet pray for its coming.  We are to serve people in need, especially brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is to render judgment toward those who live in persistent and unrepentant sin while members need to be very aware of their own sins and repent.

Our faith is one of the eschaton and telos, that is, we believe that history will end with the last things and the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.  We believe in a judgment of sin and wickedness and the gathering of those chosen who have been faithful in word and deed, a faithfulness empowered by the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Michael G. Tavella

January 6, 2020

The Epiphany

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XVI–The Resurrection

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 XVI–The Resurrection.”

See also:

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On the third day after the crucifixion Jesus rose from the dead.   An angel announced to two women who had come to the grave early in the morning that Jesus was raised from the dead. Though the angel told them that they would see Jesus in Galilee,  He appeared to them on their way to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.  Jesus gave them the same instruction as the angel that they should tell the disciples that they would see Him in Galilee.  In the meantime, the guards at the tomb were bribed to tell other people that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.  The final scene takes place in Galilee where the resurrected Jesus commanded the disciples to go to all nations and baptize and teach them that they should observe all that He commands.

Jesus had announced several times to the disciples that after His death He would be raised up.  These predictions are found in Matthew 16, 17, and 20.  His predictions were fulfilled.

Jesus is involved in a dispute with the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection.  The Sadducees present Jesus with a bizarre example disproving the resurrection.  A woman marries seven brothers in succession.  Each one dies without leaving children.  Thus, his brother is obligated under the Law of levirate marriage (See Genesis 38: 12-30 and Deuteronomy 25: 5-10) to wed the wife of his dead brother so that the oldest son of this marriage could be regarded as the son of the dead brother.  In this way the name of the dead brother is not blotted out in Israel.  The antagonists ask Jesus who her husband would be in the resurrection.  Jesus responded by saying that marriage does not exist in heaven and that since God is the God of the living and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who are with God there is a resurrection.

Two stories in the Gospel indicate the significance of the resurrection for us.  When Jesus died on the cross, the saints in Jerusalem left their graves and walked about in the holy city.  The death of Jesus is connected to the resurrection of His people.  The death of Jesus grants forigiveness of sins which opens the way to eternal life. It also indicates that Jesus’ own victorious resurrection is the event making our resurrection possible.

The second text appears at the very end of the Gospel where Jesus gives final instructions to the disciples.  They are to go to all nations, baptize them in the name of the Holy Trinity, and teach them to observe Jesus’ commandments.  And at the very end of this text (Matthew 28: 16-20), Jesus promises them that He would be with them until the end of the present age when His kingdom would come in all its fulness.   The promise is reflected in the text where Jesus tells the disciples, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  (Matthew 18: 19-20 ESV) This text is reflected in a prayer in the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and also in Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. This text is found only in Matthew. In Matthew the resurrection of Jesus means that we too will be raised with all the saints and that now before the end of this present age Christ is present among us.

When we are meeting the challenges of witness and the defense of the Gospel we are helped by our remembering that Christ is with us and that in the end we will share with Him in life everlasting.

Michael G. Tavella

January 1, 2020

The Circumcision and the Name of Jesus

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XV–The Sign of the Cross

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 XV–The Sign of the Cross.”

See also:

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Many Christians make the sign of the cross, accompanied by the Name of the Holy Trinity, in worship and at other times.  It is a symbolic gesture that shows respect for the Lord and reminds us of the redemptive significance of the crucifixion.

Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross for crimes He did not commit.  In Matthew Pilate’s wife demonstrates His innocence in a story that is imbedded in Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus by sending her husband word, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” (Matthew 27: 19b ESV) No angel appeared in the wife’s dream, yet one may come to think that divine action was involved in it.  The dream informs the reader that Jesus is innocent of any crime. Pilate himself declares that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood as he hands him over to be crucified. But Pilate is not innocent, Jesus is! What courage from the Roman governor! Before he hanged himself, Judas, the betrayer, threw the pieces of silver, blood money, down in the Temple and declared, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  (Matthew 27: 4a ESV)

An innocent man dies on a cross, but His death is far from meaningless or senseless.  The meaning of His death is told in several ways.  First, the “Words of Institution” at the Last Supper indicate the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death.  “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘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: 26-28 ESV)

At the cross the leaders who reviled Jesus spoke ironically:  “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”  (Matthew 27: 42a ESV)   Of course, He did not save Himself so that He could save others by His vicarious death as the Son of God.The cross of Christ is redemptive.  By it we are saved from our sins, the mission of the Christ as already mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew.

We also carry our own cross.  In two places in Matthew Jesus mentions this.  The first time, Jesus speaks of the taking up of the cross in the context of persecution of disciples, even within their own families.  “And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  (Matthew 10: 38 ESV)  The witness and apologist is liable to persecution in one form or another.  He or she must be aware of this and prepare for the possibility through prayer and reflection.

In Matthew 16 Jesus says something similar to what He asserts in chapter 10.  “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)  Here denial is an important theme.  The disciple has to make sacrifices in his service to the Lord.  In these two similar texts an irony is expressed immediately after the saying of taking up the cross: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16: 25 ESV)  What succeeds this saying in Matthew 16 is mention of Jesus’ coming in his kingdom. Matthew 10 is a variant, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10: 39 ESV)

Note that in both sayings one’s commitment is to Jesus Christ.  We do these things for His sake, not for the state or for some principle or ideology or personal advantage.  Christ is the foundation of all that we do including our witness and defense of the faith.  There is a transcendent reward, but at the high price of our life.  The martyrs and saints of the ages certainly knew what is said here as they suffered persecution and death.

The cross of Christ is our redemption; our cross is service to Him that originates in the forgiveness of our sins.  “The words Jesus said to the paralytic also speak to us: “Your sins are forgiven.  Take up your bed and walk.”  (Matthew 9)

Michael G. Tavella

December 31, 2019

Have a blessed New Year!

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XIV–Woes Turned to the Wisdom of Christ and the Blessings of the Kingdom

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 XIV–Woes Turned to the Wisdom of Christ and the Blessings of the Kingdom.”

See also:

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Within the Gospel of Matthew are places where Jesus addresses woes to those who do not follow God’s will.   They are especially concentrated in Matthew 23 where Jesus is condemning the attitudes and practices of the scribes and the Pharisees.  Jesus speaks against these leaders for closing the kingdom in people’s faces, for corrupting proselytes (converts to Judaism in the early Christian centuries), for casuistry (interpretation of the Law) that attempts to get around God’s will, for neglecting the weighty provisions of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness, for their greed and self-indulgence, for their hypocritical appearance of righteousness but internal lawlessness and hypocrisy, and for the outward  expression of concern for the brave witness of prophets and wise men but in deed their cruel treatment of them.

In contrast, disciples of the kingdom of heaven follow the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount from their very heart to outward behavior.  They are the poor in spirit, those who mourn as they wait for the kingdom, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,  the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of the kingdom. Disciples are the light of Christ to the world.  They shun anger and lust.  They do not desire to retaliate for wrongs.  They love their enemies.  They pray, give to the needy, and fast without public fanfare.  They do not judge without inspecting their own sins with wide-eyed awareness.  They hold the marriage bond sacred.  The world does not distract them or overwhelm them as the seed sown among thorns (Matthew 13).  They do not relent in their discipleship like the rocky soil (Matthew 13).  Disciples forgive others time and time again (Mathew 18).  They feed those in need, give water to the thirsty, extend hospitality to the stranger, provide clothing to the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 24)

For us whose sins are forgiven time and time again by the Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, so that we may be empowered to be disciples, woes of future judgment are turned to blessings of future salvation.  God supplies forgiveness as only He can do through the cross of Christ, the giving of His body and the shedding of His blood; we respond with faithfulness to the new covenant God has provided.  Those who tempt the little ones, the brothers and sisters in Christ, are condemned so that it would be better if they had a millstone placed on their necks and that they be thrown into the sea (Matthew 18).

Woes and blessings.  The life of the discipleship is one of blessing.  We can remember this fact especially when opposition to Christ seems so very strong.  Christ with His kingdom awaits the faithful.  He awaits you and me.

Michael G. Tavella

December 30, 2019

Templeton Project: Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XIII–Humility

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 XIII–Humility.”

See also:

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Humility describes Jesus’ behavior and is necessary in the life of discipleship. Though rarely used in the Gospel according to Matthew, the word is of great importance.  In a quotation from the prophet Zechariah,  Jesus is described as humble, as He is about to come into Jerusalem on what we call the Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday.  “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”  (Matthew 21: 5 ESV) The king entering His city is not proud, but humble. Though not a classical pagan virtue, humility stands at the center of a Christian understanding of discipleship.

The disciple is called to humility.  When the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18: 1 ESV), Jesus responds by taking a child and putting him in the midst of His disciples, saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 3-4 ESV)  Where Jesus is condemning the scribes and Pharisees,  He asserts that the humble will be rewarded: “The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23: 11-12 ESV)

In the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the meek will be blessed.  Though another Greek word, it has a similar meaning to humble.

The humble do not compete with God, but serve Him. They are not pretentious; they do not exalt themselves.  They follow Jesus’ own example of humility.  He says of Himself, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 29 ESV) Jesus contrasts Himself to the Pharisees who “do all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23: 5 ESV) and “love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogue and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23: 6-7 ESV)

We are to present ourselves before God and our neighbors with a humility like children exhibit.  In our conversations with non-believers, atheists, and secularists, we are not to act like arrogant know-it-alls. (In fact, we don’t know it all).  Among other things this means that we show respect to antagonists, even when they step over the line.  We are to counter their arrogance and disrespect with words of wisdom that may give them an opportunity to reconsider their behavior. Humor (not put-downs) may help. Patience to do this is very much required.

We are not to be arrogant about our humility, looking down our noses at the arrogance of others, thus becoming arrogant ourselves.  Pride can boast about anything including humility. Very ironic!

We are to pray to the Lord for true humility.  “Help us, Lord, to have the right attitude for the benefit of our neighbor and even our enemy.”

Michael G. Tavella

December 30, 2019

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 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:

_____________________________

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

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