‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ — John 18:33
After Jewish leaders questioned Jesus the night he was arrested, they brought him to the palace of the Roman governor (seeJohn 18:1-28). They needed a politician to enforce their idea. The prefect of the Roman province of Judea, Pontius Pilate, met them outside and asked, “What charges do you bring against this man?” (John 18:29). After their discussion, “Pilate went back into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him:
That was a loaded question. The Romans didn’t want any new kings that they couldn’t control. And a growing number of Jews wanted a new king to end Roman control of their land. There was a lot of tension in the air.
We have historically celebrated Jesus' death on Friday because the Gospels placed it the day before a Sabbath. But did you know that Jews celebrated Special 'Sabbaths' that did not take place on Saturday?
Figuring out when Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples and which day he died on the cross is not easy. Why? First of all, Jews started new days each evening! Our days (in the Gregorian calendar) begin and end in the middle of the night and consider daylight the middle of the day. Jewish days began at dusk with the first half of a day being the dark night and the second half of the day being the daylight. That's why Genesis 1 says, "there was evening and morning on day one." That's also why we get confused about the timeline of Jesus' death and resurrection in the Gospels.
If Jesus actually died on Friday afternoon when we celebrate 'Good Friday,' then he would have only been in the grave for 2 nights. But Jesus said he would be in the grave for 3 nights. So either Jesus is wrong (see matthew 12:40), or our holiday is wrong. It's worth investigating.
Jesus had more to say about money than both heaven and hell, but he didn’t have much good to say about it. Specifically, Jesus was quick to judge people with money. He put it simply in Luke 6:24, “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.” The “woe” statement is a prophetic announcement that judgment is coming. He assumed the wealthy in first-Century Israel had done something wrong to deserve judgment.
We often miss Jesus' tough message about money because we hear only the parts we want to believe.
Jesus is not the “Messiah” people want: Mark’s Gospel redefines the dominant King the disciples expected
The Gospel of Mark hinges on a climactic turning point. After Jesus spends 8 chapters doing miracles that only the Son of God would do, the disciples finally figure out who he is. While other Israelites thought he was a special prophet like Jeremiah or Elijah, Peter proclaimed in Mark 8:29, “You are the Messiah.” That identification changes the trajectory and content of Mark’s Gospel.
Everything leading up to Mark 8:29 is designed to reveal who Jesus is, but everything afterwards redefines what the disciples think about the Messiah. Jesus immediately begins to correct their assumptions about what the Messiah will do. “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Jesus had to teach them about his torturous destiny over and over again (Mark 9:12, 31-32; 10:33-34). Why? Because the disciples already thought the Messiah would kill all the bad guys, not get killed by them.
On October 3, 2017, my dad Gary Penley died. I had the kind of relationship sons long to have with their fathers. I wish more people could have dads like mine, and I wish I could have had my dad for a little bit longer. I have never felt such a debilitating pain in my gut, such a gaping hole in my heart. I can't imagine how the trembling, the love, or the loss will ever fade. Right now I can only limp forward carrying the legacy and lore of a dad I loved more than any other man on this earth. I can only listen to years of voicemails from a dad who wanted nothing more than to connect and make this kid feel like a king.
I wrote and presented this eulogy at his funeral in Momence, IL on October 9, 2017. I share it with you to motivate, to move you, to paint the picture of how great an imperfect parent can be.
Some of you knew my dad as a friend, a boss, a birder, a co-worker, a brother, a son, a husband, but I knew him simply as dad. My dad came from small-town Illinois and ended up a big-city executive. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college, and he turned that education into an amazing career that allowed him to bless so many other people. Of course, he was the only guy in senior management who came to work in his suit on Monday with grease underneath his fingernails from doing man’s work on the weekend. He worked so hard his whole life to take care of us kids. And he did. So much of my success professionally has come from mimicking his relentless focus.
Jesus vs. Synagogues (Part 2): How he gave heaven’s authority to a new church where "two or three gather in His name"
Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. His life’s fullest meaning can only be discerned in his Jewish context (see Jesus vs. Synagogues Part 1: Where he agreed with Rabbis). Even the word “Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew term for an anointed ruler, Messiah. It isn’t his last name, but rather a theologically charged designation for the long-awaited redemptive role he was playing in an old Jewish story.
However, the overlap between First-Century Jewish culture and Jesus’ Way has limits. Jesus not only embodied his culture and embraced its accoutrements; he also challenged its everyday assumptions.
People often ask, "Why do some churches let women preach when 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits it?" My Socratic response is: "Why do all churches let women braid their hair when 1 Timothy 2:9 condemns it?"
No one takes the Bible at face value. First, because no one grows up speaking Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew at home (so they can't read its "face value"), but second because English translations tell even the most novice reader that certain commands are culturally irrelevant. When you read Paul's repeated command to "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26), no one gets convicted and starts puckering up for church. Those commands were clearly intended for a different cultural context, and we recognize it. We know to distinguish the temporary cultural expression from its enduring principle.
The same cultural sensitivity must be applied to 1 Timothy 2. In first-century Ephesus where Timothy pastored churches, braided hair and female teachers were a bad idea. Why? The first one is easy. Braided hair, gold jewelry, and expensive clothing flaunted wealth. And Paul wanted "those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited" (1 Timothy 6:17). The injunction against female teachers and Paul's prescription for females to learn quietly in church gatherings are much more culturally nuanced.
"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." Do Jesus' words mean systematically sharing the gospel around the globe can speed up "the end"?
Many Christians think so. The Gospel Coalition (whose council members include John Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller and Al Mohler) boldly cites George Eldon Ladd's 1959 book The Gospel of the Kingdom to make that claim. "When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again. The Word of God says it." The Issachar Initiative backed by some of the largest financial gatekeepers in evangelical America (National Christian Foundation, Maclellan Foundation, Green Family, etc.) use the same logic to encourage reaching the unreached. As their Tweet below indicates, "We can choose to speed up Jesus's return."
Mission Frontiers magazine pushed readers toward this supposedly clear meaning of Jesus' words, for example, in the July-August 1994 issue entitled "Bring Back The King?". Editor Rick Wood wrote, "Matt. 24:14 clearly indicates that world evangelization is a prerequisite to the Lord's coming."
But why do so many Christians think Matthew 24:14 explains the prerequisite for Jesus' return when the verse doesn't even talk about him? We have to explore the context to discover why, and to discover why they are all wrong.
The way things are said often communicates more than what is said. We know this rule of communication is true when we are talking, but we often forget it when listening to Jesus’ written words in the Gospels.
If you have ever seen a “Red Letter” Bible, you know how easy it becomes to pick out the words of Jesus in the Gospels. You also know that the Gospel of Matthew has a ton more red font than Mark. Why? Because Mark focuses more on Jesus’ activity while Matthew is focused on his teaching.
If you skim through Matthew in a “Red Letter” Bible, you will find a few long sections of uninterrupted red font. Sayings that Luke spread out across many chapters about Jesus’ life are gathered into lengthy sermons in Matthew. Most people have heard about the first one: the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). However, 4 other sermons have been formed out of Jesus’ sayings around common themes: Instructions for Disciples in Matthew 10, Kingdom Parables in Matthew 13, Dealing with Sin in the Church in Matthew 18, and the Judgment Sayings of Matthew 23-25.
In total, Matthew created 5 long sermons out of Jesus’ sayings. We know the 5 sermons were created intentionally because they all have the same ending: “when Jesus had finished saying these things” (Matthew 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). This literary marker gets the attention of the careful reader. It brings up the important hermeneutical question: Why did Matthew organize Jesus’ sayings into 5 sets of instructions?
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Paul Penley's training as a Bible scholar, life as a human being, and work as a philanthropic advisor overflows into this blog
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