John Bradshaw - Conversation with Philip Samaan - Part 2
Born in Syria in the Middle East, he went on to become a minister of the gospel and a teacher of religion. He has spoken around the world, authored many books. He is Dr. Philip Samaan. I'm John Bradshaw. This is "Our Conversation".
John Bradshaw: Dr. Philip Samaan, great to have you back again on "Conversations". Thanks for being here.
— Thank you.
— We're gonna talk about a book you've written, one of the many outstanding books you've written entitled, "The Mideast Messiah: Cultural Insights into Christ's Life and Ministry". It might be easy for people to forget that Jesus was a Middle Easterner who carried out his entire ministry in the Middle East, and that cultural and geographical background informed his ministry. Perhaps without a good understanding of that, it's not really easy to get to the heart of some of what Jesus was all about.
— That's true.
— Now, the Middle East informs your background. You were born and raised in Syria.
— That's right.
— Tell me a little bit about that.
— Well, I was raised in a small town on the shores of the Mediterranean. So our farm was next to the waves.
— You were literally on the beach.
— Exactly. Yes.
— Oh, that sounds idyllic.
— Our farm extended all the way to the sands of the beach. The place where I was born in Syria is south of biblical city of Antioch, okay, where the Christians were called Christians for the first time. I should say, followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time. And why were they called Christians? Because they're very passionate about Jesus and his teachings. They're excited about it. So people nicknamed them, "A bunch of Christians".
— I wanna ask you a little about this farm you were raised on. What, did you run animals? Did you grow stuff? What happened there?
— Animals, chicken, and donkeys, and sheep, and goats.
— You said, "The sheep and the goats"?
— Sheep and goats.
— And what did you grow?
— Well, anything you could think of, you know, four seasons that we can grow things in the winter, summer, fall and spring. And we had fruit trees. And so we basically grew our own food. We hardly had to buy anything.
— So you were raised eating Middle Eastern food, which is some of them most outstanding food on the planet. Do you still love Middle Eastern food?
— I still love Middle Eastern food. What you grow up with stays with you all your life. I'm so glad you like it.
— Oh, it's fantastic. So what do you like?
— Oh, tabbouleh, falafel, stuffed everything, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed squash, stuffed eggplants, peppers, anything stuffed is good. Plus, you know, hummus, baba ganoush. Maybe someday you can invite me to go with you to a Middle Eastern restaurant.
— If you can find a good one, I'll take you there without a moment's hesitation.
— We have witnesses here, so I'll hold you.
— I'm okay with that.
— I'll hold you to that.
— Middle Eastern food is truly magnificent.
— And it's healthy by the way.
— That's fantastic.
— Yeah. Two things it's healthy and tasty. Just like the gospel. The gospel is healthy, but we need to present it in a tasteful way.
— Now you present the gospel in a tasteful way whenever you speak, whenever you write. You had a burden evidently to write about the Middle Eastern-ness of our Messiah. Why did you feel like you wanted to write about Jesus from a Mideast perspective, or looking at some of those Middle Eastern insights?
— Because I taught the course at Enders University and here at Southern Adventist University about the life and teachings of Jesus for years. And I always tried to bring some depth into his teaching and his life because in the Western world, we look at things of the Bible in a kind of superficial way. I mean a good way, correct way, but we can go deeper. When we go deeper, we really understand the essence of what Jesus was saying. It doesn't mean what we know normally is not good, it is. But when you understand the culture, then you know the depth of what he said.
— Right, right, right. Even myself, there are times I recall learning certain things from a cultural perspective and thinking, "Oh, that just deepens things. It just..."
— It fattens up my understanding of the Bible and gives me a deeper appreciation for what was actually going on there.
— And my dream was someday I'll take time to write a book like that and use as a textbook. And the Lord has blessed me with that, and it's a finished product.
— Well, let's talk about the book. There's a thousand directions we're gonna go all at the same time. You write in the book about the uniqueness of Jesus to solve problems. Now...
— He was the Messiah after all sure, but you're going a little further than that. So let's flesh that out.
— Uniqueness, because today we have unique problems.
— I mean, it's not just COVID-19. We have the impossible problem of sin, and the impossible problem of death. You see the big problem today is not sickness. It's the sin behind sickness.
— And nobody can solve these things except Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Right.
— And that's why when we memorize the familiar text, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave". What do we say?
John Bradshaw: "His gave only begotten son".
— "His only begotten son". But the word begotten doesn't exist in the Greek. I mean, at that time, Jesus was trilingual. John was trilingual. You know, here, most people speak English.
— But can you imagine Jesus spoke three language and John spoke three language, and when John was penning these words in his own handwriting, he wrote them in Greek.
— Um hm, true.
— Now why Greek? Because of Grecian empire, it was the language, the universal language. And what else did he speak? Hebrew, because he was Jew. What else did he speak? Aramaic. Aramaic came from the exile in Babylon. They brought Aramaic with them. But when John wrote these words in John 3:16, this is what he said. "For gospel of the world that he gave his monogenes son". In other words, as you look at the Greek New Testament, that's the only word used. There is no begotten. Monogenes, which means one of a kind or unique. And that's why Muslims are upset with us. Why, because they have a text in the Quran that says that he wasn't begotten and he didn't beget anybody. And so when they hear the word begotten, they don't like that. And of course, as you know, how does he solve our impossible problems? Well, who else can take our sin away?
John Bradshaw: Only Jesus.
— Only Jesus. And who else can take our sin away? Why? I mean, sin away, is Jesus. Why is that? Because, because we are born in sin. Paul says in Romans 6:43, "For the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord". Jesus became sin who know no sin that we might have his righteousness. Jesus died. He fought death with death to give us eternal life. So these are the two biggest problems, unique problems nobody else can solve. And this is the unique solution Jesus can give us. So, I mean, Jesus is indispensable for everybody in the world. We have the answers for ultimate impossible problems and Jesus is the answer.
— And Jesus is the answer. Yeah, that's right. It's very easy to read the Bible. Now I wanna be careful because I don't want someone to think, "Well, why read the Bible"? You are not going there with what you're saying, But it's easy to read the Bible and miss some things that if you understood the culture, you'd say, "These are deeply significant". For example, even parts of the human body, right? The head, the feet, Jesus washed the disciples feet. Today we, from a Western perspective, I think, that's quite, understanding it from a Middle Eastern perspective, rather different. Let's talk for a little bit about this.
— To wash somebody's feet is not really a Western thing.
— Not at all.
— I participate in that few years ago with one of my students, and he felt uncomfortable washing my feet. You know what he said? He said, "Dr. Samaan, this is cheesy". I said, "Really"? He said, "Yeah, I mean, this is really..." So we say to ourselves, "Jesus want us to do so we do it". But what's the meaning behind it. That the issue here, you know. And so, for example, in the book, I talk about Jesus washing the feet of Judas who was going to betray him for 30 piece of silver. And Jesus lowered himself, you know. They didn't sit in chairs like these.
— They came down to the floor. And so for Jesus to have washed Judas' feet, he had to bring his head down almost touching Judas' feet.
John Bradshaw: Right.
— And so what does the culture teach us about that? The culture teaches us it wasn't just an act of being kind, or forgiving, or being nice. No, more than that. It was graphically very powerful and the disciples understood that. And what was it? Jesus was saying to Judas, "No matter what condition you are in, even betraying me, or selling me, I want you to know, I want my best to help you at your worst. I want my head to reach you at your feet". Meaning the head is the most noble part of the body, and the feet are the most base part of the body. So Jesus was saying, "I'm eager to use my best to help you at your worst".
— And this is the best of the divine Son of God. It's not like this was Judas' next door neighbor. This was the majesty of the heavens.
— God was telling him, "I am trying so hard to use my best," which is a lot, "to help you at your worst". So then, you know, the person who understands, that says, "You know something? I'm in trouble. I'm a big sinner. No matter what my condition is, Jesus is eager to use his best to help me at my worst". It gives people hope.
— Absolutely. Now, there's another occasion where feet were washed. These were Jesus' feet washed by Mary. So talk about the significance of that.
— The whole thing turns around. So notice Mary didn't feel worthy to be in the presence of Jesus. That's why she talked to him from behind, cause she couldn't feel worthy to see him face to face. Now notice everything she did in minister to Jesus was in her head area. Nowhere else. So Simon was the host. She wasn't the hostess. He had basins, but he didn't use them. He didn't treat Jesus in a special way. And Jesus remind him of that. "I came to your house, you didn't wash my feet, you didn't anoint my head. You didn't give me a kiss on the cheek," like the custom was and still is. "But this woman, notice this woman, from a time I came to your house". Notice she didn't have the basin. Her eyes served as the basin. Part of her face.
— She didn't have water. Her tears served as the water. She didn't have a towel. It wasn't her house. Her hair served as a towel. And then she didn't cease to kiss his feet. Not his cheek, she didn't feel worthy of that. And the lips are in the face area. Everything she used was in the head.
— Let me ask you this, so...
— And she used all of that to serve at his feet saying in essence, "Jesus, I don't deserve to be in your presence, but I'm doing my best".
— Somebody watching this, a woman kissing a man's feet, would that have been repulsive to them? Would they have thought, "Oh, that's gross"? Would they have considered, "Oh, she loves him so much".
— In this culture, it would seem that, okay, to kiss somebody's feet. But in that culture, in the culture of Jesus, that was the ultimate expression of devotion. I mean like total commitment, total devotion. And I remember an Adventist pastor who was taken away from family and put in prison and gave him no reason. Never told him you could have a lawyer or you can, you know, you can be here for a year, a few months and release you. And his wife was so desperate, devoted wife was so desperate for her husband and father of her kids to come home.
— So she went to the warden of the prison. Now this is kind of shocking, okay. And she came down and kissed his shoes. Why? To touch his heart to say what an act, that's an extreme act of humility and devotion that he released the prisoner without anything else, just let him go.
— He let him go?
— Yeah, let him go. Because she humbled herself so much. She showed such dedication, and love for her husband, and humility before this warden that he let her go. He let him go. So it is kinda weird, strange in this culture. That's why I wrote this book. But there it is, the ultimate in devotion to Jesus.
— Culture is very strong. I could wish that every Christian could experience Middle Eastern culture. I cannot claim to have experienced an immense amount of Middle Eastern culture. But I've spent some time in the Middle East, and I've associated with Middle Easterners, and what I've learned, man, they're incredibly warm people. It appears that relationships, or relationship matters immensely. I recall eating one evening with a family of Syrian refugees. Man, I thought they were gonna feed us to death. They clearly didn't have much, but what they had, they wanted us to have. It was warm and meaningful. Another time we were with a gentleman who was an academic, and same thing had happened. He was not Syrian. The friendship, the apparently genuine emphasis on relationships, friendship. We see that in the Bible. Very interesting when you consider the dynamic of the relationship between Peter and Jesus then, understanding how important relationships are, how strong friendships can become. What happened to Peter?
— Well, I talk about friendship, social relationships, and how Jesus treated his friends, even the ones who greatly disappointed him. In the Western world in contrast, you better be careful how to relate to your friend. If you make a mistake, you can take the risk of being abandoned.
— Yeah, I like, yeah, exactly, that's the word. And that's why people don't have close friends because they know there's a risk. You might make a mistake, and after you make a mistake, that's basically it. But look at Jesus. Loyalty, that's a very important quality in my culture. Loyalty, Peter promised to go to the cross to die with Jesus. And now for hardly any challenge, he just denied him. "I don't know this man". Well, what a denial. It would have been easy for Jesus or anybody to say, "That's it".
— Oh yeah.
— "He denied me, he betrayed me when I really needed him". And Peter felt that Jesus might not come back to restore relation, except Jesus is a forgiving person. Jesus is a loving person. And you know, he look at him with a look of kindness and forgiveness and love that touched Peter's heart. And even at the end before Jesus' ascent to heaven, he looked at Peter, he didn't say this to any of the disciples, he said, "Peter, do you love me"? Three times. So remember, Peter, the love is still there. "Do you love me"? I mean, "I love you, but I want to make sure you love me". And he said, "Tell Peter the good news of the resurrection". And that's why he gave him so many chances. This was a second chance. And Peter was eager to keep his promise of dying for Jesus on the cross. He was the only disciple who died on the cross. We learned that when they brought him to the cross, finally, he had this relief on his face. "Man, finally, I kept my promise and I'm dying here for Jesus". And he died in peace, knowing he forgave himself. He knew Jesus forgave him, but now he could forgive himself fully. So this is something about friendship and being sociable and being loyal.
— Hey, just very quickly cause we only have a few seconds before we pause, What do you think the significance is when Jesus was approached by Judas and he called him friend, friend? He wasn't a friend, he was a traitor, he was a turncoat. He was as disloyal as anyone in human history had been.
Dr. Philip Samaan: Right.
— Jesus called him friend, take a few seconds.
— Yeah, that's a very interesting question you're asking. Jesus friends with everybody, even the ones who were crucifying him. He longed for Judas' salvation. In fact, when he bathed his feet in the water, the love of Christ penetrated through and through the heart of Judas and he almost repented. And so Jesus prayed for his crucifiers. Can you imagine the ones who relishing every bit of pain, the torture, his father, it was a form of a prayer. "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing". Like he gave the benefit of a doubt. "If they were more enlightened, please take it easy on them, because if they knew better, they wouldn't do this". And he prayed for them. And his prayer was so mighty at the preaching of Peter, the Spirit anoint preaching of Peter, that they were converted. Can you imagine that? The prayer of Jesus helped them to be converted. And so that tremendous love, this unconditional love can convert people, the worst of them. And Judas could have been converted. And Jesus considered friend to the end, Even the ones who would be destroyed at the end, the sinners, Jesus will continue loving them.
— What an immense blessing to understand the Bible a little better from a cultural perspective. Dr. Philip Samaan has made that easy for you. It's a book you can get from "It is written," "The Mideast Messiah". I'll be back with Dr. Samaan and more of our conversation in just a moment.
— Welcome back to "Conversations". My very special guest is Dr. Philip Samaan, a lifelong minister of the gospel and a teacher of the word of God at university level, an accomplished author. Dr. Samaan, your book, "The Mideast Messiah: Cultural Insights into Christ's Life and Ministry" does some of the heavy lifting for those of us who may not understand Middle Eastern culture, and takes us a little deeper into the Bible by helping us to see things from a cultural perspective. There's some people I wanna ask you about, several, one of them being the Samaritan woman. Now we know, I think by now, Westerners, the Jews and the Samaritans were at loggerheads with each other, they despised each other. But I don't know if I can really appreciate like you can what this animosity really meant and how Jesus addressed it. So take me there and talk about the Samaritan woman.
— Great animosity. They hated the Samaritans more than the Romans because they thought of the Romans as being one race, one culture, but the Samaritans were the byproduct of Babylonians mixed with Jews. You know, when Nebuchadnezzar came to the land of Israel, and he depopulated the area.
— Um hm.
— And he brought some Babylons to mix with the local peasants. So Samaritans were like halfbreed, culturally, religiously, racially. So they are hated, especially because of that. And for Jesus to have approached the Samaritan woman, a woman, especially a woman, that's why she said, "How can you, a Jewish man, talk to a Samaritan woman"? He was showing his love, his caring as a savior of the world. He didn't come to condemn people. He came to save them.
— How shocking was it for others to stumble onto a situation where Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman? Did that really shock his followers?
— Yeah, it was shocking. And the disciples were not there. He was with her alone. And where were the disciples? They went to fetch some food because he was hungry. And he began socializing with her by ask her for a favor. You don't normally in that culture, ask her a favor because you become indebted to that person. If you want to be indebted, then you're interested in a relationship. And he said, "I'm thirsty. I want a drink of water". But you know, it's interesting, John, that there were three tasks to be accomplished in that experience. Number one, he was thirsty.
— Number two, he was hungry. And number three, she came to get water to her people. None of these things were accomplished, why? Because such a great experience took place. In other words, Jesus' ministry toward this woman was not over work, it was over flow. It flowed out of him. And so she was so excited about the water of life, she forgot her jar and took off to tell them about the water of life. Then when the disciples came with the food, he said, "I'm not hungry anymore". Why? "Because my food and drink is do the will of my father". And she never gave him a drink of water. She took off.
— Hey, there's something that I found interesting about this I commented on many times. How is it that you being a Jew, she leaves her water pot, runs to town, and she says, "Come and see a man," not, "Come and see a Jew". "Come and see a man" The ethnic racial distinction was forgotten.
— Even the animosity was forgotten. Listen, the Jews and the Samaritans were racist. They hated each other on racial grounds. They were bigots. Her bigotry was shattered by an encounter with Jesus. That to me is a pretty amazing insight.
— It's amazing because Christ's approach is a winner. That's how he changes people's lives, the way he relates to us. I call him the four S's because these are verbs that with the letter S.
— What are the four S's?
— First thing, socialize.
— Um hm. Not the programs. If you really want to affect somebody's life, socialize with that person, treat them as a valuable individual. "This man treats me as a valuable person, not a despised Pharisee," and, "I trust you so much I want to receive a favor from you. Give me a drink of water". Socialize and then after that, the second S is sympathize. Christ was a sympathizing person. He sympathized with her and her situation. And then the third thing is to serve her and serve her people. And finally, to save. And that was the ultimate result of his approach. She was saved. Her people were saved. Bless Christ's approach. And one more thing, I want to bring in, if it's okay, to bring in example of another person, Zacchaeus...
— I was wanting to ask you about Zacchaeus.
— was a Jew.
— Wasn't he a Jew? So I'm contrasting the Samaritan who was hated, despised, with a Jew who was a task collector, but he was hated, too, by his own people. How did Jesus make him feel worthwhile? How did Jesus' approach bring him to conversion? Well, you know, first of all, he didn't feel worthy to meet Jesus, so he hid in the Sycamore tree.
— I mean, like, you know, like you drive your car and you have tinted windows, okay? So you can see outside, but nobody can see you inside. So he thought he could hide in the tree. He could just have the pleasure and the privilege of seeing Jesus, but nobody was going to see him. But Jesus, if you look for Jesus, he sees you. He knows your heart. And so he called him, socialize with him. How do you socialize with people? How do I socialize with my students? Call them by name, remember their names. That's what I try to do in my classes. I remember their names and pleasantly surprise them with it. "Zacchaeus. Who is calling me? A lot of people, he focus on me as individual". "Zacchaeus, come down and be with me. I went you to stand by me and to experience the spiritual comradery with me". And that wasn't finished. He said, "Now I must come to your house today".
— Is that significant that Jesus would say, "I'm coming to your place"? Not, "It would be nice," like sometimes we say in the west. How many people have talked to you and me and said, "It would be nice to get together someday," but they never get together, you see? But Jesus said, not only it would be nice, "I must come to your house today". Today, not one of these days. It's interesting. And now in that culture, the culture of Jesus and my culture that I came from, you never invite yourself to somebody's house unless you consider them close family members. The power of Christ's approach, "I not only want to be your friend. I want to be your brother. I want to be a family member". And usually when they went to somebody's house to eat a meal, they would stay overnight, and they'd be offered the best bed in the house.
— So that's the significance. And that's why with Zacchaeus, he experienced a revival, a spiritual revival followed by what? By reformation, in that order, revival, reformation, why? Because he began to do what's right, right away. All the people he stole from, he want to return. He want to reform his life in the presence of Christ. Christ motivated him not to only be revived, but his life to be reformed. And then Jesus said, "Salvation has to come to this household". Again, socialize, sympathize, serve, and save.
— And save. Yeah. Jesus had a fascinating... He didn't seem to care too much for social conventions. I sort of a feel as though if there was a leper outside the "It is Written" building, and I went out and touched the leper, and got close to the leper, and spent time with the leper, and then walked back in, I mean, I don't know, but I just imagine some of my friends and colleagues might be thinking, "That's not great".
— Be careful.
— Yeah, be careful. Jesus did that very thing, 2,000 years ago, when the poor leper didn't have access to antibiotics or decent medical treatment. What do we make of encounters like that when Jesus just rolls right into the presence of the terminally ill, who at that time were the off-scarring of society? What can we understand about that from a cultural, a cultural perspective?
— You see from a cultural perspective, Jesus was, first of all, people oriented, and then task oriented. In the Western world, it's often being task oriented. And if we have any time, then we become people oriented. So that's the cultural difference. But in order to affect people and help their lives to be transformed by the power of Jesus, you've got to be people oriented. People are reached one by one in our personal contact. So what did Jesus do? It says he was "moved with compassion". It has to do with being people oriented. He was moved with compassion and what else? And then he "stretched forth his hand and he touched him". The man wasn't touched for so long by anybody. He was long for human touch and Jesus knew what he needed. And he said then, "Be cleansed". And he was cleansed. It's interesting, he came requesting to be cleansed. Jesus ignored that task at the beginning. He said, "No, no, I want to minister to you as a person". So he was moved with compassion and touched him. And you know, there are three words associated with the ministry of Jesus as he reached out to people, you know, sympathy, sympathy, I agree, which means to feel with somebody.
— And then empathy, a bit more intense, to put yourself in the place of that person. And compassion, that's a very powerful word, compassion. Comes from the Latin word, compati, which means to suffer with. That's a deeper level. "I'm not only showing you sympathy and empathy. I am actually suffering with you". In other words, Jesus became a leper who knew no leprosy to help this person. "I'm suffering with you right now". And so this is very powerful to help us today as we help people. That person otherwise, you know, sinners, people who are hopeless to say, "I feel your pain. I'm sharing in your suffering". You know, it's interesting today, the word passion, "I'm passionate about this. I'm passionate about the other". It's used in a, you know, I mean, "I'm happy about it. I'm excited about it," you know. But actually in its original meaning, it means to suffer. You know, Mel Gibson's movie about...
— "The Passion of the Christ".
— "The Passions of Christ," the sufferings of Christ. You know, one of my students said, "You know, I'm so passionate about my girlfriend". I said, "What do you mean by that"? He said, "Because I love her, I'm excited about her". But this means really suffering. He said, "Well". You know, I mean, today somebody in love, you have to have experienced some suffering.
— Let me ask you a question about the book itself, "The Mideast Messiah". It's a book filled, it's rich with insights into the book we love, the Bible, and will help a person gain a deeper appreciation for Jesus and for the word of God. Give great insights into me of the teachings found in the Bible. Let me just step back a little bit and ask you this question. What did you enjoy about writing of this book? And were there moments as you were writing that you said, "Oh, that's an insight," that perhaps you, as a Middle Easterner were not aware of? What was the process of writing this book like for you?
— Well, that question you asked for me because, you know, I thought maybe I knew everything about the culture and interpreting all these things. But you're right, in the process of writing this book with the help of the Holy Spirit, like when I'm working a certain paragraph, then a new insight comes to me that wasn't there before, which made the experience more enriching, which tells us when it comes to the word of God and the experiences of Jesus and his teachings, and all of that, is non-ending. You keep being enriched. The more you delve into it, the more enriching it becomes. And that's why people who believe in absolute perfectionism don't know what they're talking about, because, because only Christ is absolutely perfect. We are learning along the way, learning and learning. Even in heaven we'll be learning. So I'm learning. I haven't even started yet because heaven will be a ceaseless approaching to God. Can you imagine, John, for millions of years, for eternity we'll be learning more about Jesus. I didn't expect to ask me that question. I'm glad you did. And I did learn a lot by actually delving into it and writing about it.
John Bradshaw: Fantastic.
— And praying.
— It seems to me that Jesus is at times unfairly characterized. I don't think he was an unfeeling person. I don't think he was an unemotional person. I don't mean he was unhinged in any way. What do we see in the Bible about Jesus, the emotional Jesus? What does looking at this thing from a Mideast perspective uncover, or maybe clarify?
— Well, you know, in the Western world, emotions, expressive emotions is not encouraged. We state the case, sometimes in not very interesting way, not very passionate way. Because when I first came to this country, I was just starting my ministry. I was like 23, and I was selected to be a member of the conference committee to represent young pastors. So I presented my ideas with passion, with earnestness, and somebody came to me and said, "By the way, people think you're unstable emotionally".
— Oh, really? "So calm down and just state things in a calm way and people take you more seriously". And so I learned my lesson. I kept my emotions a lot inside of me. I learned my lesson to be Americanized so people can listen to me more seriously. But when I preach, when I teach, people always make the comment, "You come across very earnest. You're such an earnest person. You really believe this? You really believe it, don't you"? I said, "Yes, of course I do". And so my culture then dictates to me the approach I use in expressing myself. Now, Jesus was, he uses emotions in the right way. I mean, he had a genius of mind, but a big heart. And you remember when he prayed over Jerusalem at the end? "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how much I want to gather you as a hen would gather her chicks under her wings, but you won't let me". He prayed this with deep emotion. He wept, often he wept. And there is something I want to share here in that connection. How did Jesus pray for people, for the ones crucifying him, for Jerusalem, God's people? How did he pray? Well, you know, it's interesting. I didn't read any of my book, so maybe I could read something to you?
— Yeah, go ahead.
— Yeah. Okay, look at this. This is from the book. "We're told to encourage expression of love toward God and toward one another. The reason why there are so many hardened men and women in the world today is that true affection has been regarded as weakness and has been discouraged and repressed. The better nature of these persons was stifled in childhood. If we wish our children to possess a tender spirit of Jesus and the sympathy that the angels manifest for us, we must encourage the generous, loving impulses of childhood". Interesting. And I couple this on page 134. This what it says from the same book, by the way. It's very graphic description of Jesus' emotions. "As Jesus prayed for Jerusalem and his people, the people watching him praying are surprised and disappointed to see Jesus' eyes filled with tears". That's emotion. You know, when students come to my office and they deal with emotional subject and they start having tears coming down, they apologize. "I'm so sorry, Dr. Samaan, I didn't mean to show tears". I say, "Don't apologize. It's okay. God made tears for a reason". And I say, "Jesus wept, so you're in good company".
— That's right.
— Okay. So let me continue this paragraph here. "And so his eyes filled with tears". That's the first body language, sign of body language. The second sign of body language, "And his body rocked to and fro like a tree in the midst of a storm". The body of Jesus was shaking. The third sign of body language, "While a wail of anguish burst from his quivering lips as from the depths of a broken heart". Wow, that's quite a graph description of Jesus' emotions.
— That it is.
— Can you imagine being there like the the people around him and he said, "Jesus, you're God, why are you weeping with such big tears"? Says, "Because I love you, and I'm doing my best to help you be saved". "Why is your body shaking like a tree in the midst of a tempest"? He said, "Because I love you. I'm praying for you. I want to be, in the worst way, I want to save you". "And why do you have this wail of anguish from your quivering lips"? Now notice quivering lips, because it's an emotion that's... It's not an emotion can be controlled. It's the result, it's the consequence of being deeply emotion. The lips of the Son of God were quivering, can you imagine that, for you and me. To me, that's very, very important to know how much Jesus cares about us.
— He cares about us immensely. The book is "The Mideast Messiah". You can get it from us at "It is Written," or I'm sure you can search for it online. I'm looking forward to speaking with Dr. Samaan about one of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament, the prodigal son. We'll have more in our conversation in just a moment.
— Welcome back to "Conversations". My guest is Dr. Philip Samaan, born and raised in Syria in the Middle East. He's written a book called "The Mideast Messiah," a book filled with rich insights into the cultural background and context of Jesus and his ministry. Dr. Samaan, I said a moment ago I wanted to ask you about a fascinating character. And my thinking is the story of the prodigal son has gotta be enhanced if you have some sort of cultural understanding for it. So let's walk through the story of the prodigal son. What might we have missed by missing the culture?
— Well, chapter 15 of Luke talks about three parables. Every one of them is about being lost, lost sheep. No problem with that. Crying out for help. Lost coin was lost, but wasn't aware it was lost. But when you search for the coin, the coin didn't resist. There's a church member who discovers his loss and he's willing to be helped, but the prodigal son is another thing. Human being, first of all, wasn't a coin. He wasn't a sheep, a real person. In that culture, if you ask your father to give you the inheritance prematurely, this was a great insult. In other words it's saying, "I wish you were dead. But now you're not dead, therefore, I want to get it right now and get away from home, get away from God's people, go to a heathen country". And his father respect his freedom of choice like God does. He said, "Okay, you can have it". And he waste it away. The bottom line of that story is this. His father did not chase him. "Come back. You have to come back". No, he let him be. He respect his freedom of choice even though it was the wrong choice.
— What does that look like from a cultural perspective? Would you expect a Middle Eastern father to pursue the boy? Or would you just expect him to let him go?
— To pursue the boy. Because they're very much bonded, attached to each other, you know, and so he would want to pursue him. Because Jesus does not always agree with the culture, by the way.
— Remember what we talk about the Samaritan women? That was a taboo in the Jewish culture. He went sometimes beyond the culture.
— He pushed his approach to a level that Jews didn't accept. So this is one of them. So then at the end he wastes all his money. He reached the bottom of the bottom.
— Yeah, you've got a Jewish boy feeding pigs.
— Feeding pigs, not just touching pigs, not just taking care of pigs, not just looking at pigs, actually feeding them, being very close to them.
— Dining with them, as it were.
— A shepherd at that time would get very close to his sheep. They become like family.
— Um hm.
— And so now he was hungry. He was so hungry that he wished he could eat the pigs' food. You know, in that culture, when you eat with somebody, it's not just eating a meal. Sometimes you invite somebody to your home and say, "Well, I guess I'll come. I'll just get a meal out of it". But with us, there's an emotional connection, spiritual bonding, you know. And the expression, "He ate at my table, he had salt with me". You don't forget that. You remember that always. And so here, this young man, Jewish young man, was eager to eat the pigs' food, meaning to have a meal with them and therefore bond with them, and therefore be on their level, to be a pig, so to speak. That's the worst for a Jewish person.
— So this young man had absolutely bottomed out.
— It wasn't the bottom of the bottom yet. There was even lower than that. I don't want to ask you the question if you know, or not, you're not my student.
— No, I'm waiting to.
— So, I ask this to my students and I tell' em it'll be on the quiz tomorrow, and all of them miss it, maybe one out of 50 might guess it right. And it's from the Bible, you know where it says, "He desired. He was so hungry he desired to have the pigs' food, but nobody would give it to him". What does that mean? He wasn't worthy to be a pig. I mean, that's the bottom of the bottom. And because of that, he said, "What's wrong with me? Even the servants of my dad at least have a decent meal. I better go to my father and say, 'I've sin against you.'" But he didn't do that until he reached the bottom of the bottom. And I mean bottom is to feel like he is on the level of pigs. The bottom of the bottom is he didn't deserve to eat the pigs' food, so he was worse than the pig. And that really... Some people do not come to God and repents unless they reach the rock bottom.
— And this is what's so phenomenal. The young man did a despicable thing. He essentially said to his dad, "I wish you were dead". He took two-thirds of the value of the farm. Two boys. He was the older one. He would've got the double portion. And squandered it, and news came back home very evidently because the other brother said, "You know what this son of yours has been doing"? The incredible, incredible grace shown by God to welcome, to receive the young man back. As a matter of fact, it seems to me, many times the story of the prodigal son is mis-told. We have a picture where the son goes off into a far country and the dad, God, stays back at the farm waiting for him to return. Of course, if that's what God was like, we should all quit because God is not like that. The young man's in the pig sty. The Bible says he came to himself, which nobody does. The Spirit of God pursued him. So while he's sitting there on a log or a stump or something in some stinking pig sty, The Spirit of God is sitting right there by him speaking to his heart. "You know your old man would take you back. You'd be better off at home. You'd be better off at home". So the Spirit of God pursued him, pursued him. And then what did it mean to the young to say to himself from a cultural perspective, "I'm gonna go back home to dad and kind of humiliate myself". Was that easy for him to do?
— Well, he was so desperate and so hungry. He tried to survive so he was willing to do anything. But he did not expect his father to be that kind.
— That generous. He didn't expect that at all. But this to show us what our heavenly Father is like. He was hoping that he would have a decent meal. He was hoping he will treat as a servant, at least, you know, just like one of the workers. But his father pleasantly shocked him by this awesome generosity. "You're lost, I'm so glad you're found. I'm so glad you came back. Let's celebrate". And that's how God is to us. No matter what we do, no matter how low we get, you know, like with Judas, we talked about Judas. I mean, look at the low level. He was going to sell his best friend for lousy 30 piece of silver. And Jesus was saying, "But now I love you so much, I want my best to help you at your worst". I mean, this is what God is like. We should never have any doubt that God loves us unconditionally and he wants to restore us. And he's so happy to see us no matter what we did.
— He's in the business of salvation, not condemnation.
— Let's talk for a minute about Gethsemane.
— Gethsemane. Walk me a little bit about through what the book says here. How do we better understand Gethsemane when we have a deeper cultural appreciation of what was taking place in the times, in the cultural context?
— Well, Gethsemane is a very important word for me. As I did the research on that, I learned more about it. And it connects with my culture, my background, what I experienced as a child.
— What do I mean by that? Gethsemane is a Aramaic word. Isn't it interesting Jesus spoke Aramaic?
— Um hmm. Sure is.
— I mean, wow, he was trilingual. Of course now he knows every language. But in his flesh he knew three languages.
— So it's nice to know another language. And so Gethsemane means oil press. You know what an oil press? In the old times,
John Bradshaw: sure.
— you would have like a big caldron, big. And then you have a stone wheel, very heavy. And then you have mules or horses pulling that around and around to crush the olives, to crush them so much so that they would look like pulp, like a paste. And you know what Jesus said to his disciples, "My soul is pressed unto death". The olives were pressed to oblivion, into death. And then what happened after that? You take a shovel. When you finish the crushing of these olives, make them into a paste, you take a shovel, and you take this paste, so to speak, and there'll be round canvas, containers made off canvas. You know, it's just like a pita bread, you know, it's hollow inside.
— Yeah. But there is a little opening on top and you put this pulp in there, and you stack them one on top of the other. I've seen it with my eyes. I helped do that. And you have hydraulic compactor that would come from on top and would press it down, press it down, press it down. And the precious olive oil would ooze out. You know, olive oil in my part of the world is like life.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
— I mean, olive is used for everything, to medicate yourself, to whatever. You can't live without olive oil. So that represents life. And so the soul of Christ was so pressed on the cross that his blood came forth to save the world. So this is very significant to me because just like the olives were crushed, Christ's life was crushed. The olives were pressed into little tiny paste. The life of Jesus was pressed on the cross. Olive oil to give life to the people came forth, and the blood of Christ came forth to give life to people. It's an amazing imagery. So when you deal with this culture, then the blood of Christ becomes more precious. He actually said, "My soul is pressed," oil press, you see, pressed, the verb, press, is used, "unto death". Wow! And actually he died.
— We have just a few minutes. I want, if there's something else from your book, "The Mideast Messiah," that you would leave us with as a sort of a final thought. If there was one other thing you'd like to cover or discuss, what would that be?
— You know, from a previous discussion, I'd like to mention that Jesus in reaching people, cause I like the subject, reaching people. Always reading books about that, how to reach people like Jesus, how to be effective. It's interesting when he met the leper, first of all, he touched him before he healed him.
— To Jesus the touch was very important. I mean, in the Western world, to contrast with the Middle Eastern culture is, "Hey, the guy has a problem. He wants to be healed. Heal him, get it over with and don't touch him. Clean him first and then touch him". How could you touch leprosy? You know, Jewish culture, you don't even come close to a leper. It was against the culture to touch a leper. But Jesus went beyond the culture and he said, "I want to touch him before I cleanse him". Why, "Because I want him to know I love him even while he's still a leper". Very significant.
— Oh yeah.
— And also, so we talk about felt need and real need. What was the felt need of the leper? To be touched. What was the real need? To be cleansed from leprosy and the leprosy of sin. They came in that order. Jesus was both people oriented, but then task oriented. In this culture, we are mostly task oriented. But we are more effective if we are people oriented like Jesus. And the other thing I want to mention is this. That when Jesus prayed, you know, for Jerusalem, he prayed for the people who rejected him, most of them. He prayed so effectively. You know, he prayed for the people who crucified him. And as I said before, that they were converted at the Spirit anoint preaching of Peter. That's very powerful praying, to convert a Pharisee who was cursing at you, and he was enjoying your pain and torment. That takes a lot of power. Christ's prayers were very effective. And so when he prayed for the ones crucifying him, when he prayed for the people of Jerusalem, you know, it's interesting that he prayed, I call 'em the four P's. We talked about the four S's. Are there four P's. Do you remember the four S's, socialize, sympathize serve?
— And save.
— And save, thank you. Then these four P's, when Jesus prayed for people individually, collectively, he prayed personally. "Simon, Simon," by name. "The devil desired sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you". Secondly, he prayed passionately.
— Mm sure.
— With great emotion. He prayed powerfully. That's the third P. And finally he prayed perpetually. He ever lives to make intercession for us.
— Perpetually. The book is "The Mideast Messiah". It must have been a joy to write. It's a joy to read. And I believe anybody who reads this, they're understanding, their appreciation of not only Christ, but of the Bible is gonna expand and deepen greatly. Dr. Philip Samaan, thank you.
— I hope so. Thank you.
— This has been a blessing. He's an author, a teacher, a minister of the gospel. He is Dr. Philip Samaan. The book is "The Mideast Messiah". You can get it from us at "It is Written". This has been our conversation.