THE BAKER OF
a new novel,
plays out in the time of Jesus. How does the baker
of the village perceive the young rabbi?
New studies are put on
top. Scroll down for previous ones.
Plants in the
trees are common in Africa and the Middle East where they have been
cultivated for millennia. Wild fig trees are found in tropical forests,
where their fruit is cherished by a variety of birds and mammals.
are actually the fig tree's flowers that gradually ripen to sweet
delicacies. Wild figs are about cherry-sized; cultivated figs are
heart-shaped and can be as large as peaches in spring.
fig species produce three crops: in spring, mid-summer, and late-summer.
People enjoy figs in various forms: fresh ripe figs; green figs preserved in
syrup; ripe figs canned as jam; and ripe figs dried individually or as a
pulp spread in a thin layer on a tray.
Old Testament refers to fig trees when either pointing to a time of plenty
or to a time of want. Israel was promised fruitful vines and fig trees if
they stayed loyal to their God, but unfaithfulness would end in failed crops
for their vines and fig trees.
Sitting in the cool shade of one's own vine or fig tree during the hot hours
of the day was seen as an epitome of peace and prosperity. When they started
to serve idols, this luxury was taken from them.
fig tree stories dominate the New Testament record about this plant species.
Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that got special attention but
remained unfruitful. It stood in a vineyard and shared in the fertilizing,
watering and weeding the vines received. The privileged but fruitless tree
portrayed Israel's poor response to God's care. The owner wanted to cut the
tree down, but the gardener suggested giving it another chance. If the tree
did not respond to his efforts, he would chop it down the next year.
Jesus searched in vain for figs on a roadside fig tree covered in leaves, he
said that no one would ever eat from that tree. The tree withered right
away. Although Mark says it was not the time for (ripe) figs, there should
have been unripe figs on the tree, because early figs bud when the first
leaves do. This tree portrays those who put up a show to impress others
without bearing spiritual fruit.
Jesus informed the disciples about the end-time, he said that as the budding
fig tree shows summer is near, so the signs he gave them will show when the
end-time is imminent.
The Book of
Revelation also links the fig tree to the end-time. When the sixth seal was
opened, John saw the sun turned black and the moon red while "stars" fell as
late figs fall from a tree in strong wind.
vine's stem is crooked and its branches sloppy, but with man's help it can
climb up and make an attractive and shady pergola.
flourish in rocky, well-drained, and calcium-rich soil where many other
plants will struggle. On a hot summer day, a vineyard provides welcome shade
and juicy grapes for the refreshment of the weary labourer.
Noah's time grapes have been used to produce wine that makes the heart of
man glad (Ps. 104). However, like most good things, wine can cause harm when
abused (Prov. 23).
the Bible, the vine is seen as a metaphor of God's kingdom. The prosperity
and serenity of the Promised Land is portrayed as a place where everyone
sits under his own vine and fig tree (Mic. 4, Zech. 3). These plants have
large leaves that provide ample shade in Israel's hot climate. It symbolizes
God's providence and protection against harmful influences.
King Solomon's love song, he often refers to his "vineyard" as symbol of his
beloved, while "wine" resembles their love and kisses. Her breasts remind
him of grape clusters. In a happy family, the mother is painted as a
fruitful vine and the children as young olive trees around the table (Ps.
Israel's success in the time of King David and Solomon is described as a
vine sending its branches out far and wide, climbing over the wall around
the vineyard (Ps. 81). Their inability to stay the course is like a
well-kept vine that rewards its diligent owner with sour grapes (Is. 5).
compared himself to a vine and his disciples as the branches that draw sap
from the vine (John 15). When his followers stay in contact with him, they
will bear much fruit to the glory of God.
also referred to the workers in the vineyard. The son who at first refuses
to work in the vineyard, but then decides to comply, has done the father's
will; the one who promises to work in the vineyard, but never does, has not
done the father's will. With this parable Jesus stressed the uselessness of
calls people to work in his vineyard at different times of their life; in
the end they receive the same reward (Matt. 20).
Jesus, Israel was like vinedressers who refuse to give the owner his share
of the harvest; they even kill the messengers sent by the owner (Matt. 21).
Jesus instituted the Last Supper, he said that the cup pointed to his blood;
he added that he would not drink of the fruit of the wine until the day he
would drink it new in his Father's kingdom (Matt. 26).
Forests are called the lungs of the earth, but in fact lungs and plants are
opposites. Lungs release carbon dioxide and take up oxygen; plants take up
carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
you like to be a tree? Some live for more than thousand years and grow to
over hundred feet tall. Their roots reach down to underground water, making
downside is they stand at the same spot all their lives, exposed to the
elements: summer, winter, gales, hail, lightning and fire. That won’t be too
bad in fertile soil and in a temperate climate, but to be rooted on a rocky
ridge in freezing temperature will make life one long hardship.
Bible compares people to trees. Those nourished by God’s word are like trees
along a stream: they get enough moisture, nutrients and sunshine to be
fruitful (Ps. 1). Those who find their strength in the house of the Lord
will stay strong and fruitful even in old age, like palms and cedars (Ps.
92). In the New Jerusalem there will be a stream with fruitful, healing
trees on its banks (Ezek. 47, Rev. 22), symbolizing the benevolent influence
of believers in this life and the next.
see trees as a safe haven for nesting and raising their young (Ps. 104). The
kingdom of heaven is compared to a tiny mustard seed that grows to become a
tree in which the birds nest. Likewise, believers should be a haven for the
differ from one another. Good trees bear good fruit, and bad ones bad fruit.
Their fruit not only differ in quality but also in type: grapes do not grow
on thorn-bushes or figs on thistles. As trees are known by their fruit, so
people are known by their deeds (Matt. 7).
Israel is compared to an olive tree (Rom. 11). Those who rejected Jesus as
Messiah are like olive branches cut off from the cultivated olive tree. As a
result, the gospel has been sent to the Gentiles, who have been grafted,
like wild olive branches, onto the cultivated tree. Gentiles should not
boast because they are carried by the roots of the cultivated tree. God may
graft some severed branches back onto the original tree.
Baptist warned Israel against false security, thinking they are safe as
children of Abraham. Not their physical blood-line but their spiritual
response will show where they stand. The axe lay ready at the roots of the
trees; those who do not bear the fruit of true repentance will be cut down
(Matt. 3). Paul described the fruits of the flesh and the fruit of the
Spirit (Gal. 5).
Bible refers to grain, wheat and bread hundreds of times. Two thousand years
before Christ, Abraham and Melchizedek, priest-king of Jerusalem, broke
bread together (Gen. 14).
the exodus, the Passover and Week of Unleavened Bread were instituted (Ex.
12). Later, the Feast of First Fruits was added three days after Passover
(Lev. 23). Then the first sheaf of barley was brought as an offering. Fifty
days later, Pentecost marked the end of the grain harvests.
calls Jesus' resurrection the first fruits of those who died (1 Cor. 15).
Fifty days after the crucifixion, the Holy Spirit came to live in believers.
Three thousand accepted Christ as their Saviour—a great harvest indeed (Acts
the holy part of the temple was a table with show-bread, reminding the
nation that God sustained them daily. God fed them with manna in the desert
for forty years, teaching them that man does not live from bread alone but
from all God's words (Deut. 8:3). When they entered the Promised Land and
ate its bread, the manna stopped falling (Josh. 5:12).
compared himself to manna, saying that he is the bread of life. Those who
ate manna died, but those who believe in him will have eternal life (John
6). On two occasions he fed thousands with a few loaves, showing that he is
the source of true sustenance.
his model prayer, Jesus taught his followers to trust God for their daily
bread. He used bread and wine at the Last Supper to remind his disciples
that he gave his body and blood for their salvation. By partaking of this
sacrament, Christians even today indicate that they stand with Christ and
accept his atoning sacrifice as all-sufficient for salvation.
several of Jesus' parables, he explained spiritual truth by pointing to
grain fields. As some seed fall on the road, rocky places, among thorns, or
on good soil, so the word of God may also land in four kinds of people.
Although farmers may not fully understand the growth process, they sow the
seed, watch it grow, and bring in the harvest. Likewise, we do not fully
understand spiritual growth, but we must sow the seed of the gospel
kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into the dough, changing its structure
from the inside. Followers of Christ should also be a good influence in
society, changing it from the inside like yeast and salt.
tries to harm God's kingdom by sowing weeds among the wheat. The two will be
separated in the last judgment. John the Baptist predicted that Christ will
separate the wheat from the chaff, taking the wheat to his barn but burning
the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The preamble of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms declares: "Whereas Canada is founded upon
principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:" The
words "whereas…founded upon" establish the preamble as the premise or
foundation on which the Charter stands.
Some want the
God-clause removed because it contradicts freedom of religion. Others admit
that a power higher than the state is needed to protect us from abuse by the
state. Others think that the God-clause recognizes the historical path by
which our values have come.
religion does not cancel or contradict the preamble, because freedom is not
absolute. Rights and freedoms (e.g. speech) are limited by law and common
sense. Minority rights do not cancel majority rights, because the Charter
affirms that Canadian government follows democratic principles, of which
majority rule is primary.
bodies, the judiciary, business, education and the media should take into
account that the majority of Canadians adhere to Christian faith. The
Charter recognizes God — why then is God ignored in public life? It
conflicts with the premise of the Charter, and may therefore be
Some regard separate meetings
for students with different religions as discriminatory. However, they do
accept that separate facilities for different sexes, teams, classes,
committees and caucuses are necessary. Why is the latter acceptable and the
Many feel that majority rights
are often sacrificed in favour of minority rights. By bending over backwards
too far, we may become undemocratic: moving from majority to minority rule.
Christian prayer and song have
been banned from public places to prevent offence to non-Christians. Did
Canadians stop eating ham and bacon in public because it may offend some
minorities? Should we stop serving up hotdogs and hamburgers at public
barbeques when the meat is not acceptable to all? It is difficult to please
all minorities: support for one group may offend others. Which group has
priority? The Charter does not prioritize minorities; it only affirms the
principles of democracy.
We should not miss the forest
for the trees: Canada and its values form the big picture and must have
first priority. All in Canada may exercise their rights and freedoms within
the framework set by the majority through rule of law. Within the law,
minorities can prescribe to their own but not to all.
The media and politicians
depend on the support of the majority. Can they know what the majority
wants? Unproven ideas about the majority may be biased. A reliable survey or
census can determine majority preferences. Though the number of people
without religion has increased, the 2001 census (Statistics Canada) showed
that 77 per cent of people in Canada were Christian. In elections,
that is a considerable majority.
the Bible text
Television documentaries have been casting doubts on
the reliability of the text of the Bible. Selected commentary of Bible
scholars are used to compile evidence that may make ordinary people question
their basic beliefs — although the "evidence" is based on unproven theories.
One misleading theory is that
some informative material has been edited out of the Bible in order to serve
a specific view of God, Christ, Israel, and the church. The fact is that
believers of the first centuries were not as naive and ignorant as some of
today's scholars may think. Early believers could discern between facts and
fiction. Just as today, there were factual records and fictional stories
about historical figures. The early church included factual records in the
Bible and eliminated the fictional stuff. Most of the so-called rejected
gospels are nothing more than a handful of fragments, while the accepted
gospels have been meticulously and completely copied and saved.
Another misleading theory is
that the biblical text has been copied by hand repeatedly and that many
errors have been carried over from one copy to the next, rendering current
This theory was exposed as a
gross exaggeration with the discovery of New Testament codices in the 19th
century, and Old Testament books among the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.
Although the codices and scrolls were centuries older than the copies we
had, only minute differences between the younger and older copies were
found. Congratulations to those scribes who made exact copies by hand from
1500 BC to 1500 AD! When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1453, mass
reproduction of Bibles became possible.
Driven back from the Hebrew
and Greek texts, the enemies try to attack the translations of the Bible.
Fifty days after the crucifixion of Christ, at Pentecost, the Spirit came
upon 120 believers who told the good news of salvation in different
languages so that all pilgrims in Jerusalem could understand it. Although
Christians spread the gospel in local languages, the translation of the
Bible did not receive much attention until the 16th century. The medieval
church believed that the priests should read the Bible in Hebrew, Greek and
Latin, and explain it to lay members.
When Martin Luther realized
that faith in Christ is a very personal matter, he translated the Bible into
German so that everyone in his country could read it. William Tyndale
followed his example and translated the Bible into English, a favour he was
translations use the literal method (NKJV), while others use the free method
(NIV). The first keeps us close to the original; the second gives the
intended meaning in contemporary language. Using both enhances insight.
By challenging generally accepted views, people may
become either famous or infamous. Some television channels claim to reveal
secrets about historical figures, secrets few know about, except the maker
of the program. The more revered the person, the keener the producer seems
for bringing that person down to earth — for the entertainment of viewers.
It does not surprise that they
have also attacked the person worshiped by two billion people as Saviour.
However, this audacity is not new: In 1985, a group, called the Jesus
Seminar, appointed themselves as judges to tell the world which parts of the
gospels are feasible and which are not. They wanted to reconstruct the
"historical" Jesus. When they were done, only a small part remained; the
rest they pruned off as dead branches.
thinkers place question marks over fundamental Christian doctrine such as
the virgin birth of Christ and his bodily resurrection. As time goes by they
will chop off more and more.
These attacks are illogical
and inconsistent. They first discredit the truthfulness of the gospels, and
then use the same gospels to prove their point of view. When you cut off the
branch on which you sit, you have no branch to sit on: you fall to the
Several books were written to
either support or oppose the Jesus Seminar. In his book, "The Jesus I never
knew," Philip Yancey reasons that the "sweet Jesus" taught in Sunday school
is not the whole truth about Christ. The Jesus of the gospels was sometimes
very strict, telling his disciples they can't follow him without carrying
their crosses. He scolded the Pharisees for being hypocrites, blind fools,
serpents and whitewashed tombs.
Actually, not one of the
gospels gives a full report on Jesus: a harmony of the four gospels brings
us the nearest to that ideal. Therefore, I put the gospels side by side when
I wrote "Jesus, the full report," later republished as "The Yoke of Yeshua."
A harmony of the gospels shows
how events followed one another. It gives a clearer picture than Jesus-films
which sometimes put early events near the end of the story and so confuse
viewers about the flow of the narrative. The various sources I used show a
high degree of consensus regarding the order of events in the gospels.
The real Jesus
is described by the four gospels in the Bible, not by the fragments of
ancient fiction, or by the imagination of critical modern scholars. The
gospels affirm and compliment one another. God gave us four consistent
viewpoints of his Son, and together they contain the full report on Jesus
Christ: the facts and truth necessary for salvation.
replaced by love and service
Mark, Matthew and Luke portrayed Christ as king,
prophet and priest respectively. John painted him as the Son of God.
John tells us that the calling
of Peter, Andrew, James, and John at the Sea of Galilee, as described in the
synoptic gospels, was not their first encounter with Jesus. Andrew and John
had been disciples of the Baptiser before they followed the man called the
Lamb of God (John 1:35-42). Peter, Philip and Nathanael soon joined them.
They attended a wedding feast in Cana, witnessing the first miracle: water
turned to wine.
While the other gospels
focused on Christ's ministry in Galilee, Perea and the last week in
Jerusalem, John tells about several visits to Judea and the Holy City. As
John was probably the youngest disciple, free of family responsibilities, he
could have gone with Jesus to Jerusalem several times.
Most scholars assume that John
wrote his gospel about 20 years later than the rest, so he did not have to
repeat what was already known, except when he wanted to make a point. About
85% of John's gospel is not found in the other gospels.
John became known as the
apostle of love: he emphasized agape-love in his gospel and epistles.
However, that's not where he started. Jesus called John and James "Boanerges"
(sons of thunder), because of their hot tempers. They wanted to pray down
fire from heaven on a town that refused accommodation to Jesus.
Jesus opened John's eyes,
causing a complete turn-around of his life. The truth Jesus stressed to
Nicodemus entered John's heart too: one must be born again by the Spirit
before one can understand God's kingdom.
John was keenly interested in
the relationship between Jesus and the Father; therefore he remembered
teachings of Jesus in this regard. He starts his gospel with the reality of
Christ's pre-existence: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God." Like the Father, Jesus had power to raise
people from spiritual death now, as well as their bodies on the last day
(John 5). Therefore, Jesus stated that he and the father are one: whoever
has seen him has seen the Father (John 10, 14). With "I am" statements Jesus
described himself as bread, water, light, a door, a shepherd, a vine and as
"the way, the truth and the life."
He revealed his true identity
very personally to Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind,
Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter and Thomas. John wants all believers
to say from the heart like Thomas: "My Lord and my God."
For more on the gospel
writers and their gospels (with questions for small groups) visit
3. A physician
researches the life of Christ
It is quite a story — how Luke, the Greek doctor, met
Paul, the Jewish missionary, and became involved in writing the story of
Christ and the early church. Paul had to change his traveling plans
repeatedly before he reached Troas where the Trojan War played out 12
centuries before. Paul needed medical attention, and the doctor needed the
gospel. They met each other's needs and became friends. Months later, Luke
joined Paul on his way to Jerusalem. Paul was imprisoned for two years. Luke
contacted people who witnessed the deeds and words of Jesus. He added about
41% new data not recorded by Mark and Matthew.
Apart from the Christmas
story, only Luke tells us about the following: the widow of Nain; the sinful
woman who anointed Jesus; the women who served Jesus; the Martha and Mary
episode; the division brought by Jesus; the crippled woman; Jesus warned
against Herod; the ten lepers; Zacchaeus the tax-collector; Jesus praying
for Peter; Jesus before Herod; the women on the way to Calvary; and the
appearance of Jesus to Peter and the two of Emmaus.
Luke also saved many parables
for us: the good Samaritan; the helpful friend; the rich fool; the barren
fig tree; the front seats; calculating the cost of discipleship; the lost
sheep, coin, and son; the unjust steward; the rich man and Lazarus; the
unworthy servant; the judge and the widow; and the Pharisee and
Jesus' example as well as
Luke's career as a physician opened his eyes for the plight of women in that
time. Women were part of the Christmas story; Jesus healed many of them, and
included them in his parables; and a few women served Jesus from their own
means wherever he went.
Luke was also struck by the
merciful attitude of Jesus. Some parables, like those about the Prodigal and
the Samaritan, demonstrate compassion. The repentant tax-collector's prayer
was heard, but not that of the haughty Pharisee. In the Last Judgement,
those who showed mercy will be rewarded: whatever we did to the least will
be counted as done to Jesus.
By referring more than the
other gospels to the prayer life of Jesus, Luke portrayed him as priest.
Jesus' calling of the disciples and his meeting with Moses and Elijah on the
mount were preceded by prayer. He taught his followers the Lord's Prayer. He
prayed for Peter to keep faith. In his struggle in Gethsemane he prayed; on
the cross he prayed for his executioners; and committed his spirit to the
Father with a prayer.
If Luke did not research the life of Christ
and put it in writing, Christianity would have missed a lot. Modest inputs
may bear much fruit.
2. A sinner is
called to repentance
People hate taxes. They know taxes are necessary for
the common good, but people give grudgingly when local, provincial or
national governments take their money. In the time of Jesus, the negative
feelings were even extended to those who gathered the taxes. Because
tax-collectors squeezed more than they should from the public they were
rejected. So, they associated with other sinners. Why would Jesus call one
of these to be his disciple?
What Matthew heard about the
preacher and healer of Capernaum awakened a yearning in his real self for a
radical change of lifestyle. When Jesus stopped at his booth, looked him in
the eye, and invited him to follow, Matthew did not have to think it over.
He was ready.
Although Matthew did not
become one of the inner circle as Peter, John and James had, he was not a
passive follower. He invited his new and old friends to a meal, hoping that
some of his old friends would join his new friends.
The religious leaders,
concerned about Jesus' popularity and his deviation from Pharisaic teaching,
especially healing on the Sabbath, watched his moves closely. They
complained about his outreach to sinners. Jesus' answer was sweet music to
Matthew: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are
sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'
For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Matthew soon realized the
importance of Jesus' messages, and as a literate person he decided to keep
notes. Years later, when he read a copy of Mark's gospel, Matthew got a
bright idea: his notes of what Jesus said would be a valuable addition to
Mark's story that focused on the deeds of Jesus.
By adding many sayings of
Jesus to the gospel record, Matthew portrayed him as prophet. The Sermon on
the Mount, several parables, guidelines for his disciples on their mission,
his repudiation of the Pharisees, and his prophecies on the end time are the
main lessons of Jesus that Matthew handed down to us. Matthew added 45% new
As a saved sinner, Matthew
portrayed Jesus as the Saviour. He started his book with the angel's message
that the Child had to be called Jesus (Yeshua), meaning "the salvation of
Matthew emphasized the mercy
of Christ by quoting Isaiah's messianic prophecy: a bruised reed he will not
break and a smoking flax he will not quench. Aware that he was saved by
Christ's mercy, Matthew identifies himself as "the tax-collector" where he
names the twelve disciples.
brought his wicked past to Jesus and was relieved of this heavy burden.
rejected stone becomes a capstone
Mark grew up in Jerusalem, a city steeped in history
spanning millennia. He played where Abraham, David, Solomon, and the kings
of Judea walked. Mark lived in the time of Jesus Christ. The upper room
where the Last Supper took place was probably in the home of his mother Mary
Sensing his mother's concern
about Jesus' safety, Mark secretly followed Master and disciples at night to
Gethsemane on the Olive Mountain. He saw his arrest, and spied to see where
they were taking him. Spotted and grabbed by a guard, Mark left his linen
cloth in the man's hands and fled. This episode is recorded only in Mark's
gospel (Mark 14:51-52) .
About fifteen years later,
the lad had become a man. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Antioch from
where they set off on the first missionary journey. After they had traveled
through Cyprus, Mark decided in Perga to return to Jerusalem. He might have
been concerned about his mother. Paul felt Mark let them down, so he refused
to take him along on his second journey (Acts 13:13, 15:36-40). Many years
later, when Paul was a captive in Rome, he showed in his letters that he and
Mark had been reconciled, and that Mark made a terrific comeback (Col. 4:10,
2 Tim. 4:11).
Mark made his greatest
contribution to Christianity when he produced the first written account of
Jesus' life as told to him by the apostle Peter. Like Jesus, Mark was a
rejected stone that became a capstone.
Paul asked Timothy to bring
Mark to Rome, and Peter confirmed that Mark was with him in that city (1
Pet. 5:13). In AD 65, Mark was about fifty years old and Peter in his late
sixties. Realizing the eyewitnesses of Christ's work will soon be gone, they
decided to put Peter's memoirs in writing. Future generations would then
have a reliable source of information.
Mark's gospel is thus
actually Peter's. They focused on those events Peter knew first hand.
Chapters 1 to 9 cover Christ's 2.5 year ministry in Galilee; Chapter 10
gives a glimpse of his work in Perea (last six months); and Chapters 11-16
describes Jesus' last week in Jerusalem.
Although the four gospels
recorded as many miracles as parables, Peter and Mark recount three times
more miracles than parables. They wrote for Roman Christians for whom deeds
were more important than words. They portrayed Christ as the humble but
They stressed the fast pace of events by
using the word "immediately" 36 times. They often referred to the emotional
reaction of the disciples. Attention to detail, and explaining Jewish
customs and words, confirm it is an eyewitness report.