Bible Study Moment: John the Baptist

In Luke’s account of the ministry of John the Baptist in Luke 3; John gives some practical answers to how the people should act after being baptized. Starting in verse 10 he tells them that those who have two shirts should share with those who have none, as well as sharing food; tax collectors should collect no more than they are authorized; soldiers should not cheat or harass anyone and be content with their pay.

The other gospel accounts don’t mention these specifics. The message in Matthew 3 is more “fire and brimstone”.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Ezekiel 16

I’m confident that we’ve all been told why Sodom was destroyed and what their sin was. In Ezekiel 16:49 the sin of Sodom is expressly stated and it is not what you’ve been told.

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (NIV)

For what it’s worth, this is in a passage that may have never been read in a church worship service. I’m saying that it represents the Lord God reading the riot act to the people of Israel.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Romans 8

“We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (CEB)

Romans 8:28 seems to be a favorite verse for those who believe God has a master plan for a person’s life and everything that happens is a part of that plan.

I disagree. I wonder if these people started with this belief and then see this verse as “proving” that belief.

The goal of reading the Bible is to hear what God is saying to us through it. This is very difficult because we bring our own preconceived ideas to what we read. One way around that is to look at the Bible as a whole, and if we do that we see that the Bible teaches that our actions have consequences and that we have free will; beginning with the garden of Eden in Genesis 3 and all or nearly all of the other stories in the Bible, which to me disproves the master plan idea.

So what is this verse saying? It is in a section of Romans 8 talking about hope while suffering. Now, how do I say this? No matter how badly we believe that we’ve messed up our life, like the lead voice in “Bohemian Rhapsody” (life had just begun but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away). If we allow God to work in our lives (or seek to follow God’s way or however you want to say it) God can and will bring about good results.


Mark Phillips


Bible Study Moment: Amos

Amos 5:24 was a favorite verse of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. based on how often he quoted it.

“But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (KJV)

Christianity Today has a fairly new feature, Close Reading, that is much like a devotional, and a very recent one on Amos 5 points out that this verse is in the midst of a passage concerning worship (see verses 18-27). The author also states that he still ponders why did God reject Israel’s worship. If he had written that he used to ponder that question that would make more sense to me, since the rest of his article/devotional leads the reader to conclude that worship without at least a call for justice is so incomplete as to be unacceptable to God.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment

President Carter’s home church is named Maranatha Baptist Church. In Shawnee, there is Maranatha Christian Academy. If you’ve ever wondered where this word comes from, the answer is 1 Corinthians 16:22. That is if you look in older translations, like the King James Version. More modern translations, like the NIV, say “Come Lord”. And now you know what it means.

Churches like ours tend to not talk about the second coming of Christ; perhaps because evangelical churches’ belief that the second coming will occur after conditions on earth are so bad that God will have to intervene has become so dominant. From what I’ve read, this understanding being so prevalent even in those churches occurred less than 200 years ago. From reading the Bible’s emphasis on justice, and the visions of God’s kingdom on earth I believe that the second coming will occur after we have properly made ready the world to receive its king (Christ) where values like justice and peace are supreme.

The link is to the song, “Maranatha” by Love Song from the album “The Everlastin’ Living Jesus Music Concert”. This is possibly the first record of Jesus Music – later renamed Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).

Mark Phillips


Bible Study Moment:

Early in Raiders of the Lost Ark two government agents come to talk with Indiana Jones and Marcus Brody about a German cable that has been intercepted, but the U.S. government doesn’t understand. This prompts Indy and Marcus to talk about the Ark of the Covenant. They say several things that don’t agree with the Bible even though they cite the Bible as being the source for some of them. I’m going to focus on the last thing Marcus Brody says, that the army that has the ark is invincible.

Let’s look at 1 Samuel 4, 5, &6. In chapter 4, the Israelites have suffered a defeat to the Philistines, so they get the ark so that they will be able to defeat them in the next battle. In the first battle about 4,000 Israelite soldiers died. In the next battle with the Ark of the Covenant to lead them 30,000 die, and it is the Philistines who carry the ark away from the battlefield.

So this Israelite army was hardly invincible. Maybe things will go better for the Philistines.

In chapter 5, the Philistines put the ark in the temple for their god, Dagon, in Ashdod. After the statue of Dagon falls in front of the ark in pieces, and the people of Ashdod are struck with tumors, the Philistine rulers (5 kings) decide to move the ark to Gath. The people there also are struck by tumors, so they try to move the ark to Ekron, but the people there want no part of it. So the decision is made to send the ark back to the Israelites. Can you picture the climactic scene in Raiders being God striking the Germans with tumors?

In chapter 6 the Philistines put the ark on a cart, hitch two nursing cows to it, include 5 gold tumors and 5 gold mice as an offering and drive the cattle toward the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh, and decide if the cattle stay on the road and actually make it to Beth-shemesh then that means that the Israelite god is responsible for the tumors; but if the cattle wander off then this all happened randomly. The cattle and the ark make it to Beth-shemesh.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment

Luke gives his first details of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 4:14-30. There is mention of previous activities of Jesus in Capernaum, but now Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth and in the synagogue.

Evidently if a man wanted to speak in the worship service he would stand to indicate that. Jesus stands up and is handed the scroll of Isaiah. He reads from Isaiah 61.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then Jesus sits down and proclaims, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

At first they are impressed with Jesus but then he starts saying things they don’t like, enough so that they try to throw him off the nearby cliff, but he slips away!

The part I was most familiar with in this passage is “Physician, Heal Thyself” which is a proverb Jesus quotes in verse 23.

Included in the parts that got those in the synagogue mad are from stories that indicate that even though God is known primarily in Jewish history, God is much more than just a Jewish god.

Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment

Matthew & Mark record Jesus’ message at the beginning of his ministry in similar ways. Mark records Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God comes near. Repent, and believe the good news!” While Matthew has “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Both are from NIV.)

In a class I took in college, the Lutheran minister who was teaching the class said that Matthew probably didn’t use “kingdom of God” because he had a Jewish audience in mind who might take offense at “kingdom of God” so he changed it to “kingdom of heaven”.

Maybe Matthew’s original readers and hearers understood what he meant but sometime over 2000 years many people have understood “kingdom of heaven” as more of a prediction that the world is ending and judgement day is coming. (Repent! The end is near!) One biblical scholar shared in the forward of a book of his that I read that he understood Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher (the world is ending); and that since the world is still here almost 2000 years later, that that proved to him that Jesus was wrong, and so he “lost his faith”.

Another way of thinking of the kingdom of God or heaven coming is that we will relate to God in a different way. And that did happen due to Jesus ministry, death, and resurrection; establishing the church. There is also the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the Jews losing their homeland about 40 years later that would have been seen by them as the end of the world.


Mark Phillips


Bible Study Moment

I’m going to look at how Jesus’ ministry begins in each of the four gospels.

First, John: The beginning of the ministry of Jesus is very low key in John. In chapter 1, a couple of days after John the Baptist has baptized Jesus, he tells two of his disciples when he sees Jesus, “Look! The Lamb of God!” and the two leave John and begin following Jesus. One of them is Andrew, who after spending the rest of the day with Jesus goes and gets his brother, Simon and brings him to Jesus, who quickly renames him Cephas, which is translated Peter, which is the name we know him best.

The next day Jesus finds Philip, who becomes a disciple and finds his friend Nathanael, who becomes disciple number 4. These stories are in John 1:35-51.

Then in John 2:1-12 is the wedding at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine after being prompted by his mother, which John calls Jesus first sign (or miracle).

So John doesn’t introduce Jesus with any special message from Jesus, unlike the other gospels.


Mark Phillips


Bible Study Moment: Joshua 22

Joshua 22 has a story that we might be able to learn from.

Two and a half of the twelve tribes had decided that they would settle in land east of the Jordan River, and received Moses’ approval before he died. They had the condition that the men of fighting age needed to help the other tribes get settled west of the Jordan. That has been deemed to have happened and the men are going back across the Jordan. Shortly after they erect an altar. The reaction of the other 9 ½ tribes is to go to war against them because they believe the ones east of the river have sinned against the Lord, worshipping some other god.

Before attacking, they send some leaders including the high priest, who recount recent history of others who have disobeyed God and the consequences for all of them.

The leaders of the 2 ½ tribes respond (and I am very loosely paraphrasing) No! No! No! You don’t understand. This isn’t an altar but a tower of witness reminding future generations that we are a part of Israel, in case your children say our children are not a part of them.

So war is averted. What strikes me about this is how quickly the one group is to think the worse of their fellow Israelites. And how much like them we can be, quick to assign the worse reasons for somebody’s actions and/or words that we disagree with. Like maybe the golden rule applies here, and we should judge other people’s motives the same way we would like them to judge ours.


Mark Phillips