Day 359 (Dec. 25): John encourages us to love one another as God commanded, everyone who believes Jesus is God’s son will be children of God also, Jesus proved He was God’s son by being baptized with water and shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus protects believers from the devil, avoid anything that can take God’s place in your heart, be leary of deceivers, welcome the traveling teachers

Merry Merry Christmas!  The king is born!  Or, was He born on this day?  Read to the end for a discussion.

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

3 John 1:1-15

1 John 4:7-5:21

2 John 1:1-13

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 John 11-12): This verse reminds me of those people I meet that are just radiating with kindness.  I want to ask them if they are a Christian because I am very curious about that.  Is that OK to ask, or should I just assume they are Christian?

A. I can’t really see someone taking offense to the question, but I personally confess that I rarely ask people when I am similar circumstances.  Someone who is a true, confessing Christian should frankly be eager to tell you so.

Q. (5:6b): I am still foggy on what this means: “And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony.”  Does that just mean that we know that Jesus is God’s Son and, when we are baptized we get the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said we would.  Therefore, His promise came true.  And the Holy Spirit confirms Jesus’ teaching because the Spirit shows us the right way to live, the same as Jesus did.  Thus, the spirit of Jesus (who taught us to be godly) still resides in us.

A. One of the things we established in Ephesians 1 is that the presence of the Spirit is the “mark” of our salvation, so in a sense, it is His presence that serves as a “testimony” about our faith in Christ.  He would not be present within us if we did not believe in God’s work in Christ, so His very presence testifies about what we believe.

Q. (5:16b): The sin that leads to death is denying that Jesus is the Son of God?  And, talking about praying for sinners, my daughter has started praying for Satan.  What do you say to that?  It actually stemmed from me because God says we are to love our enemies.

A. John tends to describe things in very strong black and white terms: you are either with God, or an antichrist — that sort of thing.  So it is little surprise that he would say that denying Jesus was the Son of God is a sin that leads to death.  As to your daughter’s action, I love her vision for praying for her enemies!

Q. (2 John 1:1): Is John singling out women believers?

A. Not really.  There is some speculation that 2 John is written to a particular woman, but the scholarly consensus is that the “women” represents a congregation or a particular church.  Revelation will repeatedly refer to congregations using feminine imagery, so it is hardly an uncommon thing for the NT (watch for the bride of Christ imagery).

O. (3 John 1:1-4): Growing up, I remember taking care of visiting evangelists and musicians that came to our church for a revival.  I think they stayed with us some, we fed them, had church dinners.  But now that I belong to a megachurch, there isn’t that sense of close-knit community.  I miss it!  But, as my life has changed from going to a small community to a big metropolis, we can still carve out ways to help others.  And, our church definitely supports missionaries who must travel abroad.

Q. Rob, since this is Christmas Day, can you explain if Christmas was the actual day Jesus was born?  I have heard studies where He was born in January.  Regardless, it’s a very important event to celebrate!  I think it’s interesting to hear how dates get set or rearranged in history.

A. The word Christmas comes from the words “Christ” and “Mass,” or Christ’s coming or arrival.  In the old days, the celebrations were known as liturgical feasts or feast days, as they still are in the “high” churches.  The first indication of the Christ Mass in the Western Church dates to around 354 AD, but the Eastern Church (what we today call the big “o” Orthodox) had already tied the birth of Christ into one combined feast day known as Epiphany, which takes place on Jan 6th of each year.  The Western Church also recognizes Epiphany as the date of the Magi’s arrival (Matthew 2), obviously have a different date for Christmas.  (In passing reference, you get 12 days if you add the dates from Christmas, Dec 25th, to Epiphany, Jan 6th, which would be the 12 days of Christmas, in case you ever wondered).

Okay, now about that date.  Well, as you can clearly see from what we have already discussed, there was no consensus about the ACTUAL date of Jesus’ birth, because the Gospels do not tell us.  The OBSERVANCE of the birth is what takes place on Dec. 25, so it should not be understood that the liturgical churches have been saying Jesus was born on Dec. 25 for 1700 years … it hasn’t.  As to WHY Dec. 25 was selected, well, now we’re in deeper water.  There is some close proximity to what is called the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and a major holiday for pagan culture, the dominant force in the world both Jesus and Christianity were “born” into.  So there is frequently discussed and “known” pseudo-knowledge that the 25th was selected to “replace” the feast of the Solstice, but I do not think this is actually what happened.  What caused it then?  Since that’s a long answer, I’m going to recommend you read an essay from a Catholic writer named Mark Shea (he’s a great writer and normally blogs here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/) on that very topic here: http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2006/12/is-christmas-really-just-warmed-over.html

Hope you find it as interesting and thought provoking as I did.  Merry Christmas!

Day 297 (Oct. 24): People doubt Jesus, dying fig tree used as a symbol, Jesus clears temple of ‘business,’ church leaders question Jesus’s authority

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

John 12:37-50

Mark 11:12-14

Matthew 21:18-22

Mark 11:15-19

Matthew 21:12-17

Luke 19:45-48

Mark 11:20-25

Mark 11:27-33

Matthew 21:23-27

Luke 20:1-8

Questions & Observations

Q. (John 12:46): So, is Jesus saying here that as long as we believe in our heart that He is our Savior, the Son of God, that we will be saved whether we obey the laws or not?

A. I would say that is a good bit outside of the proper scope of the verse.  (Leigh An: Hey, A for effort!) Jesus is talking here about the transition from darkness to light, and it does not just have to do with the afterlife, but rather is about changing the course of life RIGHT NOW.

As to the “not obeying the law” which is again well outside of what I would conclude FROM THIS VERSE, I would say this.  Christians are not under an obligation to keep the Law (this will be a big theme of the rest of the NT), but that does not mean that there is not wisdom in doing so to the best of our abilities and with God’s help.  Also, don’t forget the major emphasis that Jesus has been teaching us: those that belong to Him will keep His commands (the Law), not because they are obligated to, but because they desire to follow after Him.  One other thing: part of the reason that Jesus came into the world was to save us from our inability to follow the Law perfectly on our own: so really, NO ONE can truly obey the Law.  That’s why we need Jesus in the first place.

Q. (Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 21:18-22): I know I should ponder this fig tree message a little more to figure it out.  But, Rob, I think I’ll lean on you to explain how Jesus is using it to illustrate a point.  … Ok, on second reading, I may have got it.  If you don’t use your talents and spread the Word of God, you will be useless.  If you don’t bear fruit (produce more believers) then you may as well not be around.  How’s that?

A. Since the story is lumped in with the cleansing of the Temple (within the normal reading narrative), this story is typically seen as a statement of judgment against the failures of Israel, and especially its leadership.  But the point certainly applies to us as well: be fruitful (not just in the number of people you tell the gospel to, though that is an important part of it), or you risk being cut down.

Q. (Mark 11:15-19, Matthew 21:12-17, Luke 19:45-48): It seems Jesus may have been at His wit’s end.  I find it admirable that He stands His ground and defends the place of worship for His father.  I had always thought that He was mad at the Temple becoming a place for others to make money.  But also, on the flipside, if “worshippers” are buying their sacrifices at the Temple, it takes the meaning out of sacrifice.  Sure, they are buying them and that takes a sacrifice of money.  But also, they are supposed to take from the best from their flocks and fields.  I don’t think buying them from the Temple sellers would suffice?

A. Jesus’ real concern here (not implicit in the text) is the exchanges that are going on, and likely the money that is being made off of the pilgrims coming to the city.  In the Temple, the Jewish leadership refused to accept Roman coins (for fairly obvious reasons, which I think are good ones), but you had to pay a fee to exchange your money for “clean” Jewish coins!  Surely this is not what God desires out of such a holy place.  The other issue is the Temple rulers had the right to say, “this animal you have brought all these miles to the city is not acceptable for sacrifice,” even if the animal really was allowed.  The rulers would say, “I’m sorry, this animal is no good, but we do have our own ‘certified’ animals you can buy”.  It was a truly twisted and exploitive scheme, and it is no surprise that Jesus reacted very strongly to people being exploited in God’s house in order to make money.

Q. (Mark 11:22-25): I like these instructions for prayer!  When I pray, I mostly give thanks for all of my many blessings.  Many times, I overlook the muck in my heart that I need to ask forgiveness for.  I have to admit, there’s not much in there, so God has been working in me.  I hope this blog has been helping everyone who reads it!

A. That certainly goes for me as well.

Q. (Mark 11:27-33, Matthew 21:23-27, Luke 20:1-8): Jesus saw this as a trick by the leading priests that they were trying to find something to accuse Him of and arrest Him?

A. Something like that.  A Rabbi would have had to produce some sort of “credentials” to verify that he was from a proper “school” of Rabbinic thought.  That’s what they are asking Jesus for, His credentials.  But Jesus is not of any “school” that these rulers have seen, and He twists their desire to shame Him via authority back upon them by using John the Baptist.