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.

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.

When Dad Acts Like Mom

Dave Brisbin | 5.14.17
Mothers’ Day: I was recently asked that though we know God loves us, how can we know he likes us? Great question, one that goes to the heart of our human experience. On Mothers’ Day, and by way of answering, it’s always good to be reminded of the ancient Hebraic understanding of the roles of mother and father that is coded right into their language. To understand father/Ab, as “strong house,” the support and structure of the family, and mother/Em as “strong water,” the glue that holds the family together, is fundamental to their life in family, tribe, and nation. But it also reveals their view of God as well. 

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Though God is always referred to in the masculine, Hebrews never understood their God as male, but with key divine concepts such as wisdom and kingdom referred to as feminine, they saw God as a balance between the justice and mercy, accomplishment and relationship that father and mother represent. We can know, understand that God loves us through reading, study, and ritual practice, but we will never know God likes us, enjoys our company, feels personal devotion to us until we experience him as loving mother. Jesus portrayed his Father in just such a way in the parable of the prodigal son—and until we have experienced enough moments when dad acts like mom, we will never know we’re liked as well as loved.

Fear’s Rules

Dave Brisbin | 5.7.17
The cross of Jesus is such a big and central message in Christianity that we need to spend more time on it. So continuing the discussion from the previous week’s message, “Lamb of God,” and in answer to the perennial questions—why is the bible so violent, and why would God sacrifice his son?—we’re looking at deeper ways of understanding Calvary that neither compromise the sacrifice of Jesus nor the love of the Father. In typical midrash fashion (see the message “Deeper Reading” for more on midrash), the New Testament writers portray Jesus on the cross using three deeply embedded images from the Old Testament: the Passover Lamb, the Lifted Up One, and the Scapegoat. To fully understand how Jesus’ first followers understood his sacrifice on the cross, we need to know how these three images functioned in the spiritual lives of the people and how they applied to the spiritual truth of Jesus’ sacrifice. 

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As we dig deeper, we find that all three point us toward a deep gaze at ourselves, at our intrinsic nature as humans that necessitate a laying down of blame, resistance, justification, and anything else we use to deflect our own pain and personal responsibility. When we really understand what Jesus became when he became the “sin of the world,” we can begin to understand the nature of a sacrifice that will really set us free and save us to love as the Father loves.

Lamb of God

Dave Brisbin | 4.30.17
No matter what questions we ask of religion or church, scripture or theology, the subtext, the question we’re always really asking is the same: with all life’s pain, uncertainty, absurdity…do I matter? Am I safe? Whether we’re asking about heaven, hell, salvation, law, or any esoteric point of theology, what we’re really looking for is assurance, confidence in our own acceptability. That’s the human condition. And so it also is as we ask about the cross, about what it really means, and how Jesus as Lamb of God, an innocent blood sacrifice, impacts the nature of a God who Jesus tells us is absolutely all loving. Is there a way to understand the Lamb and the sacrifice in such a way that God’s loving nature is not compromised? 

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The answer lies in the context of the cross. Just as the letters of Paul are always answers to questions that are left unstated, we can’t understand how his answers are true until we know the context within which they are true. The context of the cross, the unstated question, is salvation—but our beliefs about salvation affect the way we see the cross’ answer. Understanding what the ancients who wrote our scripture believed about salvation, understanding what the “sin of the world” is that the Lamb takes away, and how we come to the cross ourselves to journey with Jesus will point us in a new direction where love and sacrifice connect without compromising either.

Deeper Reading

Dave Brisbin | 4.23.17
Just as Jesus’ closest friends were kept from recognizing him after the Resurrection because of their limiting expectations and beliefs, we are kept from seeing the deeper meaning of scripture for the same reason. But even to make such a statement that interprets a passage of scripture beyond the strictly literal meaning of the text demands some explanation. What is an acceptable method of scriptural interpretation that can take us to a deeper reading, a reading beyond the literal, moving us to a spiritual understanding and relevance for our daily lives that is still consistent with the author’s original intent? To answer that question, we need to know how the writers of scripture understood the interpretation of sacred texts in their own time. 

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The ancient Rabbis of Judaism used four increasingly deeper methods of pulling meaning from their sacred books. Here, we focus on just one, the one they called “midrash” and see how its use can take legitimately us to a deeper reading of each of the passages associated with the days of Holy Week, and especially how we can understand the events of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in deeper terms. If we can’t expand our notion of how to read scripture in a deeper way, the way the authors of scripture intended, how will we ever come to a deeper reading of a text that was written to be always living and active in our daily lives?

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