Friday, March 22, 2019

The Vision (3.22.19): The Mother of Christ at the Cross

Image: Detail from Hans Memling (1430-1494) triptych of the crucifixion.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:23-27.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

John describes the women who “stood by the cross of Jesus” (v. 25). This is another reminder that the cross was not off on some isolated hillside but likely on a well-traveled roadway or thoroughfare into the city (cf. v. 20). Christ was not hoisted ten feet into the air but was likely just off the ground, so that his followers could still look into his eyes, speak with him, and witness his sufferings.

These women showed a much greater degree of courage, even than most of the twelve (v. 25). Certainly, unlike Peter, they had not denied and disowned their Lord.

There were apparently three women there [“his mother, and….and….”]. Though some believe that there were four. Just as there will be women who are witnesses of the resurrection, there were also women who were witnesses of the crucifixion of Christ. One might call them three Marys:

First among them is the Lord’s mother. From the other Gospels we know that her name was Mary (a form of the Hebrew name Miriam, the sister of Moses). One of the many peculiarities of John’s Gospel is that he never calls Mary by her name in this Gospel. She is instead called, as here, “his mother” (cf. John 2:3, 5).

One of the sad things that has happened over the years is that most Protestants avoid saying very much about Mary. Why? Because of so much un-biblical and inappropriate focus upon her, especially among Roman Catholics, where the cult of Mary is pervasive. Some RCs speak of Mary as the co-Redemptrix with Christ. Notice, however, that Mary is not on the cross. She is standing at the foot of the cross. Mary should never be the focus of our worship and devotion. That focus is devoted exclusively to the Lord.

The overlooking of Mary is sad, however, because there is much positive that can be said about her. She and the brothers of our Lord, especially James, were among the earliest and most exemplary disciples of Christ. This, in itself, is proof of his divinity.

And one sign of Mary’s steadfastness is that she did not desert our Lord in his time of suffering and death. The scene here likely fulfills the prediction made to Mary by the aged Simeon at the dedication of the infant Jesus in the Jerusalem: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy soul also” (see Luke 2:34-35).

Indeed, how seeing the Lord upon the cross must have felt like a sword through the heart to Mary. We should not worship Mary, but we can admire her.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.10: Christ and Annas and Caiaphas

Image: The so-called "Caipaphas ossuary", discovered in a burial cave in Jerusalem in 1990 and believed to hold the remains of Caiaphas the high priest mentioned in the Gospels.

A new installment has been posted in the series through Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapters 10 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius continues to set the historical time frame for the life of Jesus, drawing upon Luke and Josephus.

Citing Luke 3:1, 23 he notes that Jesus was baptized in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius as Roman emperor and the fourth year of the rule of Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, and that Jesus began his public ministry when he about thirty years old.

He then takes Luke 3:2 to refer to the life of Jesus being set between the high priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas (Luke 3:2: “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests…”). From this he assumes that the public ministry of Jesus less than four full years.

Drawing on Josephus’s Antiquities, he notes that there were three high priests who served brief terms between Annas and Caiaphas:

Ananus (deposed by Valerius Gratus, Pilate’s predecessor)
Ishmael, son of Phabi
Eliezer, son of Ananus
Simon, son of Kathimus
Josephus (Caiaphas)

So, after the deposal of Annas, there were four high priesthoods in less than four years. Eusebius concludes: “Thus the whole time of the teaching of our Saviour is shown to be not even four full years.”

Furthermore, Eusebius notes the calling of the twelve apostles at the beginning of his ministry, as well as the sending of the seventy.

Note: Although Eusebius does not mention the traditional three-year scheme for Jesus’s public ministry, drawn from John’s mention of Jesus’s four Passover visits to Jerusalem, his less than four-year ministry scheme roughly fits with this. The question remains, however, whether Eusebius properly interprets Luke 3:2. Did Luke intend there to say that the public ministry of Jesus extended from the deposal of Annas to the high priesthood of Caiaphas?


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.9: Christ and Pontius Pilate

Image: Mosaic detail of Pontius Pilate, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, 5th-6th cenutry.

The next installment is posted in the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 9 (Listen here):

Notes and Commentary:

This is another very brief chapter.

Its purpose is to set a time frame for understanding the life and ministry of Jesus.

Eusebius begins by referring to Luke as “the historian [ho historikos].” He cites Luke 3:1 with references to the tetrarchies of Philip, the younger Herod, and Lysanius, after the deposal of Archelaus.
He then turns to book 18 of Josephus’s Antiquities (note how Luke is set in par with Josephus as an accurate historian of the era) to describe the rule of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate over Judea, beginning in the twelfth year of Tiberius, lasting for ten years.
Eusebius rejects as spurious a series of “reports” about the Savior (which Lake identifies as the Acta Pilata, noting they are “Christian forgeries of uncertain date” [n. 1, p. 74]) supposedly from the time of Pilate, noting that they claim Pilate was ruling in the seventh year of Tiberius’s reign, but this cannot be accurate, since, as noted above, Pilate only became governor in the twelfth year of Tiberius’s reign.
Again, we see that Eusebius is keen firmly to ground the life of Jesus in historical reality.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Allusion to a Bi-Covenantal Canon in 2 Peter 3:2, etc.

More gleanings from Kruger’s Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012): 207-209:

Kruger notes: “A key indication of an emerging canon within early Christianity is that Christians began to conceive of something like a New Testament alongside, and parallel to, the Old” (207). The early evidence of this is “rare” but “cannot be overlooked” (207).

Kruger sees this is 2 Peter 3:2: “That we may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”

Here the writer thinks in terms of the (written) words of the prophets and the (written) commandment of the apostles.

He also sees the possibility of a bi-covenantal allusion in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul refers to himself and other apostles as “ministers of the new testament [diatheke, covenant]” (v. 6), while later making reference to the writings of Moses as part of the “old testament [diatheke, covenant]” (v. 14).

He adds: “The implications of this passage for bi-covenantal canon are difficult to miss” (208-209).

Finally, he also notes Hebrews 2:2-3 which juxtaposes “the word spoken by angels” (v. 2, in reference to the OT) and that “which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (v. 3).

Kruger concedes that this reference is not “obvious” but that it nonetheless “continues to lay the foundation for a future bi-covenantal canonical structure” (209).


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Calvin on the implications of the beloved disciple's care for the mother of Jesus (John 19:27)

Image: The supposed "house of Mary" near the site of ancient Ephesus in Turkey. Tradition says John brought Mary to Ephesus and cared for her there.

I preached this morning a sermon on John 19:23-27, including our Lord’s words from the cross to the beloved disciple, “Behold thy mother!” (v. 27a), entrusting care of his mother to this disciple (John).

I ran out of time, so I did not get the chance to share this intriguing insight from Calvin on v. 27b: “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home [eis ta idia]” (v. 27b). Notice “home” is in italic.
Calvin observes:
“Hence it is also evident that the Apostles had their families; for John could not have exercised hospitality towards the mother of Christ, or have taken her into his own home, if he had not a house and a regular way of living. Those men, therefore, are fools who think that the Apostles relinquished their property, and came to Christ naked and empty; but they are worse than fools, who make perfection [maturity] to consist in beggary.”
Again, we see Calvin’s commentary influenced by his contemporary efforts to reform the RC church of his day. His point: You don’t have to take a vow of poverty, renounce the world, and live in a monastery to live a faithful Christian life. This is not what the apostles did. On the contrary, your duty is to live in the world while not being part of it, and to love Christ and love the brethren.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Vision (3.15.19): Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews

Image: A hypothetical reconstruction of the Titulus Crucis by P. L. Maier.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:13-22.

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS (John 19:19).

In Roman crucifixions, it was common for there to be a titulus, a placard or tablet, spelling out the crimes of the condemned. John says that the providential, guiding hand of God was there, directing Pilate to write, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (v. 19).

The location of the crucifixion was public and visible: “for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city” (v. 20). The inscription was tri-lingual, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Jews, Greeks, and Romans could all understand it. The inscription accused the Lord Jesus of being an insurrectionist. It mocked him as a failed king. But, ironically, it told the truth. The chief priests were so unnerved by this that they tried to get Pilate to change it (v. 21), but Pilate refused (v. 22).

Thus, Calvin says, Pilate, a reprobate man, “by a secret guidance” was “appointed to be a herald of the gospel that he might publish a short summary of it in three languages.” The tri-lingual note anticipates the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), that men of all nations, will come to know Christ. How happy is the foreign traveler when he finds a sign in this native tongue! How glad the man who hears the gospel in his heart language!

The apostle Paul is perhaps making reference to this kind of title in Colossians 2:14 when he talks about Christ “blotting out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”

Indeed, all of our sin was nailed to the cross. Our titulus was there. Christ, our King, died on the cross for the sins of men from all nations.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.8: The Death of Herod the Great

Image: The funeral procession of Herod the Great to his mausoleum at Herodium in 4 BC. Illustration by Hong Nian Zhang.

A new installment has been post to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 1, chapter 8 (Listen here):

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter describes the ignoble end of Herod the Great and recalls the Biblical adage that as a man sows, so shall he reap (cf. Gal 6:7).

Eusebius draws on Matthew’s account of the visit of the magi at the birth of Jesus and the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem.

He also draws on the accounts in Josephus, from both his Antiquities of the Jews and the Jewish War, of Herod’s miserable suffering with disease, including gangrene in his genitals and “breeding worms”, his plan to take captive and murder a crowd in the Hippodrome so that there would be weeping at his death, and the murder of a third son before his death.

Eusebius sees Herod’s suffering was an act of God’s justice for his murder of the innocents at Bethlehem.

Lastly, he returns to Matthew’s account of Joseph bringing Jesus to Galilee from Egypt at Herod the Great’s death.