Who did Jesus call first?

They were Peter, Andrew, James and John, weren’t they? We know the story in Mark chapter 1: walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus called to the fishermen, “Come, follow me!” My Bible even heads the passage, THE CALLING OF THE FIRST DISCIPLES. And for years I thought so too.

But they weren’t! Because in verse 14 Mark begins that very passage with, “After John [the Baptist] was put in prison…” So?

Well, go back to John chapter 1, when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan. This was therefore before the Baptist was imprisoned. Probably six or seven months earlier. Here we read that two of John’s disciples, Andrew and John the Apostle, saw Jesus and followed him, wanting to know where he was staying. They followed him, but he didn’t call them. He just said, “Come, and you will see.”

Andrew then brought his brother Simon to Jesus, who promptly renamed him “Peter”. But he didn’t call him then either. Then we read this (John 1:43): The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

So the first disciple Jesus called wasn’t Peter, it was Philip! And Jesus specifically sought him out! Therefore when he was walking on Galilee’s shore, he’d already known three of the fishermen for at least six months.

It wasn’t a spontaneous impulse, but a prayerfully considered timing.

Myths of Christmas

1.  Stable or Unstable?

We gather, smiling, around the stable. Coo over our children, dressed as Mary & Joseph. Grin at Farmer Giles’ real live donkey. Aaaaah! It’s lovely. And good. And incorrect!

Luke probably interviewed Mary. He records she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7). That seems clear enough. We have a manger. Therefore a stable. But was there? Could there be a manger elsewhere? If you visit Bethlehem, they’ll tell you he was born in a cave.

The clue is the ‘inn’. The Greek word is katalumati. It means a guest room. It has traditionally been translated here as ‘inn’ but we find the regular (and common) word for an inn or public guest-house, pandocheion, in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Quite different.

Joseph and Mary were returning to their roots for the census. It’s inconceivable they had no family there, and equally unlikely they wouldn’t stay with them. However, hundreds had descended on the town, and the family guest room was overflowing. So they moved to the stable after all?

Twice a year I visit Nepali villages caught in a 2,000-year-old time-warp. The family livestock occupies the ground floor or an attached annex of the house. Without doctors or hospitals, but people everywhere, Mary had to find a place among the household animals and give birth on their straw. Messy. Painful. Lonely. Frightened.

Does the Lord mind our sweet Nativity scenes? Of course not! But don’t let’s miss the harsh reality of his birth. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your coming.

The devil doesn’t sing either

“But surely, John, the devil was the archangel in charge of worship? Which is why there are so many evil songs!”

Well, er, no.

First, there is only one archangel mentioned in the Scriptures―Michael (Jude 9), who is also called a ‘chief prince’ (Daniel 10:13). Revelation 9:11 says the devil is the ‘angel of the Abyss’, where he is also named, Abaddon and Apollyon, both meaning ‘Destroyer.’ (Gabriel is never called an archangel, and Raphael only appears in the Apocrypha.) So the devil IS an angel, but no archangel!

Second, he wasn’t in charge of worship. So where did we get the idea from?

Two Old Testament passages probably speak of satan: Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. (Take a moment to check them out). If that is true, then the devil was the guardian cherub on the mount of God, before he was thrown to earth. Isaiah 14:12 says ‘cast down’, Ezekiel 28:17 says ‘threw’, and both agree with Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Now Ezekiel 28:13 (NIV) describes his beauty: You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.

However, the King James translates that last sentence:  …and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

And from that translation of that one verse, it has been deduced that the devil is a musician.

So where did tabrets and pipes come from? They translate two words, tuppeka and uneqabeka that appear nowhere else in the Bible. I am no Hebrew scholar, but the passage is about jewelry…

As we’ve seen from my earlier post, angels don’t sing. The devil is an angel who tempts his followers to worship him. That was all he wanted in the first place.

 

Those ‘helpful’ hills!

These blogs tackle Bible myths―like urban myths, but which make regular appearances in Sunday sermons! I bet you can quote this one by heart, probably in the old King James:

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help (Psalm 121:1).

So what’s wrong with that? Everyone knows we find encouragement from appreciating the Lord’s creation. I agree. I love his handiwork!

But our help doesn’t come from the hills. So why did David say it does? He didn’t! He was saying exactly the opposite! We miss it, because we stop there, instead of adding the next verse. To avoid confusion, more recent versions of the Bible (correctly) change this verse to a question. Here’s why:

Idols were worshiped on hills. People went to the ‘high places’ to sacrifice. Even today, in India, almost every significant hill sports a temple or altar.

Picture: The ‘high place’ at Dan, Israel, where King Jeroboam set up one of his calf idols.

Here is the Lord rebuking Israel for ‘prostitution’ (read ‘idolatry’):  “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute (Jeremiah 2:20).

So what was David actually saying? Here is the NIV: I lift up my eyes to the hills―where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

David was drawing the contrast between the futility of worshiping idols and the hills where they were located, and worshiping the Lord who made the hills in the first place!

Our help DOESN’T come from the hills at all. It comes from the Lord.

 

 

Half-Baked

All God’s promises have conditions attached. Apparently he’s made over 6,000 in Scripture, but I haven’t counted them. They are not unconditional. What do I mean?

Exodus 15:26: “If you listen carefully… and keep all his decrees… I am the Lord, who heals you.” See the “IF”? Another one: 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people… will humble themselves and pray…I… will heal their land.” There it is again. If. Conditional.

If God’s covenants are conditional, what are the conditions? Well, the condition to receive the promises through the Old Covenant is obedience. If we obey, he will bless. But we’re not very good at that, are we?

So the Lord made a New Covenant. It’s still conditional, but the condition has changed. Check out Matthew 21:22 “If you believe, you will receive what you ask for in prayer.” Still conditional, but the condition is no longer obedience. It’s faith! Here it is again:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Whoever believes – that’s the condition. It’s not automatic.

So why is it then that so many preachers just give us the good news, without the conditions? How many times have you heard this:– “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” They stop there. Or, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that we may have eternal life.” Again, they have left out the condition.

Here’s another popular one! “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Stop. I know he can, he’s God! But here’s the whole verse:

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, (Ephesians 3:20). Do you see the “according to?” That means the promise is a) conditional, b) proportional, c) in the manner of, and d) as told by. There’s a whole sermon there! But let’s be careful not to tell only half the story.

Let’s keep our preaching from being half-baked!

Have a blessed month!

John F

The Upper Room

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples in the upper room, right? Everyone knows that!

Let’s look at it again. Acts 2:1: ‘They were all together in one place.’ No mention of an upper room. Verse 2: ‘and filled the whole house where they were sitting. No mention of a prayer meeting either. Anyway, they would usually stand (sometimes kneel) to pray. Then they spoke in tongues, and a crowd gathered, amazed. In the upper room? Then Peter stood and preached. Surely they were downstairs, not upstairs. In those days, most large houses had integral courtyards, so maybe they were even in a courtyard, which makes more sense as a place for the (huge) crowds to gather.

So where do we get the upper room idea? Go back to Acts 1:13, after the disciples returned from witnessing the ascension of Jesus.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. So there were just 11 staying in the upper room. It was their dormitory!

Later, these 11 met with the women and Jesus’ brothers for prayer. It doesn’t say they met in their bedroom. According to Acts 3:1 they would have met in the temple, where they always prayed.

Then we read in Acts 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty). The upper room is getting bigger and bigger. Surely not! This verse is the introduction to a committee meeting. It may have been the same house as in Acts 2:2, but needn’t have been.

Either way, it makes no sense that Acts 2 happened in the upper room. It was in a house, and probably in a courtyard where the crowds could gather.

Why am I writing these blogs? To encourage us to study Scripture carefully and not take every message as gospel. Be like the Bereans. Who were they? Check them out in Acts 17:11.

Angels Don’t Sing

So in the middle of his message  the preacher tossed out an aside, ‘Well, of course, angels don’t sing.’ I stopped in my tracks!  Surely he knew his carols? I forgot the rest of his sermon, but like the Bereans in Acts 17, I couldn’t leave it alone.

First, I checked out the shepherds. The angels announce Jesus’ birth.  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14. 

It says, ‘Saying…‘ Hmm. Then I checked all references I could find to angels. No songs. Until at last I caught him out in Revelation 5. Verse 12 says thousands of them, In a loud voice they sang: 

Quickly check the Greek… ‘legontes.’ ‘Lego’ means ‘to say’. Same word in the next verse. The Greek word for sing is ‘ado’. For example in Revelation 15:3.

But surely John, there’s lots of other singing in the book of Revelation? Yes! The 24 elders sing (Rev 5:9), the saints sing (Rev 14:3 and 15:3). So there’s no reference anywhere to angels singing.

‘But I know several people say they’ve heard them singing.’ Yes, so have I! Until I realized it must be the saints singing. Not the angels.

Does this matter? Really? A thousand times, ‘Yes!’ Because the Lord loves worship, and he loves us to worship him in song. And if the angels cannot, then it is the unique privilege of the saints. We have been entrusted with a very special form of worship. No wonder the Lord tells us in Psalm 96:1, Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.