Friday, July 8, 2011

Multiplication Table: Feeding if the 5,000

How many baskets were left over after the feeding of the 5,000? Twelve (Luke 9:17)

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle to appear in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-15). In each gospel’s account, Jesus utilizes five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:8, 11) to feed 5000+ people (Matthew 5:21; Mark 6:44; Luke 9:14; John 6:10). Matthew specifies that the figure did not include women and children (Matthew 14:21). Not only were all fed and satisfied, but there were twelve baskets left over (Matthew 14:20; Mark 6:43; Luke 9:17; John 6:13).

Why do you think that this is the only miracle to appear in all four gospels? What makes this incident important to each evangelist?

There is no waste at the meal as the surplus of twelve baskets was collected. Why twelve? Practically speaking, perhaps so that each disciple could eat. The baskets may have been the disciples’ own. Symbolically, twelve is often said to represent Israel making the miracle indicate God’s ability to provide for the nation. This is supported by the fact that in the similar feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9), a meal more associated with Gentiles, there are seven baskets of leftovers, a number also more associated with Gentiles (Matthew 15:37; Mark 8:8).

Jesus is able to meet a massive need with very limited resources. The story reminds that there is enough. God gives abundantly and in spite of common perception, there is enough for everyone. The belief that God has given all that is needed and that there is indeed enough is often known as a theology of abundance.

The alternative is a theology of scarcity. With a theology of scarcity comes the belief that there is a finite pool of resources from which to draw. People with this mind set often see life as a cosmic zero-sum game. If another has more, it automatically insures I have less.
“People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me. The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to…rather than detracts from…our lives.” - Stephen R. Covey
Do you view the world through a lens of scarcity or abundance? If you have a theology of abundance, how do you maintain it when life’s circumstances do not appear to support it?

“Abundance, not scarcity, is the mark of God’s kingdom. But that abundance must be made manifest through the lives of a people who have discovered that they can trust God and one another.” - Stanley Hauerwas

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Rainbow: Disarming God

After the flood, what sign did God give of his covenant? The rainbow

After the cataclysmic flood, withstood only by Noah’s family, God promised the survivors that “never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:15, NASB) and the rainbow was decreed the sign of this guarantee (Genesis 9:12). This assurance represents the first Covenant, a consecrated contract between God and humanity (Genesis 9:12-17).

There are five great Biblical Covenants and with the exception of the Davidic covenant (II Samuel 7:4-17) each comes with a corresponding sign. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision (Genesis 17:10), that of the Mosaic Covenant is the observance of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:13), and that of the Christ covenant is the Eucharist (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26).

Why do you think covenants are ratified with signs? What do you associate with rainbows, the sign of the first covenant?

Rainbows rarely appear in the Bible. There are only three only other references to them and all are set in the prophetic context of God’s enthroned glory (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3, 10:1). The word “rainbow” does not actually appear in the text of the Hebrew Bible. There is no distinct Hebrew term for “rainbow” but rather the collocation qesheth `anan (קשת בענן,), literally “bow of cloud”. This phrase does not appear in the Bible.
“I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13, NASB)
The word that is used in Genesis 9:13 is qesheth, the standard word for “bow” (with which to shoot arrows). This is significant. Near Eastern Literature often depicts deities as warriors wielding a bow and the Old Testament is no different. The Song of Moses asserts “The LORD is a warrior “(Exodus 15:3, NASB) and the minor prophets use imagery from archery to describe God’s arsenal (Habakkuk 3:9; Zechariah 9:14). God is depicted as a warrior with a bow. In putting the bow in the clouds, the Creator is relinquishing a weapon.

The people needed this assurance after experiencing something so traumatic and the rainbow is a fitting symbol of hope. The same water which had destroyed the earth causes the rainbow, the reminder that this calamity would never happen again. Rainbows always appear opposite the sun and as such their presence signifies that light has broken through the darkness of the storm. Rainbows follow storms and attest to the fact that the wrath that caused the flood, which represented nothing less than the undoing of creation, is over. A rainbow is a picture of grace after judgment.

Have you ever been comforted by a natural phenomenon?

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” - G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

You Don't Mess with the Zo-on

How many living creatures are there around the throne? Four (Revelation 4:6)

The fourth chapter of Revelation is pivotal as it marks the beginning of John’s vision of heaven (Revelation 4:1). One of his first observations is of four “living creatures” around a throne (Revelation 4:6). These living creatures will remain throughout the book (Revelation 4:6, 7, 8, 9, 5:6, 8, 11, 14, 6:1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 7:11, 14:3, 15:7, 19:4).

The creatures are described as having eyes all about them (they literally have eyes in the back of their heads) and possessing six wings apiece. The group is not homogenous as each creature has the properties of a lion, calf, man, and eagle respectively (Revelation 4:6-7).

What are the living creatures? Why does God integrate such entities in the divine entourage?

The Greek word is zoon. The English word “zoology” developed from this word. It can mean “a living being” or “an animal, brute, beast”. The King James Version translated zoon as “beast” but most contemporary translations do not so as to distinguish them from the beasts (therion) who figure prominently later in the book (Revelation 13, 17). Instead, most modern translations correctly render zoon as “living creatures” (AMP, ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV).

Though accurate, this identification is vague. At best its defines their kingdom but says nothing of their genus or species. They are holistically different from the other figures in Revelation as they are not grouped with angels (Revelation 5:11) nor do they join the redeemed humans in singing the Redemption Song (Revelation 5:9-10). They bare a striking resemblance to creatures in the major prophets (Isaiah 6:1-3; Ezekiel 10) whom Ezekiel identifies as “cherubim” (Ezekiel 10:3, 20). In fact the same Greek word that is used of Revelation’s “living creatures” (zoon) is used of Ezekiel’s “cherubim” in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament, Ezekiel 10:20).

It can be certain that the living creatures do not represent an existing earthly life form and are a reminder that human languages are often limited when describing heavenly things. Do you ever find your language limited when describing God?

The living creatures are further characterized as not sleeping and serving as a personal praise quartet singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and who is an who is to come.” (Revelation 4:8, NASB). In short, the creatures are in a state of perpetual worship.

How often do you worship? How often should you?

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” - John Piper1

1John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions,. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) 17.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jacob and the Stairway to Heaven

What did Jacob name the place where he saw the angels descending and ascending? Bethel (Genesis 28:19)

En route to Paddan-Aram to procure a wife (Genesis 28:1), Jacob took a respite in the Canaanite city of Luz. While sleeping, he dreamt of “ a ladder...with its top reaching to heaven; and...the angels of God...ascending and descending on it (Genesis 28:12, NASB).” In the scene’s voice over, God announces that Jacob is seeing the same deity that had appeared to his fathers and that the covenant would be fulfilled through Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15). The terms “Jacob’s ladder” and “stairway to heaven” emerged from this text.

Among Jacob’s responses to the encounter was renaming the city, Bethel (Genesis 28:19).Yes, you read that correctly. He renamed a city. Bethel means “house of God”. Jacob would later return to Bethel at God’s request (Genesis 35:1). The name would stick as Jacob’s descendants would later possess the city. After Israel conquered the Promised Land, Bethel was allotted to the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 16:1).

Do you have any places that are special to you that you associate with God’s presence? If you had to pick a place to be called the “house of God” where would it be?

Jesus would later use the imagery from this passage to describe his own mission. He assured the new convert Nathanael, “you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51, NASB).”

Jesus is Jacob’s ladder, the stairway to heaven. He is the connector between God and humanity.

Have you made your connection?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Indelible Minority

What two spies sent into Canaan brought Moses a positive report? Joshua and Caleb

Before invading Canaan, Moses commissioned twelve spies, a representative from each of Israel’s twelve tribes, to investigate the terrain (Numbers 13:1). When they concluded their surveillance, ten of the twelve advised Israel to abort the mission. Only Hoshea (later christened Joshua by Moses himself) from Ephraim (Numbers 13:4, 16) and Caleb from Judah (Numbers 13:6) defended the mission’s viability (Numbers 13:30, 14:6-10).

Why did the majority of delegates advocate abandoning the objective?

While acknowledging that the land flowed with “milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), the objectors dwelled on the region’s inhabitants concluding “‘we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.’ (Numbers 13:33, NASB)”. While Joshua and Caleb focused on God (Numbers 14:8), the dissenters fixated on the obstacles.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” - Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Unfortunately, the people were swayed by their fears and the majority report.

Why did the people side with the majority report? Was it simply because it was the majority or was there something deeper at play? Is unbelief easier than belief?

Israel eventually claimed Canaan, the Promised Land. As a reward for their faithfulness, Joshua and Caleb were the only Israelites living at the time of the initial report to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:36-37, 26:25, 32:12). Joshua famously led the conquest and Caleb settled Hebron (Joshua 14:6-14).

A more difficult trivia question would be to be to name the twelve who gave into their fears.

What will guide your decision making, fear or faith?