Speaking the Language of God

Third Sunday of Advent


Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

In chapters 13-23, Isaiah announces God’s intentions to the peoples surrounding Israel. The reading for Tuesday the 11th is interesting for its difference. In that day, there shall be several towns in the land of Egypt speaking the language of Canaan [i.e., Hebrew] and swearing loyalty to the Lord of Hosts; one shall be called Town of Heres [destruction]JSB That last line is rendered in several translations as City of the Sun because many old manuscripts have that word.

Even as God’s chosen people are being hauled away by conquerors, God promised that Egypt and Assyria will be speaking Hebrew as friends, and as friends with the whole world.

In today’s reading, Zephaniah speaks of the final salvation of the chosen people. But notice we find this message in the last seven verses in the small book. Reading the preceding 46 verses gives us a picture of a world ready for destruction, and this message was delivered to Josiah, one of the few good kings in Judah (there were none in Israel). Somehow, God will turn the world around.

The reading in Malachi last Thursday gives us a final victory, but not without pain. No; I, Yahweh, do not change; and you have not ceased to be children of Jacob! Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have evaded my statutes and not observed them. Return to me and I will return to you, says Yahweh SabaothNJB It is well to note that Malachi gave those words to the people after the return from Babylon.

Today’s reading in Luke nearly copies Malachi. John the Baptizer spoke bluntly: return to God. If you have done so, then there are actions you will want to take. The man who has two shirts must share with the man who has none, and the man who has food must do the samePhillips John went on in response to the tax collectors and soldiers: You must not demand more than you are entitled to. Don’t bully people, don’t bring false charges, and be content with your payPhillips

Looking back at my own life as a public school teacher (high school) I can see times when I failed to be content with my pay—every other day—and my discipline in the classroom sometimes descended into bullying. I will not claim to be free of handing out false charges, but I tried to stay clean on that count. John would not be happy with me. I’ll find out about God later.

One reading for next Wednesday comes from Luke 7:18-30. John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the promised Messiah. Jesus’ answer? Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poorNIV

The reading from Isaiah for the same Wednesday; 35:3-7. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy; for water will gush in the desert and streams in the wastelands, the parched ground will become a marsh and the thirsty land springs of water; the lairs where the jackals used to live will become plots of reed and papyrusNJB You might think Jesus knew his Bible, or Tanakh in his case.

Peter gets the last word from next Tuesday’s reading; So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the othersMSG


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Who Do You Say I Am?

Photo by Alem Sánchez from Pexels


Proverbs 1:20-33

Psalm 19

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38


Mark, as usual, gives us a short version of the answer to the above question. You are the Messiah; what more is there? Neither Mark nor Luke includes Matthew’s account of Peter being given the keys to the Kingdom. John has Jesus naming Simon as Peter in his first chapter (v. 42) but does not include the exchange in any form.

However, the Synoptics all include Jesus’ announcement of his coming death. What is the connection between declaring Jesus to be the Messiah and the predictions?

Mark tells us how Jesus reacted to Simon’s bold claim that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about himNIV Matthew, in v. 16:20, wrote; Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the MessiahNIV Luke wrote in 9:21; Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyoneNIV

It does seem odd that Jesus was not willing to accept what was his birthright. There are many guesses about why he wanted to keep the Messiahship a secret. Once you have read every commentary ever written, you will still not know for sure.

The early Church Fathers seem to have believed Jesus wanted them to wait until his resurrection to pronounce him the Messiah—or Christ from the Greek Christos. It might be that he was not yet the Messiah. A bit like Princess Elizabeth in 1950—a queen in waiting.

It could also be that, while the Twelve recognized him as Messiah, they did not yet understand what that meant. Therefore, he began to teach them, as all three Gospels tell us. It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up aliveMSG I like Peterson’s stress on that last word. Jesus did not just come out of the grave; he came out alive.

Both Mark and Matthew add Peter’s reaction to the hard teaching, a kind of foreshadowing of his denial during the Passion. Matthew puts these words in Peter’s mouth: Never Lord! This shall never happen to you! NIV

Both Gospels have Jesus saying nearly the same thing.  “Out of my way, Satan!” he said. “Peter, you are not looking at things from God’s point of view, but from man’s!” Phillips The literal translation of v. 33 is: And having turned around and having seen the disciples of him he rebuked Peter and says go away behind me, Satan, because you are not thinking the things of God but the things of manUnited Bible Society Interlinear Translation

I think it is important to note that Jesus looked at the Twelve before he spoke to Peter. Remember that Peter was always the spokesperson for the others. Jesus knew that, so knew that all of them believed the same.

We find the most important takeaway from this exchange in Matthew. There we have Jesus praising Peter for being the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and just six verses later Peter inserts-foot-in-mouth. And we wonder why Jesus wept.

Jesus does not linger. He calls the crowd to join the Twelve. Here we see hundreds of people waiting patiently while the Rabbi gave private instruction to his talmidim, his “students.” In those days, such behavior was common. People could listen in to any rabbi if he permitted it but had to stand aside for the rabbi’s actual students.

Notice that Jesus goes directly into the theme of the cross. If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow mePhillips There is no other way. We cannot fear death. We cannot fear to lose our wealth or our health. Life on this earth is worth little compared to life in the presence of God.

There are people, including pastors, who teach that we must be prepared to shoot anyone who attacks us. I don’t see how anyone can read this passage today and believe that is what Jesus wants us to do. It may be in the Gospel of Colt, but not in the New Testament.

The man who tries to save his life will lose itPhillips


Read my earlier comments on this theme here, and here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence