Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stoms May South African Update!

Dear Friends and Family,
Friends from Malawi, Uganda and Ghana. 
Greetings from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Hope you are all well. We have had our story group with International students going on the University of Stellenbosch campus now for about three months. We have had students from a dozen African countries attend. We've worked almost all the way through storyline of Mark's gospel and we’ve been having some good discussions. The number of those attending fluctuates with about a dozen regular attenders. This has been a bit humbling since in the past I’ve used to teach classes of 40-80 students at the African Bible College in Malawi.  

Those attending our group are typically graduate students. One Malawian attending is the brother of a former ABC student. Two other Malawians who attend are lecturers from Chancellor College (U of Malawi) who are here getting their doctorates. An interesting development to our group has been the addition of some Korean students. This has led us to consider begin some informal English lessons using Biblical stories and scripture as a text. People here are responsive to our storytelling method, but we realize that it is best suited for an environment like Malawi.
Our Korean friends, Ki Woon and Sun. 

Since arriving here we have had two kindles stolen from our apartment. Also a car we had borrowed was broken into twice. This has made the transition to living here more challenging than anticipated and particularly for our daughters. The reality of crime along with seeing people who are living on the streets is a bit frightening for them. On the bright side Christ Church Stellenbosch has been very gracious to us.  I've been able to lead some worship services and I've preached here on several occasions. Christ Church has an excellent program for children which our girls enjoy. They do appreciate going to one church each week but they really do miss their grandparents and close friends.
VWs are a common target for thieves. 
We plan to visit Malawi as a family in June. God willing we will be arriving there June 14th and staying through June 30th. I’ll be preaching at both Kafita CCAP and Kapita CCAP and I hope to do some teaching of Biblical Theology through stories as well. While we are there we will have to move our things and sell some of our items that we have stored at our old place at ABC. We do have access to a container where we can store some things but we have to move what we have at ABC by July. Please pray for us especially as we make our plans to visit Malawi (see below).
Tsalani bwino (stay well),
Jay, Laura, Clara, Katherine, and Lauren Stoms

Prayer Requests:
1)      That God will grow our story group in faith and in numbers of people attending.
2)      That Christ Church Stellenbosch will start an English school were the Bible and Bible stories can be taught.
3)      That we can get a good deal on a dependable used car in SA that will be right for our family.
4)      That our trip to Malawi will be a positive one both in terms of ministry and in moving and selling some of our items.
5)      For housing more suited to showing hospitality but still close to the University.
6)      For God’s provision and good health of our grandparents back in the states.
7)      For good friends for our girls. Also for a sense of being settled and for more long term direction.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tried, Mocked and Crucified.

In Mark's gospel the story of Jesus' being tried before Pilate (Mk 15:1-15) is followed by the account of Jesus being ‘mocked and crucified’ (Mk 15:16-32). Watch the video and or listen the story and then read the comments below.

The whole company of soldiers gathered around Jesus. They were used to using force to keep the peace. The Roman soldiers would have resented the Jewish fighters violently rebelled.  Jesus would have been an easy target for their frustrations. They put a purple robe normally reserved for kings and nobles and put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. They fell on their knees and mocked Jesus saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Compared to a Roman Emperor Jesus would have looked to them like a rather impotent king and not worthy of their respect. They spit on him and beat him repeatedly with a centurion’s staff. When they were done mocking and laughing at Jesus they led him away to face Rome’s weapon of intimidation, the cross! 

Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming into Jerusalem from the country. He was likely a Jew from Cyrene in North Africa on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Often a prisoner would have to carry the cross-beam on which they were to be hung. The vertical pole would have already been at site of crucifixion.  Jesus must have been too weak to carry his own cross-beam after being repeatedly beaten. That Simon carried Jesus’ cross reminds us how Jesus had called people to take up the cross and follow him. Simon was forced to carry the cross of Jesus to Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull’. There, at the third hour, Jesus was crucified on the charge of claiming to be ‘THE KING OF THE JEWS’.

At Golgotha Jesus refused to drink the drugged wine for he had chosen to drink the ‘cup’ given him by his Father (10:38; 14:36). The soldiers stripped Jesus and they gambled for his clothes (Psalm 22:19). They crucified Jesus as a rebel king between two rebels, one on his right and one on his left. He would die the death that was reserved for those who tried to take up arms to overthrow Rome. These were the reserved seats on Jesus’ right and left when he would come into his kingdom as God’s true king (10:40). Those passing by insulted Jesus by referring to how he had said that he would destroy the temple and build it again in three days. They misunderstood what he had said about the temple, but what he did say must have seemed ridiculous as he hung suspended apparently defeated on a Roman cross. 

At his crucifixion Jesus looks like he could not rescue himself, let alone destroy and rebuild the Temple in three days. The Messiah was to defeat the Romans but Jesus dies the death of a failed Messiah on a Roman cross.  The chief priests and the teachers of the law want Jesus to come down from cross to save himself. They mock Jesus by saying let this Christ, this king of Israel, come down from the cross so that they might believe in him. But precisely because he was the Christ he chose not to come down. Because he was and is the King of the Jews, he must stay on the cross. To those looking on at the naked and despised Jesus, he would have looked foolish, feeble and weak. Even the thieves crucified beside Jesus hurled insults at him. But none the less God was using the foolishness of the cross to save those who would believe.  This is the story of the crucified Messiah who was forsaken of God in order to ransom and rescue his people. This is how the kingdom of God would come. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jesus before Pilate (Mk 15).

In Mark's gospel the story of Jesus' arrest and trial before the high priest and of Peter’s denial of Jesus (Mk 14) is followed by the account of Jesus being tried before Pilate (Mk 15:1-15). Watch the video and or listen the story and then read the comments below.

Early in the morning the Sanhedrin came to a consensus regarding Jesus. They bound Jesus and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate wanted to know if Jesus was the king of the Jews. Jesus said, ‘yes’ but he said nothing regarding the accusations of the high priests. As Isaiah had foretold Jesus was silent like a lamb being led to be slaughtered. Pilate would have dismissed a charge of blasphemy as meaningless but to claim to be a king was to defy Rome. Pilate would have to take a challenge like this seriously. Pilate wasn’t interested in holding a fair trial. His concern was controlling the crowds. With so many visitors in Jerusalem for the Passover week what Pilot wanted was to prevent a riot.   

It was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner requested by the crowd. Pilate gave them the opportunity to have the one he called 'the king of the Jews' released. He didn’t care about their religious beliefs but he knew the chief priests were acting out of envy. Jesus had been popular among the crowds but the chief priests used their influence to manipulate the crowd. They stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas, who was in prison for committing murder during an uprising, instead of Jesus. When Pilate asked what he should do with the king of the Jews the crowd shouted, ‘crucify him’. But Pilate wanted to know what crime deserving death Jesus had committed, but they shouted louder, “crucify him”.

Pilate knew that Jesus wasn’t leading a military revolt. But Pilate wasn’t interested in justice; he was interested in crowd control. Consequently, Pilate had Barabbas released to satisfy the crowd but he had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified. Rome had crucified numerous Jewish rebels and they would crucify thousands more in coming Jerusalem War (ad 66-70). The cross was one of the ways Rome used the threat power of death to control those under their rule. Now Jesus would face the judgment of Rome that would soon come upon Jerusalem and its Temple within a generation. Barabbas was a typical Jewish rebel who had tried to use violence to drive out the Romans. But Jesus would end up dying instead of Barabbas who ends up going free. The story is a picture of the gospel of grace in which the innocent Jesus is crucified as a substitute so that the guilty can go free. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Arrest and Trial of Jesus!

In Mark's gospel the account of Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples (Mk 14:12-31) is followed by the story of Jesus being arrested and tried by the high priest (Mark 14:32-72). Watch the video or listen the story and then read the comments below.
So far in Mark’s gospel Jesus has always been under control. But now we see Jesus so sad and so distressed that he felt like dying. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus fell down and prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me, but not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus glimpsed the horror of the cup of God’s wrath and pleads with his ‘Abba, Father’ that he might be spared the cup of God’s wrath. Yet after a period of agonizing prayer Jesus surrenders his will to the father and arises committed to the Father’s will. Yet now all Jesus’ disciples will shamefully abandon him. When the shepherd is struck, the sheep will abandon him. Jesus must now drink the cup of God’s wrath alone and no one else can give their life as a ransom for many.
Jesus found his disciples sleeping three times but now they must be awakened to the reality of Jesus’ betrayal. Judas, one of the Twelve, led a crowd armed with swords and clubs sent by the religious leaders, and they arrested Jesus. Neither Judas nor Peter really understood Jesus’ kingdom. The revolution that Jesus was leading would come about not by the sword but by means of the word of God. Jesus had taught daily in the temple courts and now what would happen would fulfill the Scriptures. Now, as foretold, Peter and all the rest would flee and one even fled naked shamefully. Are we prepared to keep watch and wait upon the Lord in watchful prayer? Are we willing to agonize in prayer to see the Father’s will be done? Surely, we must admit that we are all capable of deserting Jesus when he doesn’t validate our plans.
They took Jesus to the high priest and the religious leaders met to condemn Jesus. Many testified falsely against Jesus but their testimonies didn’t agree. The high priest asked Jesus to response but Jesus said nothing. Yet when asked directly if he was the Christ, Jesus not only said he was the Christ but he said, “You’ll see the Son of Man sitting at the right of God and coming on the clouds of heaven.” They all condemned Jesus as worthy of death. Then they spit at Jesus, they blindfolded him and mocked him saying ‘Prophesy’ the guards beat Jesus. Here Jesus makes it clear that he is the ‘son of God’ which recalls for us the voice from heaven both at the beginning of Mark’s gospel and at the transfiguration. Moreover, Jesus’ statement combines the image of his enthronement at the right hand of God (Psalm 110, Mark 12:36) with the idea that God would judge is enemies (Daniel 7:13, Mark 13:26).
Meanwhile the high priest’s servant girl saw Peter in the courtyard by the fire and said, “You were with Jesus.” Peter denied it and claimed he didn’t know what she was talking about. Sometime later she again said that Peter was one of Jesus’ followers but Peter again denied it. Later those standing near Peter said, “You’re a Galilean, you’re one of them.” This time Peter called down curses and swore, “I don’t know the man you’re talking about.” The rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembering Jesus’ words broke down and wept.

Three times Jesus surrendered to the will of his father which cost him his life. By contrast Peter denied knowing Jesus three in order to save his own life. Jesus had been betrayed by a close friend, abandoned by his own followers, condemned, taunted and beaten by the religious authorities. Now Jesus is being publicly renounced by Peter, his closest friend. They blindfolded Jesus and mocked him saying, ‘Prophesy’ so that he looked like a false prophet and a failed Messiah. So now is their time to present Jesus to Pilate as a rebel king, a claim that would have to be violently suppressed by the Roman governor.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Lord's Supper (Mk 14)

In Mark's gospel after Jesus is anointed at Bethany and Judas decides to betray Jesus we find the account of Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples (Mk 14:12-21). In Mark this is followed by the institution of the Lord's Supper and Jesus foretelling Peter's denial (Mk 14:22-31). Watch the video or listen the story and then read the comments below.
Sharing a meal can help bind people together and strengthen their relational ties. The Passover meal did this by retelling the story of the Exodus when God rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery. As faithful Jews, Jesus’ disciples wanted to know from Jesus where they should prepare for the Passover meal (Exodus 12). Jesus told them to go into the city and follow a man with a water jar into a house and ask the owner about his guest room. The disciples went into the city and found things as Jesus had told them (Mk 14:16). Jesus was well aware of all this and even knew that the owner of the house had a guest room set apart for his use (Mk 14:14).

In the evening Jesus arrived at the house with his disciples. At the meal he told the twelve that one of them would betray him. Jesus knew of passages in the Psalms which spoke of being betrayed by a friend (Ps.41:9) and he knew which one of the twelve would betray him. This news saddened the disciples and they each said, “Surely not I?” (Mk 14:19).  The betrayer would be one of the twelve who would dip bread into the bowl with Jesus.  Things would go according to God’s plan but the one betraying the ‘Son of Man’ would be held responsible (Mk 14:19). But the news of his betrayal and of his death turned this Passover celebration in a solemn meal. 

Clearly, Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the Passover in the light of his death. His reference to Daniel’s ‘son of man’ and Isaiah’s ‘suffering servant’ connect his death to the coming of God’s kingdom (Dan. 7:13, Isa. 53:12). Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying that the bread was his body. The bread of affliction (Dt.16:3) in the Passover story would be replaced by the broken body and the cup would now represent his own blood that would fulfill God’s covenant (Mk14:24, Ex.24:8). Then Jesus vowed not drink again of the fruit of the vine until he would drink it anew in the kingdom of God (Mk 14:21).

After all this, they sang a hymn, and went out to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus told the rest of his disciples that they would all fall away (Zech.13:7). Peter said he would not, but Jesus said Peter would deny him three times that night. Again, Peter adamantly denied this and the others did likewise. This episode and the meal Jesus instituted challenges us to locate ourselves somewhere between denying Jesus and betraying him. This meal was given to be perpetually observed in the church to help us to continually look by faith to Christ to enable us to live out of the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Jesus Anointed at Bethany!

In Mark's gospel after the ‘Olivet Discourse’ (Mark 13) comes the story of Jesus being anointed in Bethany in preparation for his burial. Watch the story being told or listen to it and then read the comments below.
This story takes place just before the Passover when the Jewish people would retell the story of their Exodus from Egypt. This was the time to celebrate God’s past faithfulness and renew their hope that God would bring a ‘New Exodus’. But the chief priests were not interested in Jesus being a leader of any movement of this kind. So they looked for clever way to arrest Jesus and kill him without stirring the people up into a riot (Mk 14:1-2). Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany sharing table fellowship with a man who he had probably healed known as Simon the leper.

While Jesus was reclining at a table a woman came, broke a jar of expensive perfume and poured it out on Jesus’ head (Mk 14:3). In love she acted spontaneously and, though probably unknowingly, she anointed Jesus for his imminent death. This was an act of extravagant devotion beyond any necessary benefit to Jesus. Therefore the others rebuked her harshly thinking the perfume should have been sold for a year’s wages to help the poor (Mk 14:4-5). They thought pouring such a valuable amount of perfume on Jesus was a waste, particularly when it could have been used to help the poor.
Jesus told them to leave her alone. He went on to say that the poor would always be with them so they could help them whenever they wanted. But, they wouldn’t always have Jesus with them (14:7) and therefore she had done a ‘beautiful thing’. Whether she knew it or not she had poured perfume on Jesus in preparation for his burial.  None of the disciples seemed to realize that Jesus was really going to die just as he had been telling them. Jesus honors her by saying that her beautiful act would be told in her memory wherever the gospel would be preached throughout the world (Mk 14:9).

This extravagance along with Jesus’ clear statement of his pending death was too much for Judas.  For Judas it time to cut his losses and salvage what he could monetarily by betraying Jesus. This delighted the chief priests who were more than happy to pay to get rid of Jesus. After this Judas looked for an opportunity to turn Jesus over to the chief priests (Mk 14:10-11). The story contrasts the woman, Mary (see John 12), and her devotion to Jesus with Judas and his betrayal of Jesus.  As we reflect on it we must ask ourselves who it is that we are really serving and if we are ready to give our all to honor Jesus.