This week’s video looks at an odd and challenging story from Mark’s gospel and considers how a little context can make a big difference. The Answers for Ambassadors episode is about agnosticism and evidence, and the links of the week discuss gender confusion, late bloomers, an epidemic of overwork-related deaths in Japan, and more! (If you receive these posts by email and aren’t seeing the video and podcast, just click the “Thursday Roundup” title to view the original post on my site.)
“The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations from patristic writers. In comparison with the average ancient Greek author, the New Testament copies are well over a thousand times more plentiful. If the average-sized manuscript were two and one-half inches thick, all the copies of the works of an average Greek author would stack up four feet high, while the copies of the New Testament would stack up over a mile high!”
~ Reinventing Jesus
The story of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree in Matthew 21 and Mark 11 looks odd at first glance. What was the point? Did Jesus just lose his temper? If we look a little deeper, though, we’ll find an “acted-out parable” with an important message for the Jews of Jesus’ day and for us as well.
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Answers for Ambassadors Podcast
In the second part of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that an absolute agnosticism which refuses to consider evidence for or against religion is irrational. Rather, he urges that religious claims can be evaluated scientifically. And he’s mostly correct! However, Dawkins’ assumption that all knowledge must be scientific has its own problems. This episode considers Dawkins’ theory of knowledge and offers a more biblical (and reasonable) alternative.
Answers for Ambassadors is available via SoundCloud, or by searching in iTunes and most other podcast players. You can also direct your podcast player to the podcast RSS feed.
Best Reads of the Week
This two-part article on “How I found freedom from gender confusion” is an important read for Christians who are trying to understand gender confusion and how the church can minister to those who struggle with it: Part 1, Part 2. “[Staying silent about my struggles] meant that no one ever tackled the transvestitism head on. But, instead, every week I learned something. Startling pieces of knowledge about God, about myself, about the world… And gradually, that knowledge began to unpick the trap I was caught in.”
This thoughtful look at “late bloomers” through the lens of the story of Mark is profound, encouraging, and challenging. “This is the final lesson of the late bloomer: His or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others. Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them.”
Japan is struggling with an epidemic of karoshi: people who are working themselves to death. “A Cabinet Office report issued last month found that employees at 23% of Japanese companies worked 80 hours or more of overtime per month last year. That’s the threshold at which the risk of death from physical or psychological causes is significant, according to the report.” Historians speak of the Protestant work ethic, but Christianity balances its call for diligent work with an ethic which also prioritizes other, competing values, such as rest, family time, and worship. Without that biblical balance, a work ethic becomes just another idol—and idols usually end in human sacrifice, one way or the other.
A good reminder: “The Battle That’s Bigger Than the Culture War.”
This troubling report describes the collapse of support for free speech among Millennials. The rising generation has no sense of the danger of allowing government to determine who may speak and who may not, so they tend to ask whether speech might be hurtful before deciding whether it should be permitted. As I wrote in June, it’s possible to go wrong on free speech in two different directions, and our culture has somehow managed to simultaneously hurtle down both slippery slopes.
Some intriguing observations about the correlation between more institutional/confessional forms of Christianity and opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy.
I’m not sure whether to be encouraged or depressed by this argument that predictions of the imminent breakup of the Republican party are overwrought.
Stuff I Like (Affiliate Link)
Reinventing Jesus is one of the best books available on the reliability of the gospel accounts. It is written to be accessible to a lay audience, but the authors provide a wealth of detail and explanation to help you understand how we ended up with today’s New Testament and why we have every reason to be confident that the Bible we hold in our hands accurately reflects the life and teaching of the historical Jesus Christ. Highly recommended.
And remember, anytime you start shopping on Amazon.com by clicking through this affiliate link, you’ll be helping to support my work at no extra cost to yourself. If you bookmark the page that opens after you click the affiliate link, you can use that bookmark each time you shop!
Photo of the Week
I photographed this lovely lacecap hydrangea at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden while visiting there with my wife.
(Check out other photos at my Etsy shop.)
1 thought on “Thursday Roundup”
I found your fig tree video on You Tube and was excited to listen to it as the Holy Spirit graciously provided me understanding on the text as well, that adds to what you have already stated. I wanted to share what I’ve learned in my study as maybe you might appreciate?
In Luke 21, the fig tree represents the current generation, the hearer’s of the discourse’s generation. So, yes in your video, Jesus is prophetically warning that generation: The Jewish people/Israel of their judgment. And yes, their temple building is spiritually empty and without fruit even though they are performing God’s laws and ordinances.
You draw the connection that we are to bare fruit as believers in Christ. YES! The text explains this as well: in Matthew 24, the fig tree represents the last generation, and pertains to the church, the followers of Christ of that time and their temple, their body.
In Mark’s text, Jesus is looking at the “Far off” “Generation” seeing what looks like a “church”, but upon closer inspection, it is devoid of fruit: The Lukewarm “church”.
Jesus curses this fig tree and acts out what professing “Christians” of the last generation are to do who find themselves fruitless:
-Go to the Holy Place (Jerusalem), Jesus refers to your Prayer Closet in Matt 6:6 to seek forgiveness, washing of your sins with His blood, to be born again, filled with the Holy Spirit
-We must drive out sin in our lives. Even the “little sins” (ie. Jesus not letting even anyone in with even a simple vessel or basket) we must get angry and drive out sin and continue in it no more.
-We must fill ourselves with the teachings of Jesus, the Word of God
-We must learn to pray in all circumstances, especially when we are tempted to sin we instead turn to prayer.
There’s so much more about this passage as well…
Consider Matthew’s account: After driving out those in the temple, that next morning, Jesus sees a fig tree in His way, and He was hungry and found no fruit. He curses it and it withered away. The reader would assume it INSTANTLY withered away as the disciples immediately marveled.
Mark’s account: Jesus sees the fig tree from a far off hungry, and came over to it finding no fruit. He prophesies against this tree and leaves to the temple, drives out money changers, teaches in temple, and comes back in the next morning and sees this tree again and it is withered and the disciples marveled.
Did Jesus curse the tree before or after going to the temple or both?
We believe Jesus curses this tree the first day: with the tree symbolizing the far off lukewarm/fruitless christian church: No more fruit! This is a time where no more will fresh water and salty water will flow out of the same river. This is so professing Christians will wake up and come out of the fruitless churches and stop being partakers of her sins.
In one day’s time (reference to the Day of the Lord), Jesus returns, now this tree is “in His way” a stumbling block, and still fruitless, of course. He curses this tree again, and it instantly withers. This was likely done out of view of the disciples, so when they saw the tree they just remembered back to the prior day’s “curse”, when in actuality Jesus gave this tree an entire day’s time to allow those who could come out of her.
Remember that in Luke 13:6-9 because of God’s love and grace, He will allow extra time for this fig tree to come to, He will help to cultivate it, nurture it to encourage it to produce fruit. He loves us and doesn’t want us to suffer in the fire, but the point remains, we must bare fruit!
Please Note: I make emphasis on the two separate discourses because I used to be a preterist, and their #1 downfall is interpreting Matt, Mark, Luke’s End of Age discourse as ONE/same discourse. Therefore everything happened in 70 AD, because Luke’s gospel is obviously describing the Siege. This is clearly not so, there are TWO discourses, and Jesus is speaking to TWO different generations.
God bless you. You don’t have to post this comment or anything, I just wanted to share it with someone who has an appreciation for scripture. Does it speak truth to you, or do believe the text is only speaking about the Jewish people?