Reading through the Bible

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Colossians, Philippians, Thessalonians

As we read through the New Testament this year, last week and this week have been a blitz through several of Paul’s shorter epistles.  Philippians and Colossians, like Ephesians before it, were captivity letters.  That means they were written while he was imprisoned sometime after the events described in Acts 23.

The epistle to the Philippians astonishes us, first promising that Paul’s imprisonment actually forwards the Gospel (1:12). Then, at the end, Paul gives the surprise proof.  Among the new converts to Christianity, thanks to Paul’s incarceration, are members of Caesar’s household (4:22)!

Colossians, on the other hand, reveals a cosmic view of Jesus’ grand work of salvation.  While Paul is shut away in a hole in the ground, looking at the same walls each day, he proclaims by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15ff.).  Just as Jesus was there in the beginning, His resurrection is the cosmic new beginning, “that in everything he might be preeminent” (1:18).

Colossians and Philippians are marvelous Scriptures on their own; that they were written by a man who knew not how long he would be imprisoned makes them more glorious and inspirational.

The next epistles we read come from the beginning of Paul’s career.  His epistles to the Thessalonians may well have been his first (with the lone possible exception being Galatians), probably written around the years 51-52 from Corinth.

Just because Paul was not yet imprisoned, however, did not mean the early Christians were safe from persecution.  Indeed, “When we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:4).  One of the great comforts for the persecuted is the preaching of Jesus’ kingdom coming, the eternal victory of Christ’s church.  So in his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul comforts the suffering by explaining how Jesus will return.

Today, there are a lot of complicated doctrines of men put forward as the Bible’s supposed teaching of Jesus’ return.  Your head can spin learning about all the different cataclysms, the “secret returns,” the wars and rumors of wars.  It’s amazing, when you read the Bible instead, how simple it is.  Paul tells us we can “encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18), the straightforward explanation of Jesus’ return.
The Bible’s easy timeline is this: 1) Jesus returns loudly and clearly (1 Thessalonians 4:16); 2) the dead rise (4:16); 3) we are all gathered together forever with God (4:17).  This matches Jesus’ teaching, as Paul explicitly says (4:15), which we can read in Matthew 24-25.

If that seems too simple to you, you’re not alone in thinking that.  After Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, there must have been a reply letter to bring about 2 Thessalonians.  We can imagine the Thessalonians asking, “But what about antichrists and false miracles and…”

So Paul answers and gets into some more details.  But before he does that he says something important which we do well to hear:  “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).  The teaching of Jesus’ return should not be something used to frighten you!  When Jesus preached about His return, He summarized, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

From the very beginning, you see, false teachers have used the uncertainty inherent in future events to twist Jesus’ teaching and unsettle God’s people.  Jesus warned about these teachers (Matthew 24:23-28).  Paul warned about them (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).  Peter warned about them (2 Peter 2).  John (1 John 2:18-27) and Jude (Jude 3-16) told the church they were already among us.  If the teaching you hear about end times is causing you to fear instead of to hope and rejoice, dive back into the clear waters of the Scriptures!  1 and 2 Thessalonians give us all we need to know in clear detail.

I have a theory about why so much modern American teaching about end times is scary instead of encouraging.  The context of the Bible’s teaching on Jesus’ return was outlaw apostles writing to persecuted communities, promising release from tribulation.  In America, however, at the turn of the 20th century, when millennialism had its rise, not only were Christians fairly comfortable in America, they also had the progressive view of history in mind, which before the two great world wars, thought life was only getting better and better on earth.  Christians in America forgot how rare our refuge nation was, how our relative peace and security are a great exception to much of history.  Remember, “When we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:4).

So the Western Christians of the late 19th and early 20th century invented a mythology of Armageddon.  Of course, it’s frightening to think about losing the freedom of religion we have had in America for over two centuries.  Meanwhile, around the world, other Christians must wonder at our invented tribulations.  Christians in Africa and Asia do not wonder when tribulation and the plague of false teaching might come among them.  It’s there.  

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).  What has been strange, and a great gift from God, is the sanctuary Christians have had in many Western nations, to share Christ without state-sponsored persecution.  An appreciation of this grace will safeguard us from dissipated living (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10), inspiring us to make the most of the time given us.  “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-9).

Ephesians

This week we read through Ephesians.  At Holy Cross, the past two months, we have heard sermons on Ephesians.  All of these have been collected here.

Paul's letter to the Ephesians appears to have been a circular letter he intended to go to many churches while he was in prison.  Because of Paul's close connection to the Ephesus congregation, he may have sent the first copy or copies there, knowing he had friends who could then distribute the letter more widely.  That would explain why we don't read personal greetings in this letter (as, for example, in the last chapter of Romans).

Galatians 2 and Acts 15

We begin St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians this week.  Galatians is a fiery epistle, putting on full display the passion Paul had for the congregations he knew as family.  Paul and Barnabas had founded the congregations in Galatia (the northern part of modern Turkey around Ancyra).  According to Paul and Barnabas’ custom, they kept moving, planting new churches in other regions.  After Paul and Barnabas had left Galatia, men from Jerusalem came to those congregations and preached that Paul had given an incomplete Gospel of Jesus.  These false teachers insisted the Gentile Christians keep all the Jewish laws, including the rite of circumcision.  Paul’s response is strong and insistent.  If the Galatians think they can earn salvation by keeping Jewish laws, they are cut off from Christ!

When people read Galatians, they sometimes wonder how it fits in to the history we have in the book of Acts.  After studying the matter, here is my understanding.

Acts 13:1-14:28 describe the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.  It ends with them coming to Antioch:  “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they remained no little time with the disciples.”  The open door of faith to the Gentiles probably created a stir, not just in Antioch, but back in Jerusalem, too.  I believe it was at this time, AD 47-48, that the events of Galatians 2 occurred.  Paul, Barnabas, and Titus met privately with James, Peter, and John in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-10).  Titus was not required to be circumcised and the Apostles gave Paul and Barnabas the “right hand of fellowship.”

It probably made sense to the Apostles to send Peter up to Antioch to see things first hand (Galatians 2:11-14).  Though most Jews would not eat with Gentiles for their state of ritual uncleanness, the Antioch Christians saw all Christians as made clean by the cross of Christ and the ministry of the Spirit.  When Peter came to Antioch, he joined the table with all of the Gentiles.  But then when some other “men came from James,” Paul was bold to confront Peter face-to-face.

What a moment!  Peter had walked on water with Jesus.  Peter was one of only three to see the transfigured Jesus.  Peter was the first to confess Jesus to be the Christ and the Son of God.  While Peter was following Jesus, Paul was opposing Jesus.  Paul had stood by approving of the death of the first Christian martyr.  Now Paul was bold to stand against Peter.  It is hard to imagine!

The only way Paul could be so bold was to be utterly confident in the Gospel revealed to him.  He explains, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).  If our ability to stand before God and sit at the holy table with one another comes through keeping the law, we’ll always find places we have fallen short.  If our ability to stand before God and sit in fellowship with one another comes through grace and faith, then Peter could not withdraw from Gentile Christians.  Paul was right.

And the church found Paul to be right.  After Paul wrote Galatians sometime between 48-49, Christian leaders called for a council in Jerusalem.  We read about this in Acts 15:1-35.  It probably occurred around the year 49.  Paul and Barnabas told of their mission work.  Peter spoke in favor of this work.  James concluded, quoting the Old Testament prophecies, that no Gentile Christian need be circumcised.

That means that when we read Galatians, we are reading a letter that comes from the middle of a controversy with a ton at stake.  Paul’s work as an apostle was threatened at a time when it was just beginning.  The Gentile mission was threatened at a time when it was just starting to show fruit.

If things had gone differently, if the church had rejected Paul’s teaching in Galatians, we wouldn’t only not be reading Galatians in the Bible, we wouldn’t be reading Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.  We probably also wouldn’t be reading Luke, Acts, and Hebrews, all written by Paul’s companions.  We—we Gentiles—probably wouldn’t be Christians at all.

Some of what we read in Galatians was probably terrifying in the moment.  Paul and Peter at odds?  Paul claiming that Gentiles who were circumcised were actually cut off from Christ (Galatians 5:4)?  Paul wishing his opponents would cut themselves instead of Gentiles (Galatians 5:12)?

It’s worth remembering these hairy times in the early church when our own congregations go through hard times.  We believe the Holy Spirit was leading the early church, but sometimes our imaginations whitewash the challenges, the fighting, the invective.  Then when we see our own challenges and fighting, we doubt the Spirit is actively leading us.  That’s another way Galatians can encourage us.  Peter made a big mistake and tempers flared, but the Good Shepherd was still guiding His flock.  He was still guiding His flock twenty years after the Ascension.  He is still guiding His flock as we approach 2000 years after the Ascension.  Thanks be to God!

Reading with Theophilus

With the summer, we begin the Gospel according to Luke.  Luke begins, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

A key here is “Theophilus,” a Greek name which means “Lover of God.”  Luke was writing about Jesus to a Greek audience, far from Judea, not only geographically but also culturally.  Greek Christians had “been taught” about Jesus.  They had questions.  Luke intended his Gospel to give the Greek Christians certainty that what Jesus accomplished was for them.

A big question for Greek believers was likely why so many of Jesus’ own countrymen did not believe Him.  Imagine it.  You live in Corinth, learn about Jesus, come to believe in Him.  Then you find out that a lot of the Jews in the synagogue in Corinth don’t believe Jesus.  This makes you a little uncomfortable.  You’re just starting to learn the Hebrew Scriptures.  Why wouldn’t the people who know those Scriptures best believe?  If Jesus really rose from the dead, why didn’t the people of Jerusalem believe?

Luke answers these questions not only in the Gospel that bears his name, but also in the book of Acts, the second volume to the Gospel which accounts for the growth of the Word from Jerusalem to Rome.  The Gospel of Jesus is as the mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19), which starts small but grows so large as to house foreign birds.

Starting small, Luke spends more time on Jesus’ infancy than any other Gospel.  This allows him to set the scene for Gentiles.  Not only do Gentile readers get to see a picture of Jerusalem and the Temple before Jesus, they see a priest, Zechariah, unprepared for the new things God is doing among His people.  Zechariah does not believe when he first hears about his baby John.

But just as there are Jewish leaders who are not prepared to believe, there are also everyday Jewish believers, from shepherds in their fields at night to Simeon and Anna in the Temple, waiting patiently for the light of Israel.  For Luke, it’s not that Jews don’t believe and Gentiles do.  Rather, Luke paints a picture of the powerful not believing and the lowly being blessed.  Mary puts it beautifully in her song to Elizabeth:  “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).  It’s the powerful who weren’t believing.

In your life, does your faith ebb and flow with respect to the kind of control you feel?  When we feel comfortably in control of our lives, do we forget about God and sometimes even begin to resist or reject His direction?  Only when we are in great need, then, do we run back to God, asking for His help?

The parable of the prodigal sons teach us that even if this is our way, God loves us.  He comes running to us when we do find we need Him (Luke 15).  But it would be better for us to be faithful like Simeon in the temple.  To find this constancy, we see Luke’s example in the early church, how those joyful believers regularly met together to receive God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament (Acts 2:42-47). Receiving daily bread through prayers and Bible readings and Christian fellowship and receiving the Lord’s body and blood gives us strength for following Jesus regularly.

In particular, when we hear God’s Word say things that make us feel lowly, things that strike our pride and our conscience, we don’t give up listening.  We know that when we are humbled, the God described in Luke promises to lift us up, to bless us, to give us a greater strength than we could ever have on our own.  Blessed, indeed, are those who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied (Luke 6:21)!

Paul Writes to Corinth

In the middle of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.  So brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Corinthians 7:23-24).  It almost sounds a paradox.  You’ve been bought; Jesus is taking you out of this world.  So, stay where you are, because Jesus is with you.

For Christians who have lived their faith, it is not a paradox.  We know our Lord’s name is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”  He was born in a stable, slept with a stone for a pillow, and numbered with the transgressors.  As His followers, we find meaning in service others would only be able to find degrading.  Jesus pictured this when He washed His disciples’ feet (John 13).  He explained, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

But what is washing feet today?  We do not wear sandals on dusty roads.  To serve as Jesus served, we have to make a translation.  The translation is not from one language to another, but from one culture to another.  I can wash feet by changing a dirty diaper, by caring for the lonely elderly, by picking up litter on the side of the road.  Jesus’ time did not have disposable diapers, nursing homes, or paper cups; we’re making a cultural translation.

The process of cultural translation is not new at all.  There were cultural translations to make even in the first century of the church.  People in first century Corinth had dusty roads and sandals and feet to wash, but there was a lot of difference between first-century Greece and first-century Judea.  A lot of these cultural differences were in play as Paul wrote to the young Corinthian church.

For example, in Judea, you had no trouble finding kosher meat at the local butcher.  In Corinth, not only was kosher off the table, the meat available could have come from a pagan altar.  A pagan priest could have offered that meat to Zeus or Aphrodite.  Early Christians were divided on whether or not eating this meat was a sin by entangling you in idolatry.  Ask your local butcher if he could tell you which meat was from the temple, and he might have no idea.  So avoiding meat sacrificed to idols could have a major impact not only on your diet, but also on your social opportunities.  Imagine going over some place for dinner and asking, “Do you know if this meat was ever sacrificed to Zeus?  If you don’t know, I’ll just stick to the salad.”

Paul, then, is giving advice on how to make sure that we live in this world, but not of this world (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-12).  Some of that advice is grounded in the culture Paul was writing to.  All of it is based on the core idea of seeing sin as enslaving, but sinners as redeemed.  We are open to all people, for Jesus died for all.  We are cautious about participating in anything sinful, for sin enslaves us.

How did Paul apply these principles to the example of head coverings in the church service?  In ancient Greece, men and women did not socialize together outside the home, not in the ways that would become possible in the church.  On the other hand, there was a religious context for men and women to “worship” together in Greece.  At the temples of Aphrodite, priestesses were prostitutes.  So, having men and women gather together in a Christian church assembly was radical.  But within this radical grouping, some rules needed to be maintained.

Head coverings were not negotiable for Paul because of what they meant in that society.  A woman’s head covering was a sign of her marriage.  If she removed that head covering, it was like one of us removing a wedding ring.  Worse, because some Corinthians expected to “worship” with unmarried women, it would give some Corinthians horribly wrong ideas about what Christianity was about.

Today, a head covering doesn’t carry the same meaning, which is why most people attending our churches on Sunday have their heads uncovered and it isn’t controversial.  But if we added an escort auction to our cake auction, not only would it be controversial, it would be wrong for us to do!

Some Corinthians wondered if the new kingdom of the church meant that they were “free” of their marriages.  Some Corinthian men thought they should have a “spiritual,” sexless marriage with their wives, as if this were purer, leaving their baser instincts for the priestesses of Aphrodite.  In this case, Paul affirmed that marriage is a good that God created in the beginning.  Sex in marriage is good.  Fidelity for the marriage and for the children of that marriage is good.  This does not change no matter how the society around us changes.

Plenty of stories, from Austen to Zola, have explored how sexual “liberty” turns out to be enslaving.  This was as true in first-century Corinth, as in 19th-century western Europe, as in our own day.  So as we read Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians, watch for parts that reflect a very different culture.  But even in those parts, we find teaching that is as true today as it ever has been.  We are freed by love and to love.  We thrive in loving, even when that loving comes as dirty drudgery.  We know that the time of the mundane is limited, for we were bought by the dirtiest sacrifice, and won for life eternal.  

Paul Writes to Rome

We have begun Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  To understand this great book, we should review Paul’s standing when he writes it.

Paul was infamous.  Acts 9:1-2 records, “[Paul], still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”  He was a furious opponent of Christianity.

Yet, Acts 9 goes on to record how Paul was stopped on the way to Damascus by Jesus, how he was blinded, how he repented, how he was given his sight back, how he was baptized.  Paul became a Christian.  Jesus called Paul not only to follow Him, but to speak for Him as His apostle.   Paul later humbly minimized his apostleship as one “untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8).  But it was important for the Gospel of forgiveness to have an apostle who was first an enemy but then fully forgiven.  “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Still, Paul was infamous.  He had persecuted and murdered Christians.  God forgave him.  Christians forgave him.  “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’  And they glorified God because of me.” (Galatians 1:23-24).  Yet there were those who did not trust him.  Paul’s opponents tried to drive a wedge between the Gospel Paul preached and the Gospel of the church in Jerusalem.

Paul found that he would preach Jesus in one place only to find that others came and tried to undo the work he had done.  The churches in Galatia were led to doubt that they were saved by believing what Paul taught.  He wrote an impassioned letter (Galatians), urging those churches to hold firm to what he had taught.

Eventually, a council of Christian pastors and apostles met in Jerusalem to decide the issue (Acts 15).  Peter and James agreed with Paul and Barnabas.  The church should be able to unite around their united testimony.

But false teachers did not simply lay down and give up.  They continued to slander Paul and his message.  They gave a false picture of Paul’s teaching in cities he had not even visited yet.

Most important of all cities in the ancient world of that day was Rome.  Paul had tried to get there but had not been able.  So he wrote a great letter to the churches in Rome.  He wanted them to hear how he preaches the Gospel of Jesus in his own words.

Romans and Galatians, at heart, give the same message.  Where Galatians is fiery and personal and rushed, Romans is methodical and formal and calm.  Paul responds to potential objections.  Someone might hear Paul’s message of forgiveness and think, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  Paul answers, “By no means!” and then explains through chapter 6.

This makes Romans an important letter for us today.  All of Paul’s other epistles come to congregations he knew personally and for whom he had already laid out his Gospel.  Those epistles respond to questions or situations.  Romans is Paul’s definitive statement of what he preaches.

And it is a glorious statement!  This letter was foundational for Luther as he came to rediscover the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.  “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

In Romans, Paul teaches that we are all sinners in need of grace (Romans 1-3).  The law of God (all the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”) teach us how sinful we are.  “Through the commandment [sin] might become sinful beyond measure” (Romans 7:13).  The law does not save us, but reveals our need for salvation.  Once that need dawns on us, God reveals His grace and mercy, giving salvation as a free gift.  “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled” (Romans 8:3-4).  Jesus dies in our place, the new Adam who represents us in overcoming the tempter and winning new life (Romans 5:12-21).

Romans also explains what then God was doing for all those years teaching the Jews the law and circumcision and sacrifice.   Abraham was shown to be father of all the faithful (Romans 4), the law still reveals sin (Romans 7), and Israel is still called to be saved (Romans 11).  Most importantly, the failure of some Israelites was not in what God gave them, but “because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:32).

For Paul, a good work that is motivated by an attempt to earn merit is corrupted and not a good work.  If someone pays you a compliment just to “butter you up” for a request, you don’t feel the compliment was made out of love or respect.  So it is with God.  If I try to love my neighbor just because I have to, I’m not really loving my neighbor.  “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9).

Good works, however, are true, when they are motivated by faith.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  When I trust in God’s generosity, that faith flows out into actions of generosity towards others.  When I trust I forgiven much, that faith means I can and will forgive much.

Paul knew this change first hand.  He had tried to please God by zeal for the law.  It led to him murdering Christians.  Despite knowing the law inside and out, he still struggled with his own sinfulness.  “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  Only in Jesus did he find freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Paul was infamous in the world, but before God he was forgiven, made holy, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God, that work is not only done in Paul, but a gift for each of us in Christ Jesus. 

Mark and a Good Sandwich

“And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?’” (Mark 6:2).  The Gospel According to St. Mark shows us Jesus in action.  Mark keeps repeating the word “immediately” (35 times, more than all three other Gospels combined).  For Mark, Jesus is a man of action, like the young warrior David. 

If you contrast Matthew 6:2 to Mark 6:2, you find the first Gospel mid-way through the lengthy Sermon on the Mount.  There are no similar multi-chapter sermons in Mark.  Mark moves his narrative quickly.  Mark 6 relates the death of John the Baptist.  Matthew does not arrive at that event until his chapter 14.  Again, in contrast, Mark 14 is nearly the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.

So, Matthew ends with Jesus charging the apostles to make disciples by baptizing and teaching everything Jesus had taught.  Mark’s parallel passage (16:15-18) emphasizes, instead, the actions we take as disciples, following in Jesus’ path.

We can compare these two foci to a passage in neither Gospel, John 15.  There, Jesus tells us He is the true vine, that abiding in Him, we will bear good fruit.  Matthew’s emphasis on Jesus’ teaching shows how we abide in Him.  Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ actions shows us the good fruits we are called to produce ourselves.

A way of writing Mark uses often is called the “sandwich story.”  Think of a good sandwich; the things which make it up- bread, meat, cheese, dressing, vegetables- are very different.  You would not always think they belong together.  When you put it together, you might think they interrupt each other, but when you taste it as a whole, it works.

As you read Mark 5, Jesus is on His way to heal Jairus’ daughter.  Suddenly, the story shifts.  A woman in the crowd has touched Jesus.  He stops and interacts with her.  While Jesus is doing that, news comes from Jairus’ house.  His daughter has died.  But Jesus goes and raises her from the dead.  This is a sandwich story, and truly, the entire sandwich works together.

When we look at the details of each healing, we find that the unnamed woman has had a discharge of blood for twelve years.  We find that Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old.  We find both of these women were facing exclusion from Israel.  The woman with the discharge of blood would have been considered perpetually unclean by Jewish law.  The people who come from Jairus’ house similarly urge, “Why trouble the Teacher further?”  Twelve is the number of Israel.  Jesus’ ministry, the entire sandwich teaches, will cleanse Israel and raise her from the dead by restoring the outcasts who the Jewish leaders would have excluded.

As you read through Mark, watch for more sandwiches.  Indeed, you’ll find another one “immediately” in Mark 6. What is the sandwich meaning of Jesus sending out the Apostles and receiving them back only after we hear what happened to John the Baptist?

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