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By In Theology

John’s Wedding Party

Guest post by Jacob Gucker

Interpreters of the fourth Gospel have long noted that it begins very similarly to the book of Genesis. John’s description of the opening days of Jesus’ ministry reads as if it is echoing the words of the six-day creation sequence from the book of beginnings. Most scholars favor the idea that the wedding at Cana falls on the seventh day, completing the first week of the new creation with man and woman together and the wine of the new age flowing abundantly. Others suggest that the wedding falls on the 6th day, the wedding at Cana echoing the creation of man and woman.

There are other themes from the rest of Genesis in the opening chapters. For instance, we see the dove that once hovered over the flood now coming down to light upon Jesus at His baptism. And, just as Jacob saw angels descending and ascending on a stairway to heaven, Jesus claims that His disciples will see the angels doing the same on Him. Furthermore, just as Noah provided rest in the form of wine after the great flood, Jesus turns an abundance of water into wine at the wedding feast, symbolizing the genesis of a new age.

Commentators agree that chapters 2-4 are a distinct literary unit because of the inclusio in 4:46 which informs the reader that Jesus has returned to Cana where He turned the water into wine. Scholars refer to this unit as a “Cana to Cana cycle.” I propose that John intended this unit to be a chiastic recapitulation of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” I also propose that this unit works as a literary “day” on which the “Sun of Righteousness” comes out of His chamber like a bridegroom and, like a strong man runs His course with joy. (more…)

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By In Film, Theology

Scripture Things in ‘Stranger Things’

When Stranger Things Season 1 debuted last year, it was an instant viral sensation. Set in the 1980s, the show masterfully tugs on the nostalgic heartstrings of all those who love coming-of-age, science fiction, adventure dramas. Those of us who loathe contemporary sci-fi — for its substance-less story lines and cartoony CGI — found refuge in Stranger Things‘ mere 8 episodes. They took us back to a simpler yet more mysterious time. The show took many of us back to our childhood, right back to E.T., The Goonies, Stand By Me, and more. Its synth-based score only added to the nostalgia, captivating our imaginations with every sound.

It was only natural that fan-theories would develop around the show. Countless blogs and comment boxes have been filled with questions, predictions, and debate. A small portion of these theories involve biblical imagery and theology. Some are quite good; others are quite a stretch. In anticipation for the release of Season 2, I decided to re-watch Season 1 and try my hand. Below are my thoughts and observations from a biblical perspective. You may think some of them are quite a stretch, but hopefully some of them are quite good.

Before we begin, a disclaimer. I’m in no way presuming to know the intentions of the writers or directors. I suspect most of my observations are purely coincidental. We all exegete content from a particular lens and it may not be the same lens worn by the writers. Still, that doesn’t stop us from seeing what we want to see. If your imagination is shaped by the Bible, you’ll see traces of it everywhere. (more…)

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By In Theology

The Seed and the Serpent: Genesis 3:15 fulfilled in Exodus, Part 1

Guest Post by Jacob Gucker

If Moses wrote the Pentateuch and it is one continuous story, readers might expect the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 concerning the seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head to be fulfilled some time before the end. This post argues for a near fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Israel as a nation and the crushing of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Part one will deal with the “seed of the woman” facet of the prophecy and part two will deal with “crushing the Serpent’s head.”

Exodus is primarily about the birth of God’s son. Israel is the national son of God born out of slavery in Egypt at Passover and into the house of Yahweh. Passover was an exchange of “sons of the herd” for firstborn sons, and Israel is the firstborn of a planned new creation. Whereas Genesis has a theme of birth despite barrenness, Exodus begins with outright fruitfulness, though it is overshadowed by the dragon who waits to devour.

Keith Bodner’s An Ark on the Nile shows from Exodus 1-2 that Moses’ rescue from the Nile is a recapitulation of Noah’s Ark. It looks back to Noah’s rescue from the primordial waters of the flood even as it foreshadows Israel’s rescue from the waters of the Red Sea. Noah’s Ark was not built for seaworthiness but as a floating temple that anticipates the Mosaic Tabernacle that will go with Israel through the wilderness.[1]

Bodner highlights the important role of women who are the only protagonists in the beginning to go up against Pharaoh. Moses’ father is silent and the elders of Israel take no action. There are the vigorous Hebrew women who give birth quickly, the midwives who resist Pharaoh’s decree to throw every Boy into the Nile, Moses’ mother who hid her good son for three months, Moses’ sister who stationed herself to watch what would become of her brother, Pharaoh’s daughter who seems to be willing to defy her father, and the maidservants who go with her to bathe. They share in drawing Moses from the waters of the Nile in his little Ark. They are a corporate woman bringing forth a singular “seed” to be the covenantal head of the nation that will be born. In bringing Moses forth from the waters they participate in bringing the nation forth from bondage.

Bodner argues that Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter play more significant roles than modern readers might think. He posits that Miriam is a shrewd mediator who speaks so as to suggest to Pharaoh’s daughter that an adoption is in order. He notes that Miriam is referred to here as an Almah, indicating that she too is capable of bearing children. He suggests that she is a “rhetorical midwife” in Moses’ new birth[2]. Taking the initiative here, Miriam seems to guide Pharaoh’s daughter and will have a similar role with the women of Israel at the Red Sea.

The naming of Moses brings the Egyptian princess into the tradition of phonetic naming that began with Eve naming Cain. She names him Moses because it sounds like the Hebrew word for “to draw out.” But there is more to his name because it is etymologically Egyptian, based upon the verbal stem msy which means “to be born” and the noun ms means “son.”[3]  Pharaoh’s daughter is participating in bringing forth the seed of the woman. This anticipates God including gentile women at numerous points in the long story of bringing forth the Messiah. Although Mary is the special maidservant chosen to bear the Son of God, all of the women in the Messianic genealogy are participants.

The serpent crippled Israel by hard labor and by Pharaoh’s heinous decree, but this seed will crush the serpent’s head. Part two will show how Pharaoh, the head of Egpyt, is the embodiment of the serpent in the book of Exodus.

Jacob Gucker is a librarian at BMA Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Texas. He lives with his wife and baby daughter at Preacher’s End Farm where she raises vegetables and pastures chickens and he looks up from his books to help out.

[1] Keith Bodner, An Ark on the Nile: Beginning of the Book of Exodus (Oxford University Press, 2016).

[2]Bodner, Keith. “The Waters of Chaos.” In An Ark on the Nile: Beginning of the Book of Exodus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Oxford Scholarship Online, 2016. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198784074.003.0005.

[3]Ibid.

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By In Theology

The Unlikely Ascension of Jesus

Ascension Of Jesus Ascension Day

The Ascension of Jesus can be a confusing scene. It is to be counted among the high holy days of the church calendar. Events on the church calendar are limited to items of theological significance, which is why the nativity (Christmas), passion (Good Friday), and resurrection (Easter) of Christ are memorialized with such pomp. Yet the Ascension is easily the least understood of the great feast days. This is to the detriment of the modern church which desperately needs to recover the meaning of the Christ ascended on high.

A Textual Confusion

Part of the problem is that the Biblical authors have offered limited descriptions of what actually happened at the Ascension. Our Scriptural references to the event are limited to a few quotations. One such description comes from St. Matthew’s Gospel following the words of the Great Commission.a Where Christ gathers his disciples at the mountain where he will presumably ascend. The Ascension in this account can only be inferred by its correlation with the descriptions offered by St. Luke in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts. St. Luke’s Gospel gives us a description of Jesus taking his disciples to Bethany, blessing them, and then, “He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” b Later in the first chapter of Acts, St. Luke describes the scene as Jesus boarding a cloud rising up through the sky. c

So that the general picture we get from the text is that the resurrected Christ gathers his disciples, gives them a sort of farewell speech, and then zephyrs his way into Heaven.

Why does it matter that Jesus ascended and why does the Church calendar mark this event as significant in the theological history of the Church?

Sorrow in Separation

Perhaps the Apostles were expected to understand the Ascension in the context of the Old Testament? How often is Christ compared to the Prophet Elijah, who himself was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire? d But is this event similar the Ascension of Christ? Do the disciples of Christ rend their garments in grief and anguish as did Elisha? No.

Christ’s words seem to imply the reverse. Rather than separation, Christ teaches that his presence has penetrated the two planes of existence by the reality of the Incarnation and by the work of the Holy Spirit. Where Elijah was taken away from Earth, Jesus teaches that in the Ascension the Kingdom of Heaven is coming into contact with Earth in a way that is only comparable to how his own divinity took on human flesh. (more…)

  1. The Holy Gospel of St. Matthew Ch. XXVIII:16-20  (back)
  2. The Holy Gospel of St. Luke Ch. XXIV:51  (back)
  3. The Acts of the Holy Apostles Ch. I:9  (back)
  4. Fourth Book of Kings Ch. II  (back)

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By In Theology

The Tree(s) of Life

When we come to the end of the Bible, there are some things that are intriguingly similar to the beginning. In the beginning, God created the man and placed him in a garden that he had planted in the land of Eden, telling him to be fruitful and multiply. This garden had a river that ran through it and split into four different rivers outside of the garden. In the midst of the garden were two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man was invited to come to the Tree of Life but forbidden to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the midst of the garden, at this Tree of Life, God would communicate his life to man. Man would enjoy communion with God there at this Tree, being nourished in every way to be what his Father had created him to be.

When man sinned, God exiled him from the garden in order to keep him from eating of the Tree of Life (Gen 3.22-23). From that time forward man was forbidden to partake of the Tree. God provided means of communion, communicating his life to man through various means, but full access to the Tree of Life was not a reality.

The scene at the end of Revelation is one that describes this city in which the Tree of Life is not only present but accessible. Some things have changed drastically. The walled garden has become a walled city; a culture full of life. The rugged beauty of a pristine creation has become a developed, glorified creation under the dominion of the last Adam. Man has been fruitful and multiplied, and the garden has grown up into a city. Nevertheless, the New Jerusalem is the old garden, complete with the Tree of Life. Christ’s work has granted us access to the Tree of Life. All those who have their robes washed, who enter the gates of the garden-city, are granted access to the Tree of Life (Rev 22.14). Because Christ has passed through the flaming sword of the cherubim, he has made the way open to the Tree of Life. Because we pass through that same death being united with Christ in baptism, we now have access to the Tree of Life. We enjoy full and close communion with God in the church, the garden of God.

We are given this access, not only for personal privilege but so that we might become what we eat. In Christ Jesus, we are made trees of life planted by the river that runs through the midst of the garden-city (cf. Ps 1). The fruit of the Spirit that we bear is to be nourishment for those around us. The leaves that we produce are to be for the healing of the nations. We come to the Tree of Life, receiving life from God so that through us life might be enjoyed by others.

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By In Theology

Two Births of Jesus

One night in Nazareth, God became man in the virgin womb of Mary, a young lady betrothed to Joseph. Three trimesters later, Jesus was born on Christmas day. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes (Lk. 2:7). Gentile worshipers brought him gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt. 2:11). The infant’s life was threatened by an evil king, but he escaped death (Mt. 2:13-15).

Thirty-three years later, Jesus had his life threatened again by evil rulers (Mt. 26:65-68). Instead of escaping, he volunteered to die (Jn. 10:18). At his death in Jerusalem, Israelite worshipers prepared spices and oils for him (Lk. 23:55-56; Jn. 19:39-40). He was wrapped in fine linens and buried in a virgin tomb, a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Mt. 27:57-60; Lk. 23:53). Three days later, he was reborn on Easter Sunday.

As we celebrate the nativity of our Lord, let us recall the glorious providence of God. Let us remember that not only does Christ’s first coming look forward to his second coming, but that his birth out of the womb foreshadows his birth out of the tomb. King Jesus conquered death and now sits on heaven’s throne. We join his mother in singing these words from the Magnificat: (more…)

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By In Theology, Worship

10 Questions Preachers Should Ask Before Sunday Morning

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon.a The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week. I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocateb–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners. (more…)

  1. Thankful for great interactions before this article was published. It helped sharpen my points  (back)
  2. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)

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