I was waiting for it - some sensational article had to appear before Easter. When the headline came up, I had to read it: “Scholars date Jesus’ wife.” It wasn’t a sensational tabloid, but a reputable article. To no one’s surprise, no scholar is having a relationship with Jesus’ wife. Rather, a 4X8 cm fragment of papyrus that was discovered contained the line ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife…she will be able to be my disciple…”
But there was no jolt. Questions immediately surfaced about its authenticity, date, and value from many scholars. The fragment seems to be an original piece from some time between the 4th and 8th centuries, based on the language and papyrus.
Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King defended the fragment’s authenticity, but minimized previous sensationalism, saying: “It is not entirely clear, however, how many women are referred to [in the fragment], who they are, precisely what is being said about them, or what larger issues are under consideration.”
Media outlets jumped all over the fragment, decrying the Church’s poor view of women. Yet the Gospel accounts tell us something quite different: in a time when women’s testimonies were not valid in a court of law, the gospel writers unashamedly announced that it was women who first came to the empty tomb. Had the resurrection account been fabricated, the apostles would have made the heroic discovery, not women.
Nicholas Perrin, a non-canonical gospel scholar, told Christianity Today that the date of the fragment is “so far removed from the first century that this rather reflects the speculations a later sect had about the earthly Jesus.” In other words, there is no threat to the faith.
Yet people will enjoy criticizing Christians by saying, “Listen, if you can’t get basic details about Jesus’ life correct, how can we trust you on anything else?” We live in a time where a 4x8 cm fragment is used to challenge sexual ethics, orthodox beliefs, and the claims of Christ.
We ought to expect this response every Easter and Christmas. Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ has been a threat to kings and empires and the Word of the Gospel still stands. If Christ has been raised from the dead, his demand on the world is absolute. In a culture that celebrates death, Jesus’ resurrection cries out the word of life, the word above all earthly powers. With one little word, enemies will bow the knee. One little fragment shall not fell him.
It was a delightful meal. One of my children, however, had turned their nose up at the food. “Ewww,” came the reply. Picking through the food, I watched this child struggle to eat every bite. “Com’on!” came my encouragement. “You can do it!” We all have to give and take a bit!
And then came dessert: coconut cream pie. The kids knew that I wasn’t so keen on it. “Com’on, dad! You can do it!”
Every family member has unique tastes: some are delight and others…not so much! Learning to be a family, however, means learning to give and take because we love one another.
The same is true in the body of Christ. “Have the same love…prefer one another,” Paul tells the Philippians “looking not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4-5).
Yet it is so easy to create little factions in the body of Christ. A favourite teacher (Paul? Apollos? Cephas? Christ? See 1 Cor 1:12). Or spiritual elites (tongues, anyone? See 1 Cor. 12-14). How about how free I am to exercise Christian liberties over your weak conscience (see 1 Cor. 8)? Hymns vs. choruses. Organic food vs. No Frills. Expressiveness vs. solemnity. Homeschool vs. public school. And on and on the list goes.
Too often, the church hammers away at unity, but often at the expense of diversity, forgetting the essential nature of love. The one God is united in essence and purpose, yet diverse as the triune God in complementary roles and responsibilities, connected in love. We are one with Christ, seated with him in the heavenlies, and yet distinct from Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us. All believers comprise the one universal church, and yet each church is distinct in her make-up, uniquely bringing the gospel to bear on the life of her community.
One day, we will stand before the throne of grace together, with all of our distinct languages, cultural backgrounds, and unique gifts. Yet together we will worship the One True Living God and be one in purpose. Heaven will be a world of love where my brother’s worship, unique gifts, and greater rewards will only be an encouragement to my worship of God.
And if heaven is a world of love where we are one in heart and mind and purpose but unique in our gifts, backgrounds, and expressions of delight, then I must learn to love now. Unity isn’t something we create, manufacture, or push. It is a by-product of love. I may not like Kentucky bluegrass music, but I love my brother in Christ who does, and I will learn to delight in his delight in God.
Pass the coconut cream pie. I hope you’ll enjoy that extra big slice. But I’ll take a very small slice, if you please!
1. O how shall I receive Thee,
How greet Thee, Lord, a-right?
All nations long to see Thee,
My hope, my heart’s delight!
O kindle, Lord, most holy,
Thy lamp within my breast,
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please Thee best.
2. Thy Zion palms is strewing,
And branches fresh and fair;
My heart its powers renewing,
An anthem shall prepare.
My soul puts off her sadness
Thy glories to proclaim;
With all her strength and gladness
She fain would serve Thy Name.
3. I lay in fetters groaning,
Thou com’st to set me free!
I stood my shame bemoaning,
Thou com’st to honor me
A glory Thou dost give me,
A treasure safe on high
That will not fail nor leave me
As early riches fly.
4. Love caused Thy incarnation,
Love brought Thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling,
That led Thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.
5. Rejoice then, ye sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o’er joys departed,
And tremble at your doom;
He who alone can cheer you
Is standing at the door;
He brings His pity near you,
And bids you weep no more.
Kyle Strobel, “Formed for the Glory of God”
The Christian life is a great paradox. Those who die to self, find self. Those who die to their cravings will receive many times as much in this age, and, in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:29). They will find new passions worth living for and dying for. If I crave happiness, I will receive misery. If I crave to be loved, I will receive rejection. If I crave significance, I will receive futility. If I crave control, I will receive chaos. If I crave reputation, I will receive humiliation. But if I long for God and His wisdom and mercy, I will receive God and wisdom and mercy. Along the way, sooner or later, I will also receive happiness, love, meaning, order, and glory. — Excerpt from David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes (P&R Publishers, 2003), 161.
I received a free eBook this year, and it caught me off-guard. It’s not the book I expected it to be. And has it has marinated in my soul, I’ve found it has resonated with me deeply. Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine was my favourite read in 2012.
What I thought I would find was a pastoral theology of Jesus’ ministry. Instead, I found the honest reflections of a man who has struggled with limitations of finitude, place, and knowledge. And in a refreshing way, Zach Eswine shares about his failures, burnout, family challenges, and leadership challenges that this ordinary pastor faced. Pastoral theology and personal autobiography are rarely intertwined; Eswine does it all here.
This book won’t give you a punch in the gut, but it will cause you to have a sober reflection on life, limitations, and the call of God.
This year allowed me the opportunity to dive back into books in ways that I haven’t done in years. Let me give you a few of my highlights (in no particular order). I’ll save my favourite read for tomorrow.
Pierre Berton’s War of 1812
Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church
Tim Chester, A Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers
Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin
Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry
Tomorrow I’ll post my favourite book for 2012.
How suddenly a baby cries and all forever change
As shepherds leave the angel song to find this holy place,
Where in her young and trembling arms a virgin holds her Son
And in this Child of breath divine our Light has finally come.
She ponders how the Magi kneel before Emmanuel.
With gold and frankincense and myrrh Christ’s sacrifice they tell.
A dream would help them flee a king whose pride would cruelly destroy.
As mothers weep God’s mercy meets the hunger for His joy.
What wonder still that Anna filled with praise should bless the Lord;
Her aging eyes now looking on the Savior of the world.
For night and day her prayers had filled the temple of our God.
Her heart could tell His saving hand within this gift of love.
Hear Simeon who had waited long draw near to hold the child
To speak of Him who would reveal the many thoughts we hide:
That hearts would rise to know His grace but many fall away;
A sword would pierce His mother’s soul upon redemption day.
How suddenly a baby cried and all forever changed.
Through history soul by soul have come to find His healing grace.
He filled my troubled heart with peace, with hope of endless worth.
My voice will join the song of praise that tells Messiah’s birth.
Music by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Fionán de Barra. Lyrics by Kristyn Getty.
Copyright © 2011 Gettymusic and Fionán de Barra; admin by Music Services.
Narnian Reel; Keith Getty and Fionán de Barra.
Copyright © 2011 Gettymusic and Fionán de Barra; Admin by Music Services