John Markum

Book Review: Four Portraits, One Jesus

Few books have impacted my appreciation for the Scriptures like Four Portraits, One Jesus. In this book, Dr. Strauss deeply embraces the rich uniqueness of each Gospel account, while underscoring the complex intertwining of the accounts. Special attention is given to textual criticism in the early chapters, making way into the historical context leading up to the life of Jesus.

Each chapter on respective Gospel accounts also highlights the writers motive, approach, writing style, intended audience, and key themes. I particularly loved the attention to each writer-s literary style, and what that reveals about their purpose for writing. Previously, I would have found preciously little nuance between the Synoptic Gospels, but now I recognize each as extremely distinct, and yet corroborating with one another. John of course, stands out. The book addresses the theories behind these stark differences, and yet weaves it into the larger story of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

If you get and read this book, I believe you’ll fall deeper in love with the story of Jesus, and the Person Himself. Buy the book here on Amazon.

Pastor John

Was Jesus a Samaritan?

Recently at my church, I preached a message on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), and pointed out that the “Samaritan” in the parable was a type (symbolic imagery) of Christ. More than that, as having at least two Gentiles in His lineage, in a broad, technical sense, He would have been “Samaritan” in a manner of speaking.

As some might wonder, Wasn’t Jesus a Jew?, I thought it might be helpful to elaborate on the actual ethnic heritage of the Messiah, and what it actually means to be a Samaritan. In short, yes, Jesus was a Jew. He was of the House of David, from the tribe of Judah (Luke 3, Matthew 1), and His overwhelming ethnic background is defined by that. But there is more to the story…

It becomes apparent in the Gospel accounts that Jesus loves the Samaritans (especially in Luke and John). He goes out of His way to visit Sychar, a major Samaritan city, and reveals Himself as the Messiah to a woman at the well (John 4). And most notably, He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan referenced above, which highlights those despised and rejected of the “proper” Jews for being a “neighbor” to the man who fell among thieves in the narrative.

First, the Samaritans. Who were they? The name “Samaritan” likely came from the region they settled (“Samaria”), but the people known as the Samaritans go back to the times of the Divided Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 11:31-39). The Northern Kingdom (often referred to as the “Kingdom of Israel” or even “Kingdom of Samaria” in the Old Testament), consisting of 10 out of the 12 tribes of Israel, were taken captive by Assyria, while the Southern Kingdom, (often referred to as “Judah”, though it also included the tribe of Benjamin) were taken captive to Babylon. In both cases, a remnant was allowed to remain behind, but they were heavily taxed and oppressed by their new overlords (2 Kings 17:1-9).

Eventually both halves of the Kingdom of Israel were allowed to return, and the division and distrust that existed between the two had only deepened. To make matters worse, the Northern Kingdom of the 10 tribes had intermarried with their Assyrian overlord nation, and tainted their blood line with Gentiles (non-Jews). The Samaritans of Jesus day (John 4:9) were considered half-breeds by their neighboring “Jews”, and would have been slandered as such. The Samaritans, ironically would consider themselves the “true” Israelites, as their ancestors consisted of the original 10 (out of 12) tribes of Israel.

Religiously, they would have held a few (but significant) differences also. The Samaritans, after being rejected from worshiping in Jerusalem, and even sent away when attempting to help rebuild the Temple, built their own place of worship in Mt. Gerizim, which the woman at the well of John 4 also references. This act, of course, was viewed by the “real Jews” as nothing less than an occult, or worse, idolatry. The Samaritans of Jesus day, however, saw themselves as the true defenders of Judaism, preserving the Torah – the first five books, written by Moses, which contained their Law. While they rejected the rest of the prophetic books of our Old Testament, they were not the only ones. The Sadducees who held the greatest power base in the Temple of Jerusalem, and the controlling influence on the Sanhedrin also rejected the Prophets. It was primarily the Pharisees (but also a small, pious group known as the Essenes), who outnumbered both the Sadducees and Samaritan priests who accepted and affirmed what we know today as our complete Old Testament texts.

The net result is that the Samaritans and “Jews” considered each other imposters of God’s chosen “Israel”, and held deep rooted bitterness and hatred for the other. Genealogically, they had common ancestors within the nation of Israel. The Samaritans, however, were also part Gentile. A “Samaritan” could be a general reference to any compromised Jew who inter-married, or who was the offspring of Jews who inter-married with non-Jews (Such as Jesus). Specifically, it was a term to the descendants of the Asssyrian/Northern Kingdom after their captivity (which would exclude Jesus).

Back to the question, “Was Jesus a Jew or a Samaritan?”. This is an inherently flawed question, as it polarizes the answer to one of two possibilities in a false dichotomy. Samaritans were Jewish, just not full Jews. Likewise, Jesus was also part Gentile, by way of Ruth (a Moabite) and Rahab (a Canaanite), recorded in Jesus’ lineage in Matthew 1:5. So in a broad, general sense, one might consider Jesus to also be a “Samaritan”. However, Jesus has no known bloodline or family tree connecting Him to the Assyrians, nor does He seem to have any obvious familial relations to the 10 Tribes of the Northern Kingdom, before Jacob, the common ancestor of all 12 tribes of the nation.

It’s also interesting, and worth noting, that in John 8:48 Jesus is accused of being a Samaritan and demon possessed! Jesus responded to the accusation of demonic influence, but remained conspicuously silent about the Samaritan accusation. That doesn’t “prove” He was a Samaritan, but it is a subtle nod to my point. However, it’s also worth pointing out, that in the interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, He identifies Himself as a “Jew” by contrast to the Samaritans (“we… Jews”. John 4:22).

Getting hung up on this is unnecessary, however. It would be like suggesting that because I’m 3% Native American, that I’m not English/Scottish (of which I’m ethnically 70%). People and family trees are as fascinating as they are complicated. If you were to ask me out of context, “Are you Scottish?” I would probably say “No!” I see myself as an American, I’ve never even been to Scotland, nor have I ever identified with my Scottish ancestry. And yet, technically, I am at least ethnically Scottish!

Likewise, Christ was ethnically something like 98% Jewish from what we know in Scripture. Culturally, He was Jewish. But He was not Jewish exclusively. Like most of us, His lineage was at times complicated and messy. In His parable of the Good Samaritan, it was the Samaritan who bound the wounds of the man who fell among thieves, then lifted him onto His donkey, took him to an inn, and ensured his recovery. I assert that Jesus was doing much more than answering the question “Who is my neighbor?” He was revealing Himself through the Samaritan – the one rejected by those who considered themselves “real” Jews (like the priest and Levite in the parable). He is the very One who is able and willing to concern Himself with our pain and struggles; the One who heals us, and binds our wounds; the One who pours wine and oil (symbolic of the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit) to cleanse and seal our sin wounds, and delivers us to places of healing (such as His church), from our brokenness.

Let us embrace the real Jesus…

A son from a complicated family tree, to reach complicated and broken people like us.
A man who was born of Jewish heritage, yet given for the “whole world” to know God through Him.
A Savior who – even though we call Him a “Jew” – has a true heritage from Heaven – neither from Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile descent.
A Healer who identified with the hurting and marginalized, and was Himself “despised and rejected by men”.

Good Theology isn’t Enough

Hear me out… I’m not a heretic, I swear. Strong, Bible-based theology is a critical component to how we walk with Christ. I’d even argue that it’s the first and most important job of Pastors – to ensure the doctrinal integrity within the church. With that said, the problem with our systematic theology is that ultimately it’s a man-made categorization and classification of Biblical truth: We make absolute truth statements summarizing our understanding of Biblical teachings – but these are our statements, uninspired by God, and therefore possessing room for the possibility of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or error. For example…

Consider the crowds and the Pharisees who dismissed Jesus as not being the Messiah because they read in Isaiah that we wouldn’t know the origins of the Messiah, only that He would come from Bethlehem. And in John 7, the crowds say in verse 27, “However, we know where this man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.” and then later in the same scenario, “Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” But others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not coming from Galilee, is He? Has the Scripture not said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a dissension occurred in the crowd because of Him.” (v. 41-43).

To summarize… Some didn’t accept Jesus as the Christ, because they “knew” Jesus was from Nazareth not Bethlehem like the prophets had told them, and they had a somewhat obscure verse that convinced them they wouldn’t know where the Messiah had come from…

Except they didn’t know. Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem as the prophets foretold, and left for Nazareth, likely out of Egypt as a young boy until He began His public ministry. The irony, is that the crowd’s misinterpretation of the prophets resulted in them fulfilling the very prophecies they were quoting – they really didn’t know where He came from! They had excellent theology, poor execution. They needed solid orthodoxy (“pure doctrine”) and orthopraxy (“pure practices”).

Enter Asbury University of Wilmore, KY who has shared reports, videos, and now thousands of eye witnesses claiming a nearly two-week, 24-hour, nonstop revival has been building in momentum. The “Asbury Revival” in turn has inspired or influenced a series of other “revivals” around the nation including reports from Cedarville University and even more secular schools like Yale. With the arguably sensational reports of revival, repentance, salvations, and constant praise that almost seems akin to something you’d read out of Acts 2 with the Day of Pentecost, there’s been no shortage of internet preachers and Christians ready to accuse this revival of nothing but nonsense and attention seeking. Except the college has consistently been turning down several news stations offering to give their college and this revival national coverage.

I’m not writing today to call this (or other) revivals authentic, nor to label them as just emotional hype. But what I am writing to say, is that when God shows up, it defies our explanations. The best religious minds of Jesus’ day knew the Old Testament and the prophecies of the Messiah by heart, many of them memorizing the largest portions of the Torah and Isaiah. And yet they looked the incarnate God of the Universe straight in the eye – the very One they longed for and prayed for – and said, “Nah. Can’t be Him.”

It is inadequate to have strong doctrine, we must also have a strong relationship with the actual Living God of our theology. Here are a few thoughts I have for the Asbury Revival and the other similar occurrences we see around our nation right now:

  • I pray to God that it is real and sincere! I’ve been asking for revival among this generation before they even had labels like Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and so on. Our nation needs revival, and all of us who believe in Jesus know it.
  • God doesn’t operate on any of our agendas! What would real revival in our nation look like anyway? Do you really think Jesus wouldn’t shake the cart of our carefully formed religious systems like He did in the first century? Let’s hold our ideas of revival with very open hands…
  • Apply the Gamaliel Test. When the church was born in the book of Acts, the Sanhedrin turned to one of their oldest and wisest teachers, Gamaliel (who actually trained the Apostle Paul). Gamaliel’s advice was simple: Watch and see, Trust in God’s sovereignty, Stand on God’s side. He cautioned that if the early church was just a man-made effort it would come to nothing anyway, and they didn’t need to worry… but if it actually was from God, be careful that they didn’t end of fighting against God Himself. The Sanhedrin basically said, “Good idea!” and then immediately fought against the move of God anyway.
  • You can’t conjure a move of God. All we can do, is position ourselves to be receptive when God does show up. Authentic or not, there will likely be many who want to imitate what’s happening at Asbury, and for the most part, I want to say I hope it happens. But revival won’t happen because you planned it, but because you prayed for it.

Let’s not allow our pre-conceived ideas of how God “has to” bring revival get in the way of Him actually bringing revival on His terms. I believe we are the greatest threat to God not bringing revival in the first place. We have to come to God like Jesus in the garden and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” We must be sure that we leave plenty of room in our theology for God to still show up and destroy our expectations. Doctrine is important… but not more important than God Himself. Good theological statements are pinpoint specific where they should, and broad where they cannot be. But God Himself is infinite, so let’s be careful to not put Him in a box of our theological preferences. And let’s pray for the real God to bring real revival – even if it means we have to adjust our expectations.

Pastor John

Among the things that make me take notice, I also love that at the Asbury Revival there appears to be none of the following:

  • Professional sound/lighting
  • Nothing for purchase
  • Nothing to autograph
  • Zero Christian “celebrities”, at least none getting any attention.

Just a bunch of average, unknown, amateur young people. Leading a revival. “Smells” legit to me, and I hope it is.

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