All posts in Jesus

  • Six or Eight? On Reading the Gospels

    Six or Eight? On Reading the Gospels
    Brian Zahnd

    Let’s think about the Transfiguration for a few minutes. The mystery of Tabor is a theological diamond mine that has yielded treasures for two thousand years. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give an account of the Transfiguration. With a tight focus on the Transfiguration story, we read that Jesus took three disciples (Peter, James, and John) up a high mountain where his divine glory was revealed in dazzling light, and where Moses and Elijah made their anachronistic appearance. When Peter suggested a construction of three tabernacles on the holy mountain — one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah — the idea was rebuked by the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” After these heavenly words, the three disciples no longer saw Moses and Elijah, but only Jesus. From this rich passage we see that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Christ and that only Jesus is the perfect Word of God. The disciples are told to listen to the beloved Son because Jesus is what God has to say. This is the story of the Transfiguration in tight focus.
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  • Of God and Genocide

    Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
    Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
    God says, “Out on Highway 61”
    —Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited”

    Let’s play a little game. I’ll ask a few questions and you answer them. Okay?

    First question: Did God tell Abraham to kill his son?

    You say yes? But hastily add that God didn’t actually require Abraham to go through with it — it was just a test of faith.

    All right.

    Next question: Did God command Joshua, King Saul, and the Israelites to kill children as part of the ethnic cleansing of Canaan?

    Is that a hesitant yes I hear, like walking in untied shoes?

    My next question is simple and straightforward: Does God change?

    I sense your confident answer of no to this question. And you are quite correct. A cornerstone of Christian theology has always been that God is immutable — that is, God doesn’t mutate from one kind of being into another kind of being. The immutability of God is the solid ground upon which our faith stands.

    Next question (brace yourself): Since God doesn’t change, and since you have already acknowledged that in times past God has sanctioned the killing of children as part of a genocidal program of conquest, is it then possible that God would require you to kill children?

    You say you don’t like this game? I understand. I don’t really like it either. But bear with me a little more; we’re almost done.

    Last question: If God told you to kill children, would you do so?

    I know, I know! Calm down. Of course, you answer without hesitation that under no circumstances would you participate in the genocidal slaughter of children. (At least I hope that’s how you answer!)

    Yet in answering with an unequivocal no to the question of whether you would kill children, are you claiming a moral superiority to the God depicted in parts of the Old Testament? After all, the Bible says God commanded the Israelites to exterminate the inhabitants of the land during their conquest of Canaan, including children…right? Yet (hopefully) you find the very suggestion of participating in genocide morally repugnant. So what’s going on here? Is genocide something God used to command but now God has reformed his ways? We already agreed that God doesn’t change, God doesn’t mutate. So if God used to sanction genocide, and God doesn’t change…well, you see the problem. You’ve been painted into a corner.

    So where do we go from here? Our options are limited. We really have only three possible courses.
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  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

    I’m currently writing an Advent devotional entitled The Anticipated Christ. It’s the companion to my Lenten devotional The Unvarnished Jesus. Today I wrote three meditations and I’m now about halfway done with the book. I thought I would share the most recent meditation with you.

    O Little Town of Bethlehem

    But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
    from you shall come forth from me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
    whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient of days…
    He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord our God.
    And they will abide undisturbed,
    for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
    and this one shall be our peace
    (Micah 5:2-5)

    The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem, prophesying seven hundred years before Christ. Micah is best known to us as the one who prophesied the birth of Messiah in Bethlehem. Of course, Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, so it makes sense that the messianic Son of David would also be born there. Nevertheless, Bethlehem was only a small and seemingly insignificant village, but this is in keeping with the ways of God — the work of God often emerges from quiet obscurity.
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  • Put Not Your Trust in Princes…or Presidents

    Put Not Your Trust in Princes…or Presidents
    Brian Zahnd

    In my time of prayer this morning I prayed Psalm 146, and it resonated so deeply within me that I would like to share it with you. Please take a moment and acquaint yourself with this ancient Hebrew hymn.

    Hallelujah!
    Praise the LORD, O my soul!
    I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
    Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of earth,
    for there is no help in them.
    When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
    and in that day their plans perish.
    Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
    whose hope is in the LORD their God;
    Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
    who keeps his promise for ever;
    Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
    and food to those who hunger.
    The LORD sets the prisoners free;
    the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;
    the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
    The LORD loves the righteous;
    the LORD cares for the stranger;
    he sustains the orphan and widow,
    but frustrates the way of the wicked.
    The LORD shall reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
    Hallelujah!

    During the final throes of this tumultuous election season the thing that troubles me most as a pastor is the degree to which those who ostensibly confess that Jesus is Lord put their trust in political princes, parties, and presidents. Day after day I hear high-profile Christian leaders announcing with frenzied alarm that the cause of Christ hangs perilously in the balance and can only be saved by a particular election outcome. These religious alarmists speak breathlessly of the need for a politician to “save Christianity” or “protect God.” It’s political hyperbole of the most ludicrous kind. But the ancient psalmist knows better than to fall for that blather. Rather the wise sage says in the song,
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  • Hiroshima and the Transfiguration

    Hiroshima and the Transfiguration
    Brian Zahnd

    “And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2

    75 years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Those who experienced it and lived to tell about it, all described it in similar fashion: It began with a flash brighter than the sun. It was August 6, 1945. It was also the Feast of the Transfiguration.

    The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction. In the seaport city of 250,000 people, 100,000 were either killed instantly or doomed to die within a few hours. Another 100,000 were injured. Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 were killed and most of the surviving doctors were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. Hiroshima had become the house of the dead and dying. It was Transfiguration Day.
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  • Memories of Memorial Day

    Memorial Day
    by Brian Zahnd

    I have vivid memories of Memorial Day growing up in Savannah, Missouri. The fourth Monday in May marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. As such it is a fond memory. And on Memorial Day I always went with my dad to a ceremony held in the northeast corner of the town cemetery. This is where the war dead are buried. Each uniform grave was decorated with a small American flag. As a child in the 1960s, the freshest graves contained the bodies of young men who had returned from Vietnam in flag-draped coffins. Old men were there wearing faded and ill-fitting uniforms from the wars of yesteryear. There would be a speaker (some years it was my dad), a prayer offered by one of the town’s clergy, the National Anthem played by the high school band, a twenty-one gun salute from the old men in their faded uniforms, and taps played by a trumpeter in the distance. The occasion was somber and patriotic. And the theme of the prayers and speeches was always the same — it was the language of sacrifice.
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  • The Crucifixion of Jesus

    The Crucifixion of Jesus
    Brian Zahnd

    On Good Friday we think about one thing: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is the epicenter of Christian faith. At the core of Christianity we don’t find perennial religion, meditation techniques, or a course in ethics, but a crucifixion. This is the enduring scandal of the gospel. The gospel is not motivational talks about happy marriages, being debt free, and achieving your destiny. That all belongs to the broader world of proverbial wisdom, and it’s fine as far as it goes, but it has little or nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel is about the cross and the cross is a scandal. When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he had determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified, he admitted that the cross was often viewed as a scandal and folly. So be it.
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  • The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey

    The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey
    Brian Zahnd

    I have a new book release! The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey. This is a book of daily devotions taking the reader on a journey with Jesus from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. I know we’re still in Advent, but I wanted to give you enough time to have The Unvarnished Jesus for the beginning of Lent on February 26. Let me tell you how this book came about…
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  • Trumped


    Trumped
    Brian Zahnd

    Politics trumps everything. That’s an axiom that holds up. Unless you really see the kingdom of God and are willing to rethink everything in the light of Christ, politics trumps everything — including faith and ethics. I learned this the hard way. When I pulled away from lock-step allegiance with the Religious Right because I had seen the kingdom of God and had begun to take Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount seriously, many politically conservative Christians accused me of “going over to the other side.” Committed as they were to a dualistic us vs. them paradigm, they could only interpret my kingdom-conscious approach to politics as traitorous. “If you’re not on our side, you must be on their side!” In their closed dualistic system, even Jesus has to be either a Republican or a Democrat.

    So my honest claim to have no interest in the Left/Right political divide because I only cared about following Jesus fell on deaf ears. They could not see the kingdom alternative I was pointing to — they could only see us vs. them, Republicans vs. Democrats, Elephants vs. Donkeys. They were incredulous about my claim to only be interested in following the Lamb. Yes, I learned the hard way that if the kingdom of Christ is not perceived as a viable alternative society, then competition for conventional political power seems the only option for influencing the world.

    With a low ecclesiology, politics trumps everything. If the local church is viewed as devoid of what we think of as real power, then we inevitably set our sights on Washington D.C. The National Prayer Breakfast is believed to be important, not because of prayer, but because the President and other power brokers are there. And once you’re convinced that God is working through the political machinations of Babylon, and that God is inviolably on the side of your political party…well, you have set yourself up to make enormous compromises. So let me talk about the elephant in the room — Donald J. Trump.
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