hebrew jesus

It’s easy for us to forget that the message of Jesus and the entire Bible come from an intensely Hebrew context and worldview. Jesus was a Jew teaching Jews, and bringing the words of scripture back to their original Hebrew language and setting, understanding what the first Jewish hearers of those words would have understood, is the closest we can come to their original intent.

Star of Bethlehem

Dave Brisbin | 12.10.17
We know so little of Jesus’ birth and childhood. Only two gospels give us any information at all. Luke gives us most of what we traditionally know of Jesus’ birth and childhood, and Matthew gives us the story of the Magi. Who were these Magi, these wise men from the east? What was the star they followed and what do their gifts signify? Why did Matthew feel this story, above all and any other stories of Jesus’ nativity and early years, was the one to include in his narrative? 

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So many questions that we’ll never fully answer, but if we look at the Magi from a spiritual point of view and not just a historical one—bring the past right up into the present of our daily lives, it is shocking how relevant the Magi become. If we let them speak to us, if we put ourselves in their place, juxtaposed with the reality of our lives herenow, we find we can begin to see answers to the why and how of it all, even as we continue to speculate on the what.

Breath of God

Dave Brisbin | 11.19.17
The world and culture that produced our Scriptures is so different from ours that the very basis through which we understand the words we read in our translated texts—our worldview—has to be translated first in order to really understand the truth being conveyed. Try to imagine a world in which the workings of nature—from thunder and lightning to earthquakes and solar eclipses—are not scientifically understood, but ascribed directly to God. Imagine a complete dependence for survival on rains and weather, animals and crops, on family structure. An impossibly dark sky at night exploding with stars and the bright band of our galaxy as divine lightshow. Imagine living your life never seeing your own reflection, and the sense of self and identity that would entail.

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In a world like that, the most basic phrases relating to God and spirituality take on new meaning. Breath, wind, and spirit were all expressed by ancient Hebrews with the same word and so occupied the same space in their lives. To understand this central place of spirit in motion and breath is to begin to understand biblical spirituality. Here, with no analog in Western culture, perhaps the Hawaiian concept of aloha and island spirituality can come to our rescue and help us translate our own texts.

Repentance Without Regret

Dave Brisbin | 10.29.17
A nationally-known pastor writes of a sea change earlier in his life when he realized that he was no longer on a path he recognized or thought would lead where he really wanted to go. He wrote that he believed that we have a far too narrow view of repentance, that it meant “to think,” and he had much to rethink and repent. But if we really look at the etymology of the word repentance through five different languages, ancient and modern, we find that repentance is vastly broader than simply feeling regret or rethinking. 

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French, Latin, and Greek all stand between us and the original Hebrew that forms a major theme in Jesus’ teaching. The first words Jesus speaks in Mark is, “The waiting is over. The kingdom is here. Repent and believe the good news.” But when we look at repentance fully, we find not just a word, a single meaning, but an active process, another threeness that takes us from the sorrow of a path not taken to the renewing of mind that overcomes the fear of choosing altogether new directions. And it’s right there that Paul picks up the story and tells us of the kind of wounded sorrow that moves us toward a repentance that moves without any regret at all.

Out of Control

Dave Brisbin | 10.22.17
Looking at the record of increasing human awareness of the intimacy of God’s spirit recorded in scripture: from a wild, fearful presence on a mountaintop, to the shepherd-like pillars of cloud and fire leading the people of Israel, to the cloud standing outside the tent speaking to Moses, to that presence settling on and filling the tent and eventually the temple, to filling Jesus at his baptism, to the apostles at Pentecost…what of us? How do we move from the awareness of Spirit standing outside our tent to resting on and filling us as well? How do we receive the Holy Spirit? What does that even mean? And how do we know if we have that filling? 

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There are clues all over scripture to guide us, but only if we really pay attention to the context, to the backstory, to the larger experience of the people that show us what it really means to ask and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Much more than a verbal asking, a spoken prayer—and much more than the speaking of tongues, the awareness of God’s presence filling our tabernacle is life changing on every level.

Quo Vadis

Dave Brisbin | 10.15.17
At the end of John’s Last Supper account, Peter asks Jesus in the Latin version, “Quo vadis, domine?” Where are you going, Lord? Isn’t that the question we’ve all been asking since the very beginning and are still asking now? We’re still asking because a question this large, that encompasses all of life and all it means to be human, is not answered in a conversation. It’s not answered verbally at all, but in the actual following after…once we have discerned a general direction. And what is that direction? If we are willing to look at scripture in a different way, from Genesis to Revelation, the direction the Lord is going becomes apparent. 

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Looking at the Hebrew description of Presence, sometimes called shekinah glory—where and when it descends and where and when it is removed—we begin to see that it’s not the Presence that is changing, but our perception of where to look. If we can entertain the notion that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures together contain the record of the evolution of faith in a people collectively, the deep insights of certain individuals among them, both the problem and the solution, a description of where we have come from and where we’re going, then we will be prepared to see the where the Lord is going and to follow after in an ever-expanding experience of his Presence.

Leaving Home

Dave Brisbin | 8.27.17
In saying that Jesus’ hidden years show us a life of willingness to let go of anything that is not truth, to descend first, with no guarantee of ascension, just a promise…what does that look like? What does it mean in real life? Our lives? Piecing together the clues in the few stories we have in the Gospels, it looks like leaving home. Leaving everything that is familiar, comfortable and comforting, what has always been and seems secure and certain, stepping out into the unknown without a safety net, away from those on which you’ve always depended. We see Jesus leaving home four times in the Gospels—short bloodless, matter of fact descriptions with little or none of the raw human emotion and drama of such leavings, both for Jesus and his loved ones.

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From age twelve to thirty plus, he leaves the warmth and comfort of home to pursue his unswerving desire for truth. If we read between the lines and layer our own experiences of leaving home for college or summer camp, for the military, or job, spouse, prison, divorce—whether anticipating better or worse, it’s wrenching to leave what we know and love, and just as hard for those who love us. Are we willing to leave home? Sometimes literally, but always emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? Willing to leave what we think we know sustains us for something deeper, truer? If not, then we are not following the Way of Jesus.

The Hidden Years

Dave Brisbin | 8.20.17
Francis of Assisi is credited with saying that we should preach the Gospel continuously and use words where necessary. Taking his cue from Jesus, Francis understood that the Gospel was first a way of living life and only secondarily and of necessity a concept put into words. That words were only as good as the experience that gave them life. Jesus himself and his life itself is the message, the Way, but in our hyper-intellectualism, we miss all that, and in our focus on Jesus as God, we miss his life as a human, as a man—as scripture tells us: fully human, like us in all things, prone to all our weaknesses, learning and growing as we do, yet with an unquenchable desire to know truth, which brought him fully one with the Father, or as scripture puts it, “without sin.” What does that “gospel” look like, what does the shape of Jesus’ life tell us about the shape of ours? 

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Is all this really supported by our scripture? We know very little about Jesus’ life outside of his public ministry, but it’s by stringing together the clues of his first 30 hidden years, with some reading between the lines that we see what it really looks like to follow Jesus, to live a life that is always willing to let go of anything that is not truth, to descend before you ascend, to feel your way to the Father when there are no words to express the process. We focus on the teachings and healings of Jesus during his public ministry, but it’s only in understanding his hidden years, his life journey to his ministry that we can understand what his words really mean.

A Functional Heretic

Dave Brisbin | 7.30.17
How could an abundance of emphasis on the absolute love of God be a problem? What could go wrong? It is one of the ironies of my life and chosen profession that my absolute focus on the absolute nature of God’s love has placed me at odds with many of my Christian contemporaries, and though this over simplifies the nature of any controversy, it at least accurately expresses my intentions and the method in my “heresy.” At a recent gathering, in the midst of an energetic discussion, one man called me a “functional heretic,” a term I just loved and enthusiastically accepted. I knew what he meant: that I was someone pushing the envelope just short of too far to remain functioning within Christendom, remaining true to Jesus and his message even if expressed in radically different ways. But the reason I loved and accepted the term is because I believe it absolutely applies to Jesus as well. 

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Jesus never stopped being perfectly functional within Judaism, but in his attempt to cut through accepted doctrine and beliefs that had come to burden and separate the people from their God, he pushed the envelope as far as he could—eventually too far for the authorities to permit. And if we’re ever to understand and experience the freedom of Kingdom that Jesus was teaching and living, we’ll need to become functional heretics too, unafraid of the opinions of others and the disturbance of pushing the envelope just short of too far…

From Ab to Abba

Dave Brisbin | 6.18.17
On Fathers’ Day—Is our Father in heaven male? We call him Father after all…and “him.” Intellectually, most of us know God is spirit and neither male nor female, but emotionally, subconsciously, the feelings, the consequence of maleness surrounds our Western notion of God. To have been immersed in a male conception of God keeps him at a distance—the king, judge, executioner, administrator, creator/builder, lawgiver and standard bearer. We talk of the female attributes of our God: compassion, mercy, intimacy, love—but we really order our lives of faith and religion around the king, not the queen, Father, not Mother. Jesus had an ingenious way of dealing with this dilemma: while his people called God their Ab, Hebrew for father, he called his Father, Abba, the familiar, intimate name that Hebrew children use for their daddies to this day. 

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Without contesting the tradition of his people, Jesus brought into the relationship the sense of intimacy and compassion missing from a culturally male conception of God. There is a journey implied here, a journey Jesus took as preserved in the New Testament, a journey from Ab to Abba from father to mother, king to confidant, that we must all take if we really want to go where Jesus went.

Shrewd as Snakes

Dave Brisbin | 5.28.17
The theme of balance in kingdom life continues as we consider a very strange saying of Jesus: to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. In sending his followers out to teach and heal, what is he trying to tell them and by extension, us? To balance “shrewd,” as intelligent, thoughtful, discreet, practical, and cautious with “innocence,” characterized as simple, sincere, straightforward, without deceit is a difficult mix that seems to be in basic contradiction at first glance. But as with all of Jesus’ instructions, it’s not only possible, but necessary, of course. 

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And this balance must extend to the fundamental ways we look at life and faith, religion, and even scripture itself. When we apply Jesus’ balance to a view of the teachings of Paul and Jesus, what does it reveal? How does it change the way we look at the message being delivered? And how does it change how we apply those teachings to the everyday issues we face here and now? To balance a simple and straightforward approach to faith with the intelligence, practicality, and discretion of the snake can make all the difference, and give us permission to view the fundamentals of our faith in different ways.

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