They Laughed at Him

February 26, 2012

The situation was grave, and the request was urgent. Jairus’ daughter was dying, so he sought Jesus’ help. When he found Jesus, he fell at his feet and implored him to come to his house. Think about this for a moment. Have you ever felt so desperate that you fell at someone’s feet to make your plea?

Jairus’ only daughter was dying. Let the word “only” sink in. It is not that with several children you have one that can be expendable. The death of any child would be horrible. Yet, there is a special pain that accompanies the word only. To lose an only daughter is to have no other daughter left to comfort you. To lose an only daughter is to have no other daughter to give you grandchildren.

Do you think Jairus was urgent getting Jesus to move in the direction of his house? After all, the crowds pressed around him. It would be like seeing an ambulance with lights flashing and siren sounding stuck in a traffic jam. Then Jesus himself stopped to ask who touched him. And then a further delay as Jesus spoke with a woman who had been ill for twelve years but was now cured. No doubt a wonderful cause as you worry that the joy of the past twelve years of your life may be fading away.

While Jesus was speaking, the bad news from home arrived: “You daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” Yet, Jesus pressed on. He assured Jairus that she will be well. But when they arrived, they were confronted with the realities of death — weeping and wailing. Jesus responded, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” But the hearers knew death only too well, and they laughed.

This laugh of derision was changed to joy. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, but I suspect that the disciples of Jesus heard this kind of laugh again.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. Acts 17:32, ESV

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Acts 26:24, ESV

With this laugh, I am reminded that the disciple is not above his master, and what they do to the master, they will do the one who follows. They laughed at Jesus, and some may very well laugh at us, but I am persuaded of the power and reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

A Touchable Jesus

February 10, 2012

Jesus’ encounter with Mary after his resurrection has led to a bit of unfortunate speculation (see John 20:17). The King James Version reads: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” The speculation assumes that Mary was forbidden to touch Jesus, yet later Thomas was invited to touch Jesus (John 20:27). This interpretation seeks an explanation in the reason given in John 20:17, and so proposes an ascension to the Father before the ascension recorded in Acts. Something happens in this “first” trip to heaven that allows him to be touched later.

Several problems exist with this speculative interpretation of John 20:17. First, “touch me not” doesn’t necessarily imply that Mary has not touched Jesus. Sometimes we say “don’t touch me” after being touched. Even beginning with the KJV reading, I think this interpretation starts with an unwarranted assumption.

Second, “touch me not” renders a Greek verb that is present imperative (a command in the present tense). Prohibitions in the present imperative often convey the idea of stopping an activity in progress.* Several translations try to convey this idea:

  • Do not cling to me… ESV
  • Stop clinging to Me … NASB
  • Do not hold on to me… NIV
  • Do not cling to Me… NKJV

These translations are conveying the correct notion that Mary is clinging to Jesus, and he is asking her to stop. She doesn’t need to cling to him, for he hasn’t yet ascended to his Father — they still have some time left, although this also gives her a warning that their relationship is going to change with the ascension. He has a mission for her, and he needs her to let go and find the brothers and give them his message. This correct understanding of the verb completely negates this interpretation.

This interpretation fails to take in account a chronologically close encounter with Jesus and the women who come to the tomb: “And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 28:9, KJV) The time between this encounter and the encounter with Mary would have been very short. This too argues against this interpretation.

What I find encouraging about these scenes is that the resurrected Jesus is a touchable Jesus. I had a Greek professor who believed that the popular Christian conception of the afterlife was a little too much Plato and not enough scripture. I sometimes wonder whether when we hear “spiritual body” that our minds don’t go to something ghostly and insubstantial, yet scripture presents us with a touchable Jesus.

*Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 724.

The Regret of Judas

February 3, 2012

Judas regretted what he had done, or he changed his mind, or he repented (Matthew 27:3). The exact wording will depend on your translation. The word that is used is a synonym of the usual word for repent in the New Testament, and it is difficult to distinguish the two synonyms. The word used of Judas seems to have a range of meaning from the feelings of regret to the change of mind, which is what repentance is.*

For the reader of Matthew, the word is first encountered in the parable of two sons who are told to go work in the vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32). The first son says he won’t go, but later changed his mind and went (verse 29). Here is an example of genuine repentance.

As we look at the case of Judas, there are some positive signs of repentance as well. Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver. As Jack P. Lewis in his commentary on Matthew noted it was a “paltry sum” in comparison to what Judas traded, but it still amounted to about four months’ wages for a laborer. It was no small amount to part with once it was already in your pocket. Judas also confessed to the chief priests and elders, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

So what went wrong? Judas’ regret didn’t lead him back to God. Instead, he took his own life. He took vengeance out on himself instead of leaving it for God, which by the way, also means leaving room for grace to intervene. The Jesus who forgave Peter, the denier, and Paul, the persecutor, would seem to have sufficient grace for a Judas, the betrayer. Judas ended his life before Jesus’ resurrection —before the full power of the good news was known.

Judas seems to be the poster child for Paul’s teaching on grief and repentance.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV

What we do with grief and regret is important? Turn it in the wrong direction, and it leads to death. Turn it in the right direction, and it leads to forgiveness and salvation. Regret is not enough. Grief is not enough. The feelings of regret and the inward changes must lead us in God’s direction to God’s solution.

*The Greek word is metamelomai. The usual verb for repent in the New Testament is metanoeo.