Monthly Archives: August 2009

Remembering Ryan Chute

Ryan ChuteThis afternoon I took in Ryan Chute’s funeral along with thousands of others. It was a beautiful service. Below is the text from the back of the program. I was able to chat with his 4-year old son, Rhett. He’s an amazing little guy, who loved his dad and wants to be just like him. When I found him, he was drawing on a pie plate. When I asked what he was drawing, he said, “A picture of my dad.”

Ryan Chute - text

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Matthew 5:3,10, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Appearing twice in Matthew’s Beatitudes is the phrase, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Respectively this phrase is applied to “the poor in Spirit” and “those persecuted on account of righteousness.” If they receive the same blessing, is there a connection between the two groups? Maybe the experience of persecution causes a person to become poor in spirit? Or perhaps the answer is found in viewing the Beatitudes as a unified whole rather than as blessings to separate group:

Looking at the literary structure of the passage, the same blessing is given in the first beatitude as the last. There are eight blessings given in the third person:

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  3. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
  5. Blessed are those who show mercy, for they will be shown mercy.
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  7. Blessed are those who make peace, for they will be called sons of God.
  8. Blessed are those who have been persecuted on account of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These blessings don’t form a chiasm, at least none that I can decipher. But they are hemmed in the beginning and end by “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” as an inclusio of sorts, indicating the norms of the kingdom. The norms of this sinful world will be turned on its head.

And how does one get into this wonderful kingdom? It isn’t easy, that’s for sure. Obedience is absolutely required. For, “anyone who breaks the least of one of these commands and teaches men [to do] likewise, he will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19). This is a direct slight to those regarded in that day as the authorities on righteousness – the scribes and Pharisees. For, as Jesus continues, “If your righteousness does not greatly exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).

So, if the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the mournful,  meek, and merciful, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, those who are persecuted on account of it, and those who make peace instead of war, then it is definitely not for those who operate out of greed and hostility and selfish ambition and hate.

That’s quite the list to live up to. The Lord has given us quite the standard to adhere to, and thankfully, sufficient grace to see use through. At any rate, knowing that he will return soon makes me just as nervous as it makes me glad.

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Matthew 5:2, Jesus opens his mouth

During Jesus’ temptation in the desert, the devil says to Jesus, “If you are the son of God, say that these stones should become bread.” And replying, Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Not upon bread alone does man live, but upon every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:3,4).

Interestingly, the next time that “mouth” (στόμα) appears in Matthew is in 5:2, in which he writes, “And opening his mouth he [Jesus] taught them,” which precludes the Beatitudes. Perhaps this is reading too much into the significance of word occurrence, but could this be a subtle indication that the words Jesus opens his mouth to say are in likeness to the words that come from the mouth of God? (See also Matt 13:35 for another instance of the opening of God’s mouth.)

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Matthew 3:12, Asbestos

Just a funny fact. Our word “asbestos” comes from the Greek word, ’ασβεστὸς. In the Greek, when this word is used with fire or laughter, it is translated as “inextinguishable, unquenchable.” When used with the ocean, it describes the oceans “ceaseless flow.” Interestingly, asbestos was used in construction of buildings for years because it is completely fireproof. I can see why English took a word that means “unquenchable” to name an unburnable substance. But the connection between the Greek adjective and the building material isn’t perfect… I don’t think Jesus was talking about what we call asbestos, since asbestos can’t burn, and it’s deadly to people.

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Matthew 3:11-12, Fire of Baptism and the Unquenchable Fire

In verses 11 and 12, Matthew uses πὺρ (“fire”) twice in very striking ways. In verse 11 John the Baptist says of himself, “. . . I baptize you with water for repentance,” and in contrast he says of Jesus, “but the one who is coming after me is greater than me . . . who will baptize you in (with/by means of?) the Holy Spirit and fire.”

In the very next verse John continues on about Jesus, saying, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will purge his threshing floor and will gather together his grain into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up completely in unquenchable fire.”

What is so striking to me in these two verses is the double use of πὺρ. In verse 11, fire is part of the means by which Jesus will baptize (‘υμᾶς βαπτίσει ’εν πνεύμα ‘αγίῳ καὶ πυρί). In verse 12, the chaff is burned in unquenchable fire (τὸ δὲ ’άχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ’ασβέστῳ). The proximity of the two occurrences of πὺρ suggest there is a connection between the fire with which Jesus baptizes and that which burns up the chaff.

Perhaps it is possible that the Holy Spirit and the fire of Jesus’ baptism work in us to burn the chaff, or the unfruitful parts of us, so that he may gather together the good in us as we are transformed into his likeness. Or is this a picture similar to John 15 in which the unfruitful branches are thrown away and burned? I am hesitant to see a direct connection between these passages because their focus seem to be distinct. In John 15, those who remain in Jesus are described as fruitful, and those who do not remain in him are thrown out. Here in Matthew 3, fire is used (along with the Holy Spirit — or is the καὶ epexegetical, “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, namely, fire”?) on those who are baptized by Jesus, so I would assume this is not a separation of the faithful and unfaithful.

Maybe this is the work Jesus does in us as we follow him; he does away with the unhealthy parts of us in suffering or in the situations we encounter, and nurtures the parts of us that are healthy and pleasing to him.

Obviously, there are holes I need to fill in. If I had the time (and maybe I’ll just take the time some time soon), it would be interesting to see if there are any notable connections between John the Baptist’s words here and areas of the New Testament that speak of working out our salvation, or growing, or becoming conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Oh grad school, maybe you will provide me the time for all of these things!

More to come on Matthew 3.

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Matthew 3:3, ευθυς and the way of the Lord

Chalk this one up to presuppositions lingering from first year Greek.

In Matthew 3:3 I came across an occurrence of ευθυς that surprised me. In verse 3, Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3, “A voice crying in the desert; prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

“Straight” in both Matthew 3:3 and Isaiah 40:3 (LXX) is ευθείας. In my early Greek training I memorized ευθύς as “immediately.” But it turns out, ευθύς is very commonly used to mean “straight” when pertaining to the condition of a line or road (cf. BDAG, 406; LSJ). With this in mind, ευθύς is the unsurprising translation of the Hebrew ׳ַשְׁרוּ, “make straight.”

Just a quick note. It’s past midnight. More to come on Matthew 3.

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Matthew 2, Jubulant Magi and the Use of Dreams

In Matthew 2, the Magi from the East arrive in Jerusalem, and inquire of Herod where they can find “the one born king of the Jews” (2:2). When they arrive in Bethlehem and see the star stand above where the child was, the Magi celebrate. “And seeing the star, they rejoiced with great and exceeding joy.” The words Matthew uses makes this intense manner of celebration apparent: ’εχάρησαν (“they recoiced”) χαρὰν (“with joy”) μεγάλην (“great”) σφόδρα (“exceeding”). They understood that this child bore great significance, so it is no wonder that they fell down to worship him, and presented him with gifts.

Another interesting thing in Matthew 2 is the reoccurrence of dreams and warnings from God. Chapter 1 told of Joseph’s dream, in which he was commanded not to be afraid, but to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus (1:20-21). In Chapter 2, the Magi are warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, but to return to their land by another route (2:12). And Joseph receives two more dreams, one telling him to flee to Egypt to save the child from Herod’s ill-begotten search (2:13), and one to inform him of Herod’s death, and that they may now safely return to Israel (2:19).

The significance of Joseph in Jesus’ early life cannot be overrated. Though he was not Jesus’ real father, God sent his angel to speak to Joseph to inform him of what must happen with the child. Obviously there are cultural reasons for why God would speak to a man rather than to a woman in the first century, but it is interesting that Joseph disappears from the story shortly after. I will have to pay close attention to the last mention of Joseph for any last comment on his role.

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