Dr. Mike Halsey is the chancellor of Grace Biblical Seminary, a Bible teacher at the Hangar Bible Fellowship, the author of Truthspeak and his new book, The Gospel of Grace and Truth: A Theology of Grace from the Gospel of John," both available on A copy of his book, Microbes in the Bloodstream of the Church, is also available as an E-book on If you would like to a receive a copy of his weekly Bible studies and other articles of biblical teaching and application, you can do so by writing to Dr. Halsey at and requesting, "The Hangar Bible Fellowship Journal."

Comments may be addressed to

If you would like to contribute to his ministry according to the principle of II Corinthians 9:7, you may do so by making your check out to Hangar Bible Fellowship and mailing it to 65 Teal Ct., Locust Grove, GA 30248. All donations are tax deductible.

Come visit the Hangar some Sunday at 10 AM at the above address. You'll be glad you did.

Other recommended grace-oriented websites are:


Biblical Ministries, Inc.
C/O Dr. Richard Grubbs
P. O. Box 64582
Lubbock, TX 79464-4582

Friday, April 21, 2017


A man is going to Rome and seeing Michelangelo's statue of David. He says that he had heard about it, seen pictures of it, but to see David up close is overwhelming. Michelangelo hewed David from an unwanted block of marble and when he finished, there David was, standing larger than life, 17 feet tall, weighing more than 6 tons! Wow! That's an impressive hunk of rock! The word, "masterpiece," falls short.


The church: Hollywood makes fun of it; intellectuals sneer at it; the rank and file are indifferent to it, others are dismissive of it. After all, those in it are "not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble . . ." (I Corinthians 1:26). So wrote Paul.

But, as always, the divine viewpoint is different: the church is God's masterpiece: the church is Jews and gentiles who have come to faith alone in Christ alone united into one body, baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment of their conversion, enjoying 34 things in their position in Christ and meeting together in a special way. 

The question is, what is that special way in which they meet? 


That special way contains 5 elements, impossible for the world to duplicate, no matter how hard it tries:

1. Whenever God's masterpiece meets, it builds up its people in the faith. The reason it does this is because it pleases the Lord. No one in this life will ever reach the point where he does not need the edification that being intimately involved in God's masterpiece brings. Paul writes about the assembled masterpiece: "Let all things be done for edification." (I Cor. 14:26) In context, his subject is the masterpiece's use of their spiritual gifts, all the gifts are to be used to edify.

2. Whenever God's masterpiece meets, all are to learn. (I Cor. 14:31) This learning comes from those in the masterpiece who bring God's revelation (His completed Word) to each meeting. Whenever the masterpiece meets, there is learning.

3. Whenever God's masterpiece meets, all are exhorted by the Word of God. (I Cor. 14:31) No member of God's masterpiece is above hearing the Word of God applied to his life. All learn, all are exhorted. Exhortation is "to urge," "beseech," and "to make an appeal" from the Scriptures, that’s something that we all need.

4. Whenever God's masterpiece meets, there is peace. ( I Cor. 14:33) This peace is the opposite of confusion, that is, things being done in a disorderly manner. There is decorum within God's masterpiece.

5. Whenever God's masterpiece meets, there is the active pursuit of love. (I Cor. 14:1) By love, the Bible means that when the masterpiece meets, each one desires the highest good for the other.


God's masterpiece is unique in the world and impossible to be copied by the world. The church is God's only ordained institution for this dispensation. God values this masterpiece so highly that He calls it "the bride of Christ" and "the body of Christ." Paul is eloquent on the subject when he writes, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (II Cor. 11:2)


Speaking of those five elements of the church, what is their impact on the unbeliever who visits and views God's masterpiece? Paul writes about the impact of masterpiece--as the visitor watches, he comes to a conclusion, "God is certainly among you!" And he worships. (I Cor. 14:25)


God has taken "not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," those like a a discarded piece of marble, and fashioned something beautiful, the church. As an attender of the Hangar Bible Fellowship wrote: " I am so thankful to be a part of a church  body who obviously care deeply about each other,  who desire fellowship with each other, and who desire to have a deeper fellowship with Christ. Words are insufficient to express  just how thankful I am."

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Arnold and Barbara Rowland want to experience something they've never done before--they want to see a president of the United States, not on TV, but up close and personal. This is their day to do it, so at 12:15, they choose a spot where they'll get that up close and personal view of the President as he passes by in a parade of cars.

As Arnold stands there waiting for the President's car (the car is two miles away), he glances up and looks across the street where a man catches his eye. The man is standing in an upper floor window of a building. He's holding a rifle with a scope across his chest, the position the military calls at port arms. Arnold knows that there are special agents who will be guarding the President's route and he wants his wife to see one.

Rowland, excited about what he's seen, says to Barbara, "Hey, you wanna see a Secret Service man?"

But there's a problem: she's got her eye on a disturbance across the street where two police officers are trying to assist a young man who's having an epileptic fit. Distracted, and still watching the medical problem develop, Barbara asks, "Where?"

By the time she looks across the street, the Secret Service agent has stepped back into the shadows, away from the window. Barbara asks, "What did he look like?" Rowland describes how he was holding a weapon, a big, high-powered, heavy rifle, no .22 caliber.

Barbara sighs and says, "I wish I could have seen him. He's probably in another part of the building now, watching people."

She returns to looking across the street where an ambulance has arrived to carry the epileptic to the hospital.

But Arnold isn't satisfied; he keeps scanning the upper floors of the building to catch another glimpse of the slender Secret Service agent, one he guesses is in his early thirties, so Barbara can see him too. But he never sees him in the window again; he doesn't mention it to a policeman standing nearby.


Too bad Arnold didn't say something to the policeman. Arnold wasn't looking at a Secret Service agent; he was looking at Lee Harvey Oswald who would kill the President 14 minutes and 45 seconds later.

If Arnold had said something to the policeman, he might have changed the course of world history. But the problem was, Arnold Rowland didn't understand what he was looking at.


On Friday, April 3, 34 AD, there were those who didn't know what they were looking at as they saw Jesus during His trials and while He was hanging on a cross: Roman soldiers mocked Him as "King of the Jews;" those passing by got sarcastic; the two criminals dying on either side of Him insulted  Him. The religious scholars thought they were looking at a law-breaker who deserved all He was getting and more, so to add to the humiliation, they taunted Him.

All the predictions of the Messiah's death were meeting at the cross and the scholars of the Book couldn't or wouldn't see them. In particular, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 were wrapping themselves around the cross. All the miracles their ancient Book had predicted that the Messiah would do, Jesus had done, yet when they saw the miracles right before their eyes, they couldn't or wouldn't "see" them.


What do you see when you look at the cross? Do you see it as the material of myth and legend? A bit of fake news invented by His students, but who really had nothing to gain by doing so?

Or do you see the cross for what it is: the wood on which the Son of God paid the complete penalty for your sins?

It's the season we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Son of God, but are you distracted as Barbara was on November 22, 1963, so distracted that you don't see it? Or are you like Arnold and see the cross, but refuse to see it for what it really is?

How you see the cross will change your history forever.


Friday, April 7, 2017


 There is a video out and about. It’s called, “40 Days of Purpose” and contains an invitation to the viewer.

At the conclusion of the teaching video for "40 Days of Purpose," viewers hear the pastor say:
  • “Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? If you aren’t sure of this, I’d like the privilege of leading you in a prayer to settle the issue. Let’s bow our heads. I’m going to pray a prayer and you can follow it silently in your mind:

  • ‘Dear God, I want to know Your purpose for my life. I don’t want to waste the rest of my life on the wrong things. Today I want to take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know You. Jesus Christ, I don’t understand it all, but as much as I know how, I want to open my life to You. I ask you to come into my life and make yourself real to me. Use this series to help me know what You made me for. Thank you. Amen.’

  • “If you just prayed that prayer for the very first time, I congratulate you. You’ve just become a part of the family of God.” 

Let’s think through this invitation. The way to start is by asking yourself, "In all of the gospel of John, a book written to propel the reader to faith in Christ, do we find anything even remotely close to this invitation?" In the book of Acts, a book containing some the evangelistic invitations of Peter and Paul, do we find this invitation?

The answer is, no, we don’t. Ninety-nine times, the gospel of John conditions salvation on faith alone in Christ alone, not on knowing God's purpose for one's life, not on trying to avoid basing the rest of one's life on wrong things, not by taking a first step to prepare for eternity, not on opening one's life to God, and not by asking Christ to make Himself real.

Let’s advance in our thinking by going to I Corinthians 15: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received . . .that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried [the proof that He died], and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .”

Comparing the content of the invitation on the video with I Corinthians 15, what do we see and what do we not see?

First of all, no scriptural invitation makes reference to knowing God’s purpose for our lives. No invitation in the Bible refers to opening one’s life to Jesus Christ, nor does any text in the Bible ask Christ “to make Himself real.”  In addition, asking that God use "this video series in my life to help me know what you made me for" does not constitute the gospel.

What is it that we don’t hear in the video? We don’t hear about Christ’s death for our sins; we don’t hear anything about His resurrection; we don’t hear anything about His deity; we don’t hear anything about trusting Him alone,  four sine qua nons of the gospel. 

The pastor failed to mention the essential content of the gospel. Then there’s the essential of an individual’s personal trust in Christ alone which goes unmentioned. 

Therefore, we would conclude that the gospel presented in the video has never saved anyone and that by praying that prayer, the pray-er not become a part of the family of God. The emphasis in the video is on the viewer—his purpose and his discovery of that purpose. Christ is mentioned once, whereas “I,” “my life,” "my purpose,"and “me” dominate. The gospel is Christ-centered, finely focused on who He is and what He has done.


The author of the invitation is Rick Warren who holds many degrees from various institutions: a Bachelor of Arts degree from California Baptist University; a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary; a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Yet, with all that education and all the work he put into getting those degrees, he makes up a gospel completely devoid of I Corinthians 15, the chapter in which Paul states the gospel. How does that happen? How can a person so trained at three different Christian institutions miss, mishandle, and make up his own gospel?


There's another question that begs to be asked: How do the 20,000 people who weekly attend his church keep from getting up and walking out, or at least questioning the presentation on the video?

We have an example of just such a thing--there's a story from church history about the Apostle John recorded in the 2nd century book Against Heresies by Irenaeus. Irenaeus had been a disciple of  Polycarp, who had been a disciple of John. It’s from this direct line to John that Irenaeus got the following information.

At the end of the 1st century, there was a heretic named Cerinthus. Among other things, he denied the Virgin Birth, denied that Jesus was the Christ His whole life, and taught that Christians were required to follow the Mosaic Law.

One day, John went inside a public bathhouse, but quickly spotted Cerinthus inside. John immediately ran out of the building, shouting to those with him, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within!”

How do the viewers of the video keep themselves from saying, "This video is like the story of The Emperor's New Clothes; it's naked. We need to discuss this matter now."

How do pastors around the world, after hearing that invitation on the video, not shut it down and present I Cor. 15 to the group? Why are not people able to do this?


One reason seems to be that the vast majority have either never had or they've lost the ability to search the Scriptures to see if the video presentation is square with I Cor. 15. (That's easy; that's all they have to do.) Let's call their attitude what it is: indifference to heresy. They have become like Pilate, living with an I-don't-care-attitude." They would not have joined John when he fled the bathhouse.

Friday, March 31, 2017


How in the world did a philosophy as evil and corrupt as that of National Socialism capture the minds, hearts, and wills of millions and millions of Germans in the 1930's? Let's examine that question by putting the process of capturing a nation into steps.


Hitler appointed Bernard Rust as Minister for Education. (We notice immediately that the state was in charge of education.) His task was to change the educational system so that resistance to the philosophy of the state was kept to a minimum. None of the neatly dressed, well-behaved primary-school students questioned [or were allowed to question] the new books, the new songs, the new syllabus, the new rules or the new standard script.


At school the students were taught to worship Adolf Hitler: As the teacher entered the class, the students would stand and raise their right arms. The teacher would say, "For the Führer a triple victory," answered by a chorus of Heil! three times. Every class started with a song. The almighty Führer would be staring at the students from his picture on the wall. These uplifting songs were brilliantly written and composed, transporting the children into a state of enthusiastic glee.


All school textbooks were withdrawn before new ones were published that reflected the Nazi ideology. A directive issued in January 1934, made it compulsory for schools to educate their pupils "in the spirit of National Socialism." School bulletin boards were covered in Nazi propaganda posters and teachers often read aloud articles written by anti-Semites. In every schoolbook was an illustration of Hitler with one of his sayings as a frontispiece.

New mathematics textbooks were introduced and included "social arithmetic," in which the children were to calculate how much it would cost the state to keep a mentally ill person alive in an asylum.

Biology textbooks had page after page showing the physical differences between Jews and Germans in grotesque drawings of Jewish noses, lips, and eyes. The book encouraged every child to note these differences and to bring anyone who bore Jewish features to the attention of their parents or teachers. The textbooks accused Jews of killing babies, loan-sharking, basic dishonesty, and conspiring to destroy Germany and rule the world. The descriptions in the textbooks of the Jewish people would convince any child that these were monsters.


In 1933 all Jewish teachers were dismissed from German schools and universities.

Teachers who did not support the philosophy were fired. Teachers had to pretend to be Nazis in order to remain in their posts. If somebody wanted to be promoted, he had to show what a fine Nazi he was, whether he really believed what he was saying or not.

The teacher would enter the classroom and welcome the group with a ‘Hitler salute’, shouting "Heil Hitler!" Students would have to respond in the same manner. One of the jokes that circulated in Germany during this period was: "What is the shortest measurable unit of time? The time it takes a grade-school teacher to change his political allegiance." Gradually, the old teachers were replaced with younger ones, those who held to the philosophy of the state.

By 1938, two-thirds of all elementary school teachers were indoctrinated at special camps in a compulsory one-month training course of lectures. What they learned at camp they were expected to pass on to their students. Principals were instructed to dismiss teachers who were not supporters of Hitler.

One teacher, hostile to Hitler wrote to a friend, "In the schools it is not the teacher, but the pupils, who exercise authority. Party functionaries train their children to be spies and agent provocateurs."

Teachers constantly feared the possibility that their students would inform on them. One day a teacher asked a question. The student, who was wearing his Hitler Youth uniform, stood up and clicked his heels. The teacher became angry and shouted: "I don't want you to do this. I want you to act like a human being. I don't want machines. You're not a robot."

After the lesson he called the student into his office and apologized because he was afraid the student would  report him to the Gestapo."

A 38-year-old teacher told a joke to her class of twelve year-olds, that was slightly critical Hitler. She immediately realized that she had made a mistake and begged the children not to tell anybody about it. One of the children told his parents and they promptly informed the Gestapo. She immediately lost her job and sent to prison for three-weeks.

It worked the other way too: teachers encouraged students to inform on their parents. They were promised a reward of money if they denounced their parents or their neighbors. The teachers told them, "Even if you denounce your parents, and if you should love them, your real father is the Führer, and being his children, you will be the chosen ones, the heroes of the future."

The teachers assigned essays to answer the question, "What does your family talk about at home?" Parents became alarmed with the gradual brutalization of manners, impoverishment of vocabulary and rejection of their values. Their children became strangers, contemptuous of religion.

Nazi Germany is a case study in how the way could be cleared for the Antichrist, a man who will be revered as a god, to reign and kill during the Great Tribulation.

In reviewing all of the above data from Spartacus Educational of Britain, we can breathe a sigh of relief that such isn't happening in our country. Or is it?

Friday, March 24, 2017


The presses have been rolling with the results of study after study concerning why Hillary Clinton lost the election in November 2016. The experts have digested the demographics, conducted interviews, and analyzed voter attitudes state by state. Research will continue.

We can be assured that books will come from the most surprising loss in modern political history. Her defeat was a stunning upset of herculean proportions, one unrivaled since Truman defeated Dewey on November 2, 1948. Mrs. Clinton was so devastated that she couldn't compose herself enough to appear before a multitude of her saddened, seared, and tear-soaked supporters who had gathered on that election evening to taste the heady wine of victory. Instead of facing the public, the reporters, the public, and the cameras, she sent a substitute. The loss hurt, and it hurt bad.


In all the research done thus far concerning the reasons for the debacle, one published secular study is of particular interest. Among the reasons cited, two would catch the eye of anyone familiar with the Bible.

The study found that millions of people voted against Mrs. Clinton because they were infuriated by her the-rules-don't-apply-to-me-attitude. Their perception of the Democratic nominee was that she had spent her public life breaking the law with impunity and seeing herself as a privileged person entitled to live above the rules, viewing them as being for the little people, but not her. Some believed this to be the modus operandi of the so-called Banana Republics where the elite do whatever they want, but the rest are to abide by the law.

Her attitude caught the eye of the voter who's familiar with Deuteronomy 17 and II Samuel 11. In the Mosaic Law, God stipulated that the king was not above the Torah. Rather than living above it, he was to meditate in it, copy it, read it, and heed it all the days of his life (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). No matter how powerful, Israel's kings, from the best to the worst, were not above the Law of the land.

In II Samuel 11, we read about Israel's greatest king who decided to flout the very Law he was to copy, meditate on, read, and heed. Instead, the great David began living as it he were above it, behaving as if the Ten Commandments applied to everyone else, and then engaging in a massive cover up.

But God held David accountable by sending a prophet to denounce him to his face and announcing, "The sword will never depart from your house."


The researchers found a fatal flaw in her campaign, one that turned voters away from her candidacy by the millions. The study showed that she glutted her speeches with stories of her accomplishments, what the report called her tiresome and annoying "yapping about herself" and how good she was. She tuned people off by her bragging about herself. Article after article began to point out that many of the stories she told about her achievements weren't true at all, but the point was that even if all those accounts were true, shouldn't someone else be touting them?

In an unrelated project, researchers in England did a study of people who engage in what they called "self-promotion" and found that "self-promoters overestimate the extent to which people on the receiving end of their stories are likely to feel happy and proud for them. At the same time, they also seem to underestimate the extent to which recipients are likely to feel annoyed with them." They particularly cited Facebook as a fertile playground for braggarts. 

What Mrs. Clinton overlooked was that people don't cotton to someone who tells them how good he (or she) is. The smartest people don't have to tell us that they're brilliant. Spiritual people don't tell people how spiritual they are. When a person engages in bragamony, there's a huge drop on the likeability meter because admire modesty, a Lou Gehrig, a Nolan Ryan.

This was another trait of Hillary that caught the eye of the person familiar with the Scriptures because Proverbs 27:2 advocates: "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips." Mrs. Clinton paid no attention to that principle either.


The majority of our politicians of both parties aren't known for listening to the Bible. Oh, they'll quote it when it's to their advantage, but their quoting comes across as self-serving.

But what if Mrs. Clinton had read and heeded the principles of Deuteronomy 17 and Proverbs 27:2: live under the laws everybody else has to live under and quit yapping about yourself. Simple. Just do those two things.

If she had done that, would she no longer be "Hillary? Would she now be, "Madam President"? We'll never know for certain, but the research indicated, "Yes, she would."

Friday, March 17, 2017


The Bible is a different book.

Right now, you're thinking, "Tell me something I don't already know."

What I mean by that is that the Bible never seeks to flatter the reader. The Book paints a discouraging picture of the human race: lost, blind, rebellious, and going astray from the mother's womb. It tells us that while salvation is free, discipleship involves paying a high price involving persecution, being misunderstood, hated, losing friends, even enduring family ostracism.

The Good Book also tells us about the future of the church. Contrary to the hyperbole of Christian broadcasting featuring highly emotional evangelists, the church isn't going to roll triumphantly through the world. The Bible does not paint such a rosy picture. According to recent prognostications, Islam is soon to become dominate worldwide, not Christianity. The cold hard facts are that there's not one village, hamlet, town, city, county, state, or nation in which everyone has trusted Christ as savior.


The forecast the Bible makes doesn't use the word "triumphant" in the same sentence with the word "church" in this dispensation. No. As a matter of fact, the Bible's unflattering picture of the church is that, as the Grace Dispensation progresses, the church will continue to sink into apostasy, which is a big word meaning, "not under the authority of Christ and His Word."

Christ Himself predicted the coming apostasy of the church in the parables of Matthew 13 in which only one of the four soils represent people saved when they hear the gospel, in other parables of the same chapter, leaven corrupts the church, foul fowls rest in its branches and Paul wrote about wolves arising from within the church, as evil men would grow worse and worse.


Of course, you know that Jesus addressed those seven first century churches in Revelation 2-3. But did you know that five out of the seven churches had chosen to be outside of the control of Christ? The apostasy was so bad in the church in Laodicea that Christ pictured Himself as standing outside the church, knocking on the door to get in. Things were so bad inside the walls of that church, that Christ said it made Him sick. But we have free will; Christ won't break down the door and force the congregation to be under His control. But He will knock.

[Unfortunately, many are the preachers and evangelists who teach that this is picturing Christ's knocking on the door of the unbeliever's heart, but, as the context shows, it's a church whose doors are shutting the Lord Jesus outside. Once the preacher ignores the context, he misses the point of the text, invents an application foreign to the text, and may fall into false doctrine. Such out of context preaching makes for an emotional invitation period, but it's not biblical.]


Churches reject the authority of Christ in many ways. One way, unnoticed by even the most discerning, is through Americanism, that is, democracy. Democracy is "government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people.

In the church, we are too much influenced by Abraham Lincoln's eloquent Gettysburg Address with its "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." It was a great speech in some respects, but the church is not to have the supreme power vested in the congregation. The head of the church isn't the congregation; the head of the church is Christ (Eph. 5:23). Yet, in spite of Ephesians 5:23, church after church continues to write constitutions soaked with democracy, thereby setting themselves up for never-ending conflict.

Democracy is a petri dish that breeds  factions, fissures, political ploys, backroom meetings, voting blocs, allowing the loudest, the most raucous, the most carnal and the most pugnacious to lord it over the congregation. Within the petri dish, mobs form, mobs, secular or ecclesiastical, fighting for control. 

In a democratic church, Christ isn't the head of the church, 51% of the people are. Yet, we are so drenched with democracy, we don't know how to conduct ourselves; we can't decide any issue without taking a vote. In congregations and committees, democracy dominates while Christ is outside the meeting room, knocking on the door.


Churches can reject the authority of Christ by adopting a hierarchy of prelates, bishops, cardinals, and popes. The church began without a bishop, one man with absolute authority over a church, and eventually a group of churches. The hierarchy got started with Ignatius of Antioch (37-107 AD):

"Ignatius' letters also served to record the rapid development of church hierarchy. 'Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father,' he wrote to Polycarp's church at Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). 'Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church. It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a church meal,' he continued in his letter to Smyrna. The instruction is also remarkable because it is the first recorded use of the phrase "catholic [meaning, universal]" (From "Christianity Today").

The Bible is a different book, but I'm sure you know that; but the more we study it, the more we realize just how different (and true) it is.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


"Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. .Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8)

That statement jars our ears. Jesus comes across as harsh with a lack of compassion. Or does He? Let's examine two things: the context of the text and the customs of the times.

Right off the bat, let's discuss the phrase, "one of His disciples." Our English eyes often read this as a technical term, that is, one of the select Twelve, but the word isn't used that way in every case in the New Testament. It can mean, "follower" or "student." It can refer to the curious follower of Jesus, not even a believer, and not always a committed believer. The meaning depends on the context. 


And another thing: our English minds can't help themselves: we read our customs into the text and that's why it comes across as a heartless reply. What's happening is that our customs lead us to believe that this poor man's father has died and, in the urgency of the moment, he needs to go home and he communicates that need to Jesus by asking Him for a leave of absence and then, after that, he'll return. 


But we're assuming that his father has just died. But that's not the case at all: the father isn't dead. 

We can say that because:

The Jewish custom was that when a person died, he was buried before sunset that same day. This was the case when Christ died and it was the case when Ananias and his wife died as recorded in Acts 5. If his father had died, the burial would most likely have already taken place, and even if it hadn't, it would be by sunset the day of the son's request to leave, so he couldn't make it back home, unless it's very close.

When we look at the man's request, we read too quickly over the word, "first." That, and the idiom of the day, show us what's actually happening. In Jesus' day and even today, when a person in the Middle East said/says, "Let me first bury my father," he means, "I'll do whatever you're requesting after the death of my father (whenever that maybe) and my responsibilities to him are complete. That's my first responsibility."

The man is the eldest son (we know this by his request) and the eldest son is the one who's responsible for taking care of his aged parent(s) until they die. The man is saying, "Let me take care of my father first, then I'll return to You because my responsibilities as the heir will be over." By the Law, he'll get a double portion of the estate because he's borne the expense and energy of their care. That's fair.

Christ bases His reply on another familial custom and idiom of the day. If there were other sons in the family, they were considered "dead" to the responsibility to care for their aging parents, so when Christ said, "Let the dead bury their own (notice the familial reference in "their own") dead," He's saying "When the death of your father happens, let your brother(s) take care of the burial, even though by custom, they're dead to that responsibility."


One other thing: we know from the rest of the story that Jesus is getting ready to take them into a territory that's heavily gentile, and for Jews, that's a no-fun situation. (From my frame of reference, that would be like engaging in evangelism in a flea market.) We could speculate that the man doesn't want to go into that area, a place crawling with gentiles, those "unclean dogs," so he's begging off, making an excuse when it's crunch time.


Such is the custom today in the Middle East. Bob Boyd, an archeologist relates this incident while at the Old Testament site of Dothan: 

"I became very friendly with Abed, our Jordanian pickman. He had been educated in British schools and could speak English fluently. One day he invited me to his home in the little village of Arrabah to have supper with his family. On our two mile hike over I questioned him about his family, parents and brothers and sisters, who, he said, were all in good health."

"Since he was such an educated young man, I asked if he ever thought of coming to America and getting a job. 

"He replied, 'I would love to, but I have to stay at home and bury my father.'” 

"When I reminded Abad that he told me his father was alive and well, he explained that he was the first-born son and as heir to all his father possessed, it was his responsibility to stay home until his father passed away and then to bury him. 

"I then asked my young Jordanian friend why he couldn’t have his brothers and sisters assume this responsibility of burying his father. “They are dead,” he said. Again I reminded him that he said they were all alive and doing well. I asked Abad how he could say his siblings were “dead.” 

"His answer was, 'They are dead to this relationship I have with my father as the first born son—the heir.'”


Now, Jesus' reply makes sense. It's not harsh and uncaring. And, at the same time, it shows us something: Jesus wants commitment, even a commitment that trumps one's commitment to his or her parents when the hopes and wishes of the parents clash with the will of God. 

The account of Jesus' interaction with this man is a lesson in commitment, but we miss the point if we read our culture into it.