Today’s chapter is Mark’s Endgame Debates Chapter. Each synoptic gospel features the Jewish religious leaders’ ongoing contention with Jesus during his last days in Jerusalem, and Mark packs it all into pretty much a single chapter. But among all the theological judo, we see one guy who isn’t looking for a fight. And we’ll get to him in a moment, but first I want to note a couple irrelevant trivialities from the Parable of the Vine-growers.
The events of today’s chapter are as follows: the Jewish authorities go before Governor Felix with their grievances against Paul. Paul gives his defense, asserting his innocence of any crime except believing in the resurrection of the dead, which of course is no crime at all. Felix dismisses the charges under the pretense of postponing his judgment, and Paul remains in protective custody for two years, during which time he has several opportunities to discuss religion and morality with the governor. But when the governorship passes from Felix to Porcius Festus, Felix decides to give the Jews a freebie and leaves Paul in prison. Now, having stated the events of today’s chapter, let us dissect them.
Matthew 24 is basically Luke 21, and I’ve already talked about Luke 21, so I guess we’re done here.
I feel like Matthew 4 is mostly setting the stage for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus retreats to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, begins preaching and healing, and calls the fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Most of the narrative here paints Jesus’ activity with a broad brush, and even when it gives us the specific scene of the fishermen’s calling, it’s a quick-and-dirty details-light account that’s over before you know it.
But something in Jesus’ wilderness temptation caught my attention: some quality of specificity that’s absent from the rest of the chapter. Matthew is setting the stage here, as in the rest of the chapter. But with the temptation, he’s not breezing past it, summarizing, or glossing over. Satan is making a play here, and Matthew thinks it’s important to get into the details of it. Perhaps he thought Mark’s account was too sparse? And where did he get his information concerning Jesus’ forty days alone in the wilderness? From Luke, from one of the other disciples such as Peter, maybe even a first-hand account from Jesus himself? I could speculate, but one thing’s for sure: Matthew wants us to know about Jesus’ dialogue-duel in the desert with the devil.
Man, how do I follow Thursday’s act? Real talk, fam: I can’t help feeling like I shot my wad with the previous post on the foundational importance of God’s sacrificial love. If what I said was true, then won’t whatever topic I talk about inevitably fall short in significance of what I had to say in that last post? Maybe so. But I wrote that post because I love God and you guys, so today I’m going to put my love for God and you guys into practice again, this time by writing a post that is not explicitly about love.
Wait, what’s that strange book on the table? Why is the scripture passage a printout from a spiral-bound workbook instead of Jackson’s dad’s well-worn, possibly leather-bound Bible with handwritten notes in the margins? You would be forgiven for having forgotten it, but that’s right, folks: the Triad study is back! Just as a refresher, the Triad study is a program put together by Hope Church, in which three dudes or three ladies go through a curriculum and meet weekly to grow in the Christian faith and be discipled by Jesus together. When they complete the Triad study, the idea is that they each can start a new Triad with two new people, thereby multiplying disciples. And after an intermission of roughly half a stinkin’ year, we are returning to the study to get back on that horse.
I guess I could continue the Nativity Story thing and tackle John 1 for this post, but I already read Luke 5 and ate the chocolate. I ended Christmas, everyone. Sorry. There’s nothing for it but to keep moving forward.
One of the many things going on in this chapter is the bit where an angel (I’m guessing not Gabriel, otherwise Luke would have identified it as Gabriel) announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. I wanted to zero in on the angel’s announcement. He says, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (10-11). When Gabriel foretold the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias, he didn’t even explicitly mention the Messiah, and when he visited Mary, his tone was overwhelmingly that of a messenger proclaiming the coming of a king. The emphasis was overwhelmingly on Jesus’ reign.
Ezra is a book about getting back in touch with your roots. Its events take place around 460-450 BC, generations after Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. King Cyrus of Persia sends a sizeable party of diaspora Jews to return to Jerusalem, reunite with the survivors, and build a new temple to their God in their holy city. And it would seem Ezra, who chronicled this expedition, took a few cues from the book of Chronicles, because when he uses the word “thanks,” he too pairs it with the word “praise.” In the scene from today’s passage, after the foundation for the temple is complete, the priests lead the Hebrew people in praise and thanks. All in all, it’s an extremely Hebrew scene, so let’s get Hebrew.
As we progress through the Bible in our study of thankfulness whose stupid name is so stupid that I am not even going to mention it, we begin to see more instances of the word “thank,” especially in the two books of Chronicles. And the trend I observed in 1 Chronicles 16 continues throughout 1 and 2 Chronicles: wherever we see thankfulness, praise is not far behind. This may come as no surprise; after all, as Li’l Spicy said in his famous “Thanksgiving and Praise Are Like Our Right and Left Arms” speech, thanksgiving and praise are like our right and left arms. But why do they belong together so naturally? Let’s see if we can figure it out.