Holy Week timeline visualisation

The who, what and where of Jesus’ last week.

Nelima's blog

This visualisation harmonises the four Gospel accounts of Holy Week and lets you examine the “who,” “what,” and “where” of events leading up to and through Easter. Follow the lines in the chart to see at a glance what people were doing, where they were, and whom they were with at any point during the week.

(Via the Bible Gateway Blog)

You can also read how the visualisation was created.

If you liked this, you may also want to have a look at the Holy Week map.

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Things we do in church services

Here’s a couple of articles I’ve read recently that both touch on potentially distracting stuff that happens during a church service.

Do you take notes?

Doodle - Pic of the Day
Or maybe you prefer to doodle? (Photo credit: Patrick Hoesly)

In A Noteworthy Sermon?, the author writes:

As I sat listening to the sermon at church last Sunday morning, I was struck by a big division. Some folk were scribbling earnestly in notebooks as the end of 2 Corinthians was unfolded for us. Others just sat listening.

He goes on to give some points in favour of and against note-taking. I found the latter interesting, never having considered why a pastor would ask the congregation to refrain from taking notes. Personally, I’m in the just-sit-and-listen camp. I cannot claim any high ideals behind my decision, however: I simply fell out of the habit of taking notes.

Do you use your smartphone/tablet?

Here’s the opening paragraph of The Texture of Screens Amidst Communities of Faith:

As more people make the move from regular cell phones to smart phones and tablets, many want to use the “smart” features during worship services to access the Scriptures, take notes, and even interact with the pastor. This has led to an ongoing, though fairly quiet debate about the proper place of such devices in church.

The author proposes three reasons why we find electronic devices so distracting, along with some helpful recommendations. I appreciated his stance—neither “get rid of them” nor “get used to it”. I also identified with some of his cynicism 🙂

Notes, screens and me

From my personal experience, I’ve not found note-taking to be a hindrance to concentration. However, for most of my Christian life I regarded sermons solely as containers for information, so maybe it was good that I stopped taking notes. Nowadays, most of the notes I take are from MP3s that I can listen to endlessly, and occasionally I even turn them into blog posts.

As for gadgets, I’ve not developed adequate resistance to the draw of shiny screens. I probably care too much about my image to be caught using my device for non-biblical purposes during a service, but I rather prefer to keep as far away from that temptation as I reasonably can!

Caleb’s dad wasn’t an Israelite

I used to wonder why Caleb, though belonging to  the tribe of Judah, didn’t feature in Christ’s lineage. But first, some background (if you watched the James Hoffmeier lecture, you can skip the next paragraph):

Exodus 12:38 offers the brief and tantalising statement that a mixed multitude of people left Egypt together with the children of Israel. From archaeological discoveries, it is known that non-Egyptians were present in the land at around the same time as the descendants of Jacob, i.e. during what historians call the New Kingdom (watch a mostly accurate history lesson on ancient Egypt).

The presence of non-native Israelites among those who came out of Egypt gives more sense to the commands in which God states that the same rules apply to the native-born as well as to the sojourner (e.g. Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 15:16). These weren’t  just referring to some hypothetical situation, but to a reality they were already living with.

Now back to Caleb. He is described as “Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite” (Numbers 32:12; Joshua 14:6, 14). The only other mention of Kenizzites in the Old Testament is in Genesis 15:19, where they are listed among the inhabitants of Canaan that Abraham’s descendants would displace. When and why Caleb or his ancestors went to Egypt, and how he became part of the tribe of Judah are matters of conjecture. We can be certain of these two facts, however:

  • Though  he was the son of an outsider, he was an exemplary and integrated member of Israelite society so as to have been chosen as a scout a year after the events of the exodus.
  • Because of his faithfulness (Numbers 14:24, 32.12), he was one of two people spared death in the wilderness.

So what?

The apostle Paul states that God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations through him was an announcement of the gospel in advance (Galatians 3:8). God’s plan from the beginning was to include all peoples among His covenant community, and in fact the Old Testament speaks in superlative terms of the expansion of Israel:

  • Non-Israelite nations are registered in God’s city (Psalm 87)
  • They are blessed with God’s salvation (Isaiah 19:16-25)
  • They are accepted in God’s house (Isaiah 56:3-8)
  • They will be joined with God’s people (Zechariah 2:10-11)

Caleb had an unwavering faith in Yahweh and wholeheartedly followed Him, and was counted among God’s people even though he wasn’t a physical descendant of Abraham. Perhaps Paul had people like him in mind when he wrote, “So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:9, NIV84)

I may have to start paying Christopher Wright royalties. From him I learned to see the N.T. church as O.T Israel’s expansion and not its replacement.

P.S. What is it with all these Gentiles joining the tribe of Judah? Caleb, Rahab, Ruth… Moses invites his in-law to join Israel (Numbers 10:29-32), and his descendants end up settling with the Judahites (Judges 1:16). Did they know of the future and coming king from the tribe of Judah?

Man of sorrows

Happy fifth Sunday in Lent!

This hymn was first published in 1875. The following year its author, Philip Bliss, died in a railway accident that also took the life of his wife.

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we;
Spotless Lamb of God was he;
Full atonement! can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

Lifted up was he to die,
“It is finished!” was his cry:
Now in heav’n exalted high:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

When he comes, our glorious King,
All his ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

I hit on the idea of summarising each stanza in one word, and as a pale imitation of Bliss’s far superior rhymes, all my words end in -ion.

  1. Mission: To reclaim sinners for God
  2. Substitution: Christ took my condemnation and secured my forgiveness
  3. Perfection: Of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself and its effect of full atonement
  4. Completion: Of the work on the cross
  5. Consummation: Christ will return to take His people to their eternal home.

Hmm… Maybe I should keep well away from writing poetry…

On a serious note, I’m loving how these hymn-writers pull together the past, present and future works of redemption in five stanzas or less. Such rich content to meditate on!

A working hypothesis on the geography of the Exodus

What can archaeology and geology tell us about the reliability of the Exodus narrative in the Bible? According to Egyptologist (and Christian) James Hoffmeier, quite a lot.

Were there non-Egyptians/slaves working on construction projects? Where is Goshen located? What is the likely route that the Israelites took out of Egypt? How was it that the Israelites went from being one pharaoh’s honoured guests to being another pharaoh’s slaves? Watch and find out all this and more (I’ve set it up to skip the lengthy introductions):

Whom does God bless?

Or, what happened to the Emites, Horites and Zamzummites?

In the second chapter of Deuteronomy Moses relates to the Israelites how Yahweh forbade them from attempting to conquer the land belonging to the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites respectively (2:5, 9, 19). The reason was that He, Yahweh, had blessed the descendants of Esau and of Lot with that land. In fact, the language used of these other nations is very similar to the language used of Israel elsewhere in the Old Testament:

The Emites used to live [in the land of Moab]—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites. Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the LORD gave them as their possession. (2:10-12)

[The Zamzummites] were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. The LORD had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor destroyed them and settled in their place. (2:21-23)

See also Deuteronomy 31:332:8Amos 9:7 and Acts 17:26.

TL;DR: The God of Israel removed the previous inhabitants of these lands for the benefit of nations that would become Israel’s enemies.

So what?

Psalm 145:9 tells us that God is loving towards all He has made, and Jesus taught His disciples that their heavenly Father sends sunshine and rain indiscriminately on all (Matthew 5:45). Christians should therefore be careful not to lay exclusive claims to God’s blessings. (To be sure, there are covenant blessings reserved for the obedient.)  Rather, let us point out that God’s goodness to those who don’t acknowledge Him is part of His undeniable witness of Himself, that they may turn to Him (Acts 14:17).

Question: Whom does God bless? Answer: His enemies and His former enemies. Which group are you in?

I learned to care about the Zamzummites by listening to Chris Wright. Other things he’s said have found their way into this post.

There is a fountain filled with blood

Happy fourth Sunday in Lent!

This hymn, written by William Cowper, was first published in 1772. It is based on Zechariah 13:1, “In that day there shall be a Fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.”

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
O may I there, though’ vile as he,
Wash all my sins away!

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
‘Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be ’till I die.

But when this lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing thy power to save.

Though a brilliant poet and hymnodist, Cowper struggled with deep depression much of his adult life and some of that struggle is visible in this and other of his hymns.

He starts off by putting together the prophecy from Zechariah and its fulfilment in Christ. The purpose of the fountain is to cleanse sinners, like the thief of Luke 23. Yes, he was a nasty piece of work, that thief! But wait, I am as vile as that criminal… I too need to be cleansed. I too can be cleansed in the same fountain!

The third stanza touches on the efficacy of Christ’s work at the cross. As I was reviewing YouTube videos for this post, the last line in the third stanza really got me and bounced around my head for hours. How wonderful that would be, to never sin again! to never live in fear of displeasing God! I imagine that Cowper, with all his dark moments, must have eagerly looked forward to that day.

The fourth and fifth stanzas, written in the first person, get sweetly personal. While awaiting the time that sin will be no more, Cowper and the hymn-singer can revel in God’s saving love (stanza 4). What’s more, the singing of praise will not cease with our death, but instead will become even more glorious (stanza 5). (By the way, does the poetry of these two stanzas turn you to mush as it does me?)

Here’s a biographical sketch of William Cowper along with lessons we can learn from his life, by John Piper.