SABBATH

God’s Acknowledgement of the Importance of Self-Care

Daniel Nava

INTRODUCTION

Sabbath sometimes can feel like an unattainable ideal built for a more agrarian people thousands of years ago. As is often the case, I rarely see God’s purpose for me until he is jumping up in down in front of me. In this specific case it took four different forces converging in my life before I started to realize the vital importance of Sabbath time for me (and everyone). When I reflect on these four forces it always surprises me that they are connected to the four methods in Luke 10:27 in which we are called upon to love God: Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind. I will review these four forces in the order they showed up in my life, and how they pointed me to the importance of the Sabbath:

 

SOUL: GOD CARES ABOUT YOUR JOY

I had a home church in San Diego that did lots of research on the Sabbath. I was struck by how many testimonies there were from people who claimed they knew God existed through partaking in the good things of life. By taking a walk and watching a sunset, having the good wine (or beer), listening to powerful music, etc. Many of the joys in life cannot be experienced unless you make time to do so. This is more than just experiencing pleasure; it is mindfully giving thanks to God for caring about our joy. When you take time for Sabbath regularly you become inoculated from destructive desires: when you have a nice meal your desire to eat fades, when you take a nice walk and experience the beauty of the world, your heart is satisfied. When you take Sabbath with those you love your desire for companionship elsewhere fades. Spending time in Sabbath allows you to be spiritually satisfied. By making it a routine, you always have something to look forward, to thus satisfying desires. Experiencing joy and rest regularly nourishes your needs.  

 

MIND: SELF CARE MATTERS

My wife is a psychologist, and one of her responsibilities during her PhD studies was to administer mindfulness classes to study participants. Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword these days, but it is very simply the practice of intentionally being mentally present in the moment. There are several studies out there that suggest that mindfulness has many positive aspects for mental health. Sabbath can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness, because one possible side effect of Sabbath is worrying about all the work or chores that will need to be done while you rest and take pleasure in things. This defeats the purpose of Sabbath. When you are not mindfully being present in the joys, people, and rest that Sabbath prescribes you will not fully experience contentment. Rest and joyful experience are killed in the cauldron of burden and duty. Finding ways to rid yourself of distractions and preoccupations through mindfulness is vitally important to sabbath. 

 

STRENGTH: PHYSICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF MISSING SABBATH

American corporate culture often values work to the point of an early grave. When I worked for a corporation, I was admonished when I only worked 40 hours in a week. I worked weekends and evenings in addition to the normal workday, which lead to several health consequences. The stress and lack of sleep had me in the hospital several times. This was a wake-up call to focus on my health and resting. When I took time to take care of myself and prioritized rest, I found that my work life was more productive, and my health improved. When you prioritize or glamorize working hard all the time, rather than a healthy work/life balance, no one benefits. Hard work is still a value, but you are incapable of working well if you don’t prioritize taking care of yourself through sabbath rest. 

 

HEART: RELATIONSHIPS STRENGTHEN

Taking sabbath as a family means building bonds between each other. It is very easy with intense work schedules, and life commitments to go through your day feeling like you are living with strangers. Intentional time with each other eating and relaxing undistracted allows you to invest emotionally in each other’s lives. Emotional investments strengthen familial bonds and lessens the negative impact of busy schedules on your relationships. 

 

CONCLUSIONS


There are two take away points I would like to you to consider: practical tips for executing the sabbath, and ways to be a “sabbath maker.”


Practical Tips: My family is traditionally terrible at making time for sabbath. This is mostly because we use our discretionary time filling our schedules with additional endeavors (my wife and I have been in school or work training for the entirety of our marriage). However, we hope soon to start using our time making skills for sabbath time. I also confer these tips from a humble heart, I write this just as much as a reminder for me as it is a help for you. When we are at our absolute best, we do these occasionally and whenever we do, we find the investment as well spent.


Do Chores During the Week: We frequently use Saturdays, which could be for sabbath, to catch up on chores. When we need Saturdays undistracted for study, we typically spread chores out during the week. We use Tuesday for cleaning bathrooms and Friday for cleaning floors and dusting. My wife and I are good at taking turns going grocery shopping in the evenings while little one sleeps.


Meal Prep Time: In order to make Saturdays undistracted we will often use Sunday evenings for meal prep. We make lunches, and generally a huge pot of overnight oatmeal. The investment is worth it when you have breakfast and lunches ready to go throughout the week.  


Don’t Confuse Self-Soothing, Self-Care, and Sabbath: Self-Soothing is taking time to stare at your phone, binge watch a television show, indulging in too much dessert etc. Self-Care is exercising, diet, going to the doctor, taking care of your finances, and meditation. Sabbath is resting, enjoying good things, and focusing on the relationships that matter in your life. All three have there place, but starting with good sabbath rest is the key to making sure you have the energy  and relational security to pursue self-care. Self-soothing should be treated like dessert, in moderation and as a low priority. 


Taking Mini Sabbaths: There are many realities in family life that can prevent true “dawn to dusk” rest. Doing things like: Having daily technology free meals, having a family game night, taking a family walk, and spending quality time with friends, are good ways to take mini Sabbaths. Any situation where you engage in a fun restful activity that allows you time to talk with and invest in each other and where you are not working can be a healthy respite from daily life.


Sabbath Making: It is hard enough to make time for yourself to partake in sabbath, but we also know people who have a particular burden or difficulty making time for the sabbath: single parents, people with loved ones in poor health, people with particularly demanding jobs, people with newborns, etc. 

While sabbath is ideally a full day of rest and doing nothing productive, it can also be creating spaces for others to find rest: 


 Hosting a Dinner or Game Night: While it does put some burden on the host, it can be a blessing to just invite people over for food and games. This is a particular blessing to people with the sort of burdens that would keep them from creating a full day of rest, but providing them rest from meal planning and clean up would create a time of sabbath for them.


Bringing Meals: Meal ministry is something very familiar for most Christians, sometimes providing meals and/or restaurant gift cards for people allow them an evening, if not a full day, of rest.


 Fight Pride: Sometimes making time for sabbath means asking for help. Our culture has created a dangerous prideful milieu where asking for help is thought of as a shameful action. Yet in scripture we are expected to bare each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  


There are lots of helpful metaphors for the importance of sabbath rest. However, the best evidence is right in front of us: we are tired, busy, and burdened in life. We need a break from the cycle of work in order to thrive and flourish. God did not rest on the 7th day because he needed to rest, he rested to model for us our own need to rest. Being a good worker, productive, and useful are all good things, but like most good things in this world we tend to abuse it through excess. Let us take time for rest and company so that we can live closer to the lives God meant for us, lives of joy. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze6t34_p-84

AGAINST TWO KINGDOMS:

Allowing Jesus Into Your Whole Life

Daniel Nava

INTRODUCTION

In life we play many roles. Roles related to family & friends, work, activities, church and probably many others I cannot imagine. As Christians its easy to think of Jesus as being active in and sovereign over some roles, and in other roles we may not think of it being a place for Jesus at all. As for myself, it never seemed like Jesus had an applicable role in my sports fandoms or gaming hobbies (spoiler, he does). Others may say that Jesus and His ethic of self-sacrificing love is impractical if you want to survive in a competitive workplace, or if you want to win in sports, or if you want more votes in politics. It is my hope that through introducing you all to the concept of two-kingdoms dualism, that you may be made more aware of the ways in which you may be blocking Jesus from your life. By being aware of these tendencies we will find ourselves better able to welcome Jesus as the sovereign Lord of all aspects of life, and in doing so we will find a deeper intimacy with Jesus and more attuned to his will in our lives. We will look at Two Kingdoms thinking and how to overcome this way of thinking so that we can have sure footing for faith and ethics as we journey through life. 

 

TWO KINGDOMS ORIGINAL DEFINITION

There are many ways to look at Two Kingdoms thinking. As with many doctrines, philosophies and ethics, the original purpose of the doctrine is often taken to extremes or misinterpreted to such a degree that the original thoughts and purposes are veiled. The first official categorization of Two Kingdoms thinking is typically traced back to Martin Luther and his 1523 treatise (Hendrix) though there were parts of this thinking that go back to Augustine. Luther’s original thought process was to reconcile the imperatives of the Sermon on the Mount with the exhortation to obey civic authority in Romans 13:1-7 (Hendrix). The result was the cornerstone of Lutheran ethics: to differentiate existence into two kingdoms one of secular law, and one of spiritual grace; both ruled by God via different methods. These are: The temporal world of law ruled via human authority and righteousness, and the other the spiritual world of grace ruled via the Holy Spirit. The practical result was a necessity to institute a separation of church and state, the abuse of secular influence in church affairs, and church influence of the state was a rampant issue in Luther’s 16thcentury Europe and a large reason for the protestant revolution. The original purpose was to fight the abuse of intermingling civic governance and church governance, as well as to harmonize scripture. Luther envisioned secular rulers living up to their God ordained power, as well as the unencumbered practice and administration of Church activity. What happened in practice was a misunderstanding of the temporal kingdom as a place not ruled by Jesus at all or one in which rulers justified all their actions as ordained by God. 

 

TWO KINGDOMS ABUSED

The most startling consequence of the misunderstanding of Two Kingdoms thinking can be traced back to the 1930’s Germany, when most of the institutional German church, citing Two Kingdoms Lutheran principals reasoned that resisting the Nazi government was not permitted to Christians (Simpson). This led to a split in Lutheranism resulting in the German church (who supported Hitler) and the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church got its name as those who confessed Jesus as sovereign over all life, a statement that culminated in the Barmen Declarationwhich was supported by many Confessing Church pastors including Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The crux of this document was that the principals of Paul must be interpreted correctly; that the obedience to Romans 13:1-7 was not only limited to interference with church administration, but also limited by the Christian Ethic. Jesus was the sovereign over all things of a Christians life (Stassen p 18-19). 

 

ETHICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF SEGMENTING LIFE

While Two Kingdoms thinking was primarily concerned with church and state, we also internalize two kingdoms thinking. When we set aside aspects of our life in which we think is secular and without a place for Jesus. There is no such thing as secular to the Christian, because we have Jesus. Jesus, through his very being bridged the divide between the temporal and the spiritual. Our God-Man savior through his word exhorts us to pay taxes for the common good (Romans 13:6-7, cf Matthew 22:19-21), but that does not mean he is abdicating his rule. As was Luther’s intention, the Two Kingdoms thought process was that we must not let the church and state interfere with administrative affairs, but both are still accountable to God and must govern justly to be worthy of Christian obedience. 

            

Stassen and Gushee in their Christian classic Kingdom Ethics state that: “The secularizing split between the private realm of inner attitudes ruled by the gospel and the public realm of actions ruled by secular authorities marginalizes the way of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount… the secularizing split causes a painful problem in Christian ethics and Christian living” (Stassen and Gushee). They describe this split as causing a “skip, hop, and jump”. Essentially, we skip over biblical imperatives on the Sermon on the Mount as impractical, in this void we allow ideologies to hop in and to become conflated with our faith, and finally when ideological practices become a part of our worship we unknowingly jump into the arms of evil. 

            

They ideologies are not just political left and right but are also any obsessions in life where we elevate them to an importance outside of God. Where you are dehumanizing others in a zeal for something. 

 

TWO KINGDOMS THINKING TODAY

Anytime we compartmentalize Jesus in the roles of our life, we are in a way disowning him. This is the challenge of the Christian: Do I allow Jesus full domain and sovereignty over my life, or only at Church? Do I allow sin in my life just because it is not a personal vice? Greg Stassen in his seminal work A Thicker Jesus posits that Christians must look for and acknowledge the places in their life where Jesus does not have sovereignty. After reading Stassen for my thesis I had to completely reevaluate my participation in sports fandom. My obsession with college basketball and baseball was putting a strain on my finances and relationships. Jesus was not sovereign there, I was dehumanizing people and spending too much money, and giving worship to the wrong places. Fandoms are fine if they are balanced and evaluated through a Christ shaped lens. Making money is fine if evaluated through the Christ shaped lens of Christian integrity. Clifford Green comments on the cover comments of A Thicker Jesus that we need to: “transcend the bifurcation between the ideal and the real”, just because we cannot always be like Jesus, just because the sermon on the mount says big things, does not excuse a lack of effort. The Christian life requires not one repentance, and then life as usual, it is a lifestyle of repentance. We must strive to be like Jesus in all that we do: to count other people’s interest above our own unto death. If you find yourself justifying bad behavior, obsessions with fandoms, political parties, or other ideologies ahead of Jesus than what we are doing is exactly as Bonhoeffer states in Christ the Center in reference to any time Christians are trying to exert their own justification for behavior: “Christ goes through the ages, questioned anew, misunderstood anew, and again and again put to death”. 

            

In this week’s blog post I challenge us all to consider the following: are you making Jesus sovereign and lord over all your life? Do you justify sin or actions outside of Jesus? Mindfulness of how we interact with the world is crucial to our walk with Christ. Are we making Christ the center, or are we setting up Kingdoms in our mind in which Jesus has no part?

 

Hendrix, Scott H. "Two Kingdoms." In Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, edited by Ian A. McFarland, David A. S. Fergusson, Karen Kilby, and et. al. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Simpson, Gary M. "Lutheran Ethics." In Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, by Joel B. Green, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Rebekah Miles, and Allen Verhey. Baker Publishing Group, 2011.

Stassen, Greg. “A Thicker Jesus.” Westminster Knox Press, 2012.

Stassen, Greg and David Gushee. “Kingdom Ethics.” Intervarsity Press, 2004.

ALREADY / NOT YET: 



The Movement from Flesh to Spirit


Daniel Nava

The Advent season is the anticipation of the coming of our savior Jesus Christ. My personal favorite song during the Christmas season is O Holy Night. The opening lyrics of which are ripe with theological truth:


O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.


While these lyrics proclaim clearly that Jesus is our savior, what is sometimes missed, is how important the existence of Jesus is for our very souls here and now. Our salvation is not only a future salvation of our souls at death, but clearly a salvation of our souls today. With His appearance, our existence suddenly makes sense and hope becomes possible.  Along with our own hope, weary creation suddenly feels joyful as well (Romans 8:18-30). The incarnation, life, and death of Jesus means far more than our own personal “end of time” salvation. Our soul’s end of time salvation is but one part of the work of Christ. With the birth of Jesus, humanity recognizes its identity as beloved sons and daughters of God and are thus enabled to see the mind of Christ and compelled via gratitude to do good things today. 


Yet, as it says in Romans 8:24-25 who hopes for what they already have? As the song says, the thrill of hope washes over us as we recognize our Savior, yet we know not everything is as it should be. The inauguration of God’s Kingdom has come and has had a profound effect on us even without coming to full fruition. This is often called in theology the “already / not yet” of the Kingdom. We must grapple with the idea that: Jesus came and changed everything, and the change is not complete. While sin and death have been conquered, they linger. As we live by the spirit, through Jesus’ fulfillment of the old covenant (Romans 8:12—4), it is not until His second coming that we see the full scope of reconciliation and the complete defeat of sin and death. This characterizes our current age as a hybrid age; one where the sinful/evil age still exists, in a conquered state subordinate to the Spirit and incoming reign of Christ. 


-   Our fallen nature and introduction of sin and a broken work through Adam (Romans 5:12-19


-   God’s covenant with us that, while not sinful itself, caused us to sin (Romans 7:7-10), because...


We were powerless to live up to it (Romans 5:6), which is why


-  God sent Jesus (Romans 8:1-4), which fulfilled the law, conquered death, and (v2) inaugurated the law of the spirit. This changed everything. But not completely


-  Just as there were some righteous when sin reigned, so too now that the Spirit reigns there is still sin, but grace abounds in that sin (Romans 5:20-21)



Sin will not be completely abolished until Jesus’ second coming. Until that time, we live in an era in which we strive to uphold the values of the Spirit. We co-labor with the Holy Spirit to create encounters with Jesus in which people can recognize the worth of their souls and recognize that new and glorious morning.

The History of Advent

Daniel Nava

INTRODUCTION

            

The most basic definition for Advent is: the period of four Sundays preceding Christmas. The purpose has changed throughout the years, but today it is to explore the prophetic expectation of the coming of Jesus. Both the historical birth of Jesus, and the second coming of Christ in his full glory. The most basic ritual associated with advent is the lighting of an advent wreath, which consists of a wreath laid on its side with 4 candles, one to be lit on each successive Sunday of the season. In this post we will do a broad survey of the history of advent, and some of the practices associated with the season. 

 

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

            

Advent, as we know it, is first mentioned in the late sixth century, associated with the pontificate of Gregory the First. The purpose was to create, like Easter, a period of penitential reflection, self-denial, fasting, and study. During the time of the sixth century and throughout the middle ages these acts of repentance were a part of everyday life, and sometimes taken to such an extreme that there is ample evidence that the original purpose of advent was to contain and put limits on the penitential actions being taken by Christians. It also offered another period for new converts to learn about the faith before baptism (called catechism). 

 

CULTURAL CONTEXT

            

The cultural context of advent from the time of Gregory, to our own time has changed considerably. Christians in the United States today do not typically have the problem of being too excessive in their penitential actions, rather; we are often looking for ways to be more penitential. Some scholars, pastors, and theologians lament the loss of the historical penitential period associated with advent and wish to reclaim it for today’s church by rejecting the secular Christmas period of excess and feasting. Others see no harm in the existing celebrations associated with Christmas, and wish to claim the period between Christmas and January 6th* as a new penitential period that is already prevalent in secular culture for Christianity, adding spiritual significance and onus to the period of resolutions associated with the New Year’s Day. Regardless of your view of the Christmas season, most see the advent season as one that as the opportunity for heightened spiritual awareness and reflection.

*The Eastern Christian tradition celebrates the Christian season from mid-November advent (6 Sundays) through January 6th. 

 

CONCLUSION

            

As we reflect on the implications of the birth of Christ, and as we currently wait in hope for the second coming; we acknowledge our need for a savior. This acknowledgement and appreciation has meaning that is expressed well by Fleming Rutledge in a Christianity Today article: “It means that we will become more and more thankful as we become less and less self-righteous. It means that we will gradually become less preoccupied with our own privileges and prerogatives and gradually see ourselves more and more in solidarity with other human beings who, like us, can receive mercy only from the hand of God and not because of any human superiority.”

 

References


Brandt, Phillip. "Can We Talk About Advent." Concordia Theological Journal Vol 6:1, Fall 2018.

Rutledge, Fleming. “The Real Hope of Advent.” ChristianityToday.com, December 2018.

O’Day, Gail. “Back to the Future: The Eschatological Vision of Advent”, Interpretation, October 2008.

Toon, Peter. “Advent” In Evangelical Dictionary Of Theology p27. Baker Group, 2013.

The Case for Cultural Engagement

Daniel Nava


INTRODUCTION

          

Christians are sometimes fond of the saying, “Christians are in the world but not of the world” which is a paraphrase of John 17:14 & 16. It is a pithy saying, but it risks missing the biblical truth that the church exists for the world. The phrase is derived from scripture and can provide comfort to those who need consolation in their promised future with Christ, however; if those phrases are taken without their matching verses, 15 and 17, that explain that Christians are not to be taken out of the world, but are in fact sent into it. We miss our enduring mission to be active in the world. The incarnation of God through Jesus has incredible ramifications for the Church. In this week’s blog post I will break down the biblical case for worldly engagement by reiterating the church’s mission: to be the body of Christ, to understand who Jesus is, and to look at what it means to confirm to Christ. 

 

THE BODY OF CHRIST


The language of the church being the “Body of Christ” comes primarily from three places in scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:27 states “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”; Ephesians 1:22-23 “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”; Ephesians 3:10 “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” As the body of Christ, we as the church, and individuals, have an incredibly high calling: to be Christ on earth. As such, we must have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, and endeavor to follow his example. 

 

WHO IS THIS JESUS? 

            

The study of “who Jesus is” is typically referred to in theology as Christology. Christology is often preoccupied with the “how is Jesus” question, rather than the “who is Jesus” question. The “how is Jesus” study typically involves such topics as: his divine/human nature, trinitarian nature, and the virgin birth, etc. As important as these doctrinal questions are, they will not be the basis of this essay (perhaps a future blog post on the Council of Chalcedon). As Christians we will take the “how of Jesus” as accepted. What I will instead focus on is this: what do we know about Jesus from scripture and how can we use it as our primary model for doing worldly engagement. In doing so I will look at the incarnation, ministry, and death of Jesus as a model for engagement. 

 

Incarnation

            

The very fact that Jesus came to us as we are, in flesh of humanity, has incredible implications for the church. The best place in scripture to find the proper response to Jesus’ humanity, is in Paul’s radical call for Christian service in Philippians 2:1-8. Here Paul contends that: the comfort and joy that we find in the assurance of our salvation in Christ (v 1-2), should lead us to build up other people and count their interests as more important than our own (v 3-4), because that is what Jesus did (v 5-8). Specifically, Jesus stood in solidary with humanity by not using the totality of his divine privilege (v 6-7, NLT Translation) and humbled himself to serve humanity unto death (v 8). Paul tells us that, just as Jesus served humanity through the cross, we must do the same. While it is right to say that Jesus is not “of this world,” the fact of his humanity (v 7) means he stands in solidarity with humanity. We are to take this “mind of Christ” (v 5) as the lens from which we conduct our engagement with the world. We do not engage the world on its terms, nor love it for itself, but through our connection with Christ we learn to think like he does and engage the world in a Christ like way. Verdict: The incarnation of Christ means we must be present in the world, and we must serve the world. To see ourselves as separated from the world but not sent back into it cheapens the incarnation of Jesus, and does not take seriously His full human nature. 


Action: Because we have comfort in our relationship with God, we must be physically present both within our own faith community, and with people outside our faith community. 

 

Ministry


We can look at and model many aspects of Jesus’ ministry to use as our own. For now, let’s look at how Jesus’ ministry existed for people over the sermon series these last 5 weeks. Each of these bible stories show ways that Jesus’ ministry worked: he engaged with and sought lost people, brought them hope and healing, and did so at great personal risk. His ministry shattered the expectations and theological assumptions of the recognized faith community, who eventually plotted for his death. 

Action: We must seek people who are suffering and offer them hope and healing. Our ministries must be marked by a humble and open-heart listening to the work of the Holy Spirt, less we fall into the same hardened hearts of the Pharisees. Finally, must also be willing to take risks for the sake of all people. 

 

Death

            

Just as the coming of Christ has incredible ramifications for how the church should engage with the world, so does Christ’s death. Philippians 2:8 shows us that Jesus died in obedience to his call to serve humanity. Jesus’ death was out of love for us - (John 15:13) even while we are still sinners (Romans 5:8).  Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the ramifications of the death of Christ for the Christian in his famous book The Cost of Discipleship, “As we embark upon discipleship, we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death – we give over our lives to death. Thus, it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer is speaking here of a death to earthly attachments being the beginning of our new life of service to others.

Action: The church must be prepared to take great risks for people and not be too concerned with its own preservation over contending for people. The church is protected by God (Matthew 16:18-19) and therefore free to contend greatly for people. 

 

CONCLUSION: THE NEIGHBOR IN REACH


  • We must be present in the lives of each other, and in the lives of unbelievers. People came to faith from their encounters with Christ (sinful woman, tax collectors, blind man, Nicodemus) or their knowledge of him (Centurion). We too must be in the presence of unbelievers for them to have an encounter with Christ. 
  •  
  • When we see brokenness and need, we must respond with hope and healing, not judgement or condemnation.We must work to be accepting of others, and accountable to each other as we endeavor to walk with Jesus. 
  •  
  • We must take risks for people, obedient to this calling unto death. We are not called to worry about our own wellbeing or preservation but to contend for people as Jesus contended for us. Jesus’ grace is only grace if we don’t deserve it. So, we must pursue the undeserving and look to forgive, give hope, heal, and reconcile others. Jesus desires mercy not sacrifice (Matt 9:13 & Matt 12:7), and we too must work with the Holy Spirit to bring mercy to people. We must pursue this calling even unto death. 

 

The church, like all its members, must engage with the world and all its messiness, and it must do so with a mindful effort to not love the world on its own terms but to love it with a mind of Christ.  

The Path of Nicodemus (John 3, 7, and 19)

Daniel Nava


INTRODUCTION

           

 In this week’s sermon we are looking at the story of Nicodemus as he humbly approaches Jesus; seeking knowledge of who he is. In this blog post we will look at Nicodemus closer, as he shows up in a couple other places in the gospel of John. Unlike many characters in Jesus’ ministry, we see Nicodemus in a full character arc: first, as seeking Pharisee; then as timid public defender of Jesus; and finally, as full disciple helping Joseph of Arimathea give Jesus a full Jewish burial rite.

 

NICODEMUS THE SEEKER

           

 The first time we see Nicodemus is in John 3. Nicodemus is not only a Pharisee, but likely one of the most highly respected for his teaching abilities*. Jesus at this point in the story already had a bad reputation with the Jewish elite, so Nicodemus felt he had to come at night. Nicodemus comes to Jesus with a statement of faith, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” This statement places Nicodemus firmly with the Pharisees who began to wonder the implications of Jesus’ ministry. In John 9:16, we already see this division among the Pharisees: some Pharisees wondered how Jesus could heal a man born blind if not from God, while others were convinced that he could not be from God because he healed on the sabbath. The answer Jesus gives Nicodemus to his statement of faith is more than he can comprehend at the time, but this does not deter Nicodemus; rather he continues in humble pursuit of the knowledge Jesus offers. 

 

NICODEMUS THE PUBLIC DEFENDER


In John 7 Jesus goes to the Festival of Tabernacles. There he begins teaching boldly in front of the authorities who want him killed. Jesus begins to convince some in the crowd that he is the Messiah, so guards were sent to arrest him, but instead they return to the Pharisee authorities saying that they did not arrest him because of the things he was saying. So, the pharisees reply, verses 47-48: “You mean he has deceived you also? Have any of the rulers or pharisees believed him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.”

            

Short of confirming that he was one Pharisee who did believe in him, Nicodemus speaks up saying in verse 51: “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” Their response is not to his point, but to correct his knowledge of scripture: “Are you from Galilee too? Look into it and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” Nicodemus’ call for justice falls on deaf ears. 

 

NICODEMUS SECRET DISCIPLE

            

The Bible associates Nicodemus with Joseph of Arimathea in John 19:38-42, confirming both of their identities as secret disciples. They would not have been able to claim the body of Jesus from Pilate in secret and so in this final public act, when the rest of the disciples had deserted, these two secret disciples give Jesus a proper burial.  This would have been a considerable risk for both men, who were wealthy and could have been cast out of leadership, and perhaps the synagogue completely for their actions. Nicodemus brought a generous sum of spices with him to assure that Jesus received the full honorable Jewish burial. This also would have upset the Jewish leadership who would have expected Jesus to have a criminal’s burial in a common grave site.  

 

CONCLUSION


Nicodemus was both a historical figure for John, as well as a representative for what was likely many Pharisees who chose to react to the miracles of Jesus with a posture of curiosity and humble seeking, rather than condemnation. It would have been a difficult thing to unquestionably follow Jesus and recognize him as the Messiah in his position. However, there is something to be learned from his form of discipleship. While it was certainly not the ideal discipleship displayed by most characters in this sermon series, there is something valuable in Nicodemus’ character arc and faith progression confirming yet again that faith is sometimes displayed in unexpected places. 

            

*Verse 3:10 “You are Israel’s Teacher” in the Greek is the definite article, which is to say he likely has the title of “Israel’s Teacher.”

The 1st Century Centurion

Daniel Nava

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Centurion’s story from Matthew 8 and Luke 7 is that Jesus is described as “amazed.” In order to understand the amazement of Jesus we will concentrate this week’s blog post on the occupation of the Centurion. Afterall, it is the Centurion’s understanding of authority that leads him to a faith so great that Jesus had not seen the likes of it in all of Israel. So, we will look at the historical background of centurions in the Roman army, and the background of this specific Centurion.  

            

The centurion in the Roman army was a low-ranking officer. He commanded no other officer in the military, however, was himself in command of between 80-100 enlisted men. He would have reported to a cohort commander. The centurion would have had several senior enlisted men in leadership positions who reported to him. The centurion would have been a professional soldier who commanded great respect but was also the workhorse of the legion doing much of the peacekeeping work in the empire.

            

Centurions were certainly gentiles in the 1st century, but not necessarily Roman citizens. Many centurions would have been non-Romans working towards citizenship knowing that, after their service they could earn retirement and land rights. 

            

Centurions were often responsible for keeping the peace in occupied territories of the Roman empire. The soldiers the centurions commanded were the primary policing forces in Roman occupied lands, including Israel. They would have used their relative wealth (around 10-20 times what a normal citizen would have made) to keep the peace in their region using patronage. Patronage would have been what the Jewish leaders in Luke 7:5 were referring to when they said the Centurion built their synagogue.  Wealthy Romans would often support subjugated populations in building their religious and civic buildings in order to keep the peace. This patronage came with strings attached however, often adorning the buildings and civic projects with Hellenistic symbols. There is ample archeological evidence of ancient synagogues having Roman military symbols and décor. 

            

This Centurion’s post would not have been the most prestigious. He oversaw a population that was on the fringe of the empire bordering on some areas that would have had problems with the Jewish zealots of the time. The Centurion was likely working on achieving citizenship and yet came to have some affection for the Jewish people and their customs judging by the “love for the nation” section of Luke 7:5. Whether or not he was a full on “God fearer” is up for debate with scholars. “God-fearers” were gentiles who attended the outskirts of the synagogue and believed in God but were not permitted to worship in the synagogue.

            

The Centurion’s knowledge of Jewish customs, while showing incredible deference to Jesus and personal humility, is not the end of the story of the Centurion’s faith. He further states that he knows that Jesus can command healing from afar as he himself is both a person of authority, and a person under authority. This is what amazes Jesus: a combination of humble deference, and knowledge via personal experience. This gentile has more faith in the person of Jesus than Jesus had seen in all of Israel. The Jewish people were the faith community of Jesus’ time. We must learn from this story that faithful acknowledgement of Christ may come from places we do not expect, we must be ever vigilant of letting our knowledge make us too prideful, and we must learn to ask great things of God.

 

References and Additional Readings:

Howatson, M. C. "Centurion." In The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature.: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Brownrigg, Ronald. "Centurion." In Who's Who in the New Testament, Routledge. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2002.

Saddington, D. “Centurion”. In The Oxford Guide to People and Places of the Bible.: Oxford University Press. 2001.

Bertram, Robert W. “Complete Centurion.” Concordia Theological Monthly 39, no. 5 (May 1968): 311–27.

NET Bible on Luke 7, subnote 23

Divine Retribution At The Time Of Jesus

Daniel Nava


At the beginning of the story of the blind man, we see the disciples ask Jesus a question which gets to the heart of a common misconception of their and our time. The disciples ask, referring to the blind man, (John 9:2) “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The question, and how it is phrased infers that the disciples could not imagine any other option. Either this man sinned in the womb, or his parents sinned. This is called the doctrine of temporal retribution: God punishes, in this lifetime, our sins. Jesus affirms that sin is not the cause of this malady, he states: ““Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” This sounds like his malady happened just so that Jesus could show the work of God in him. This is not the case. We can be confident of this by looking at the next passage, which is a continuation of the answer: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Also, see the story of Job for an additional example of the rebuking of temporal retribution. The idea Jesus is getting at that, since this has happened to the blind man him, the works of God can be displayed in him. God redeems the brokenness of the world. He does not cause the brokenness of the world. 


Like the other stories of healing in scripture this malady is used to the glory of God. While God certainly retains the right to use temporal retribution as a part of the divine prerogative, that is not his normal method of operation. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Latin-American theologian puts this well, “The world of retribution – and not of temporal retribution only – is not where God dwells; at most God visits it.” 


If the disciples were fully bought into temporal retribution, then the blind man himself likely did as well. The blind man from the time of his innocence as a child either carried the guilt of some unknown sin or thought that his parents were hiding some sin against God. Regardless of what he or the disciples thought, what small or large sin they may have committed, the sin was not the cause of the malady. Sin does beget sin, and must be taken seriously, but that causal relationship is not punishment from God; it is the nature of sin. The blindness of this man was not something caused by God, but rather it was caused by the brokenness of the world. This brokenness is actively being reconciled to God through Christ. The blind man must have thought that his blindness was his identity, what Jesus showed him was that he was valuable. Jesus makes his identity a beloved child of Christ. 


Here is the good news: through God’s abundant grace your suffering can be hope. As we see in Romans 5:3-5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” For some who suffer outside of Christ their progression may end at character, their sufferings, like ours, allow them to grow, but never moves to true hope. However, in the Christian world view, through the: suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Christ we also see hope in our suffering. Our hope is: as heirs to Christ (Romans 8:17). 


The question the disciples ask is a common one, but the wrong one. Whether our suffering comes from: sin, the broken world, or the divine prerogative, your suffering through your connection with Christ is constantly being redeemed. This blind man’s malady eventually led him to the realization of who Jesus must be, and this realization lead to his salvation. 


So, as we reflect on how the blind man’s blindness came to be, let us remember Jesus’ answer: it was not sin, but its existence means that God’s work can be displayed through his life. Jesus is the light of the world, and through the Holy Spirit He is working to redeem all brokenness towards His good purposes.  Divine Retribution is not the primary way God works in our world. 

 

Additional Readings:

“On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent” by Gustavo Gutiérrez. An excellent book that does a thorough reflection on the subject matter. 

“The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith” by Christopher Wright

Tax Collector

Daniel Nava

As is mentioned in the sermon this week, no one is excited if the IRS should contact you. It can mean that you are being audited or may need to provide more information about your taxes. In most cases this just means an inconvenience and possibly having to pay a bit more in your taxes. It is a legal process with some structure to it even if it is something we disagree with. Now imagine if the tax collector was collecting taxes, not for your government, but for a hostile foreign occupier. What if, adding salt to the wound, the tax collector was a fellow countryman who was collaborating with that foreign power and the amount you were paying was much more than you owed? As we examine in more detail the role of the tax collector in Jesus’ time, we can get an idea to exactly what lengths Jesus went to challenge the preconceptions of the Jewish ruling classes. 


To first get a lay of the land of who tax collectors were, we should take a short look at recent Jewish history and what lead up to the political situation of Jesus’ time:


 

332 BCE: The area of the Mediterranean where the Jewish people lived was conquered by Alexander the Great and was allowed to remain a Jewish theocracy under a Seleucid (Syrian) governor.

 

166 BCE: The Seleucid government prohibited the practice of Judaism. This caused the Jewish people to revolt in what was called the Maccabean Revolution. 

 

164 BCE: The Maccabees took Jerusalem, and purified the Temple. (This is commemorated with Hanukkah) 

 

147 BCE: The Maccabees achieved autonomy from the Seleucids.

 

129 BCE: The Seleucids Kingdom collapsed, and the Jewish Kingdom was restored. 

 

60 BCE: The Romans come on the scene and began a hostile takeover of the Jewish Kingdom. 

 

40 BCE: Finally, the Romans killed the last Maccabean King. The Romans occupy the former Jewish kingdom and install Herod, a nephew of the former Maccabean king as the governor of the Roman territory. 

 

(Taken mostly from JewishVirtualLibrary.org)

 

When Jesus was born Israel had been occupied by the Romans for 40 years. During this time of Roman rule, the Jewish people had some autonomy and was able to practice their faith. However, their culture was also being encouraged to adopt Roman customs (a process called Hellenization). This caused a split within the Jewish people. The leaders were split into several groups, but the three most mentioned in scripture were:

 

Pharisees: This is the group that most often interacts with Jesus in the Gospels. They were the religious leaders looking to reclaim traditional Jewish customs and preserve them from Hellenistic influence. They would have been the most knowledgeable in scripture and educators in local synagogues.

 

Sadducees: This is the group that was primarily interested in the administration of the Jewish state and the maintenance of the temple. They would have been the ones in charge of the temple when Jesus upended the tables in witnessing the money-changers and their corrupt systems. They were less concerned with the law of Moses as much as doing everything they could to maintain their power within Roman law. 

 

Zealots: Zealots were a group of Jewish leaders who were concerned with regaining Jewish independence from Rome. Whereas the Sadducees worked to preserve Jewish autonomy within Roman rule by cooperating, the Zealots were looking to gather support for a military uprising. 

 

Knowing all of this is important as tax collectors fully bought into Roman society, unlike all the other groups. Not only were they assisting in the collecting of taxes for the Roman government, but the position of tax collector was known for being “crafty, unscrupulous, and unjust in their official duties.” (Okorie) So, they not only conspired with the foreign occupation, but further oppressed their own people by taking more taxes than they were required (See Luke 3:12-13). The tax collector would have been seen as someone who not only sold out to a foreign occupier, but added to the oppression more than they needed to, they were seen as truly despicable people looking out only for number one. This background explains why it was such a scandal that Jesus associated with tax collectors, it was a betrayal of the Jewish people in a deeply profound way. 

 

If you look at the account of Matthew we see the Pharisees, who were trying desperately to preserve the Jewish way of life, wondering how it is that this man (who just healed a paralytic) would turn around and have table fellowship with tax collectors. What Jesus is doing through this association is telling the Pharisees to let go of their desperate grip on what they think they know so well. The work of God is to challenge theological norms, to seek the lost and, to realize that the work of God is so much bigger than they dreamed it could be. 

 

It is difficult at times to imagine the outrage that the tax collectors would have caused the Jewish people of the time. Today we can scarcely know what it is like to live under foreign occupation, nor can we fully know how sharp the betrayal would ring if a countryman would conspire with such an enemy contributing to your oppression. What we can imagine is injustice, the idea that someone who has done something evil could get away with it, this happens all the time. What Jesus shows us is that by associating with those who have done something awful, he validates the value of their soul and in doing so inspires them to repent. In the case of Matthew and Zacchaeus they: leave the oppressive job, or reform it. This would not be possible without seeking out, associating, and building relationships with them via the table of fellowship. 

 

 

Citations:

 

Walker, William O, Jr. “Jesus and the Tax Collectors.” Journal of Biblical Literature 97, no. 2 (June 1978): 221–38.

 

Okorie, A M. “The Characterization of the Tax Collectors in the Gospel of Luke.” Currents in Theology and Mission 22, no. 1 (February 1995): 27–32. 

 

Donahue, John R. “Tax Collectors and Sinners an Attempt at Identification.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 33, no. 1 (January 1971): 39–61.

 

 

Table Fellowship

Daniel Nava

Growing up in the 1990’s was a special time. No Facebook, no Twitter, and no smartphones meant that we were not connected in the same way as we are now. However, there was still busy schedules and many of the distractions of modern life. So, the primary way that I communicated with my family was over dinner. We would sit around the table and just talk about our day, our plans, and life. While this modern-day routine helped me feel connected with my family. Meals were a very important part of ancient society as well, they helped people feel connected and a part of a group. 

 

In ancient society, meals known as “table fellowship” were a ritualistic meal that served many purposes in society. The people who allowed you at the table accepted you as one of them it was a symbol of where you belonged. While this may seem a lot like school lunch time where students break off into groups based off interests and social standing. Table fellowship indicated what religious, ethnic and societal boundaries as well was conferred honor upon the host based on who would accept your dinner invitation. 

 

The Pharisees of the time were fighting to maintain traditional Jewish tradition against the influence of the Roman culture. The Roman efforts to influence the cultures of conquered peoples was called Hellenization. While Roman rule allowed, and even helped preserve (Luke 7:5), Jewish customs it did so while encouraging the adoption of Hellenist influence. Some of that influence was simply the engagement of Roman celebrations, and honor rites, others like Caesar worship, would rub violently against the traditions of the local Jewish customs. 

            

Unlike the Pharisees who fought to maintain Jewish custom, other pragmatic Jewish people of Jesus’ time embraced Hellenization. These people did so either by choice or by situation. These included but were not limited to: those who would take jobs within the Roman government (often as tax collectors), people who were deemed ritually unclean due to disease (such as the bleeding woman in Matthew 9:20-21), and those who were excluded from Jewish society due to sin (the sinful woman of Matthew 7:36). These people started doing their own table fellowship as they were typically excluded from Jewish table fellowship, these types of meals are in scripture such as Matthew’s (Matthew 9:10) and Zacchaeus’ Luke 19:5-9 implied in scripture).

 

Knowing what we know about table fellowship above makes Jesus’ association with “Tax Collectors and Sinners” all the more a scandalous. By association with tax collectors and sinners, the Jewish leaders saw Jesus as endorsing their situation. What Jesus saw is an opportunity to heal those who need him most. Jesus was showing that, only through association could the lost find him. Table fellowship is not to be used as a method of exclusion, but as a venue for reconciliation.

 

The recontextualization of table fellowship for Christians today is a deep reflection of who we deem worthy of inclusion of God’s grace. Jesus works throughout the gospels to up-end the traditional faith community’s ideas on inclusion as we will see throughout this sermon series. By studying these scriptures, it forces us, as God’s people of today to constantly re-evaluate our own thoughts of inclusion.

So how do we avoid, as the religious community, falling into the trap that the Pharisees of the time did? 

 

1) We have to have the humility to be vigilantly self-aware and repentant. We must think about our theology of people. How can we better see people of all stripes the way Jesus sees them?

 

2) We must be more concerned with people than our own traditional sensibilities. The pharisees problem was that they were so concerned with maintaining their old traditions that there were incapable of seeing their own law in the proper way. The law was concerned about people (Jeremiah 22:16, especially 16b). Jesus encourages the Pharisees using scripture as a corrective of their own priorities. In this same way we have to evaluate our own notions of “the other” from the point of view of Jesus in scripture. If our interpretation of scripture is stopping us from being available to people or including people, then we need to reevaluate our interpretation of scripture. 


3) Work to seek out outcasts, and showing (through example) who Jesus is. The encounter with Jesus that triggers faith is through showing who Jesus is through healing and presence. If we exclude people or judge people before knowing them as is displayed in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 then we could “uproot” potential believers.

 

Primary Reference:

 

Perrin, Nicholas, Jeannine K. Brown, and Joel B. Green. 2013. “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels”. IVP Bible Dictionary Series. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic. p 925-931 on “Table Fellowship”

 

Further reading on table fellowship:

 

Articles: 

Pao, David W. 2011. “Waiters or Preachers: Acts 6:1-7 and the Lukan Table Fellowship Motif.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130 (1): 127–44.

 

Books: 

Jerome H. Neyrey, "Ceremonies in Luke-Acts: The Case of Meals and Table Fellowship,"


Robert L. Kelley, "Meals with Jesus in Luke's Gospel”