John left an impression

Dec 23 2021

During the winter of Jesus’ last year after his withdrawal from Jerusalem, Jesus went to the place where John had baptized (John 10:40). John had been imprisoned and executed, but apparently even after his departure places were known by his baptizing activity.

In fact, twenty years after John’s life the impression left by his baptism still influenced the preaching of a man named Apollos (Acts 18:18). Priscilla and Aquila, friends of Paul, tutored Apollos, but that is another story.

Around fifty years after the John’s baptizing activity, his influential reputation remained. Josephus recalled John’s execution by Herod as well as John’s message of virtue (Ant. 18.5.2 § 116-119).

All of the Gospels mention John. Mark describes him briefly as an unconventional man who prepared the way for the Lord. Mark also comments that John drew crowds from rural Judea and Jerusalem (1:2-8) and recalls John’s execution by Herod (6:14-29).

Matthew follows Mark’s basic outline (Matthew 3:1-12; 14:1-12), and Luke adds additional dialogue to Mark and Matthew (Luke 3:1-20). Meanwhile, the Gospel of John offers a more personal glimpse of the eccentric holy man (John 1:19-39; 3:22-30) ending with John’s acknowledgement that Jesus must increase, and he [John] must decrease (3:30).

John worked in places around the Jordan that were away from the main roads, i.e. remote places (called “wilderness” in many English translations of Mark and Matthew).

During this last winter after a clash with religious folks at the temple, Jesus took the opportunity to withdraw to one of John’s old baptizing sites probably to allow tensions to settle in the city.

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the in-between

Apr 10 2021

The past year is done. We’re waiting to start the next SpendaYearwithJesus cycle. We’re in the in-between.

In a recent conversation, I asked a question about Jesus’ schedule. My friend replied, “I picture him always teaching and healing.” I did, too, for years.

For some reason, it’s natural to assume Jesus had no in-between. But we also know that first-century experience had plenty of pauses.

First, there’s sundown. We read comments from the ancients like “work while it is day.” 2,000 years later, we say “lights out” to mean, “end the day.”

Then there’s harvest, two of them. Spring barley and wheat and fall fruit were times of busy-ness for the community as harvest times are today.

Three festivals coincided with the harvests. The adult men of Israel and also their families traveled to Jerusalem to gather at the temple mount.

The fall period between summer heat and winter rains was an opportunity for home repair and winterizing activities.

And we have to mention Sabbath. Every week Jesus’ community had scheduled down-time. They could not work.

There is plenty of in-between in life. Enjoy it. I’m sure Jesus did.

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Apr 09 2021

The Jerusalem economy was the temple economy. The temple employed hundreds if not thousands of people–priests and Levites who were butchers, leather tanners, singers, tailors, etc. And there were all of the auxiliary industries surrounding the temple from the farmers who raised the grain for the grain offerings to the shepherds who raised the sheep and goats for the burnt offerings. The skin of the animals most likely went to leather tanners and parchment makers. Meat offered to God for vows and peace offerings was also butchered and eaten in the temple courts.

If Jesus was a threat to that economy, then he could have put thousands of people out of work. James, the apostles, and Paul continued to worship at the temple throughout their “church” ministries, however. In this in-between, the reality of the temple economy alongside the temple worship raises many questions.

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If this is the end, then I want . . .

Apr 08 2021

Jesus’ experience had its share of great deeds. Perhaps we could say overwhelming deeds.

So when we get to a statement like the final sentence of John’s Gospel, “Jesus did many other things” (John 21:24) we tend to generalize on the sensational; i.e. “Jesus performed many other miracles.”

At the writing of this post, my mom has been gone for two months. If I could spend just one more day with her, you know what I would like?

Really, what I would like is to talk with her at the breakfast table and drink a cup of coffee together.

For all the wonderful deeds my mom performed, the breakfast cup of coffee and conversation is what I would like with her if I could have one more hour.

Our humanity gets lost in the sensationalism of great deeds and large crowds. Jesus’ humanity gets lost. Frankly, if I’m Peter, I get my wish on the lakeshore (John 21:1).

Jesus returns and has breakfast with his friends. I can imagine them with fish juice dribbling down their fingers and beards, smiling, talking, enjoying one more morning together.

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Apr 07 2021

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Another year completed

Apr 05 2021

Another year of SpendaYearwithJesus is completed. Am I improved for the year I spent following Jesus’ experience?

The reality is that I am not.

In fact, life goes on at the dizzying pace that it always has…

…with 3-5 fewer daily text messages.

It occurs to me that Jesus’ original followers lived a similar reality. For all the impact we impose on their experience, what really happened to them in the day-by-day?

Maybe that’s the point. I may not recognize it, but I am just a little more understanding of others — the people around Jesus in his day as well as the people around me today who are trying to understand their own experience.

I hear Christians talk about the resurrection as if it was the definitive moment of history, but look how little changed before and after that moment in reality. A handful of people changed.

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He died on a Friday

Apr 02 2021

My brother died on a Friday. But it’s third-day-complicated.

There was an apartment fire on Friday morning. Three people, including my brother, were missing.

The concrete upper-story floor pad had fallen on the bed where he was sleeping, so “finding him” wasn’t simply a matter of peeking in the room.

Saturday, we waited. Excruciating, inevitable waiting.

Sunday, they rolled the stone away, and we learned what we already knew.

Jesus died on a Friday. His brothers were in Jerusalem for the Feast. They must have heard, must have responded. I wonder how they spent Saturday.

Jesus was human. Jesus’ story reveals his was not a perfect family. Mine wasn’t isn’t either.

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Dead.line: being human and succession planning

Apr 01 2021

Every person in the first century crossed the line between life and death, including Jesus. It was part of being human. We don’t need to be reminded that it still is.

Preparing to cross that [dead]line is also part of being human. We anticipate that death will change things. It will bring loss. It will also bring closure.

I have to wonder if Jesus looked at the twelve men around him and felt a sense of gravitas. He had been engaging in succession planning for three years.

  • He had already communicated that he had come to fulfill the Law, thus bringing closure.
  • The previous spring he had commissioned the twelve to declare the nearness of the kingdom.
  • The previous summer, he began to speak of the end, though the disciples understood “dying and raising” as a metaphor.
  • He could reasonably anticipate escalation of conflict in Jerusalem (since he was a wanted man for raising Lazarus).

In Jesus’ experience, he and his disciples refreshed Israel’s past by reading the Law every Sabbath day. When they read about the ordination procedures and dedication ceremony for priests, the practice reminded them of the inevitability of succession planning.

As Jesus sat with his men in the Ephraim wilderness and as he sat with his men this evening, the twelve vaguely anticipated ordination (echoing the priestly ritual) in a new kingdom. Jesus knew his dead.line loomed.

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Appearing normal, but underneath…

Mar 30 2021

The experience was normal. What everyone would expect. Jesus, his family, his disciples, and their families walked the Jordan Valley roads along with hundreds of holiday travelers. The festive occasion: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Underneath the normal of that moment was the disruptive fact that Jesus was a wanted man. 4 weeks previously, in a suburb of the capital city and to the amazement of all, Jesus resuscitated a family friend. The religious authorities regarded this action as an exercise of trickery or sorcery – either was criminal – so they issued a warrant for his arrest (Talmud Sanhedrin 43a).

For 3 weeks afterwards, Jesus and his men withdrew into the hills between Judea and Samaria. Then they re-emerged to join the crowds for the feast.

Observe most people, and their lives appear normal. But like Jesus’ experience, underneath the normal are life-challenging disruptions. If attentive, we can see beyond the surface-normal, see into those challenges even as life goes on, just as it did around Jesus as he neared his own end.


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If you had one week to live…

Mar 25 2021

“You have a short time to live.” More regularly than we like to admit, we hear of a family member or friend given that diagnosis.

If you had one week to live, how would you spend it?

Jesus knew he had a short time to live. On his way to Jerusalem, he took his closest followers aside privately. He confided to them that he would be handed over to the temple authorities, condemned, mocked, flogged and crucified (Mt 20:17-19). Jesus’ description of his own end is quite specific.

Jesus’ experience included the anticipation of his own death. But as we follow Jesus the last week of his life, we do not see him chasing a new adventure or hurrying to try a new pastime.

So how did Jesus spend his last week?

He did what he had always done: eating meals with family and friends, teaching in the temple courts, spending time with his closest followers. I notice a change in Jesus’ teaching content but not in his pace of life.

Unhurried, Jesus depletes his remaining hours engaging friends.

Does he seem like he really only has one week left to live?

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