“For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
This is the first in a (hopefully regular) series on books that every Christian should try to read. I’m starting with this one because it is my favorite and by far the one that has had the greatest impact on my life. My goal is to highlight books that you won’t find on the bestsellers list in your local bookstore or the ‘new and popular’ page on Amazon, precisely because they are not new. But just because they are not new, doesn’t mean they aren’t helpful. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Screwtape Letters, “the characteristic errors of one [generation] may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.”
Title: Orthodoxy Author: G.K. Chesterton First Published: 1908 One-Sentence Synopsis: Chesterton presents an apologetic for orthodox Christianity (as found in the Apostles Creed) by recounting his own journey from agnosticism to faith.
Many Christians can probably point to a particular book, sermon, or experience as the moment (post-conversion) when their faith finally ‘clicked’ for them, when the world started to make sense. It’s like someone with impaired vision putting glasses on for the first time or a mostly deaf person being fitted with hearing aids. You might not even have known there was a deficiency, but in hindsight, you can’t even believe how you ever lived that way. From casual conversations I’ve had, it appears that most Evangelicals who had that experience reading a book point to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. For me, it was Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Continue reading Books Every Christian Should Read: Chesterton’s Orthodoxy
The parable of the tenants reminds me a little bit of Nathan confronting David over the Bathsheba incident. Nathan got David to condemn himself by condemning an anonymous person for a similar crime. Jesus does the same thing to the religious leaders with the parable of the tenants. After telling them the parable, he asked them what the master of the house will do when he discovers what the tenants had done. They replied that he will put the tenants to death and find other tenants who will give him the fruits of the vineyard when they ought.
In today’s verses, Jesus, like Nathan before him, tells his audience that they have condemned themselves with their answer:
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:42-43)
I’m not sure what the religious leaders thought Jesus was trying to tell them with the parable, but it clearly wasn’t this. In verse 42, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 to show that he is the son that the tenants rejected and killed. As we saw when we looked at Matthew 16:18, this idea of Jesus being the rejected cornerstone was not lost on the early church, especially Peter (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4-8). In verse 43, Jesus confirms that God, as master of the house, would indeed take his vineyard (the kingdom of God) away from the tenants who rejected and killed his son (Israel) and give it to people who would produce its fruits (typically interpreted as the Church). Continue reading Producing Fruit
And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. (Matthew 17:4-6)
Peter just can’t seem to get out of his own way. You’d think that after he was so sternly rebuked by Jesus at the end of chapter 16, he would have learned to just keep his mouth shut. But here he is, six days later, sticking his foot in his mouth again.
I guess to be fair to Peter, I should mention that there does seem to be at least some disagreement among commentators as to what Peter’s intentions were, what he was thinking, and whether it was something negative. I’m pretty convinced, however, that this is another instance of Peter just not getting it. Continue reading Getting a Glimpse of Glory
Before we begin with today’s passage, I want to review the 3 historical interpretations of Matthew 16:18:
Jesus builds the church upon the rock of Peter whose nickname means “rock.”
Jesus builds the church upon Himself, the ultimate Rock which Peter the little rock correctly identifies.
Jesus builds the church upon the confession of Peter, the little rock correctly identifying the big Rock and thus serving as the model for all future believers who are built upon Jesus.
Today’s passage seems to allow all 3 of these interpretations to be incorporated into a correct understanding of Matthew 16:18. That’s not to say that one interpretation (mainly number 2, that the Church is built on Jesus Christ) isn’t more correct, but rather the other two shouldn’t just be outright rejected without trying to understand how they fit into the founding of the Church. Continue reading The Building of the Church
On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:5-12)
Thinking about these verses from the viewpoint of Annas, Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin made me chuckle a bit. This is the same group that opposed and ultimately condemned Jesus. At the crucifixion, they must have thought they were finally done with this upstart preacher from Galilee, who challenged their authority and all their preconceptions about God and the Law. Suddenly, however, his disciples are causing as much of a problem as Jesus did. If you go back a few verses, it says that the Sadducees were, “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Continue reading No Other Name
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)
This verse is incredibly humbling.
Someone I know declared himself an atheist over the summer and has spent the past few weeks belittling those who believe in God. One of his problems with religious people, and especially Christians, is that we reject reason and believe things without any (or even in contradiction to) evidence. If you talk to enough unbelievers, you’ll encounter that argument eventually. Continue reading Flesh & Bone Has Not Revealed This
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)
We reach a climax and turning point in the gospel of Matthew this week as the last few chapters have been building to Peter’s confession, which takes place in Matthew 16:16.
The location of these events is important. Last week we saw that Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee area after his excursion into Gentile territory. In verse 13, he leaves again, this time to Caesarea Phillippi, a city in the foothills of Mount Hermon, about 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. When he is done teaching the disciples here, Jesus begins moving toward Jerusalem and the culmination of his earthly ministry. It would seem that this trip was for the sole purpose of getting the disciples away from the crowds so that he could teach them about who he is and what was upcoming, to prepare them for the events leading up to his death and resurrection. Some commentators also see significance in Peter’s confession taking place in a city associated with Greek paganism (specifically the god Pan) and where there was a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus. Continue reading Missing the Real Jesus
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:19-21)
This is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels so we have a few different perspectives on it, the most interesting of which is probably John’s. In fact, pretty much everything I’ll say here today comes straight from reading John’s account of this event (Jn 6:1-15) and it’s aftermath (Jn 6:22-59). It’s easy to read this passage and see it as simply a miracle (and an awesome one at that!) that Jesus performed and move on, but the feeding of the 5,000 (men + uncounted women and children) has much deeper meaning to it. And if you read these 3 verses and don’t see it, that’s okay because we don’t have to search for the meaning here because Jesus and the apostle John illuminate it for us in John 6. Continue reading More than a Miracle: The Feeding of the 5,000