Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

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Our Identity Has a Purpose

or The ‘That’ We Can’t Delete (originally a 3-minute speech for Enrich Writer’s Conference)

As a writer, I’ve been told to ferociously edit, to remove unnecessary words and watch for repeated words. I’ve learned to limit my uses of ‘so,’ ‘like,’ ‘that,’ and similar words.

But sometimes we need to keep the ‘that.’

For the grammar nerds among us (if you don’t love grammar, you can skip this paragraph), the ‘that’ I find so important is not a demonstrative adjective or the introductory word for a descriptive clause. This ‘that’ leads into a purpose clause. One thing happens in order to produce the following thing. Purpose clauses may begin with that, so that, in order that, or lest.

The biblical authors knew we needed purpose clauses, and the translators, when the text called for it, used ‘that’ or ‘so that.’

We find a crucial example of ‘that’ for a purpose clause in 1 Peter 2:9.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…  -1 Peter 2:9a

If we stop there, we feel pretty good about ourselves. We are chosen, royal, holy, and special. That’s awesome. I feel super-good about myself when I read that.

But there’s more.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  -1 Peter 2:9b

The first half of the verse reveals our identity. The second half reveals the reason we’ve been given the identity. It declares our purpose: to declare the praise of him who called us.

These days, our Christian culture focuses a lot on identity. There are songs and sermons about it, t-shirts you can wear, and signs you can hang in your house. The things you’ve read about identity are absolutely true, but it’s an incomplete truth without the attached purpose. Focusing so heavily on our identity makes our faith about us rather than about God and His glory.

IMG_0096
Mt. Kilimanjaro (the snow-capped one on the right) (c) Carole Sparks

Our identity is not the summit of the mountain we’re climbing but the equipment we shoulder to climb it.

02-28 ready to run this year shoes race
new running shoes (c) Carole Sparks

Our identity is not the gold medal for which we strain but the shoes we lace up to run the race.

Our identity is not a landing point in our faith but a launching pad.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you…

So let’s take our identity, our chosen-ness, our special-ness, and let’s embrace it! Let’s declare it! Let’s scream it at Satan and hold our heads high! But then, let’s buckle that belt of truth on tightly (Ephesians 6:14) and step into our purpose, which—no matter what your calling—is His Glory!

Our identity is pointless without the purpose for which it was given. On purpose clauses, words our editors like to delete, and the reason we are who we are in Christ. My #identity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

How does your identity equip you to fulfill your purpose in Christ? Have you tended to rest in identity without considering the attached purpose? I know I have. Whatever you’re thinking, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

More on identity: The Idol of Identity and Q & A with John the Baptist

More on not ignoring the second half of the verse: Stillness

 

How Much More

A wobbly number line stretched across the classroom board, drawn without the help of a straight edge. Zero was near the center. To the left, the negative numbers. To the right, the positive numbers. You remember it from elementary or middle school, don’t you? For me, it was a green chalkboard and a teacher who was allergic to chalk. “Occupational hazard,” he said. At each end, the line was capped by an arrow just before the edge of the board. The arrow meant we hadn’t really arrived at the end of the line—that it continued into infinity in both directions.

As I read through Romans 5 this week, that number line returned to my mind. Four times in this chapter, Paul says “how much more.” It’s not a question but an exclamation, like when I (frequently) say, “What was I thinking!” or “How could I have forgotten that!”

I dug into the Greek a little. The phrase is pollō mállon (thank you, BibleGateway.com and my Complete Word Study Dictionary). It means simply “much more;” we add the “how” to get the right meaning in English. This word pairing comes up rather often in the New Testament, most notably (I think) in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said,

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  -Matthew 6:30 (emphasis added)

Much more.

With these words, the speaker (Jesus, Paul, etc.) creates a comparison between two concepts. There’s a first thing, which may be positive or negative, but the second thing so far exceeds the first as to make the first thing insignificant.

Like when David said, “My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5), the image here is abundance, excess, extra to the point of wastefulness.

In the number line of life, we start out in the negative, somewhere to the left of zero. God’s generosity (saving us through Jesus’ death) doesn’t just return us to zero. It goes far beyond, bypassing even that arrow at the edge of the board on the positive side, into infinity or, in our case, an infinite eternity.

Let’s look at Paul’s how much more comparisons in Romans 5.

Since we have now been
justified by his blood,
how much more shall we
be saved from God’s wrath
through him! For if, while
we were God’s enemies, we
were reconciled to him
through the death of his
Son, how much more, having
been reconciled, shall we
be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but
we also boast in God through
our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now
received reconciliation.
Romans 5:9-11

How much more are we saved from God’s wrath (v. 9)

Jesus’ blood gives us the right to be in God’s presence (justification), but it’s more than that. Because of Jesus’ death, we don’t have to worry about the final judgment. God will not release his righteous anger on us.

Jesus gave us an excellent example of this. When the prodigal son returned to his father (Luke 15:11-32), the father could have said, “Yes, you’re my son, but you need to be punished.” He didn’t. The younger son not only returned to his status in the family, but he was also saved from his father’s wrath.

How much more are we saved through His life (v. 10)

We’ve also been brought into a healthy relationship with God (reconciliation), but He doesn’t stop there—oh no! Jesus’ continuing life in and through us, both saved us and continues our sanctification (the “shall we be saved” of this verse). We have an on-going, deepening relationship with God through Jesus.

Again, from Jesus’ parable: The prodigal’s father could have said, “I forgive you, now get out of my sight,” but he didn’t. He pursued a renewed relationship with his long-lost son, starting with a big celebration.

Next in Romans 5, Paul introduces the idea of the “one man” Adam and the “one man” Jesus Christ. This section is full of comparisons, but twice he uses our pollō mállon again.

But the gift is not like
the trespass. For if the
many died by the trespass
of the one man, how much
more did God’s grace and
the gift that came by the
grace of the one man, Jesus
Christ, overflow to the
many! Nor can the gift of
God be compared with the
result of one man’s sin:
The judgment followed one
sin and brought condemnation,
but the gift followed many
trespasses and brought
justification. For if, by
the trespass of the one man,
death reigned through that
one man, how much more will
those who receive God’s
abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of
righteousness reign in life
through the one man,
Jesus Christ!
Romans 5:15-17

How much more does grace overflow to many (v. 15)

Before Jesus came, many people died because of sin—Adam’s original sin instilled in them. But many more than that will live eternally because we get grace (our saving factor) through Jesus’ singular death and subsequent resurrection.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  –Ephesians 2:8

How much more will grace-receivers reign through Christ (v. 17)

Because of Adam’s sin, death reigns in our lives. When we receive God’s grace, He dethrones death and sets us up to reign in this life through Jesus.

How much more is there to say? (I mean this one as a question.)

I hope you can see the type of comparison Paul makes in these four verses. In the first two, he says, “What you know is good, but the reality is so much better!” In the second pair, he says, “If this is bad, the converse is not just good but amazingly good!” Every time, God goes the extra step to make our situation beautiful and remarkable.

Let’s end with a related “immeasurably more” from Paul.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  –Ephesians 3:20-21

Why does he give us much more? For His glory. We can draw a heavy line all the way across our number lines on the board and off, into infinity.

number line 2
(c) Carole Sparks

God isn’t playing a zero-sum game with our eternity. He gives us “much more” every time. My #more is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Can you think of a good image to help us understand God’s “much more”? My number line is just one example. Have these verses impacted your life in a particular way? In either case, we would love to hear from you in the comments below. Let’s glorify God with a discussion of His Word!

Sorry Jesus, Your Deity Slipped My Mind

“Didn’t we just do this the other day?” Most years, Christmas decorations show up in the stores, and I can’t believe it’s already that time again. Or my first-born starts talking about her birthday, and I’m like, “Wait, didn’t you just have a birthday?”

I can imagine Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt the same way about Passover. After she and Joseph returned to Nazareth from Egypt, they went to Jerusalem for the festival every year. It was a three-day walk each way, but they did it, as did almost everyone in Nazareth. Continue reading

Two Nazarites Walked into a Juice Bar

Two Nazarites walked into a juice bar. (It was a juice bar because, being Nazarites, they don’t drink alcohol.) Both were the long-desired offspring of barren couples, both dedicated entirely to God before they were born, and both destined to die at the hands of oppressors (though the reasons for their death were very different).

They are the only two Nazarites most of us could name, one from the Old Testament and one from the New: Samson and John the Baptist. (You get extra credit if you know that Samuel was also a Nazarite. See 1 Samuel 1:11. I didn’t know it until I read the study notes in my Bible today.) Let’s stand these two side by side and see what we can learn.

Birth: Barrenness, Angels, and Life-Long Dedication

Both men were set apart for
God from before conception.

Manoah’s wife (we don’t get her name) was barren when “the angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son’” (Judges 13:3). Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was also barren when an angel appeared to Zechariah in the temple and said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:13). On both occasions, the angel went on to explain that the boy would be set apart for service to the Lord. In Samson’s case, it was explicitly as a Nazarite (Judges 13:5). In John’s case, we infer from the text, which says he would never drink alcohol and he would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born” (Luke 1:15).

Not clear on what a Nazarite is? Check Numbers 6 and/or skip down to the first comment below, where I’ve summarized it.

Life: Wilderness, Honey, and Owning One’s Identity

Both Samson and John the Baptist grew up to be “the outdoorsy type.” After killing a lion, Samson knew how to find the exact spot later (Judges 14:5-9). He was also able to catch 300 wild foxes—no easy task (Judges 15:3-5). John lived in the wilderness when “the word of God came to him” (Luke 3:2), and he stayed there to do his preaching (Matthew 3:1, 5). Both men liked wild honey, but only Samson took his from a dead animal (Judges 14:8-9, Matthew 3:4).

From the beginning, Samson disregarded his Nazarite identity. While he enjoyed supernatural strength from God (despite his bad behavior), he never guarded his vows and frequently touched dead things (e.g. Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14-15; 16:3). Judges doesn’t say, but I bet he drank alcohol at some of those parties, too. Throughout his life, Samson never pointed people to God. John, on the other hand, embraced his Nazarite identity. The gospels aren’t explicit, but one gets the impression that John’s wilderness roamings, his hermit-like tendencies, and even his camel hair clothes (Matthew 3:4), reflected his effort to uphold the vows he never asked to take. John’s whole adult life centered on pointing people to Jesus (John 1:26-34).

Death: Oppressors, Lust, and Leaving a Legacy

Both men died
because of lust.

Lust led to the death of both Samson and John, and both died at the hands of oppressors. But they left very different legacies.

Samson’s desire for Delilah—a woman to whom he wasn’t married—clouded his judgement. After much nagging (Yes, the Scriptures use that word!), he told her the secret of his strength. She shaved his head, and the Philistines captured him, plucking out his eyes before they put him to work in prison (Judges 16:4-21). At a big party, the Philistines put the blind, weak Samson on display. The Bible says, “He performed for them” (Judges 16:25). How humiliating! But Samson saw his opportunity. He prayed,

Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.  –Judges 16:28

Even here, weakened and humiliated, Samson didn’t honor God with his request. Instead, he sought revenge, even though it meant his own death. Samson’s lust led to his death.

Herodias hated John for telling the truth about her marriage to Herod. She talked Herod into arresting John and putting him in prison (Mark 6:17-20). On Herod’s birthday, he threw himself a big party. Salome, Herodias’ daughter, danced for her step-father and his guests. Matthew explains:

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.  –Matthew 14:6-10

His judgment was clouded by lust (for his wife’s daughter!!) and probably alcohol, but Herod had to fulfill his oath. John died because of Herod’s lust.

Samson lived a reckless
life solely for himself.
John lived a weird life,
but he focused on Jesus.

Samson lived a reckless, sinful life, taking advantage of God’s gifts and grabbing as much attention as he could for himself. Yes, God used Samson to destroy Israel’s enemies, but He could have been so much more, had he gotten beyond himself—his pain, his resentment, his selfishness—to focus his life on God’s glory. Instead, he remained vengeful and proud, and he died in that vengeance.

John lived an unusual (to our eyes), single-minded life pointing others to Jesus. “Look,” John said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He died for speaking Truth to power.

09-01 lunch - Ju's drink 1
Random photo of me at an outdoor cafe with a juice drink. It was a long time ago… (c) Carole Sparks

We’re all born into situations for which we never asked. Some are negative: hereditary diseases, legacies of substance abuse, racism. We struggle to rise above those. Others are seemingly positive: preachers’ kids, high educational standards, parents in demanding occupations. We may rebel against those for a time (some do it for a lifetime). Both Samson and John the Baptist received their Nazarite vows before they were born, but they “grew into” those vows very differently. This comparison makes me question how I accept and use my heredity, call it my received legacy (the good and the bad), for God’s glory.

Or maybe we need to talk about what we’ve claimed for ourselves. We say we’ve dedicated our lives to Jesus, but how’s that playing out in our attitudes and actions? Which kind of Nazarite will I be? Which kind of Nazarite will you be?

I imagine Samson walking into the juice bar with lots of tattoos, his seven braids like dreadlocks, his massive bulk filling the room. What kind of drink would he order?

I imagine John walking in right behind him, his long hair and beard studded with twigs, his camel hair vest drawing a few eyes, an intense look on his face. They don’t serve locust protein powder yet (that’s a thing—Google it!), so what would he order?

Two Nazarites walked into a juice bar—one struggling against his identity and one embracing it. What can we learn from their lives? My #dedication is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Congratulations on making it all the way through this long post! Use the comment section below to let me know your thoughts on Nazarites in general, these two guys in particular, their comparison, or what you think they’d order in the juice bar. I love hearing from my readers!

For a great summary of these lives (plus Samuel) and an interesting comparison of them to Jesus, check out Vanessa’s recent post.

Jesus’ Sabbath Insurgency

I made a real effort to Sabbath well this past Sunday. (If you’re wondering why I say that, click back to last month’s part 1 and/or part 2 on Sabbathing.) It was better. I didn’t get the sit-down-and-meditate opportunity I had anticipated, but I chose not to do some things on my list and instead, spent time with my oldest child, doing something she wanted to do. Small victories, right?

I’ve backed into the topic of Sabbath, and I didn’t realize where the Holy Spirit would take me when I first typed “Sabbathing” on my computer last month. So this week, let’s go back to where we should have started—in the Word of God. Let’s dig into the first of two consecutive scenes where Jesus intentionally and publicly contradicted Jewish tradition.

We’ll call this part 3 on Sabbathing. Continue reading

Sabbathing: Is that a word?

The alarm on my phone is far more cheerful than I feel. No swiping for a snooze today. Since the kids are older, the pace is less frenetic, but we still have much to do before we lock the door behind us. We always leave late despite my best efforts. I carry my coffee to the car in my regular ceramic cup rather than taking time to transfer it to something with a lid.

I try to quiet my mind on the drive, and we’re careful not to argue or fuss at the children regardless of how the morning went. We split from the kids as soon as we walk through the church doors. Continue reading