Jesus in Context – One of the Most Helpful Biblical Background Books Around

JesusInContext-BockI recently came across the most helpful resources on the historical backgrounds to the Gospels that I have ever seen. It is called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study by Darrell Bock. This book works through the synoptics and John and pulls just about any relevant extra-biblical text in full quotation to help you see what other ancient writers said about a topic, a city, a custom, etc. Reading the geneaology of Jesus? Look and see how other ancient Jewish writers did genealogies. Studying Jesus’ turning water to wine at Cana? You go to that miracle in this book and it first gives you a bit of historical background on eschatology and wine followed by relevant quotations from 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, Tobit, and the Talmud on wine and quotations from Josephus on Cana. Combine the content with Logos Bible software and you have an unbelievably powerful resource for your studies. This book concludes with multiple indices that include index by topic, by scripture, by extra-biblical reference and a huge list for further reading broken down by topic, If you are a student of the Gospels and want extra-biblical references all in one place this is the book for you. If you would use Logos and would like to have it at your disposal in a fully searchable, indexed format with clickable links with full references for you to use in your study or writing, you can get it here.

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New Free Study Uploaded – Parables and the Kingdom of God

I just uploaded a new 13 lesson series on the parables of Jesus entitled “Parables and the Kingdom of God”

Here are the stats on free curriculum on this blog:

  • 937 total lessons
  • 2996 total pages
  • 75 lesson series
  • 20 contributors
  • 60,000+ pdf downloads!

Launching Missional Communities – Thinking UP, IN, OUT

In their book Launching Missional Communities, Breen and Absalom point out that

Jesus had three great loves and thus three distinct dimensions to his life.

UP: deep and connected relationship to his Father and attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit

IN: constant investment in the relationships with those around him (his disciples)

OUT: entering the brokenness of the world, looking for a response individually (people coming into relationship with Jesus) and systemically (systems of injustice being transformed).

This three dimensional pattern for living a balanced life is evident throughout Scripture and needs to be expressed in community life as well. Because of this we believe missional communities need a balanced expression of UP-IN-OUT in order to be healthy, growing communities.

Now that’s some pretty good stuff. First of all, its biblical. Second of all its not properly balanced in many churches today. I asked that question in an earlier post when I asked what the balance in your congregation was between IN and OUT. It would have been better if I had included UP as well. Obviously some things have overlap but we do need to make sure that we are providing specific environments or activities that foster each of those three components of Jesus’ ministry within our churches.

I have to say that I am very excited about our young people and the prospects for the church over the next 20 years. Some things worry me just a bit but overall I think some really good things are underfoot. Much of this is happening because people are really seeking out God and to really make a difference in the world. That means more of our young people are getting focused on OUT and UP and less on IN. That is a good and healthy move as many churches today have been doing the IN thing very well for many, many years almost to the exclusion of the other two. My point is, I hope we are getting closer to achieving balance of the biblical principles of ministry and can really live out the mission that is outside the Sunday morning walls.

I appreciate the balance that this book tries to bring into the discussion to get people to start thinking more in terms of UP, IN and OUT.

If You Had Three Years to Change the World…

If you had three years to change the world, would you spend as much time away alone with God as Jesus did? If I knew I had three years to change the world I know I would be tempted to never slow down and solitude would be pretty far down on the priority list. Not so with Jesus…

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”
– Matthew 14:13

35Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and
went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
– Mark 1:35

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
– Luke 5:16

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.”
– Luke 6:12

“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
– John 6:15

36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

42He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
– Matthew 26:36-43

There are even more verses if you count in the times Jesus was just with his disciples, praying in private or in solitary places. I am sure all that is mentioned in scripture is not even the tip of the iceberg of how often Jesus found alone time with God. The take home message I got from this is that if I can’t find time to be alone with God in prayer I might as well give up keeping myself so busy and make sure to include what matters most.

Summaries of the New Testament Books

To follow up on this post summarizing the books of the Old Testament, here is the list for the New Testament. Here is this list in pdf. These are just quick helps to help people get a feel for these books and see how they connect with each other.

Bible Study Helps – New Testament

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is also divided into sections that help keep similar writings together. Here are the four sections that divide the Old Testament:

1 – Gospels

  • Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • The Gospels are ordered by the date some people believed they were written. You don’t have to put a name on a Gospel until there are more than one and only Luke is the only one of the four to identify himself. A few hundred years after these were written false teachings entered the church that forced the church to decide which writings were inspired/from God and which were not. It was during this process that the New Testament was laid out in its current form.

2 – Historical

  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Acts is the history that all of Paul’s letters fit into. You read about Paul visiting the churches he wrote letters to in the book of Acts (the cities of Ephesus, Galatia, Corinth, etc)

3 – Paul’s Letters

  • Romans – Philemon
  • These are ordered from longest to shortest with Romans being the longest and Philemon the shortest of Paul’s letters
  • These are some of the earliest writings in the New Testament with Galatians being the earliest book written (48 AD)

4 – General Letters

  • Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude
  • These are all the letters written by people other than Paul

5 – Apocalypse

  • Revelation
  • This is the last book of the New Testament to be written, nearly 60 years after Jesus’ ministry

Gospels

Matthew

Date written – 60s

Author – Matthew

Summary – All four gospels tell about the life of Jesus from the time before his birth to the time after his death and resurrection. Yet each Gospel has a distinct emphasis. It is like hearing the same story from four different points of view. Each writer is remembering and focusing on different aspects of who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Matthew’s emphasis – Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Matthew also emphasizes Jesus as King as prophesied Messiah and descendent from David’s throne.

Mark

Date written – 50s

Author – Mark

Summary – Mark is about who Jesus is. At first Jesus is more secretive about who he is because he doesn’t want to fulfill the wrongly directed hopes of who the Messiah was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do. In the first half of Mark (1-8) It is not uncommon in Mark for Jesus to tell people to keep who he is a secret. Once Peter confesses Christ in Mark 8 Jesus speaks much more freely about who he is and what he came to do. Like Matthew, Mark ends with Jesus commissioning his disciples to spread the Gospel all over the world.

Mark’s emphasis – Jesus as Redeemer

Luke

Date written – 60s

Author – Luke

Summary – Luke and Acts are both written by Luke and tell the story of Christianity from the birth of Jesus through the growth of the early church. There are many teachings and miracles in Luke that points us right to the heart of God and just how compassionate he is toward mankind.

Luke’s emphasis – Jesus as compassionate and uplifter of the oppressed

John

Date written – 80s

Author – John

Summary – The Gospel of John tells the story of the life and ministry of Jesus through an insider point of view. Matthew was a disciple of Jesus but not in his “inner circle” like Peter, James and John were. Luke and John were not part of Jesus’ 12 disciples. So John holds a special place in teaching us about God and Christ as an “insider.” One things you will notice in John are a lot of double meanings that often leave people confused (being born again is one example from John 3). Like the other three Gospels, John shows Jesus on his way to a cross. Like the other Gospels Jesus defeats death through his resurrection and shows us that there is hope beyond the grave.

John’s emphasis – Jesus as the Son of God and his unique relationship with His Father.

History

Acts of the Apostles

Date written – 62

Author – Luke

Summary – Luke wrote the book of Acts to tell the rest of the story. Acts covers the first thirty years of the church and tells how the Gospel went from being believed by just a few disciples waiting in Jerusalem to the Holy Spirit inspiring them to convert thousands and take the message all over the world. In the book of Acts we see missionaries including Paul, Barnabas, Mark and Luke (who both wrote the Gospels) travelling around the world, spreading the message of Christ to Jews and Gentiles. They travel to many of the cities Paul later writes the letters that follow.

One major dividing line in the book is Acts 10 where God allows the message of Christ to be preached to the Gentiles for the first time. This had been God’s plan all the way back to Abraham when he promised Abraham he would be the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5).

Paul’s Letters

Romans

Date written – 55

Author – Paul

Summary – Romans was written to a racially divided church. The Jew and Gentile Christians were struggling to find unity. Paul writes Romans to reconcile their relationships and to understand that the message of Christ should act as a common bond across all nations just as God planned for it to do from the beginning.

1 Corinthians

Date written – 54

Author – Paul

Summary – Corinth is a town in Greece where Paul visited in Acts 18. The Corinthian church was also very divided (1:10-17). Paul sets them straight by talking about how true leaders should bring unity and not division but that ultimately our leader is Christ and not any earthly leaders. Paul also deals with many of their specific concerns as a congregation including marriage (chapter 7), the eating of food sacrificed to idols (chapters 8-11) and issues in worship (chapters 11-14).

2 Corinthians

Date written – 55

Author – Paul

Summary – 2 Corinthians seems to be about Paul’s defense of his ministry to those hostile toward him at Corinth. He upholds his integrity and commission from God and defends many of his travel plans in this letter.

Galatians

Date written – 48

Author – Paul

Summary – Galatians was written to address a specific concern among the Christians in the region of Galatia. It seems those who were Jewish Christians were beginning to enforce various aspects of Judaism (circumcision for one) on the Gentile Christians. Paul writes this letter to assure them of the sufficiency of Christ apart from the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and to help mend the broken relationships left behind between the Christians in the Galatian churches.

Ephesians

Date written – 60

Author – Paul

Summary – One of four letters Paul wrote from prison. Normally Paul’s letters have a specific occasion that prompted him to write these churches. Ephesians is the hardest to pin down. What stands out in Ephesians is the connection between knowing God and what he has done for us (Chapters 1-3) and the resulting actions that should be in our lives in response to all God has done for us (Chapters 4-6).

Philippians

Date written – 61

Author – Paul

Summary – Paul invites the Philippian Christians to live their lives for Christ even if it includes suffering (Phil 1). He encourages them to imitate Christ’s humility (Phil 2) and to keep in mind the importance of Christ (Phil 3). Even though in jail, Paul has found contentment (Phil 4:11-12).

Colossians

Date written – 60

Author – Paul

Summary – One of four letters Paul wrote from prison. Colossians was written to help combat some false teachings that were taking place in the house churches of Colossae. It seems some believed that it was necessary to appease angels by doing certain religious ceremonies in order to gain entrance to the presence of God (see especially Col 2). Paul assures them, as he did the Galatians, that we don’t need anything more than Jesus Christ to be in the proper relationship with God.

1 Thessalonians

Date written – 50

Author – Paul

Summary – 1 Thessalonians may have been written to Christians in Thessalonica who struggled with understanding the second coming of Christ and what that meant for Christians who died before his return. Some believed in the early church that Christ would come back within a generation due to some of Jesus’ teachings (like John 21:22). Paul encourages them toward purity, love and responsibility.

2 Thessalonians

Date written – 51

Author – Paul

Summary – Paul wrote this letter to alleviate even more concerns they had about the return of Christ. It seems some had taught Christ has already come back (2 Thess 2:1-2) and that there were false teachers in their midst (2:3-15). Paul writes this letter to inform and encourage them toward faithfulness so that they will not be led away from God through false teaching.

1 Timothy

Date written – 62

Author – Paul

Summary – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are called the “Pastoral epistles”. They were written by Paul to help equip these men of God toward a more productive ministry. They were also written to help these ministers of the Gospel (Timothy and Titus) to effectively lead in the congregations they were a part of. These three letters are very practical covering everything from how to dress to qualifications of elders and deacons and how to treat others in the church.

2 Timothy

Date written – 63

Author – Paul

Summary – Written as Paul nears the end of his life in Roman prison. He writes this to ensure the faithfulness of Timothy and to encourage him to finish strong just as Paul is doing himself. The most famous verse in this book is found in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 where Paul encourages him to study the scriptures and explains the extent of their usefulness.

Titus

Date written – 62

Author – Paul

Summary – The last of Paul’s pastoral letters, this letter is written to give instruction to Titus on how Christians are to live and what should be taught to those in the church. Another very practical letter.

Philemon

Date written – 60

Author – Paul

Summary – One of four letters Paul wrote from prison. This letter was written to reconcile the relationship between a slave and a slave master who were both Christians in the church in Colossae. The slave, Onesimus, came to Paul so he could help him make things right again with his master, Philemon. Paul put the pressure on Philemon to make things right, even if it wasn’t easy.

General Letters

Hebrews

Date written – between 60 & 70

Author – Unknown

Summary – Hebrews reads more like a sermon than a letter and that may have been how the book of Hebrews started out. Hebrews is about the sufficiency of Christ and his exaltation above all others in all creation. The book proves that by showing his fulfillment of many things found in the Old Testament including the priesthood, sacrificial system, and many other things. This letter was undoubtedly written to a Jewish audience, who would have readily seen the connections the writer of Hebrews makes with the Old Testament.

James

Date written – 44

Author – James

Summary – James was the half brother of Jesus, sharing the same mother, Mary. James is often thought of as the Proverbs of the New Testament. It is very practical and easy to understand. This is a great place to start studying the Bible if you are looking for something practical and easily applicable.

1 Peter

Date written – 65

Author – Peter

Summary – 1 & 2 Peter were written to remind Christians of their special status with God so that they could endure some pretty intense persecution. Peter speaks to unjust suffering and living as a Christian in a hostile world.

2 Peter

Date written – 65

Author – Peter

Summary – 2 Peter was written near the end of Peter’s life and he is calling them to the truth and reminding them of the legitimacy of the Gospel, that what Christ had done for them was real. As an eyewitness who is about to die defending his faith, he wants to make sure those he is leaving behind will hold true to the Gospel because Christ will return and Christians are called to live with that in mind.

1 John

Date written – 90

Author – John

Summary – If Timothy and Titus are pastoral letters to individuals, 1-3 John read like pastoral letters written in love to help them grow closer to God and to other Christians. In 1 John, John tells us what it means to walk in the light and just how connected our love of God is with our love for others (1 John 3). We also get more “insider” facts about who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

2 John

Date written – 90

Author – John

Summary – This letter is addressed probably to a local congregation in order to help them combat false teaching. That false teaching had to do with whether or not Jesus really came in the flesh. John, who knew Jesus first hand, assures them that he did.

3 John

Date written – 90

Author – John

Summary – 3 John is written toward a specific problem in a specific church. A man named Diotrephes was causing a problem in the church and John writes to Gaius, a leader in the church, in order to help him deal with this issue.

Jude

Date written – 70

Author – Jude

Summary – Jude is very much like 2 Peter and is written to combat wickedness in the church. Jude uses several examples from scripture and Jewish tradition who did the same things and were punished by God.

Apocalyptic

Revelation

Date written – 90s

Author – John

Summary – Revelation is an often misunderstood book. It was written to Christians who were undergoing some severe persecution in order for them to have the courage to hold to their faith, even if it meant they would die for Christ. Much of what is found in the book has already taken place but a few things still have not. The book concludes the New Testament with a beautiful picture of how this world will end up. Everything will be made right and whole again and there will be no more pain, tears or death as we live in perfect relationship with God.

The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

Ten Reflections on the Importance of Scripture

I really do love the Bible. It has meant so much to me in both the peaks and the valleys of life. It is like a long standing relationship that just gets better and better with age. I have had the times when the Bible fell open to just the right text at just the right time and felt God was telling me something. When my grandmother was dying of cancer and in her last days I sat in Bible class that Wednesday night with tears in my eyes. I opened my Bible straight to 2 Cor 1 about the God of all comfort. There has never been a moment in my life where the words felt more like in some small way God had me and countless other people in mind when he inspired the opening words to the second letter to the Corinthians. I have had times when I wrestled and wrestled with a text and couldn’t get much out of it that seemed applicable at all but somehow I knew I was better for the experience of trying to hear what those ancient words had to say to my modern ears.

The Bible has served as a mentor to me. There are the times the Bible has humbled me into recognizing I was wrong or needed corrected. Then there are the times scripture has jumped up right in front of me, come to life, and was responded to with “Aha!” The pieces finally clicked together. They had been there all the time but maybe a new insight, a new piece of information or life experience made an old, much read verse, come to life in a new way. I am sure you know what I am talking about. You have almost certainly been there yourself.

A few reflection on scripture:

  1. The Bible stands there and says what it says and I have to deal with it. If I get my priorities out of whack I can try to manipulate what it says to suit my ears but cherry picking Greek glosses and lexicons or by coming up with some obscure interpretation. But if I am humble enough to let God’s Word change me rather than me change it I will experience something powerful in its study. It is like getting a letter from a friend about a problem. You can’t argue back with a letter. You have to take it all in first and read what is there, even re-read it.
  2. Because the text is living, breathing, and sharp (Heb 4:12, 2 Tim 3:16) and because my life isn’t static, the Bible often encounters me at different times in life in different ways that it ever has before. I certainly read the Gospel of John differently now than when I was 13. Knowing the themes, the signs, the theology, purpose, and where John is taking the reader the text has become so much richer for me than it used to be and things now seem obvious that were buried for the 13 year old version of myself. I love the richness that brings to the text as the words on the page are the same but the conversation changes as our maturity and readiness to hear what it is saying changes.
  3. We are looking back on what many looked forward to and so we take much for granted. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the Gospel that has been revealed to us was concealed even from the angels much less those who went before the church and ministry of Christ. So there is much to be appreciated about being the recipients of the complete message of God/Christ through the Gospels and letters of the New Testament but also through the Old Testament (more on that another time). This gives us a privileged perspective of faith resulting in great responsibility. For instance, when Mary and Martha are upset with Jesus for not getting to Bethany to heal Lazarus any faster we know he is going to raise him from the dead. They don’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any faith struggles because our picture of God can be more informed than those who just had this piece or that. But it is still a blessing nevertheless!
  4. God knew I was thickheaded enough to give me the Gospel in four formats. I love the differences in perspective of each of the Gospels. God was so wise to preserve that for us! Mark is action packed. Matthew is so detailed in how this story fits the rest of the story. Luke is compassionate. John is intimate…an inner circle view of much of the goings on and explanations of Jesus’ ministry with the sole intention of producing faith in the reader.
  5. Scripture is rich in the variety of genres and approaches it takes to speak to me the words of God – poetry, geneology, narrative, letter, and everything in between.
  6. There is always someone to relate to. Whether I did something good or bad there is always someone to relate to. The Bible isn’t interested in painting the good guys as the good guys. The Bible is interested in pointing imperfect people toward a perfect God. The result is I realize I am in the same boat as everyone from those who barely got it all the way up to the “heroes of the faith.”
  7. Scripture brings me hope no matter how imperfect I find myself to be. Man after God’s own heart and murderer, shepherd of God’s people and murderer, stepped on the waves and denied him three times. Yet all were received back into God’s grace in the end. That gives me hope.
  8. Scripture is effective in leading me toward life and righteousness. Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I can’t think of anything to think about that fits those criteria better than scripture itself. Jesus said his words are spirit and life (John 6:63).
  9. As Donny D says often, you will never do what the Bible says and wake up with regrets wondering why on earth you did something so foolish. It doesn’t get much more practical than that.
  10. The One whose hands knit me in my mother’s womb also produced the words contained in scripture. His words really are life.

What has scripture meant to you whether you have studied it all your life or even just a short amount of time?