Jesus’ Humility at the Last Supper

When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he is preforming a parabolic act. As with parables, we need to understand the context in order to understand what Jesus was trying to teach through the washing of his disciples’ feet.

It is well-known that hospitality in the ancient world included foot-washing. Since virtually all travel was by foot, a visitor should be allowed to “refresh themselves” when they arrive by washing their feet. If the host had servants, the task of washing the guest’s feet fell to the lowliest servant. For a Jewish family, the task would be assigned to a Gentile slave (Köstenberger, John, 405). In this case, Jesus takes off his outer clothes and wraps himself in a long towel and does the job of the lowliest slave.

Since this is a Passover meal, it is likely that each of the disciples have washed their hands ceremonially before touching the food of the meal. My guess is that the feet would need to be washed since the are most likely to have come into contact with uncleanliness, the slave who washed the feet would therefore himself be unclean.

This is therefore a shocking act by a Jewish teacher prior to the Passover meal. Jesus’ humble service of his disciples is an illustration of how the disciples are to continue his work after the resurrection.

Said R. Joshua b. Levi, “All acts of labor that a slave performs for his master, a disciple of a sage performs for his master, except for removing his shoe.” b. Ketub. 96a (Neusner, b. Ketub. 11:1, I.2.A; 9:440)

Jesus is due the titles Teacher (Rabbi) and Lord. Even if we take the title Lord as equivalent to sir, both titles put Jesus well above the disciples socially. In a teacher-student relationship of the Second Temple Period, there was little a teacher could not ask his disciple to do for him. Yet Jesus reverses cultural expectations by doing an extremely humbling service for his disciples.

This is a pattern for the disciples to follow (v.15). The noun used here (ὑπόδειγμα) has the sense of a pattern, or model used for moral instruction. Jesus is saying this is an illustration of how you are to serve one another. This is not a pattern to be followed for worship, for example. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with practicing foot-washing in some Christian denominations, it is not an ordinance like the Lord’s Supper. To me this is analogous to saying the Lord’s Prayer. It is not particularly wrong, but misses Jesus point when he gave the prayer of an illustration of how to pray!

How do we serve as Jesus did? First, Jesus did not insist on his titles and honors. Ideally, Peter ought to have served Jesus, but Jesus radically reverses expectations and serves those who are socially lower than himself. If the Lord (and God) of the universe can get down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of those who owe him honor and loyalty, how ought we to serve?

Second, notice that he washes all the disciples’ feet, including Judas. He knew that Judas was the betrayer, yet he extended to him the same humble service that he gave the other “loyal” disciples. Jesus knew that Satan was about to enter Judas and he knew exactly what Judas was about to do, but he treated him in exactly the same way he did Peter or John.

That is remarkable to me. I have no problem humbly serving my family or my church family. But what about those who are outside the church? There are people who are outside of my normal circle who I do not serve, in fact, I sometimes treat them with contempt.

Jesus did not, he died for them as well.

L. Scott Kellum, Preaching the Farewell Discourse

Kellum, L. Scott. Preaching the Farewell Discourse: An Expository Walk-Through of John 13:31-17:26. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 350 pp. Pb; $29.99.   Link to B&H AcademicClick here for a 51-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and introductory chapter.

Rather than a commentary on John 13:31-17:26, this book is primer for expository preaching. Kellum laments the “unmistakable and disturbing gap between our hermeneutics and are preaching” (p. 5). While there are excellent books on either homiletics or hermeneutics, rarely does a handbook intended for students include both a hermenutical method and homiletical practice.

Kellum, Preaching JohnMany preachers assume that they are doing exposition because they are preaching through a book of the Bible. Kellum suggests this is a mistake, since it is entirely possible to “dismember the application of the passage” through poor exegesis. Even if someone preaches through a whole book of the Bible, they may not be doing “expositional preaching.” I have heard many sermons based on a passage of Scripture having little to do with what the text was actually saying. Usually the sermon was topical, with only a slight nod to the passage.

Kellum’s goal in this book is to move from text to sermon. In order to do this he traces a basic hermeneutical strategy in his introductory chapter. Beginning with the reading of the text, he describes how to identify the genre, and shows how proper identification of genre assists in the exposition of a text. He encourages pastors and preachers to make their own “pragmatic translation of the text,” including observation of textual variants. While a pastor should not discuss textual variants from the pulpit a good preacher will inform his congregation of these matters in some other teaching environment. Kellum only briefly discusses word studies, making the usual sorts of warnings about avoiding cognates, anachronisms and using the whole range of a word. He offers an example of a proper Greek word study used to illustrate the meaning of the text (p. 20).

With respect to historical context Kellum suggests the expositor investigate the perspective of the original writer as well as the writer’s “mindset.” Backgrounds can be as dangerous as word studies. For example, it is a mistake to find Gnostic ideas in Colossians. He therefore encourages the expositor to investigate cultural environment, relevant political civil and religious institutions primarily to illuminate the text. Kellum briefly describes setting a particular text into a canonical context focusing on where the particular story fits into the overall plot of the Bible which he calls covenant dimensions.

In order to prepare to proclaim a passage from the pulpit, he suggests identifying the “main idea of the text” (MIT). Once a simple statement of the main idea is clear, this MIT is converted to the “main idea of the message” (MIM). After identifying the main idea of the text and the main idea of the message, the expositor should begin to find illustrations and applications for the text. I suspect many preachers find a good illustration first, then look for a good passage to preach from. With respect to illustrations, Kellum first suggests other biblical texts. He does encourage personal anecdotes, observations, news reports, biographies, historical allusions and finally statistics. He warns about the overuse of statistics as illustrations since these are often are skewed and intended to create some sort of fear in the mind of the hearer.

Chapter 2 of this book is a highly detailed approach to analyzing the literary structure and flow of the passage. He begins at the book level by examining the whole outline of the book of John. Once the preacher has determined a passage to preach on (in this case the Farewell Discourse), Kellum describes how to determine the boundaries of the passage using conjunctions, indicators of time and space, summary statements, rhetorical questions etc. He describes this as a “point of departure.” After determining the boundaries he offers a highly detailed linguistic flow chart in order to track the movements of the passage. This looks a great deal like discourse analysis, similar to Steve Runge and the new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series.  While Kellum says this method is helpful to track the flow of the text, I find it extremely difficult to follow and may not yield the same level of results for me as it does for Kellum.

After laying this hermeneutical and homiletical background home offers a chapter over viewing the farewell discourse. Chapters 4 through 7 of the book constitute examples of his method applied to particular sections of the Farewell Discourse. First, he examines John 14 “commands that comfort,” then John 15-16:4c, “Commands that unite.”  In his third unit, Kellum describes the “advantages of Jesus’s departure” (John 16:4-33) and Jesus’ final prayer (John 17).

Each chapter offers an example of “relational structure” for the passage, demonstrating the method Kellum developed in his second chapter. Following this chart, he provides a brief analysis of the text in order to indicate the limits of the section. He then steps through the text making brief interpretive comments. This is not a full commentary, but are intended to be examples of how an expositional sermon might deal with some of the details of the text. Finally, Kellum outlines each unit in “sermon sketch.” Here is gives the “main idea of the text” and “main idea of the message.” A brief introduction and sermon outline. He occasionally includes illustrations (although there are more in the appendix to the book) and conclusion to the sermon. As Kellum makes clear in the introduction, these are examples of how an expositional sermon might develop a text and should not be confused with a critical commentary. He is not claiming these sermons are the only way to approach the text, but are the results of his own prayerful study of the text following the method outlined in the first two chapters of the book.

Kellum concludes his book with two two appendices. First, he gives a list of the tools an expositor needs in order to preparing for the study of any text. Kellum offers his opinion on English Bibles and other language tools, Bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, introductions, chart books and commentaries. He briefly comments on both Systematic and Biblical theologies and other communicator’s tools. For example, most public speakers want to have access to a good dictionary for the purpose of using words properly. However, he warns there is nothing more irritating than someone saying “Webster defines righteousness as…” I agree wholeheartedly: a Greek lexicon for biblical words not an English Dictionary (p. 233). He concludes the section by offering some comments on the use of the Internet and some warnings for using Wikipedia. Most of these are fairly common sense. I found it interesting he included a valuable resource such as Google books since it contains many older commentaries which may be used freely. As the author warns, many of these commentaries are quite old, limiting their value to the expositor.

He briefly comments on choosing a Bible program such as Logos, BibleWorks or Accordance. He warns that there are several mistakes and expositor can make when using Bible software. First, do not think Bible software is perfect. They all rely on human data entry and mistakes can be made. Second, language tools are useless unless you know the basics of the grammar. Knowing a verb is in the aorist tense is of no help whatsoever if you don’t know what the aorist tense is. “Being unfamiliar with the program’s terminology might result in some bizarre heresies.”  He also warns about being satisfied with a single search. Computer program can only search what you tell it to search so there is some skill needed in knowing how to get a program such as log onto recordings to give you the data that you want.

The second appendix is “a sermon series through the farewell discourse.” This appendix is almost 100 pages in includes sermon outlines, main idea of text, main idea of message, introductions, conclusions, and suggested illustrations useful for preaching through this section. Kellum has written out the introductions and conclusions fully, but hopefully no one will read these verbatim as part of their own sermons. They intended as a model for how to do expositional preaching. I found this appendix strange since it often reproduces the text verbatim the main chapters of the book. For example the outline on page 156 is identical to the outline on page 283; the only differences I can see are the illustrations. Perhaps there is a better way to present this material that does not increase the size and cost of the book.

Kellum conclude with a select bibliography useful for studying the book of John as well as several hermeneutical texts. Like his appendix on basic tools, this section is a kind of ‘buyer’s guide” for seminary students. This “expository walk-through” will be useful in a homiletics class, but any pastor or teacher who wants to polish their expositional skills will profit from reading this book.

 

NB: Thanks to B&H for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Why Did Jesus Weep in John 11:35?

Why does Jesus weep in John 11:35? The crowd assumes it is because his friend Lazarus died. Jesus has a typically human emotional reaction to death. But most commentaries point out the vocabulary used to describe Jesus’s emotions go beyond sorrow. In fact, the verbs in John 11:33 have the connotation of indignation and anger.

Barrett says the view that Jesus was angry “beyond question” (John, 399). Beasley-Murray argues the verb ἐμβριμάομαι  should be read as“became angry in spirit” (John, Second Edition, 192-3). That Jesus is moved “in his spirit” is an indication this is a deeply internal emotional reaction.

Jesus WeptThe second verb in John 11:33 is ταράσσω, a verb associated with deep turmoil and In the next chapter, Jesus will use the same word to describe his spirit prior to the passion events (John 12:27). In Matthew 14:26 it is used to describe the terror felt by the disciples when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. In Luke 24:38 the verb describes the terror of the disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus. In each cases, there is a feeling of dread since a sinful person is encountering a divine being.

Whatever the combination of these terms means, it cannot be said Jesus was shaken by the death of Lazarus since he had predicted it. We cannot say he is expressing emotions similar to Mary and Martha, who are mourning their dead brother. Jesus knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead so his tears are unlikely sorrow over Lazarus’s death.

A slight variation of this view is Craig Keener who suggested Jesus was angry at the unbelief of the mourners (John, 846). Raymond Brown suggested Jesus was angry at Satan and the domain of death itself, or possibly Jesus is angry “at death” in general (John, 203).

When Jesus does cry, it is not the same as Mary and Martha, or the other mourners. They are “wailing” (κλαίω), while Jesus “weeps” (δακρύω). The word is rare in the LXX, appearing only a few times (for example, Job 3:24, Job’s tears). I am not sure there is enough evidence to say that Jesus’s tears were more or less sorrowful based on vocabulary, perhaps John simply varied the terms in order to avoid repetition (as he does elsewhere in the Gospel).

Perhaps a better way of looking at Jesus’s frustrated emotional response is to see it in the light of Mary and Martha’s lack of understanding that he is the “Resurrection and the Life” and their apparent unbelief in his status as the giver of Life. Jesus just told Mary and Martha he is the resurrection and the life. Rather than some distant eschatological resurrection in the future, Jesus is about to demonstrate his power over life and death. But none of the disciples seem to understand this!

The power of the coming age is present in Jesus’s ministry.  But even the closest disciples do not fully understand who he is until after the resurrection.

Jesus’ Prayer of Thanksgiving (John 11:42-44)

Jesus prays a “prayer of thanksgiving” before commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb. This prayer has been discussed with respect to the possibility of historicity – is it the type of prayer that Jesus might have prayed in this context?  Some scholars dispense with the historicity of the prayer as an addition by the writer of the Gospel.  For example, R. H. Fuller, (Interpreting the Miracles) wrote that:

To the modern reader this prayer is irritating, if not offensive. The whole thing looks like a put-up show, anything but genuine prayer. Jesus knows he need not pray, but apparently stages a prayer to impress the bystanders.

Rather than an “irritating prayer”, this is actually a Prayer of Thanksgiving as prayed by Jews commonly in the context of first century Palestine. Following J. M. Robinson, Bingham Hunter has demonstrated that there are formal parallels to a Jewish thanksgiving prayer. As a Jewish Hodayoth, the prayer is intended to be heard by the audience for which it is prayed. The cited article lists many examples (including in the Pauline and Qumran literature) indicating that this sort of prayer was not only common enough in the first century, but expected in a religious context such as the one Jesus finds himself in John 11.

Because of its form the prayer seems to be genetically related to and a part of a tradition of piety exemplified by the Jewish personal thanksgiving psalm. Thanksgivings of this sort are characteristically prayers that both God and spectators are meant to hear.

With respect to the scholars that find offense in the prayer, Hunter points that the offense is entirely modern. Read in the context of the first-century, the prayer is exactly the sort of thanksgiving prayer we might have expected.

Bibliography:  R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963); W. Bingham Hunter, “Contextual And Genre Implications For The  Historicity Of John 11:41b-42” JETS 28:1 (March 1985) 53-70.

The Good Shepherd – John 10 and the Hebrew Bible

John 10 begins with the closest thing to a parable we find in the Gospel of John. While parables are common in the other three Gospels, John does not record a single parable. In this passage, Jesus uses an extended metaphor drawn from the common experience of tending sheep. If the audience had not tended sheep themselves, they knew that these things were true from their experience.

Good_ShepherdJesus chose this metaphor intentionally since the image of a shepherd is used in the Old Testament frequently for the leaders of the nation. The are bad shepherds who are not leading the people “beside still waters” (Psalm 23) The people are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). In contrast, Jesus leads the people into the wilderness and provides food for them (the feeding of the 5000), seeking out the lost sheep wherever they are (Luke 15:3-7) and ultimately laying Jesus will lay down his life down on behalf of his flock.

What is more, this image of a true shepherd is a messianic image found in the Old Testament. Moses led sheep for 40 years in the wilderness before God called him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the ideal King of Israel was David, who was first a shepherd before his was a king. Psalm 23 has messianic overtones (“The Lord is my shepherd”), but Ezekiel 37:24-28 is the most clear use of a shepherd metaphor for the coming Messiah, the true son of David and ideal shepherd who replaces the bad leaders who have led the people into danger but do nothing to save them.

The image of a God as a shepherd is found frequently in the Old Testament. God is described as a shepherd for his people (Gen 48:15, 49:24, Ps 23:1, 28:9, 77:20, 78:52, 80:1, Isa 40:11, Jer 31:10) and the people of Israel are regularly refer to as the sheep of God’s pasture (Ps 74:1, 78:52, 79:13, 95:7, 100:3, Ezek 34:31). It is possible that Jesus had Ezekiel 34 in mind, but the fact that the image of an ultimately good shepherd who will lead God’s people back to the land appears in Isaiah 40 and Jeremiah 31 as well. These are passages Jesus uses frequently in his teaching and would have been well-known to the listeners in the Temple.

In John 10:14 Jesus declares he is not only the proper gate into the sheep pen, he is in fact the good shepherd who will lay his life down on behalf of his flock. By calling himself “the shepherd,” Jesus is evoking passages such as Ezekiel 34 which looks forward to an ideal shepherd who will lead the people on behalf of God. On the other hand, the true shepherd of Israel is God. There is only one shepherd for the flock (verse 16). God the Father is the shepherd (Ps 23:1), but here Jesus is claiming to be that good shepherd.

The reaction of the crowd (10:19-21) is similar to chapter 9, some say Jesus is inane or demon possessed, yet others understand that a demon possessed man cannot open the eyes of the blind, nor does an insane person speak as Jesus does. He makes sense!

By claiming to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus in intentionally declaring that he is the Messiah and therefore God’s son. But he will go beyond the expectation that the Messiah will be the ideal king, a new Moses and new David. Just as both those men could be called “a son of God,” Jesus also claims to be the ideal Son of God because he is God.

There is more in this chapter which makes Jesus’s claim even more clear. But is this an accurate reading of the words of Jesus? Is he claiming to be the eschatological shepherd from Ezekiel 37:24-28? And if he is, what does this tell us about his relationship with God?

John 7:8 – “My Time Has Not Yet Come”

When his brothers encourage him to go up to Jerusalem, Jesus initially refuses their request because “his time has not yet come.”  However, he does eventually go to Jerusalem in secret.   His apparent refusal leads to some textual variation, since it is clear that Jesus says one thing and does another.  One way to explain this is that Jesus said that he would not go now, but he would go later, separate from the family.

SuccothD. A. Carson, for example, tries to explain that when Jesus says “my time has not yet come,” he means that his time for leaving for the Feast has not yet come.  Carson thinks that the next line (you can go anytime but I cannot) means that Jesus is simply thinking about when he was leaving for the Feast.  This is possible, since the point of the rest of the chapter is to argue that Jesus does not act unless the Father directs him.  Perhaps this simply means that the  Father directed Jesus to leave a few days later than his brothers.

It is also likely this is another example of Jesus initially refusing a request but eventually granting the request.  In John 2, Jesus appears to refuse Mary’s request to “do something” about the wine.   Just as Mary’s request was on an earthly level and Jesus’ answer was on the higher, messianic level, so too here with his brothers.  They are thinking solely of Jesus’ status as a religious leader (“Go to Jerusalem where those sorts of people hang out”), Jesus is thinking about his real mission to die on the cross at the next Passover.   (Nicodemus and the woman at the well also mix up the earthly and the spiritual, except in those cases Jesus says something spiritual and they take it as earthly.)

The timing of Jesus’ death is to be at the Passover, not the Feast of Tabernacles.  If he appears there at the beginning of the Feast, there may be a unintentional “triumphal entry.”  His actions would therefore be seen as messianic and probably develop into a riot!

Jesus “time” is therefore the time of the crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification.

John 6:1-14 – What is the Point of the Leftovers?

Looking at the huge crowd gathered to hear him, Jesus asks his disciple Philip where they could possibly find enough food to feed the large crowd. As happens often in John’s Gospel, Jesus knows exactly what he is about to do so this question is a test for the disciples (John 6:6). Marianne Meye Thompson acknowledges the verb used here can refer to a temptation or trap, but in this cases it is better “examine, try, prove” (John, 140).

Fish and BreadOnce again in the Gospel of John someone misunderstands Jesus’s question and fails to anticipate the miracle. Philip points out the impossibility of buying that much food: “Two hundred denarii” worth of food would not be enough! This is more than a half-year’s wages, so Philip’s point is “we don’t have that kind of money, Jesus.” He is thinking of literally feeding the crowd, Jesus is talking about spiritually feeding the crowd the “bread of life.”

Another disciple who is only mentioned in the Synoptic gospels, Andrew, finds a boy with a small lunch. Andrew probably did not think the food could be shared, he was pointing out the impossibility of finding enough food for the crowd. The fish were probably small pickled fish (not a sardine, but something similar). No one would carry a pair of rainbow trout in their satchel on the outside chance they were needed to feed a crowd!

Jesus takes this small amount of food, offers thanks, and then distributes the food to the crowd. The crowd sees that is a miracle and wonder what kind of prophet Jesus is. They have in a mind a tradition drawn from Deut 18:15-18 that another prophet like Moses will come into the world. Moses fed the Israelites manna in the wilderness, in a similar way Jesus gives bread to a new Israel in a new wilderness.

Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (ESV) “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

It is possible this miracle is an allusion to Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44). In 2 Kings the prophet Elisha feeds 150 men with a small amount of food. There are similarities, but the more important allusion is to the wilderness period of Israel’s history.

The food provides enough for all the crowd to eat until they are satisfied and still have twelve baskets left over. Consider these are poor people who are given free food and allowed to eat as much as they want. I think they probably overate and maybe stuffed a few leftovers in their pockets to take home to the family.

The point of the leftovers? “This is the ample provision of the Lord who declared, ‘My people will be filled with the bounty’ (Jeremiah 31:14)” (Carson, John, 271). Just as Jesus provided plentiful excellent wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) and healed a man who was crippled for thirty-eight years (5:5-6), now Jesus provides enough food everyone is satisfied and there are plenty of leftovers. Like the wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus is revealing for those who have ears to hear that he is the host of an eschatological banquet, like the manna in the wilderness God is providing new bread for his people. But as Jesus will say later in John 6 this “bread of life” is his own body which will be given for them (6:48-51).