“My partner that I used to ride with passed a couple months ago.”

Without thinking too much about this statement, what type of scenarios were conjured up in your mind?

Did you think of a professional motorcycle rider who lost one of his teammates in a crash?

Did you think about a drug addict sitting in an NA meeting telling her peers how her friend was shot and killed in a drug deal gone bad?

Or what about a businessman in dialogue with a potential new business partner reminiscing about the trips he and his former partner went on to secure resources for their products.

Did you happen think about a gay man sharing the story about his cyclist ex-boyfriend’s HIV results coming back negative?

What came to mind?

Isn’t it wild how that phrase could apply to any one of these four situations (and even more)?

Language is wild.

So much so that language goes well beyond mere words, as the above demonstrates. Language—better yet, communication—travels through all sorts of facets before the intended meaning lands on the person(s) receiving the message.

What kind of tone is the person using? What non-verbal indicators are attached to the words? What is the context? Who is speaking? Where is she from? What type of idiosyncrasies does her culture carry when it comes to language—idioms, euphemisms, slang, and so on? To whom is the person communicating? What is the subject?

A lot of us communicate every day to many people. As a part of being human, we naturally learn how to communicate in our given context. We hardly have to think about the list above when we dialogue with others. For example, if you happen to have experience in the drug culture, the one scenario above would easily translate or make sense. At the same time, however, there are those moments when we do a poor job coming to the correct meaning after someone communicates. This is how, for example, conversations online often go awry—we can’t see faces or hear voice inflections. It’s easy then to take someone’s words the wrong way.

If we can mishandle someone’s comments even in our own cultural context, how much more so someone’s comments who comes from an entirely different part of the world—a part of the world we have never been?

None of this may come as a real shocker. The point in mentioning these brief comments about the phenomenon of communication is simply to set the stage for some posts about the context into which Jesus stepped when he came to the earth.

God’s decision to come when he did was not arbitrary.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we do so through the writings (communication) of some first-century, Second Temple period, relatively poor Jewish men from Galilee (northern Israel). They weren’t from Judah (southern Israel), which matters. They weren’t wealthy, which matters. They spoke Hebrew, they didn’t own Bibles, they observed the Law of Moses, and so on.

They were all really different from us.

The culture that shaped them is literally foreign to us.

God’s decision to come when he did was not arbitrary.

The language they spoke—their communication system—was remarkably different from ours.

For example, for us today, we take for granted (and maybe have never even thought about it) the reality that Gentile (non-Jewish) people become a part of the family of God through faith in Messiah (Eph 2).

In Jesus’ day, this idea—that Gentiles¹ can be saved—was absurd, bordering on the line of heresy, in the minds of most Jews. In fact, Gentile people were thought of as “dogs” in the eyes of Jews (probably not all Jews, but obviously some—see Matt 15:21-28). In his exchange with the Canaanite woman, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24).

Are you a lost sheep of the house of Israel?

I thought Jesus was sent to the entire world?

What did Jesus mean by this?

Seeing these (and all) his words within the context of his particular, peculiar, very-much-different-from-our culture will yield the best potential to understand what Jesus means.

Of course, this is the goal of Bible commentaries and number of other books and articles written by men and women who aim to help the believer know Jesus better.

In the following posts, the aim is the same.

Stay tuned.

  1. In a later post, I’ll talk about the conversion process that existed in Jesus’ day, which is what a Gentile had to go through in order to become a part of the covenant people, that is, become a Jew, which is equivalent to what we mean in our context when we talk about one being/becoming “saved.”