I was asked today why John 21.11 notes there were 153 large fish caught by Jesus’ disciples in this resurrection appearance. Here is my brief answer:
St. Augustine (in his Commentary on Psalm 50) notes that the number 153 refers to completeness of the Law and Spirit: the law being 10 and the Spirit seven(fold) with their sum being 17. If one takes the sum of the numbers 1 through 17 one gets 153. Case closed. 😉
I still contend it was the memory of a fisherman who notes the actualities of this miracle where there were 153 large fish and the net did not break (as it would be prone to do). A bountiful provision well beyond imagination. And Jesus didn’t need any of it to begin cooking them a fish breakfast, though he invites them to bring him some of their catch as well.
While any number of speculations have been offered for the meaning of the number 153 (imagination can be an incredible thing), the text is simply silent about it’s intent. The miracle returns to the super-abounding grace of God given through Christ Jesus as had happened at the wedding at Cana in chapter 2.1-12.
The goodness of God in Christ is more than sufficient to provide more than one could ever imagine or think to need. This drives the faith demanded by this gospel account (20.31): trust in this one as God’s own self-giving who would send the Spirit in super-abundance that He might remain with and in those who were His as a continuing witness to, in, for, and against the world.
The following are my brief notes written as a Sunday School introduction for adults to the book of the Revelation that I taught May 13, 2018 at New Life Assembly of God in Ellendale, ND.
What is “apocalypse”? It is a “revealing” of something. This book belongs to a broader genre of writings known to the second temple period of Jewish writings (and early Christian writings) that involved visions, dreams, angelic guides, experiences of the heavenly realm/s all with an eye (and ear) toward the culmination of all things wherein God will set everything right in final judgment (with reward and punishment).
Introduction (1.1-3) – What is the point of this book? Jesus! And remaining faithful to Jesus no matter what comes as God’s self-giving revelation testified to in the Spirit. If we get distracted by anything else in the Revelation than we miss the very point.
Traveling with John the Revelator (these reveal one cannot follow John of their own accord toward understanding)
In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (1.10)
In the Spirit in Heaven (4.2)
In the Spirit in the Desert (17.3)
In the Spirit to a great and high mountain (21.10)
On “hearing” and “seeing” in the Apocalypse
1.3 – Blessed are those who hear… others of the seven beatitudes (14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7, 14)
Overcomers “hear” in faithfulness and obedience: 2.7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3.5-6, 12-13, 21-22.
Hearing and seeing function to highlight and expound (offering interpretations and expansions of each other to further the knowing and worship of those who would hear and see), examples: 1.10-20; 5.1-14; 7.1-17.
A hearing and seeing of sevens (suggesting there is much more than what meets the ears and eyes in the enumeration):
This post is borne out of a need to briefly share my view of women serving in ministry. I am an unabashed Egalitarian. I believe women (and men) can and must serve the Church (global and local) in any capacity that they are called to as ministers of the good news of Jesus in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This in no way sets aside, ignores, or rejects the teachings of the Scripture on the subject. I take the Scriptures with all seriousness. However, what are the markers by which we interpret Scripture are paramount for me (and what interpretive methodologies we use matter). This is not a post that discusses (or exegetes) specific texts (I’ve done some of that elsewhere), but one that is orienting for my approach to the subject in light of the over-arching orientation of Scripture.
I find three basic orienting testimonies in Scripture address this issue for myself:
The Spirit testifies. This testimony is the most basic to my understanding that whatever the Spirit testifies to must be affirmed. This functions in the way that the Spirit testified for the early church concerning full Gentile inclusion in every way (Acts 15). The same Spirit that is poured out on men is poured out on women. The same Spirit that empowers for witness, the same Spirit that calls to ministry, the same Spirit that sanctifies, anoints, secures and gifts towards the full maturation of the Church until we all come into the fullness of Christ. [Just such a trajectory is proposed in J. C. Thomas, ‘Women, Pentecostals, and the Bible: An Experiment in Pentecostal Hermeneutics’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5 (1994), pp. 41-56].
The creation testifies. While complementarians say they appeal to creation order, they actually appeal to the order of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Genesis one and two address women as co-equals in the call to care for the earth and accomplish the purposes of God in the earth. This is the account pre-Fall and should take precedence as the “order” in which God made things precedes the “order” into which things descended in sinfulness. Redemption, thus, is oriented by creation toward new creation in the midst of fallen-ness, but does not take its first cue from fallen-ness.
The eschaton testifies. While many seem to order their lives by the “now” this disregards the “then” of what God is doing to set all things to rights in the cosmos. The eschaton (or “end”) of all things points to the end of relationship structures as conceived between husband and wife (according to Jesus being “neither married nor given in marriage” Matthew 22:30). It points to the end for which we were created. This end is that for which the Church is oriented in Christ Jesus. Yet we do not simply await that end, but we begin even now to live in light of that end even as we still marry and are given in marriage. Our continuing in marriage is under the banner of Christ’s soon coming kingdom when such structures must be conformed to his intent in everything–that is, in mutual submission, and in living in wholeness towards God and world in redemption.
Within Protestantism (and more specifically Evangelicalism) there has been a tendency toward the abstractions of doctrinal confessions. Theology has most often tended toward bullet pointed statements of confession. While this has its place it fails to grapple with the revelation of God which we confess as such: the very form of the Scriptures. The nature of Scripture itself is not first and foremost abstract universal claims, but primarily story. Why is this? Should it affect the manner in which we reflect upon our theological confessions? How might it be reflected appropriately without simply becoming (like so many sermons) three points and a poem? (Even the “world” regards story as more important to communication than bullet-points).
The following were listed by David F. Ford* as reasons offered “for the attractiveness of narrative” in theological reflection (ironically enough offered in bullet-pointed fashion):
it is the main genre of the Bible
it is the underlying structure of the Christian creeds, baptism and eucharist
its concreteness and particularity deserve primacy in relation to the more abstract, generalizing approach of much doctrine and theology
it gives a proper prominence to people in interaction, to specific contexts and to actions and events, all of which tend to be marginalized or treated too generally and abstractly by traditional theological discourse
it provides a way into doctrine and ethics which is definite, imaginative and well-suited to the gospel while not claiming an exclusive or imperialistic universality
it is the basic, irreducible way to express human experience and identity
it enables a fresh approach to the relationship of historical fact to Christian truth
it provides a forum for encounter and discussion, not only between very different types of Christian theology, but also between various religions and cultures (all of which have their stories) and between theology and other disciplines (e.g. literary studies, history, psychology, anthropology).
The story of God is the story of redemption and life. It is the story we find ourselves caught up in and carrying various threads of the divine narrative toward their culmination in new creation. The story of Scripture is our story and the cosmos’ story. So let’s at least speak in ways that flows from God’s own self revelation in Scripture, in the Word made flesh, and in the Spirit within. Let us tell the old, old story as the new experience of the divine life…as reflecting Father, Son and Spirit.
* D. F. Ford, ‘Narrative Theology,’ pp.489-91 in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden, eds, A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (London: SCM, 1990), pp.489, 490.
The following is a sermon I preached for chapel at Trinity Bible College & Graduate School on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
“But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” Isaiah 53:10 (NLT)
The following is a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly of God in Lisbon, ND on Sunday, March 25, 2018.
“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19 (NIV)
From time to time I receive random questions from people I don’t even know. One from yesterday went as follows:
“Does Trinity Bible College hold the position that the four Gospels can or cannot be perfectly harmonized into one account?”
And my brief response (that I thought could be of interest to some who follow this blog) after letting the individual know that Trinity does not have any official position on this:
The four Gospel accounts can be harmonized with one another, but must also be allowed to remain distinct voices from one another. This has been the historic response to such ideas. Irenaeus in the second century contended for the necessity of the four distinct accounts that each in their own ways reveal Jesus as God’s self-revelation and belong being heard together (though as individual voices). Tatian (another second century Church father) attempted a harmony as the text of the Syriac Church (it was called the Diatessaron), but this was rightly rejected by the wider Church as failing to allow for the distinctions of each individual Gospel account. In other words, I would say that while we believe that the Gospels do not actually contradict one another they remain as differentiated testimonies to Jesus that should be honored as distinct witnesses.
Following the lectionary, I preached the Gospel portion from Mark 16.1-8 this morning. This may not seem strange to others, but for a Pentecostal preacher to end before the well known long ending of Mark is tantamount to heresy (not really, but it is a rare phenomenon that cuts against the grain). The Gospel of Mark ends quite abruptly in certain of the manuscript traditions (the one I believe better represents the earliest final form; on the variants and textual witnesses see the NET notes). The longer endings which most are familiar with offer appearances of Jesus, empowerment and calling to mission, and the successful engagement of the good news to the ends of the earth. But that is not where the Gospel ends in the most likely origin:
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16.1-8 NIV)
In this ending there are no angels. There is no earthquake. No appearance of Jesus to any of his disciples or the women. No commission to evangelize. There are only mourning women encountering a “young man” dressed in “white” who reminds them of the words of Jesus and informs them to tell Jesus’ “disciples and Peter” to head up to Galilee where Jesus has gone ahead of them. The passage ends with silence and fear. Talk about a heavy ending. What are we to do with such an ending? (Apparently enough folks believed something needed added thus lending itself to the multiple forms of the endings preserved).
We, likewise, are left with only the witness of others speaking the words of Jesus regarding his resurrection (and soon coming). We do not ourselves encounter the risen Christ directly. It is mediated to us. We find ourselves often confused in silence and fear. But the words return, “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!” And we also hear the “Go, tell…”. Our hearts tremble. Our minds quake.
But this story continues on in victory. It continues to be passed on and lived out. We only hear this account because those same trembling women did in fact testify to the words concerning the risen Christ. They were faithful! The task they had been entrusted in fear becomes the task we all bear: to share the words of others to us of the risen Lord. To tremble…then testify!
“…on earth as it is in heaven…” While we might consider this from the trajectory of the revelation of the God to Israel preceding Jesus’ statement (which would be a fitting approach), we might also consider this statement as embodied in the one leading the prayer: Jesus the Christ. Such a reflection (drawing from the New Testament) offers several hearings of this text leading to praying and doing.
We might understand by “heaven” not an ethereal disembodied sphere of existence “out there” or even “above here”, but as wherever the kingdom of God is present. Wherever God reigns is most properly to be regarded as “heaven”. While God’s reign is not fully experienced “on earth” it is coming to bear “on earth” even as it has from the beginning of creation and the planting of the garden.
Considering such a view of “heaven” we might define “on earth” as that sphere of existence wherein God’s reign is less fully yet being realized.
There is a strange movement that occurs here. It is never as if “earth” is not where God reigns, nor is “heaven” to be regarded as itself such bliss that nothing more could be added to it. No. The kingdom of God is yet more realized in both heaven and earth by the two becoming the kingdom of our God and His Christ. This is not to suggest something essential lacking to the reign “in heaven,” but to appeal to the grace of God towards, in, and for us in his self-giving love embodied in Christ Jesus.
Christ Jesus brings heaven to bear on earth. Or more properly first, the Holy Spirit brings heaven to bear on earth in the virgin Mary. This is “God with us”. God being toward us, heaven toward earth (even in the earth).
Christ Jesus bears heaven on earth as the light burdens being given in place of earth’s heavy burdens. He seeks and saves that which is lost as a light blazing in the darkness. Earth cannot be regarded as wholly other to heaven. Unclean spirits are cast out. Disease and even death itself is demonstrably overcome on earth as it is in heaven. And these are all laid to bear on the cross as one raised up from the earth and lifted up into heaven in shamefulness. Yet the Father sees fit to not leave his Son buried in the earth, but raises him up to ascend into heaven to His right hand as King Jesus. And from there the Father pours out Jesus’ Spirit upon all flesh to fill the hearts and mouths of the saints with heaven on earth until the earth should be filled with the fullness of the glory of God.
And heaven shall be opened and the Christ descend bearing heaven to the earth. At last the kingdom shall come in fullness as his reign continues without end. His throne (the throne of God and of the Lamb) established in His city now come down from heaven and established upon the new heavens and the new earth. It is here, in the two joining, that we are praying toward as Jesus taught us to. It is here, in the two joining, that we are working toward as the Spirit compels and empowers us to. It is here that we (and all of creation with us) are moving toward: the day when the Father in heaven’s name is holified, His kingdom come, and His will done “on earth as it is in heaven”.
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David. Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.
This Psalm echoes some sort of unknown problem. We don’t actually know that there was a problem present, even though there’s a cry for help. It’s just a general cry for distress. But the psalmist knows the faithfulness of the God he calls on. He has experienced the sheltering presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. And as he makes his request for being hidden under the wings of this God, he knows that if he’s hidden there, he will be able to fulfill his vows, the king will be enthroned forever, and God’s reign will go on. And that’s good news.
Here’s the deal: in case you didn’t know it, your God has wings. This is not like a Marvel series. Your God has wings, and that’s something to be excited about. Your God has wings. “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:4).
Numbers 15 is a message from the LORD through Moses while the children of Israel are still in the desert.
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’” (Numbers 15:37-41)
Now this is a weird, obscure text, just like the idea of God having wings is weird. These are two things that seemingly aren’t related. Tassels at the four corners of clothes. If you travel to Israel, you’ll see a little fringe hanging outside of Jewish jackets. Orthodox Jews to this day still wear these four tassels.
Why? The sign of the covenant for Israel was circumcision. Since there is no way to appropriately check if people are circumcised, there is an outward testimony that one is a faithful covenant member of God’s people. It is four tassels that serve as a constant reminder, not only to that person, but to everyone who sees them, that this person belongs to the LORD.
Now what does this have to do with taking refuge in the shadow of the LORD’s wings? The Hebrew for wing (kanaf) can either be translated as wing or corner. It just depends on the context. And these texts collide because of this word. “Take refuge under the kanaf of the LORD.” “Wear on the kanaf of your clothes a testimony of your faithfulness to the LORD.” This is a super weird command. As we read the text, we just don’t understand why it’s here. In fact, just so you get the point, it gets repeated in another list of weird rules in Deuteronomy 22 about not blending your clothes, not boiling a goat in its mother’s milk, etc. It’s the kind of stuff you love in your daily devotional. It’s a command that gets repeated 40 years later as the people are about to go into the Promised Land: Don’t forget the tassels on the kanaf/corner of your garment as a testimony of your faithfulness; as a reminder of faithfulness.
Now we get this interesting story in the book of Ruth; Ruth, who is shockingly repeated as the Moabitess. According to Deuteronomy 24, anyone who marries a Moabitess excludes themselves and all of their generations up to ten generations, from ever entering the tabernacle or temple of the LORD. This is the word of the LORD. In the story of Ruth, several Israelites go down to Moab because there is famine for disobedience because it is the days of the judges when everyone does what is right in their own eyes. They go down to Moab, which is experiencing more fruitfulness than Israel. There they hook up with a couple ladies except all the men die, and one of the Moabitess’s, Ruth, remains with her mother-in-law, as they hear that the LORD has returned favor back to Israel. And when she goes back, she goes out into a field to work and get some food for herself and her mother-in-law. She just happens to run into a certain man named Boaz. And Boaz just happens to be the closest relative, and the closest relative was the one who could redeem back all the fields, houses (anything that had to be sold because of impoverishment).
Here, she receives a blessing. Ruth 2: she’s harvesting the field, and she meets Boaz because she wants to know who Boaz is. Ruth 2:11-12: “Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” In other words, you have found yourself hidden under the wings of the LORD. Because of your faithfulness, He will be faithful.
Now the story actually unfolds. I’m not sure if Naomi hatches this as a plot or not, but Naomi tells Ruth one night, “Here’s the deal. You should put on your finest dress. Then wait. Boaz is going to work hard all day, and at the end of the day, he’s going to have a feast and drink a lot. And when he’s had as much as he can eat and has drunk all he can, he’s going to feel really good. He’s going to take a nap. I want you to go in to him, and let him take care of what is supposed to happen next.”
As it turns out, he eats, drinks, passes out, and Ruth comes in, finds him, uncovers his feet, and lies down by him. In the middle of the night, he wakes up and sees her by his feet.
Chapter 3 verse 9: “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are the kinsman redeemer.”
He has spoken blessing, “May the LORD cover you for your faithfulness.” Now she says, “Cover me with your faithfulness.” Now we already know Boaz is a faithful follower of the LORD. So what does he have at the corner of his garments? Tassels. He is faithful to the core. And she says, “I see the symbol of your people. You are faithful to the covenant. Be faithful to keep your part of the deal. Be faithful to the LORD. What he has commanded do.”
So the story unfolds, and sadly, while this should be a story about women, it’s not. It ends with David, who is the great grandson of Ruth. Because of the faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz, the LORD is faithful to raise up for himself one who would be king in Israel. Reread Psalm 61
David does not become king. Saul becomes king and is not faithful. He tries, but he keeps messing up. He tries to kill David a few times even though David works for him. David runs for his life, and Saul uses the kingly resources to actually chase David down and kill him because he believes David is trying to replace him as king. He goes and he finds a cave to relieve himself, and it turns out in the course of the story that David and his men are hiding out in the back of the cave. David’s men think this is a great opportunity to kill King Saul. “The LORD has given him to us today. He’s going to fulfill the promise he made to make you king.”
1 Samuel 24:4: “The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.”
The corner was likely the tassel. If Saul is trying to be faithful, he has signs of faithfulness. David just makes a little snip, and takes the tassel. He has just challenged the faithfulness of Saul as a true Israelite. Saul leaves the cave, and he goes to look for David. David is suddenly conscience stricken. He comes out and tells Saul that he could have taken his life but didn’t, and shows him the proof. Then he is repentant and says that the LORD should be the judge. The LORD will be faithful. And he throws himself under the shelter of the wings of God. David does eventually become king. The LORD shows himself faithful to David.
Matthew 9. Jesus is on his way to raise a dead girl. Verse 12: “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.” (I’m not pretending the original translation of this uses the word kanaf, but the Hebrew translation done later does use kanaf.)
13-14: She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
This is a beautiful story. She’s trying to get a secret healing. She sneaks up through the crowd that she is making unclean by her contact. In fact, she will make Jesus impure by touching him. Unclean passes, but clean never does. You don’t get accidentally clean. He’s defiled. His faithfulness is challenged and questioned by her laying hold of it, and this testimony is exactly where she touches it. The same place David challenges Saul (the corner of his garment), the woman says, “I know he’s faithful, and if I could only lay hold of his faithfulness, I will be clean.”
She’s healed! She’s cleansed! 12 years, and the faithfulness of this Jew is what sets her free. And that’s not it. In Matthew 14:36, this becomes a trend. “All who touched it (the kanaf) were healed.” There’s nothing magical about his clothes, but at the corner of his clothes are four tassels because he is a faithful Jew. He fulfills everything that the LORD has commanded, and at the shadow of his wing, a woman is healed and others are healed. At the corner of his garment, the corner of his faithfulness begins to cover all the needs of those who reach out for it.
So what’s the point? Here’s the deal. Some of you have a better way of being faithful than others. But here’s the good news: your salvation never rested in your faithfulness to begin with. The fact of the matter is you can’t say enough prayers, cry enough tears, confess enough sins, do enough right, or be faithful enough. It doesn’t work that way. You experience the goodness of our God because his faithfulness covers over you, because you know where to run, hide, and put yourself. It is under His faithfulness, and not your own.
But some of you think it is your faithfulness that has somehow earned His faithfulness. Some of you think, almost as Ruth could get that notion that Boaz said it’s because I’m faithful. But what is Ruth? A Moabitess. Under no circumstances should she experience the faithfulness of the LORD, but she does, because it never depended on her faithfulness, but always on His. Some of you are carrying around this weight of perfectionism, because you think it will make you a better follower of Jesus. Some of you need to know the faithfulness of your God. He covers you not because of your faithfulness, but because of His. And like this woman and these others who get the idea, you seek Him and find yourself laying hold of His faithfulness. Let Him cover you with His wings.