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Jesus and Food

Have you ever noticed how much time Jesus spends eating and drinking with his friends in the Gospels? Many of his most famous miracles revolve around food. Even when He’s not doing miracles, He’s often attending feasts, having meals, or feeding people. What can we learn from these encounters, be they mundane or miraculous? Here are three simple truths we learn from this investigation:

  1. Jesus cares about our physical needs and had needs of his own
  2. Jesus used food to teach spiritual truths
  3. Jesus is all about relationships – often through a shared meal

These may not be ground-breaking, mind-blowing revelations, but if you think about them you can see how important they are. 

 

Food and Physical Necessity

There is nothing more basic to life than the need to eat and drink. Even at the simplest level, we can understand why so much of Jesus’ time was spent around food. But what does this say about Jesus? No need to overthink it – this tells us quite simply that He was human. He had needed just like the rest of us. He needed and even enjoyed, food. 

While so much of Jesus’ ministry shows us that Jesus was, indeed, fully God, the fact that He got hungry confirms that His body functioned just the same as any other man. But what we see is not Jesus being served a kingly portion as He clearly deserved. Instead, we often see Jesus serving the food. On several occasions, He even feeds multitudes of people. 

So we also learn that Jesus cares about the physical needs of others. He is lowly and compassionate, not above the common concerns of normal people. You might expect the greatest spiritual leader of all time to spend his life meditating in a tower, detached from the dirt and filth of the world. Instead, we have the God who showed up, who became one of us, and not just in appearance. He cares for us because He loves us and because He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as we read in Hebrews 4:15.

 

Spiritual Food

While Jesus cares about the physical needs of those He loves, He clearly prioritizes spiritual needs. So, while we see Him feeding multitudes, we also see Him going without food on many occasions. Consider the most obvious example of His fast in the wilderness where He ate nothing at all for 40 days. Or the time in John 4:33-34 where His disciples were concerned that Jesus was hungry and asked themselves “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus responded, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

Still, Jesus was a master teacher, and he regularly used food imagery in His sermons. In John 6:35, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life. Whoever eats this bread, He said, will never hunger, and whoever believes in Him will never thirst. While saying this, Jesus referred back to the time when God miraculously provided bread from heaven to keep the wandering Israelites alive in the wilderness. He is the true bread that comes down from heaven to give life. 

When Jesus established the New Covenant, He gave us the sign of the Covenant, which is the bread and wine. These are His flesh and blood, as he tells us in Luke 22:19-20. Again and again, Jesus used the most basic elements of life, food, and drink, to teach the most profound truths.

 

Food and Relationships

Perhaps one of the best reasons that we see Jesus so involved with food is that He was so involved with people. Relationships were His priority. As He spent time with people He found that their needs frequently centered around food and drink. Consider the first recorded miracle of Jesus, the changing of water into wine. Jesus did not perform this miracle to amaze the crowds. He did it because of His love for His mother, and because of His relationship with the family at the wedding. 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus dines with people in order to establish a relationship with them. In Mark 2 we find Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners. It’s not that Jesus likes a good party; He wanted to reach those who needed Him most. Similarly, in Luke 7 he eats with Pharisees. And of course in Luke 22, Jesus prepares the Last Supper and shares the meal with the Twelve right before His crucifixion. He does this to spend time with them, converse with them, get to know them, and let them know Him. It is the very heart of relationship, and Jesus finds many opportunities to engage with people He loves while sitting around a dinner table. 

 

Conclusion

Jesus was not simply a man, but he was fully human. We see this clearly in his relationship to food. He was hungry on many occasions, so He sympathizes with our physical needs. But Jesus also knew that such needs are temporary, while that which is spiritual is eternal. So, as a master teacher, He used the physical (the temporal) to teach eternal truths. And of course, He built relationships with His friends, disciples, and even enemies while sharing a meal. Jesus’ relationship with food was not complicated; in fact, it was quite typical. But what we can learn from His interactions with something so common is truly profound.

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John’s Seven Signs

What is Truth? Pilate’s question in John 18:38 reveals the tragic irony of a judge appointed to find the truth while denying even the existence of such a concept. Yet, Truth (with a capital T) stood before him in the flesh and he was blind to it. Pilate, however, was not looking for His coming. 

The nation of Israel was burdened under the yoke of the Roman occupation and the air in the land had become electric with anticipation for the one who would deliver God’s people from their oppressor. Zealous Jews hung on Roman crosses in the middle of Jerusalem for their refusal to submit to their new lords as they waited for the coming of the Messiah. 

It is into this environment that the God of the universe entered as a humble man, ready to present His Gospel to a people over-ripe for saving. They were looking intently for His coming, and, amazingly, He showed up. Those witnessing Jesus’ arrival had a unique opportunity. Jesus says “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Mt. 13:16-17 ESV).

 

John’s Gospel

But something truly tragic occurred as this man, Jesus, stepped in among His own. John 1:11 tells us, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” Just as Jesus’ testimony to Pilate had fallen on deaf ears, so too His words of truth died on the ears of a people who only claimed to long for His coming.

John lamented the fact that his own people could not see “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (Jn. 1:9), who had come into the world to gather His people to Himself, a lament reflected as Jesus Himself cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt. 23:37). 

John’s distress over the faithlessness of God’s people is a major feature of his gospel. John does not want anyone else to miss the greatness of the Truth who came to His own. He tells us plainly at the end of his Gospel that he has written: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). 

This is the purpose for which John wrote his Gospel – that we may believe where others failed. This is why he has recorded for us the example of the Jewish rejection of the long-awaited Messiah, and why he has given us a record of the horrible injustice of Jesus’ trial before Pilate where truth would not be heard. For this reason, John gives us the Seven Signs as evidence. Now, let’s take a closer look at these signs.

 

Purpose of the Signs

What are these signs, and why does John call them ‘signs’? They are demonstrations of who Jesus is, and opportunities for His people to believe or reject Him. 

What does this tell us about John’s purpose in writing his gospel? At least three purposes can be identified as to what these signs are doing in this text:

  1. They teach something about the nature of Christ.
  2. They provide opportunities for the Jewish witnesses to believe. 
  3. They provide witness to the rejection of the Messiah by His people.

So given the role of signs in the gospel of John, we might rightfully ask how they are distinct from so many other miracles recorded in the other gospels. There are a great many differences, as well as similarities, between the specific “signs” and the more common miracles of Christ. A “sign” is not essentially a miraculous act, though it may be miraculous. A “sign” is a significant act that, when properly understood, symbolizes eternal realities proving Jesus’ identity. That is to say, a sign may not necessarily be a miracle, but it must point to some eternal truth beyond itself. 

Concerning this last point, there is some debate. Many scholars equate John’s use of the Greek word σημεῖον with the word miracle. As we will see, there are seven signs, and six of them are unanimously included in the list. Differing opinions concerning the criteria for naming the signs leads to disagreement over what the final sign should be. So, let’s look at what makes something a sign.

 

What Makes a Sign a Sign?

Signs have a certain ‘criteria’ which they must meet in order for them to be considered signs, and these are related to the purposes already mentioned.

  1. Each sign must point to some eternal truth regarding the identity of Christ.
  2. Each sign must be performed in the presence of Jesus’ disciples.
  3. Each sign must also be performed in the presence of a Jewish audience.

Jesus performed many miracles but not all were signs. John includes these seven signs each for a specific reason. Each of the signs points to a different aspect of Christ’s identity and serves to teach both the disciples and now the modern reader about who Jesus really is. Notice that none of these requirements mentions that it must be miraculous in nature. 

 

The Seven Signs

So then, what are the seven signs included in John’s gospel? All seven come from the first half of the book, between chapters 2 and 11. 

  1. Jesus changes water into wine. (2:1-11)
  2. The cleansing of the Temple. (2:13-22)
  3. The healing of the nobleman’s son. (4:46-54)
  4. The healing of the lame man. (5:1-15)
  5. The feeding of the multitude. (6:1-15)
  6. The healing of the blind man. (9:1-41)
  7. The raising of Lazarus from death. (11:1-44)

Each of these is deserving of its own article showing exactly how they each fulfill their purpose as signs, but that will have to wait for another time. Now, take some time to read through each of these with a new perspective.

The sign that stands out among the rest is #2, the cleansing of the Temple. There is no miracle involved, yet it meets all the criteria. It demonstrates that Jesus is the ultimate Temple, the Holy One of Israel. The sign that is most commonly included in the list in its place is Jesus walking on water. However, while it is a significant miraculous event, it does not meet the criteria of a sign as there is no audience apart from the disciples. For further reading, Andreas Köstenberger does an excellent job explaining why this distinction is important. 

 

Conclusion

This blog began with the famous question, “What is Truth?” Jesus is the Truth, John answers. Through a multitude of signs and evidence, Jesus proved to be the Truth. That was one of the most important reasons for the incarnation – as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God was revealing Himself to His creation like never before. Amazingly, nearly everyone Jesus encountered refused to accept God’s truth even when presented with exactly the sort of evidence they would need in order to believe. These signs stand as testimony of God’s faithfulness and of human unfaithfulness.

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The Taxman Cometh: Why did Jews in the Bible hate tax collectors?

If you had to nominate a group for “Most Hated People in Scripture,” tax collectors would probably be the first to mind. In fact, tax collectors are singled out for scorn directly or indirectly over 30 times in the gospels. 

In democratic societies, the tax collector plays an important, but annoying role in sustaining a system that ultimately benefits the citizenry. In the gospels, however, the tax collector is a whole different animal and Jewish hatred for them is palpable. Thus, people do not respond well when Jesus embraces them in repentance as followers and even makes one as His close disciple.

 

The Question

So a natural question would be: “Why do the Jews of the gospel era feel such a profound hatred for tax collectors?” 

The answer to this question is a bit of a history lesson. So, bear with me while I tell you a story. The tax collectors don’t come in until the end, but when they do, perhaps you will hate them just as much.

 

The Story Answer

The Jewish self-consciousness of Jesus’ day is intimately bound up with the lost glory days of the Davidic kings and the centuries of struggle under foreign rule following their exile. 

David himself establishes as free of a society as one might hope for in the ancient world. It is like a proto-constitutional republic. The people covenant with the house of David to be their kings. The sons of David are sworn to rule by Torah, and by principles of shepherd leadership, as spiritual equals with the people. Given the corruptive nature of power, this doesn’t always work out so well, but between exodus and exile, they are at least ruled by brothers and not foreigners. Throughout these years they are fed spiritually through the prophets on the promises of a reestablished Davidic rule, where Messiah will restore all things to proper order. 

After being in exile, the Jewish people are allowed to return to their homeland, but they remain under foreign control. They are kicked about like a soccer ball for a few centuries between competing empire builders. Life is not too terrible when these foreign rulers leave the Jewish people to their own devices in exchange for tribute raised through taxes. 

During the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, however, things take an ugly turn. Antiochus hates the Jews and is determined to crush them through various means. He seduces Jewish youths to the dark side of Hellenistic life. He also bans Torah, interferes in Jewish religious practices, and defiles their sacred sites. 

The Jews push back hard against Antiochus and win their freedom, living under their own brother rulers for the first time since the exile. This is no Davidic Messianic reign, but it does seem to the Jews to be an important step in that direction. When Messiah comes, surely their Jewish rulers will hand over power to Him.  

Not surprisingly, Jewish power struggles get messy and some 60 years before Jesus’ birth, hard-won Jewish freedom is lost to Rome. The Jews find themselves yet again under foreign rule. Rome begins by working with existing Jewish leadership, but the level of Roman control and interference grows steadily as the decades pass. 

Herod the Great, a pseudo-Jewish Roman representative, proves despotic in psychotic ways. Upon his celebrated death, Rome divides power between Herod’s surviving heirs, and, eventually, appoints purely Roman prefects over various parts of old Davidic territory. Dreams of Messiah never seem less likely, and are, for that very reason, most pronounced. If ever the Jewish people needed Yahweh to fulfill His Messianic promises, it is then. 

 

The Taxman Cometh

So what do we have? We have a people nurtured on unprecedented levels of freedom, nursed on great Messianic hopes for a divine peaceable kingdom, raised in the great light of Torah, who descend into the madness of pagan domination for centuries. They have been abused, bullied, tormented, tortured, and murdered. They are daily prevented from being the people they believe God has called them to be, and the oppression of it weighs heavily upon them. 

It gets worse. Taxes under the Roman Empire are complicated and layered. Companies buy the right of taxation for regions, guaranteeing Rome a certain income into their coffers, and receiving in exchange a free hand to pick the pockets of the people. It is a thoroughly corrupt system greased and protected with bribery. The lowest men are appointed at the bottom rung to do the dirtiest job; the actual confiscation of funds. These are men who take special pleasure in exercising power over others and pressing every advantage they have over them to the full. 

There are crown taxes, income taxes, property taxes, produce taxes, bridge taxes, road taxes, harbor taxes, import taxes, export taxes, town taxes, special taxes on certain goods, some as high as 12 ½ %. Any attempt to move goods to market involves constant harassment. On command, farmers have to unload their goods, allow them to be searched, assessed, and taxed at the discretion of the tax collector. 

Common people are always vulnerable to false accusations and the penalties for nonpayment by cash-poor farmers can be extreme. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-34 tells it true, saying, “…since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made,” and we find, “seizing him, he began to choke him, … and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” 

It gets worse still. Many Jewish people throw in their lot with the oppressors. The common Jewish person might not be able to say much about their leaders whose power and wealth was largely dependent on continued Roman support of their leadership, but another class of betrayer is ready at hand for their ire—the Jewish tax collector. They are the greedy, smug, sneering, mocking face of Roman oppression worn by fellow Jews, who, but for their abandonment of faith in the promises of God, would have been brothers in arms. They are ranked with murderers and the grossest of sinners. 

 

Good News, Bad News

It is just too much to bear. In the complex experience of this betrayal, frustration boils over. It is important, as we read the gospels, to feel the depth of it. We must know their crimes, and look on knowingly with the crowds and Pharisees as Jesus says to one of the chiefs of these wicked men, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today,” and then, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”  (Luke 19:5-9)  We must feel what it was for the people to look on as these turncoats come to Jesus, like prodigal sons fattened upon the stolen wealth of their brothers, and to find Jesus accepting their repentance and rejoicing, He claims, with the angels. 

It should affect us deeply. Jesus’ forgiveness does not diminish their crimes, rather, it exalts the grace and mercy of God. Indeed, no class of sinner is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit’s conviction or the Father’s forgiveness.

And that is good news for you and me, the Chief of Sinners. 

 

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