Published during: July 2013

Be Broken, or Get Broken

I continue to find Proverbs interesting, challenging, and insightful in ways I have not experienced in years. While I have made a habit of spending time in the book off and on since childhood (my parents encouraged me to read it regularly, not least for its advice on honoring and listening to one’s parents!), I have only begun to grasp how profoundly true its usually straightforward wisdom is as I have come back to it yet again in these last few weeks. God has seen fit to speak to almost any aspect of the mundane we could imagine or wish.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

As with a number of verses I have come across in the last week, this one struck me in no small part because I now have had enough experience to see it for true experientially. Not personally, thanks be to God and to many faithful friends and family members who have born with me well. But I have watched others resist rebuke ad nauseum, and the result is never pleasant. Those who refuse to listen when others bring correction—who are absolutely unwilling to change—ultimately suffer for their stubborn folly. The choices we make are not without consequences; we can go on only so long before they catch up with us and break us. In light of this, we should learn to see God’s rebukes and his chastisements as measures of his grace. He does not rebuke us or bring chiding situations into our lives out of malice, but out of love, to save us from ourselves.

This has me doubly thoughtful: reminded, first of all, to be quick to accept rebuke in my own life, and then also to pray for those I know who are struggling in this area.

Matthew 11

It has been rather in vogue these last few years to suggest that what Jesus really cared about was the plight of the poor and downtrodden—what we might call issues of “social justice.” To be sure, Jesus did care about these things, and God has always cared about them. (There is hardly a book in the Bible where this concern is not displayed!) But as profound as God’s hatred of injustice and abuse of the helpless is, there is something he hates even more, unpopular as though is to say it: unbelief. In Matthew 11, Jesus rebukes three cities, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, not for any other sins but because there he had done a great many miracles, and they did not believe him. And refusing to believe in Christ deserved a harsher punishment than did all the myriad sins of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom: cities known for everything from economic injustice to rape and murder. We must therefore keep the gospel’s call to repent and believe Christ first and foremost—not neglecting the other matters of righteousness, but not forgetting that which is worst and has the highest penalty.

Marriage and Sexual Purity

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

On Sundays, I will be using this space as an opportunity to reflect publicly on the sermon presented.

Today, Ashok Nachnani1 preached through 1 Corinthians 6:12–7:7. Since Paul speaks throughout this section (even across a topic change) about issues related to sexual (im)morality, Ashok, tackled the whole passage together.2 He broke the text down into three major points:

  1. Flee sexual immorality.
  2. Embrace marriage as a protection against sexual immorality.
  3. Recognize that both marriage and singleness/celibacy are gifts from God.

Ashok spent the greatest amount of time addressing the first issue—and he did an excellent job of it. Sexual immorality is a hot-button topic in our culture, and it is easy to talk too much, too harshly, too little, or too passively about it; I think Ashok hit the right balance of preaching both the sinfulness of sexual immorality and the glorious power of God’s grace in Christ. That is precisely the balance that we must always strive for, whatever the topic, and all the more so in areas where our culture is particularly sensitive.

A few gems that particularly stood out to me:

  • Sexual immorality is like a terrible house guest who promises to come for a short, pleasant visit—and instead sticks around indefinitely, destroying everything along the way.
  • Following Matt Chandler: “It is okay not to be okay. It is not okay to stay that way.” The gospel, Ashok reminded us, is for people who are not okay, and we need to welcome people however broken they are. At the same time, the gospel calls us to be transformed—not to remain in that same state of brokenness forever without change.
  • Ashok pointed out that the world tells teens that God made a beautiful garden, and promptly fenced off the nicest part with barbed wire, intimating that extramarital sex is worth violating God’s will. This is, he pointed out, not exactly a new lie… just a repetion of the oldest lie.
  • All of us face temptation in the area of sexuality—whether heterosexual or homosexual. As such, Christians who do not experience same-sex attraction can (at least to some extent) and need to empathize much more with the struggles of their brothers and sisters who do experience same-sex attraction. We must not treat homosexual practice as any worse than any other kind of extramarital sexual practice, but recognize instead that all of us are tempted and fallible in precisely this area, though not in precisely the same ways. For all of us, the call is to place our identity not in our sexuality but in Christ himself—a hard call, but one we are empowered to walk out by the Holy Spirit.3
  • Marriage has many good purposes, including procreation, imaging Christ to the world, and sanctifying us—but Paul makes it clear that, among those many other purposes, it also helps us avoid sexual immorality. That was no less significant a help to the Corinthians than it is to us.
  • Marital sex is not about using your spouse for your own satisfaction, but about giving yourself to your spouse for his/her good pleasure.
  • When considering the gifts of marriage and singleness (and here Ashok was speaking particularly to singles), do not forget who the gift-giver is. He gives no gift out of spite, or ignorance of what is best for us; the gift of singleness is therefore a good thing, however it may feel at the time.
  • Trust God to give you all you need.4

It is always tempting, when dealing with hard sin issues, to either gloss over them or to spend the entire time hammering on that issue. What believers (and non-believers!) need, though, is to hear both the deadly cost of sin, and the price that has already been paid for it. I was blessed today, because Ashok showed us the cost of sexual immorality and showed us the beautiful work of Christ in atoning for any and all our sexual immorality. Hallelujah.

I am also translating the sermon passage from Greek whenever applicable sometime Saturday or Sunday morning for my own profit; I will supply these translations, with some brief commentary, at the end of my reflections in case anyone is curious and wants to see my progress.

My translation:

All is permissible to me, but all is not helpful to me; all is permissible to me but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,” but God will do away with both. But the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God both raised the Lord and will raise us by his own power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? So then, a member of Christ cannot become a member of a prosititute, can he? By no means! Or do you not know that the one who is united with a prostitue is one flesh with her? For it says, “The two will become one flesh.” But the one who is united with the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality! Every sin which a person does is outside his body, but the one who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price—so then glorify God in your bodies!

Now concerning that which you wrote, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”— On account of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband is to give what he owes to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does; and likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not hold back from each other—unless by mutual consent for a time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again—that Satan may not tempt you by your lack of self-control. And I say this as a concession, not as a command—now I wish all men to be even as I myself am, but each one his own gift from God: one of this sort, and another of that.


“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.


“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

As with last week’s section, the translations overlap substantially. For the most part, the language—both the vocabulary and the syntax—in 1 Corinthians is fairly straightforward. To wit: I was able to translate this passage while only having to look up about five words, and with little to no confusion on the grammar. Even granting that it is a familiar passage, this is pretty straightforward.

Between the NIV and the ESV, I slightly prefer the ESV’s rendering; the NIV (somewhat unusually) adds a lot of interpretive material throughout the text in this case. While the NIV aims for a smoother reading, for the most part it doesn’t add nearly as much interpretation as it does here. The editors are trying to make the consensus interpretation of the otherwise somewhat confusing text apparent: Paul is apparently quoting the Corinthians and then responding to their ideas or questions, so the NIV adds, “You say…” throughout. This is a somewhat reasonable attempt to bring across the semantics of the text, but it’s not a choice I’m particularly comfortable with, because it adds a great deal that simply isn’t present in the original. To be sure, moves like this are inevitable; the question is simply a matter of extent.

On the other hand, the translators of the ESV made a few odd choices of its own. First, the way they chose to word the conclusion of the first paragraph (“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this”) is neither very good English nor even representative of the word order in the original Greek. (My translation represents the word order much more accurately.) In cases like this, the traditional—i.e. the King James Version—reading is usually to blame for odd wordings in modern English, but here the KJV worded it much more like we would. In short, I have no idea why the editors of the ESV made that move. Second, unlike my translation or the NIV, they chose to supply “it is written” before introducing the quote from Genesis—but for a translation that proclaims its aim as using, as often as possible, the same words in English for the same words in Greek, this is strange. The word is not “written,” but “said”; in this case, the NIV is more literal than the ESV.

Again, on the whole I prefer the ESV’s rendering here, but only by a hair. The NIV removes a lot of ambiguity that makes the passage more confusing, but it does so by adding in a great deal of extra material. This is the balance every translation has to juggle constantly, and again, we see that each does better in some areas than in others.

  1. And you thought “Thabiti Anyabwile” was hard to figure out by reading alone. Ha! 
  2. This was a good plan—as I’ve mentioned before, I think taking longer sections generally makes for better preaching. 
  3. I strongly recommend listening to the sermon for this section alone. Ashok nailed it in both content and tone; I hope to be as graciously articulate as him on hard subjects at some point in the future. 
  4. Though this came as part of Ashok’s comments to singles in particular, it is worth bearing in mind no matter what the circumstances. 

A Living Sacrifice

I’ve been busy plowing through my exegetical research paper on Romans 12:1–2 for my Greek Syntax and Exegesis class. Along the way, I’ve discovered some killer quotes from a variety of commentators. Since I still have a good three or four hours of writing to do tonight, I thought I’d share these with you instead of my own thoughts. Trust me when I say you’re coming out ahead on this.

Karl Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans:

Christians, it is true, live in the world and in time, but by God’s mercy it has been made impossible for them to adapt and to accomodate themselves to its form and charcter or to give their lives once more the form and character of this world. It has been made impossible for them because, thanks to their participation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they have already left this world behind them. Their share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ consists in a transformation which they have experienced. It consists in a renewal of their thinking which compels and also enables them, in the midst of the course of the world to which they too are subject, to distinguish between the law of the course of the world and the will of God, between that which is divinely and therefore truly good, agreeable and perfect and that which is the natural result of the process of the world. It compels and enables them, as men who have been sacrificed to God, and who belong to him, not to show in their lives a repetition of the pattern and character of this world but to erect a sign of God’s will, a sign of the order of his coming new world. (150–151)

C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2, p. 594:

[The] obedience required of Christians is not just an obedience in principle. It is rather an obedience of thought and attitude, of word and deed, wrought out in the concrete situations of life—and an obedience, moreover, which has to be wrought out by Christians who are far from being fully sicere or fully serious in theri calling God ‘Father’. Exhortation is therefore necessary—an exhortation which does not stop at the abstract and general, but is concrete and particular. It is such exhortation that we find in Romans 12.1–15.13.

vol. 2, p. 595:

[The] Christian’s obedience is his response to what God has done for him in Christ, the expression of his gratitude. Given its full force, the οὖν makes clear right from the start the theocentric nature of all truly Christian moral effort; for it indicates that the source from which such effort sprints is neither a humanistic desire for the enhancement of the self by the attainment of moral superiority, nor the legalist’s hope of putting God under an obligation, but the saving deed of God itself.

Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 7:

Essentially, then, Paul’s thesis is that the power of God is revealed through the gospel for all who have faith. In succeeding sections of the letter he argues the case for this thesis, defends it against possible objections, and spells out some of its ethical implications.

Ben C. Dunson, “Faith in Romans: The Salvation of the Individual or Life in Community?” p. 35:

Romans 12 opens with perhaps the most sweeping use of a conjunction (οῦν) in the entire Pauline corpus: in light of everything Paul has said previously in the first 11 chapters of the letter, the Roman Christians are to present their bodies (τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν) as a pleasant ‘living sacrifice’ to God (12.1). This act of presentation entails both a refusal to live as the rest of the world (‘this age’) and a transformation that takes place through the ‘renewal’ (ἀνακαινώσει) of the mind, which in turn leads to an ability to recognize the perfect will of God (12.2). The corporate dynamic with which this new section of the letter opens is unmistakable: although each member of the church or churches in Rome has a distinct bodily identity, each o f them individually is to be formed into a single ‘living sacrifice’ (θυσίαν ζώσαν) to be presented to God. This sacrificial offering constitutes one of the pillars of the foundational work of God’s new creation, and plays an integral role in establishing the means through which the exhortations Paul will soon give are to be carried out.

Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, p. 327:

What was previously cultic is now extended to the secularity of our earthly life as a whole. Basically this means the replacement of any cultic thinking…. Naturally this does not mean any disparagement of worship and the sacraments. Nevertheless, these events are no longer, as in cultic thinking, fundamenetally separated from everyday Christian life in such a way as to mean something other than the promise for this and the summons to it…. Eiether the whole of Christian life is worship, and the gatherings and sacramental acts of the community provide equpiment and instruction for this, or these gatherings and acts lead in fact to absurdity.

p. 330:

Yet he does not mean what people find good and beautiful and can justify before their own consciences. Only God’s will is called good and acceptable and perfect. In a concrete case this may coincide with human ideals, but it neither merges into these nor is it to be equated with them without further ado.

p. 331:

Thus the claim is made that in the light of the new aeon Christians can do a better job with reason than the world in general does. Paradoxically they do this precisely at the point where, corresponding to God’s will, they oppose the trend of this world and do what seems to be irrational, as God himself did in sending his Son to the cross.

Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 25:

Christology is the theological ground and starting point of the letter. Paul’s understanding of Christ is the only topic broad enough to unify his various emphases…. God’s act in Christ is the starting point of all Paul’s thinking and is so basic to the early church that he could assume that the Roman Christians shared this conviction with him. In this sense, while Christology is nowhere in Romans the expressed topic, it is everywhere the underlying point of departure.

pp. 744–745:

The gospel unleashes God’s power so that people, by embracing it, can be rescued from the disastrous effects of sin, being pronounced “righteous” in God’s sight and having a secure hope for salvation from wrath in the last day. But, as Paul has made clear in Rom. 6, deliverance from the power of sin is inseparable from deliverance from its penalty. Union with Christ in his death and resurrection provides both. For Jesus Christ is the Lord; and thus to believe in him means at the same time a commitment to obey him…. The “imperative” of a transformed life is therefore not an optional “second step” after we embrace the gospel: it is rooted in our initial response to the gospel itself. To eliminate this part of Romans would be therefore to omit an indispensable dimension of the gospel itself. The transition from Rom. 11 to Rom. 12… is not, therefore, a transition from “theology” to “practice,” but from a focus more on the “indicative” side of the gospel to a focus more on the “imperative” side of the gospel.

p. 746:

Through the renewal of the mind that the gospel makes possible, Christians can know and do the will of God…

p. 750:

In Rom. 12:1… the sacrifice we offer is not some specific form of praise or service, but our “bodies” themselves. It is not only what we can give that God demands; he demands the giver.

p. 758:

But Paul’s vision, to which he calls us, is of Christians whose minds are so thoroughly renewed that we know from within, almost instinctively, what we are to do to please God in any given situation.

Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 433–434:

But we should bear in mind that the body is very important in the Christian understanding of things. Our bodies may be “implements of righteousness” (6:13)… [Paul] knows that there are possibilities of evil in the body but that in the believer “the body of sin” has been brought to nothing (6:6); sin does not reign in the believer’s body (6:12). Grace affects the whole life and is not some remote, ethereal affair.”

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2, p. 111:

Paul was realistic and he was aware that if sanctification did not embrace the physical in our personality it would be annulled from the outset.

Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 640:

Romans 12:1–2 serve as the paradigm for the entire exhortation section… Give yourselves wholly to God; do not be shaped by the old world order, but let new thought patterns transform your life.

Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, pp. 252–253:

The word service (latreian) also hearkens back to Romans 1:25, where idolaters are said to “worship and serve [elatreusan] the creature rather than the creator. Romans 12:1–2 captures the reversal of such idolatry. Surrendering one’s life to GOd is true worship, and the glory and thanks previously given to idols are now given to God (Rom 1:21). True worship is not confined to cultic acts, nor do cultic acts receive much emphasis in Paul. Worship involves honoring God by submitting to his sovereignty in every sphere of life.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 264:

Paul is allowing part of his cluster of ‘resurrection’ language to make its way forwards from Jesus’ resurrection, and backwards fromt he promise of eventual bodily resurrection, into a foundational statement of what it means to live as truly human beings within the new age.

Than Many Sparrows

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Note that there are two quite distinct sections to today’s post. Don’t think you’re done just because you got to the first ‘Hallelujah’!

Thinking Through Matthew 10 Again

As I told Jaimie tonight, I have long found Matthew 10:31 to be one of those verses that is simultaneously comforting and a little funny. There is simply something a touch odd about the way it comes through in English:

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (ESV)

Even in translations which generally prioritize a smoother reading (rather than the more literalistic approach favored by e.g. the ESV, NASB, etc.), end up with a phrase that is just, well, a little funny to read:

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (NIV2011)

As I worked through the surrounding chapter more carefully, though, the verse came home in a way that it never had before (even if I still think, and probably will always think, that it reads a little funny in English).

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples1 to do the same kinds of work he had been doing: casting out demons, healing people of their diseases, cleansing lepers, and even raising people from the dead. The comments that follow were his commission statements to his disciples. These are, notably, not exactly the cheeriest commissioning statements one might think to offer: they include not only the strong implication that the disciples would be rejected, but the promise of persecution even from within one’s own family and an incredibly heightened sense of the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus and taking his name to the nations is not child’s play, but hard and costly work.

And it is in this context that we find the somewhat amusing quote cited above—specifically, as Jesus warns his disciples not to act out of fear of man. The context makes the sentence much more serious: Jesus has just said that they should not fear men, who can kill only the body, but should instead fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. He follows the statement with the promise that he will acknowledge before the Father those who acknowledge him before men… and deny before the Father those who deny him before men. The word about the sparrows, then—the promise that God cares about even the sparrows, and so much more for his children—is an enormously comforting thought when situated as it is in its context of prophesied persecution and hardship for those who follow Christ.

I am worth more than many sparrows. Hallelujah: I can proclaim Christ without fear of man.

Genealogies Are Fun, Right?

I also read Genesis 10 today. This is one of those lists of names that we generally find boring and pointless. However, if we affirm the divine inspiration of Scripture—that is, if we really believe that the Holy Spirit superintended the composition of these books so that we have everything we need, and we need everything we have—then there is a reason that there are lists of names in the Bible. I can think of several immediately: First, they are important in many cultures, even if not our own, as markers of historicity and authenticity. Second, they serve as markers for the reality that God is and always has been aware of the minutiae of even our genealogies. Third, and perhaps most significantly, they are part of the framework by which God communicates his ongoing work in history, culminating in the lists of names that come early in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel accounts. These are not mere random lists of names; they are part of the way God made sure that everyone could see that he kept his promise.

Tonight, I noticed one more of the tiny little pieces of Scripture that goes along with that. At the end of Genesis 10, Moses makes a neat little literary move that I had never caught before: he introduces the word “nations” into the narrative for the first time. Now, that might be mildly interesting if I didn’t know where things were going—but I do. I know that in just a matter of a few chapters, God will promise explicitly to make a nation that blesses all the families of the earth through Abraham. Just chapters after that, he will use the same word to promise that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. This idea grows ever more prominent throughout the Old Testament: God will use Israel to bless the nations. It flowers into full fruition in the coming of Christ and his commission to his disciples: to preach the gospel to all the nations. Again: God keeps his promises, and even the dry little details like genealogies fit into the big picture of his glorious redemptive work in history, culminating in Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God.


  1. The list here has at least one interesting thing in it: it unsurprisingly highlights Peter and Judas, first and last in the list respectively—all the lists of the Twelve do likewise—but it also highlights Matthew. Not just his name, but his role: Matthew the tax-collector. “Yes, I wrote this book; but no, I have no grounds for pride. Jesus called me from abusing my own people for material gain to follow him. Here we are.” 

I have not slept enough this week. Tonight, I read Genesis 9, Psalm 17, Proverbs 25, and Matthew 9. Now, I am going to sleep. Sometimes, the wise thing to do is treat one’s body well, as the temple of God, and care for it so that one can continue using it well.

Hang On, Did You Say “Calmed a Storm”?

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Jesus, upon finishing the Sermon on the Mount, came down from the mountain and immediately continued setting the world on its head. “Do not think that I came to abolish [the Law or the Prophets],” he said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The statement seems a bit mysterious at the time, but suddenly it becomes a bit clearer, because the things Jesus does when he comes down from the mountain are, well… surprising, and not always in line with the Law and the Prophets as the people understood them.

Right off the bat, he not only heals a leper, but does so by touching said leper. Jesus immediately became ceremonially unclean.1 He then instructs the leper to fulfill the rest of the Mosaic Law—after having forfeited his own cleanness for that man’s sake in a way that ran directly contrary to the understanding of his peers about the intent of that Law.

The next narrative section is just as surprising—or it should be, if we were not so inured to it by familiarity. A centurion in the Roman army—the occupiers and oppressors of Israel—comes to him and asks him to heal his servant. Jesus makes the first surprising move simply by acquiescing to the request: “I will come and heal him,” he says (v. 7). And then things become truly surprising. First, the centurion rejects Jesus’ offer to come, arguing that Jesus need only speak and whatever he says will be done—to which Jesus replies that he has not seen any such measure of faith among Israel, and promptly heals the man’s servant. Then he tells everyone that people from all over the world will come sit at God’s table while the “sons of the kingdom” (the biological heirs of the promise to Abraham) will be kicked out.

So now in the span of a few verses, Jesus has touched a leper, proclaimed a Gentile superior in his faith to anyone he had encountered in all Israel, and then announced that the fulfillment of the Messianic promises of the nations coming into Israel would coincide not with Israel’s exaltation but her disgrace. Coming to Matthew after reading the Old Testament, these announcements prompt mingled affirmation and confusion—affirmation, because yes, these are the things God promised; but confusion, because the way they are coming is not exactly what one would expect.

Jesus heals more people of sickness and demons. Then he calms a storm (to which his disciples, traveling with him, can say only, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”—immediately after pleading for him to save them; see Matthew 8:25–27). That one took me aback a little bit, in at least two ways: (1) These men who had been following Jesus around watching him perform miracles, even to the point that they thought he might be able to do something while they were threatened by the weather, were astounded by what he actually did.2 (2) He calmed a storm. Jesus spoke, and the storm calmed and the waves went away. He was God. Not just a powerful prophet, not just a man used of God, but God himself, and it showed. The point comes home again when he casts out yet more demons and sends them into a herd of pigs—he has the authority to do that!

Sometimes slowing down and thinking about the books, especially in their settings in the Bible as a whole, helps me see things more clearly. In this case, it makes it much more obvious why the people found Jesus so confusing: he doesn’t do anything the “right” way, and he was always doing things that took people’s breath away, because he was God and man. More—much more—than they expected in their Messiah. Someone not only to follow to the worship of God in the new age, but God himself, to be worshipped.


  1. It strikes me that this is a major part of what Jesus does for us: he comes to us, and touches us, and becomes unclean that we might be healed of our infirmities. 
  2. It is also striking that he rebukes his closest followers for their little faith immediately after commending a Gentile for his great faith. So often we think, “If I could just walk with Jesus, it would be so much easier to believe.” The Bible bears witness in so many ways that this way of thinking is simply wrong—profoundly wrong. 

The Hardest Passage in the Bible (For Me)

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

I find Genesis 6–8 to be some of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. The account of Noah and his family and many animals boarding a boat and surviving a worldwide flood by the mercy of God is an amazing picture of both God’s wrath against sin and his mercy to those who call on him. I do not find the passage difficult for theological reasons, so much (though I understand why others wrestle with the section there), but for the difficulty they present in reconciling the Scriptures with the evidence of the world around us.

I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and I spend a substantial part of my time outside of seminary working as a software developer. Science is deep in my soul; the way the universe ticks has always fascinated me and the way we study the universe no less so. The combination of these pieces leaves me able to understand—far better than many of my peers—just how odd the narrative seems scientifically.

There are plenty of parts of the history that do not trouble me at all. That God could miraculously flood the entire earth is not a matter of doubt in the least. That he could miraculously carry people and animals through the flood is likewise unproblematic for me. Even the repopulation of the earth with animals from what was an impossibly small sample1 when compared to the nearly incomprehensible biodiversity that characterizes our world is as nothing for the one who made all things.2 God made the universe; he is perfectly capable of managing a worldwide flood without breaking a sweat.

The problem, from my point of view, is that—all the arguments to the contrary of Ken Ham and his fellow travelers notwithstanding—there is not a shred of credible evidence for a worldwide flood in the geological record. It is an item that must be taken purely on faith, and not only on faith but on faith that runs exactly contrary to all the best evidence otherwise available to us. For a faith that sets as its capstone the historicity of a miracle, this is troublesome.3 Granting that scientific evidence is always open to revision, the best we have right now says, “This didn’t happen.” That leaves me in a strange spot.

The spot is strange precisely because ours is a historical faith, and because I am confident—absolutely confident—that 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, and he really is enthroned at the right hand of God the Father in heaven right now,4 and he really is coming back to set all things to rights. I believe his word, and I believe that the Scriptures are true. The historical evidence is amazing; the testimony from the internal coherence of Scripture itself is remarkable; and I and many others have personally witnessed the power of God in the lives of believers and unbelievers alike—to heal people, to deliver from demons, and to radically transform people from those who hate God to those who love him. I believe and trust in Jesus Christ.

And I have no idea what to do with Genesis 6–8 other than to continue asking questions in a posture of faith seeking understanding.5 I believe the passage, because it is the word of God, though I do not understand it yet. But—for now—that is enough. Jesus does not require that we understand every last thing, and he does not demand that we set aside all our questions; he requires only that we believingly obey him even as we continue asking in faith that he will ultimately answer us (and more, that he will ultimately satisfy us more than the answers will). And so as I continue seeking how best to understand this passage, I will also continue worshipping my risen, reigning God-Man Savior-King.

  1. Obligatory Firefly reference here: I can’t help but thing of River Tam saying, “Noah’s ark is a problem… We’ll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of mammal on the same boat.” 
  2. Obligatory tweaking of the nose of all angrily ardent anti-evolutionists: If we assume that all animals alive today are descendants of animals that were on that boat, and think about the size of the boat and the number of distinct species of animals on the planet—including every kind of bird, reptile, and mammal—we are forced inevitably to the conclusion that God directed massive, species-boundary-crossing evolutionary diversification in the immediate aftermath of the flood, or otherwise to suppose that he simply recreated all the other species (in which case, why bother taking that particular set on the boat?). The fact that said evolution would have occurred far more rapidly than old-earth models suggest does not negate the fact that macro-evolution is all but demanded by the flood narrative. 
  3. If you’re curious: I’m an old-earth creationist, and I find the creation narrative much less difficult to square with the scientific record than I do the flood. 
  4. Is he presently reigning millennially? Heh. That’s definitely a different post… 
  5. Thankfully, I’m in good company, since I stole that phrase from St. Augustine.