When looking at a table of contents of the Bible, we usually ‘know’ where the recognizable books are. Genesis is at the beginning, the Psalms are right in the middle, Revelation is the last book. Sometimes, ‘smaller’ books are lost in the middle. Right before Revelation, at the end of the Bible, there is a short book named Jude that we often skip right over. It is only one chapter and contains 25 verses. It is the fifth shortest book in the Bible with 461 words. Its length however, does not make it any less important.
The author of the book refers to himself as Jude, which is another form of the Hebrew name Judah (or Judas), which was a common Jewish name. Of the men named as such in the New Testament, the ones most likely to be the author are Judas the apostle (not Judas Iscariot) and Judas the brother of Jesus. The author is likely Judas the brother of Jesus because the author does not claim to be an apostle and seems to separate himself from the apostles. Even more, he refers to himself as the brother of James. If you’ve read our introduction to James, you know that he was likely the oldest sibling of Christ. Usually a person would refer to themselves as someone’s son rather than someone’s brother. Jude probably does this because James was so well known in the early church.
Jude and James never refer to themselves as the brother of Jesus. Others however, do not hesitate to describe them as such (Matthew 13:55, John 7:3-10, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19). They did not ask to be heard in this light because they were members of the household of Joseph and Mary.
Jude does not have a specific audience. His address is very general “To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ,” (Jude 1:1). He is very eager to write about salvation. However, he felt it important to warn this readers about certain immoral men who were circulating among them that were perverting the grace of God. These false teachers were trying to convince believers that being saved by grace gave them permission to sin. They were teaching that since they believed their sins would no longer be held against them, they were free to do whatever they pleased. Jude wants his readers to be on guard and ready to oppose this teaching with the truth of God’s grace.
So here we have another book in our Bible that was most likely written by one of Jesus’ biological half-brothers, just like James. It is interesting that both of these men to not claim on their own that they are Jesus’ brother. You would think that if they told people this, their words would carry more weight. Why wouldn’t they tell people this? Perhaps it was for their own safety, Jesus was crucified and many other early church leaders were arrested and executed. Perhaps they didn’t want to cloud Jesus’ message. If they claimed to be his brothers, would their teachings contradict God’s? Perhaps they were just humble men and didn’t want the spotlight. We may never know.
Overall, Jude writes on a pretty important topic. He wants his readers to know how God’s grace works. It is not that once you believe you’re free to do whatever you want. Your sins will no longer be counted against you. His point is that as believers we will still fall into sin. We should try our best to avoid it, but our best is never going to be good enough. Our faith in Christ doesn’t give us a free pass, but it offers grace and salvation even though we will still mess up.
I think this message is very important for us in our current season of life. Our lives have changed dramatically the last few months. Along with that change comes new patterns and new temptations. Sometimes change can throw us off course and we don’t realize that our temptations have changed as well. We don’t get a free pass to engage in these new habits. However it is important to know that when we do fall into new temptations, God’s grace is ultimately there to save us. It’s a different way of thinking. Jude wants us to be aware of that difference. It’s that difference that will help us recognize new thoughts and temptations as our lives continue to change.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah appear back to back in our Bible and are often linked together. They tell the stories of these two men who return home to Israel from Persian exile. Very early on these two books were combined as one. Josephus (A.D. 37 – 100) refers to the book of Ezra but Nehemiah. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint (a pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament) also treat the two as one book. The first distinction between the books comes from the early church writer Origen (A.D. 185 – 253). So even though we have two separate books, they are closely linked and therefore we are looking at them together this week.
The two books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell how God’s people were restored from their Babylonian exile. They are returning to their covenant land and community, even though it is not under their control. It was still ruled by foreigners. The books are about how these two men played a role in the restoration of Israel and specifically Jerusalem. There are five important themes that flow through both books:
Ultimately these two stories are about how God brought about a ‘return’ and ‘restoration’ to Israel. I think that’s something we are all looking for right now. A ‘return’ to normal life and a ‘restoration’ of our lives. We are not in political exile but our confinement can feel like an exile from normal life; school, work, friends, church, etc. So when that happens, what can we learn from these two books? Here is how we can look at those five themes mentioned beforehand from Ezra and Nehemiah and apply them to our current situation:
Our story of restoration and return will eventually happen, even if our new reality doesn’t quite look like our old one. What we need to remember is that God has been, is, and will continue to be with us and have a relationship with us. He is working behind the scenes to restore his world.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
When reading the Bible as a historical narrative, we often follow the story of God’s people. This means we often skip over books that have little story in them. Deuteronomy is one of those books. We know the stories of the Exodus and the forty years of wandering in the desert. The next ‘part’ of the story, it seems, takes place in Joshua when the Israelites finally enter the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy puts Moses and the Israelites around the area of Moab where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea. Deuteronomy is Moses’ final act before transferring leadership over to Joshua. He is delivering his farewell message to prepare the people for their entrance into Canaan. In the book, Moses emphasizes the laws that are going to be especially needed in the coming years. It is not so much matter-of-fact as Leviticus and Numbers. Deuteronomy comes from Moses’ heart as this servant of the Lord presses God’s claims on his people.
As mentioned before, the trajectory of the story that unfolds in Genesis thru Numbers seems to call for a story of the conquest of Canaan (which is found in Joshua), to bring closure to the story line. However, Deuteronomy seems to be a massive interruption. There is very little forward movement. At the end of Numbers, Israel is “on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho” (Numbers 36:13), and at the end of Deuteronomy they are still there, waiting to cross the river. All that has happened is the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua. The book of Joshua continues the story. So Deuteronomy creates this long pause in the story.
In that long pause, Moses reminded the people of their covenant with God. He tells them what is required of them if they are to cross the Jordan River, take possession of the land, and enjoy the promised ‘rest’ in fellowship with God. The Israelites needed to hear this again. The purpose of the book is to prepare the next generation of the Lord’s people to be his representatives in the land that was promised to them.
Deuteronomy is a ‘long pause’ in the middle of the story of God’s people, sounds familiar right? Our lives feel like they’ve been put on pause for the time being. Our stories were supposed to move forward and yet we are sitting around in our own homes, waiting, on pause. We are getting to the point where we are starting to feel that ‘pause’ more and more as each day passes. It’s not a short ‘pause’ anymore, but turning into a longer ‘pause’.
The Israelites were on pause mainly because Moses needed to remind them of God’s convenient and what was expected of them. What do you need to be reminded about during this pause in our lives? What are things that you’ve learned before that you need to remember? Is there something new you need to learn in order prepare to be God’s representatives in the world?
Our stories will continue some day in the future and we will be taken off of pause. In the meantime, maybe God is trying to tell us something we’ve forgotten or maybe even something new. A pause doesn’t have to be a negative thing, we can emerge from pause better off for it. What is God trying to tell you in this season of ‘pause’?
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation
The book of John is probably the most familiar book that we’ve covered so far. It is one of the four gospels containing the story of Jesus. Since it is Holy week, I thought it best to reflect on one of the gospels and introduce this book. You’ve probably read many of the stories in John and it also contains a lot of quotable verses. Examples include:
John 1:1-5 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The author of John is the apostle John. He was also very prominent in the early church but is not mentioned by name is this gospel. He only refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). He knew Jewish life very well, as well as the geography of the Holy Land. The gospel has many verses that appear to reflect the recollections of an eyewitness – John was with Jesus when these things happened. An example is chapter 12:3 when the author refers to the house at Bethany being filled with the fragrance of the broken perfume jar. An observation that only someone in the room could have observed.
John’s gospel is very different from the other three gospels. In fact, it’s debated whether or not he even knew any of the other gospel writers. John focuses on the ‘signs’ of Jesus’ identity, mission, and Jesus’ theologically deep discourses. John begins with the announcement that Jesus is the “in the beginning” creative Word of God who had come to earth as a human being to be the light of life for the world. The other gospels slowly reveal who Jesus is, John comes right out and tells you.
John also states very clearly his main point in writing this gospel in chapter 20:31; “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” A helpful way to think about John compared to the rest of the gospels is this: John has a strong emphasis of heaven coming down, while the other three gospels have a strong emphasis of earth going up. What I mean by that is that John is all about connecting Jesus to God from the start, he is the Son of God come down to save us. The other gospels (as mentioned before) slowly reveal the fact that Jesus (the man) is actually the Son of God. It is revealed that this earthly man points towards and is God.
This Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter) is going to feel different than any other in our lifetimes because of our current situation. We will not be able to gather for services on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, or Easter. That does not mean, however, that we can’t experience and appreciate them in perhaps a new way.
John’s purpose for writing the book “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:31) hits home for me during this time, especially the last part. Our lives have dramatically changed this past month with school cancellations and home lock downs. Sometimes it feels like our ‘lives’ have literally been taken away from us. This Easter season I want you to reflect and think about that last line, “that by believing you may have life in his name.”(John 20:31). What does it mean to have life in his name for you this season of life? How can you let God enter your life and give it new meaning? Times may seem strange, hard, and dark right now but remember the beginning of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness HAS NOT overcome it.” (John 1:5). Celebrate that this Easter Season, the fact that God’s light is shining right now. Coronavirus is creating a very dark time in many lives right now, but it HAS NOT overcome God’s light.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation