Good Friday

Good Friday is the last day of Jesus’ life. This past week Jesus’ closest followers became liars, cowards, deserters. These hand-selected men deny and abandon their Messiah.  Each author tells the “Passion” story in their own way. Each one gives their perspective of the death and resurrection events. Each writer has their own unique theology, creating a style that suits their audience. If you read each gospel as an individual book, you’ll see those differences. We Christians tend to take parts of each gospel, as we do in the birth stories, and combine them to create a new gospel. Mark doesn’t agree with Luke in many ways. John seems to have his own message – nothing like the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here’s an example of how Mark and Luke’s story differ:

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In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied three times by Peter. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. The Roman soldiers mock and beat Him on the way to His crucifixion. On the way, Jesus says nothing. The soldiers dress Him in a purple robe (scarlet robe in Matthew) and a crown of thorns. The other apostles scamper off like scared rats in a sewer. Jesus follows Simon of Cyrene, who is carrying His cross. The soldiers are laughing and mocking Him. People on the way mock him, some are crying. Jesus still says nothing. The soldiers placed Jesus on the cross next to two robbers. Both robbers mock Jesus. People passing by look up and mock Him. The Jewish leaders mock Him. Finally, Jesus ends His silence and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he dies. Jesus had felt forsaken by God. He was in great despair. Why had His followers betrayed and rejected Him? This is how Mark portrays Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter just as in Mark’s gospel. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. However, it is not Pilate’s soldiers that mock and beat Jesus – it’s King Herod’s (a minor difference in stories). There’s no purple robe and no crown of thorns. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross. Jesus, however, is not silent on the way to His crucifixion. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me… (v.23:28),” he says to a group of women crying for Him. Jesus does not appear to be in despair and knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. He appears to be confident and knows what’s ahead. Jesus speaks again while being nailed to the cross. He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (v. 23:34). Jesus is more concerned about those around Him than Himself. Only one of the robbers on the cross next to Him mocks Him. The other robber rebukes him and asks Jesus to remember him when He gets into His kingdom. Jesus says to the robber, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 23:42-43). Then Jesus prays to God, “Father, into your hands I command my spirit” (v. 23:46). He does not feel forsaken, but is confident of what is happening to Him.

Mark’s Jesus is in despair, not knowing what is to come. He says nothing on His way to His crucifixion. He feels forsaken by His followers and by God. Luke’s Jesus is not in despair. He is confident and knows exactly what is ahead of Him. He is concerned for others more than Himself. He speaks to others on His way to the cross. He is prepared to enter His Father’s kingdom.

We can’t say which writer gave the most accurate account of Jesus’ death. We have no way of knowing for sure. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death. The stories were passed on as an oral tradition until these educated Greek men wrote them down. The authors were not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ death. We risk calling some of the authors liars if we believe in one account over another. And if you think that combining the events of each account to make your own story is alright to do, then feel free to continue the Christian tradition.

For this Holy Week, I challenge you to read each “Passion” account in each one of the gospels (Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19). Take detailed notes on each account. Compare your notes. Learn what each author has to say. Become a Bible Reader. I dare you.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday gets its name from the palm branches thrown on the road ahead of Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem. Oddly though, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke never mention palm branches but instead, “leafy” branches. The Gospel of John is the only one that mentions “palm” branches (John 12:13) but never says that they put the branches or even their cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus. John was one of the twelve chosen apostles so we should believe him. But were the other three wrong? The leafy branches were put on the road but what did they do with the palm branches? Something else to think about – some Bible scholars say there is no firm evidence that palm trees ever grew near Jerusalem but only in the south in the warm, fertile valleys. Just a thought.

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Let’s look at another difference that occurs in the four stories. Did Jesus ride one donkey or was he riding on two? I know that sounds like a crazy question but Matthew seems to believe that Jesus rode on two donkeys (Matthew 21:7), or a donkey and a colt. Christian apologists try to cover this up by saying that they brought a donkey with its colt and Jesus rode on the donkey and the colt walked along side them. But read the verse: “…they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.” That, to me, is pretty clear that “them” indicates the donkey and its colt. Matthew was one of the twelve recruited by Jesus himself. Why would we not believe his inspired words? But wouldn’t that make the others wrong?

Another difference I observed in this very short reading of Palm Sunday is that in three of the stories Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead of him to get the donkey. In John’s Gospel (John 12:14), Jesus finds a donkey and sits on it himself without the help of any of his disciples. In the other Gospels, two disciples bring a donkey, or two, throws their cloaks on it (them) and then Jesus sits on it (them).

I’m not saying these are contradictions or errors of the Bible. I’m just pointing out that there are differences in the four stories and I often wonder why we choose certain parts of one or more stories to make our own. I can see in some instances where it might sound better and make sense like Jesus riding on only one donkey. But, then again, sometimes the stories are more interesting with the oddities included.

So, what happens on Monday, the day after Palm Sunday? That just might be my next blog. Stay tuned and drink some coffee!

Let’s Talk God

I’m enjoying coffee with the Gods this morning. My wife and I went to dinner last evening with some good friends. We enjoyed a nice meal and a very nice conversation. Thank you, guys!

I find the discussion of the philosophy of God fascinating. If you know me you’ll know that our discussions usually end up on the subject of God and religion. Depending on the company, we’ll discuss either the arguments for God or the arguments for atheism. Some people think that I’m a Christian through our discussion. Some will think I’m an atheist. I appreciate good, open-minded conversation to see what one believes and how they became to believe that way.

I can usually tell when someone isn’t comfortable in our discussion – a sign for me to back off or change the subject. They will usually try to convert me or to convince me that they know the truth. I’ve heard most if not all the arguments for God (and for atheism) and not interested in being converted to anything. I simply enjoy a good, philosophical conversation without admitting to any truths or condemning anyone’s beliefs.

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What about an afterlife, someone asks? There are many theories of an afterlife. Why does it matter what I believe? Will that make it true? There are many who have “died on the table” and claim to have been there. They claim to know the afterlife. It’s ironic how their particular religion comes into play while they’re dead. If their evidence is the truth, then someone is lying because wouldn’t the afterlife be the same for everyone? I don’t know whether there is an afterlife or not. It’s a mystery and will remain a mystery to me.

As you can tell, I’m not smart enough to know whether God does or doesn’t exist. The arguments for God are strong and the arguments for atheism are strong. There are thousands of religions in the world all claiming to know the truth about God through their religion and rituals. What I see in most cases, are that beliefs in a particular religion are established by geography. For instance, if you were born in India, your beliefs will probably be in Hinduism. Most people in Indonesia believe in Islam. And the majority of Americans are Christian. And even in America, your beliefs in Christianity are dependent on what part of the country you’re from. If you were born in the Southeast, you’re probably a Southern Baptist. The Northeast has a lot of Catholics. And the North has a lot of Lutherans.

For now, I will enjoy my coffee and whoever will join me in conversation. Life is short, as they say. We have to make the best of it right now whether or not there is something afterwards. Loving and being kind to each other in all our beliefs is my religion. No sacred books. No rituals. Just peace.

Praying

Great coffee this morning! Got me to thinking about one of the dilemmas I had as a Christian – unanswered prayers. The Gospels are full of passages, sayings by Jesus, that says that all you gotta do is pray to God and he’ll answer. Sometimes I wondered if Jesus meant this only for his apostles. But, when I ask fellow Christians about prayer, they always recite one of those passages assuring me that I was right in my thinking.

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Ben and me.

I also noticed a pattern about praying. I would pray for something, God does not answer, and a fellow Christian would rationalize why my prayer wasn’t answered. For instance, I would pray for my son, Ben. I prayed that he might hear again. He never did. I prayed for his seizures to end. They never stopped. I prayed that he would be able to walk. He never walked. Each time I asked fellow Christians and my pastor why none of my prayers were answered. And each time they would say something like, “It’s not His will,” or “God has a another plan for him/me,” or “He’ll be in a better place (after he died).”

So, the pattern for me was, pray, ask someone why my prayer wasn’t answered, and have that person rationalize as to why my prayer wasn’t answered. Some would point out passages to me as to why my prayers might not be answered. But, if that were true, isn’t that the same as saying that Jesus lied when he said that God would answer our prayers. He didn’t attach any conditions in those prayer passages, except to believe – and that if your belief was even the size of a mustard seed, He would answer.

I’ll have to go along with my Christian friend who kept telling me, “God has his reasons and we don’t always know what his plan is for us.” All I know is that in the prayer passages, Jesus did not put any boundaries on what we can pray for. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that sketch receiveth; and he that seekers findeth…” Matthew 7.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to believe in God. But, to use rationalizations to try to explain away the fact that prayer did not work for me, does not change the evidence that prayer will ever work for me.

Coffee, anyone?

You Wash My Feet, I’ll Wash Yours!

I was baptized in a Methodist Church, belonged to a Lutheran Church for many years where my son was baptized, went back to the Methodist Church for awhile, before attending a Non-denominational Christian Church. And not once did I ever have my feet washed! But, there are many Christian churches who practice this ritual – and many who don’t.

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples
Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples

While pondering this matter over coffee this morning I contemplated whether or not I had missed out on an important part of being a Christian. As it turns out, it is Biblical and is found in the Gospel of John. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” John 13:14-15. The churches who practice foot washing call it “the ordinance of humility” and is commanded by Jesus during His Last Supper.

As you can see, Jesus gives a clear command – since he had washed their feet, they should likewise, go out and wash others. Now, if it’s so clear, why are so many Christian’s feet not getting washed?

With a careful reading of the Gospels, all four of them, you will notice that foot washing is found in only one gospel – John. The first three Gospel writers either forgot about it, didn’t know about it, or didn’t think it worthy enough to mention. Another thing I should mention is that the foot-washing Gospel never talks about the Lord’s Supper. How interesting! Really! Get out your Bible and read.

So, it appears that the Christians who combine the foot washing with the Lord’s Supper as their Communion service, is combining the writings of two different authors, with two different thoughts, speaking to different audiences, in different time periods. It’s not the first time, though.

Whether we believe that foot washing was a part of the Lord’s Supper or not is not the point I’m trying to make – although a good one. The point is that Christians seem to ignore many commands and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus says to wash feet, shouldn’t we, as good Christians, wash each other’s feet? And when He says that we should love our gay neighbor and our enemies, should we not follow His commands? Wouldn’t it be easier to follow all of His commands and quit picking and choosing which ones we “should” follow? It’s all in writing! And inspired by God himself!

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” John 14:23

Time for another cup, please!

Big Mac or Brady Bunch?

What does a Big Mac, The Brady Bunch and The Ten Commandments have in common? You’d have to have a bizarre imagination if you came up with something.

big macA survey conducted in 2007 by Kelton Research showed that we Americans know more about the Big Mac and the The Brady Bunch than we do about The Ten Commandments. Out of 1,000 respondents, 35% could name all six Brady kids, 25% recited all seven ingredients in the mouth-watering Big Mac, but only 14% could recall all Ten Combrady kidsmandments found in the Bible. What does this say about our Christian Nation?

I just cannot get that Big Mac jingle out of my head, “Two all-beef patties…” But seriously! What are those pesky Ten Commandments? That’s okay, though. There are different versions of the Top Ten and it depends on whether you’re a Baptist, Lutheran, or Catholic. It also depends on whether or not you study your Bible. We get the Famous Top Ten from Exodus, Chapter 20. But if you flip a few chapters over to, let’s say Chapter 34, you’ll find an entirely different set of commandments (read Exodus 34:1-28). But, believe it or not, these are the “Real” Ten Commandments because God says so! I challenge you to read your Bibles, especially the Real Ten Commandments. Don’t bother reading about the punishments for violating any of these. Most people don’t.

The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” Exodus 34:27-28.

By the way, Commandment #10 is my favorite, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” What’s yours?

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Lords prayer in Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book. Click on the image to learn more about the significance of the Codex Sinaiticus.