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Why Jesus’ baptism is told differently

The Baptism Site on the Jordan side of the Jordan River is one of the most important recent discoveries in biblical archaeology. Excavations only began here in 1996, following Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but have already uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. (Picture from Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

The fact that our New Testament contains four Gospels by four writers with four viewpoints can sometimes be tricky to navigate when some events of Jesus’ life are told differently.  Yet there are substantial blessings in having these four accounts for Bible students twenty centuries later:  we gain a fuller picture and understanding of Christ Jesus’ life and ministry.

The Master’s baptism is one of a number of examples where there is diversity in the four accounts.  This video blog tells the story of two versions of the baptism, one from Matthew and the other from Luke, that will perhaps shed light on some discrepancies you’ve no doubt noted.

Before reading further (spoiler alert!), you might want to reread Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:4-8, Luke 3:21-22 and John 1:29-34, the four evangelists’ versions of the baptism of Jesus.

The video below was taken on a recent trip to Israel, standing at the traditional site of the Jordan River where historians believe this pivotal event of Christianity took place. (The picture above is from the Jordanian side of the river where new excavations are occurring.)  Christian tourists travel from every continent to be baptized as was the Master Christian.  Here are the hopes of a lifetime to experience the purification that this 2000-year-old immersion in water symbolizes for believers.

Since Mark is believed to have been the first Gospel written, we see how significant the baptism is to the early Christians as Mark chooses to open the story of Jesus not with his birth, but his baptism.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:9-11).”

John baptizes Jesus as he has so many others but this time a sense of God’s presence is so vivid that John hears a voice claiming Jesus as God’s son and identify Jesus.

But in the Luke version, John is not even at the baptism.  He is miles away imprisoned in one of Herod’s fortresses, just before his death.  Again, by rereading the Luke version below, you’ll see the writer is telling us John is well off the scene so that Jesus is known to be unmistakably the Son of God.  There would be no confusion, in Luke’s relating of the story, which figure was the son of God.

20 “…he shut John up in prison.  When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened”  (Luke 3:21,22).

One baptism.  Two versions.  Each writer had his own reasons…thus the beauty of four distinct gospels.

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How the Beatitudes come alive on a Galilean Hill

There are few places in Israel more ‘ground zero’ to Christianity than the Mt. of Beatitudes on the shores of the Galilean Sea, the subject of this month’s video blog. It is in this beauty-filled place that historians think Christ Jesus gave a sermon that included the core teachings of what it is to be part of the community of believers, of Christ’s Church.

The heart of this teaching, called “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), are the Beatitudes.  These eight verses, unified by their common beginning of  ‘blessed’ (makarios in Greek), address an objective–not subjective–state of happiness.   Moving far beyond an emotional state of happiness, Jesus pointed his followers to an objective reality of being spiritually enriched because of one’s citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christians have made pilgrimages to this sacred site since the 4th century, the first thought to be an Italian woman, Egeria.  Visiting in 380, she wrote to her Christian community back home, “Near there on a mountain is the cave to which the Savior climbed and spoke the Beatitudes.”  A 4th-century Byzantine church was built to commemorate the site, featuring an unusual octagonal floor, in honor of the eight Beatitudes.  The modern Catholic church (in this photo and the video blog) was built in 1936, near the 4th-century Byzantine ruins.

We hope this month’s two-minute video blog gives you, too, the feeling of peace and serenity felt on a recent visit.

Regardless of whether this is the exact spot where Jesus Christ delivered this Sermon on the Mount, or one nearby, the sense of elevation over the sea, the shady trees and the tranquility all make it likely that here was first heard the Sermon to stand through the ages.  And now we get on with trying to live it more.

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Christ Jesus’ home at Capernaum

Welcome to another video blog from a recent trip to Israel.

“He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea…”.

So writes Matthew in 4:13, introducing the reader to this central location of Christ Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee. Capernaum is located on the northwest shore of the Galilean Sea, a beautiful site in calm weather and a treacherous one when rough seas churn.  Although only about 1500 people and 13 acres in size in the first century, Capernaum has found its way into the Christian’s vocabulary as a center for the healing ministry of Jesus Christ — from Peter’s mother in law, to the man with evil spirits, to the centurion’s servant.  Enjoy this brief journey to the heart of the Master’s Galilean ministry.

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Three NEW Video Lectures

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We are happy to announce three new 75+ minute Bible talks tied to nature themes in the Scriptures.

They are intended for group or individual Bible study.  For groups, these video talks are especially helpful for those seeking a short study unit, since each one can be handled in one or two sessions.  Each comes with its own pdf study guide of questions that is immediately downloadable upon purchase.  Participants will want to watch the videos before attending a group session since the accompanying questions are directly tied to the streaming video.  In a world where much discussion is of our environment and nature, these three talks lend spiritual insight into this important topic.  Enjoy!

Click the links below to purchase:

Bundle of all three lectures (Save %20)
Biblical Uses of Fire: From Sacrifice to Purification
Let there be Light: Tracing its Healing Appearance throughout the Scriptures
Nature Metaphors in Jesus’ Parables

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“Parables, Presidential Elections, and $$: Sorting out Economic Quandaries”

Parable of the rich man *oil on panel *31.9 x 42.5 cm *signed b.l.: RH. 1627.

The Parable of the Rich Fool, Rembrandt, 1627.

With a US presidential election only months away, there is a lot of public talk about wealth and poverty, complete with a vast range of economic solutions offered to voters. About the only solution I haven’t heard is a candidate saying: “Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the subject.” Given how many of the Master’s parables are about wealth or poverty, that would be smart!

Luke’s gospel addresses wealth and the responsibilities of those who have it more than their less fortunate neighbors, more than any other Gospel. For instance, a Seminary professor opens his course on ‘Wealth and Poverty in the Bible’ by having students read Luke 18:18-24 and wrestle with its implications the rest of the semester.

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery…’ .  21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

So do we take vows of poverty, as many have interpreted that text over the centuries? Or is Jesus instructing that it’s not money but rather that ‘the love of money’ that is the thing to avoid? But when we ask ‘what does that really mean – the love of money’, we start getting down to spiritual bedrock:  not looking to money for security, power and authority, or even for prestige or popularity. Tall order.

Is Jesus, through this and other parables relayed in Luke and Matthew, telling us that how we regard money have something to do with the way we relate to God?  You bet—seen especially in this text from Matthew:

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars (Matt 6:19).

This speaks directly to 21st century consumer buying habits: take charge of our possessions rather than letting them take charge of us. But it also goes a step further. As the parable gets under our skin with yet another reading, it seems to be demanding that God alone take charge of our lives, with possessions as simply one arena in which that occurs. Wow.

This is why I’ve loved diving deeper into these familiar stories which I’m learning are far more nuanced and worldly than simple solutions of ‘either/or’. Neither excusing the wealthy individual who cares little for his neighbor, or the pilgrim who takes pride in his poverty, Jesus’ parables show the ambiguities of human life, especially in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke doesn’t use allegory, meaning he doesn’t set up an explanation of what the parables mean, as Matthew so frequently does. (See Matt. 13 for not only the telling of the ‘tares and wheat’ parable, but Matthew’s “a=b” interpretation of it.)

Maybe Luke wants people to realize how challenging life can be when you’re trying to live this radical stance the Kingdom demands—this yielding of control and concern completely to God.  One more reason to challenge ourselves to keep diving deeper.  The parables can take it and I suspect Jesus thought we’d do no less.

Please check out the newest BibleRoads Bible Study Workbook on The Gospel of Luke–for individuals and groups–hot off the press, as well as the online video course, “Jesus’ Parables”.

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