Some Good News

I think most people like short sermons. In general, and unless the preacher is extremely interesting, I believe brevity is the most appreciated quality of a sermon, by most people. And that belief includes the understanding that there are exceptions among people, and among preachers.

So, when I read sermons in Scripture, whether the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Scriptures, their length is always of interest to me. It’s one of the ways I evaluate the “sermon”. We have so few traditional sermons of Jesus, this example in Mark is one I find very interesting:

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee,  preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15 NASB

The reason I find it so interesting is the amazing amount of information packed into so few words. It is nearly a string of jokes with the just the punchlines included; as if it elicits the same response had the terms been defined, but, instead, relies on the familiarity of the hearer. I believe this is, in fact, exactly what Mark has done.

But we are not necessarily familiar with the terms, or simply assume they are what we think they mean. Some of you may know exactly what they mean, but when was the last time you thought this sermon through, unpacking the words as you read it?

Here is what I mean:

  1. The time… – this is the opportune time, not sequential, calendar time. It’s not about dates having past as much as events having been accomplished.
  2. …has been fulfilled… – completely made full. The “todo” list has all of the items checked to make it the right, opportune, time. Don’t you wish you could have read that list, just to see what our Creator put on it?
  3. …the Kingdom of God… – Israel assumed this was Israel, but also understood it to mean “the sphere of God’s supreme influence”. It was simply understood that God would not exercise supreme influence unless Israel was free from Roman rule and religious corruption. This was a misunderstanding.
  4. …is at hand; – literally, “has drawn near”, it has happened already, and is a present reality. Even though Israel is still ruled by Rome, and the religious leaders remain corrupt, the sphere of God’s supreme influence has already taken up residence with His human creatures.
  5. repent… – we typically say, “turn”, which is another term sometimes used for “repent”, but it literally is a “change of mind” or “after thought”. Either way, it happens in the mind first. It is a “paradigm shift” to align our thinking with the thinking of our Savior. It is seeing and evaluating things as He sees and evaluates them, using the same priorities and values.
  6. …and believe… – a mental acceptance of information as valid and actionable.
  7. …the gospel. – Good News. This isn’t “news”, but specifically good news. This good news is about what has just been said, but also contains the record of the events in this book of Mark about Jesus. What makes it “good”, from the perspective of our Savior, is that Israel does not need to be freed from Rome, nor their temple worship purged of corruption for His sovereignty to operate in the lives of His people.

You might think, “Well, good for them. But what about me?” You mean you have not been waiting for some “filling” of a “todo list” of our Savior before the next thing happens? We look for His “appearing” with excited apprehension, or we used to.

If you are waiting for the “purification of God’s people”, then you are a lot like the Jews of Jesus’ day. If you are waiting for some political turn of events to signal the reign of our Savior, then you have adopted the paradigm of the Jews under Rome. If you are waiting on something else, you are sitting on the trailside rather than walking with your King.

The new paradigm of Jesus, the “good news”, is that God is sovereign right now, and we can walk with Him, right now.

Is the world wonky and off? Walk with Jesus, and you will influence the world for your Savior. Is your church squabbling and stymied? Walk with your Creator, and you will influence your fellow disciples for your King.

It is arrogance that drives us to belittle others. One of the ways we know we are walking with our Savior is how humbling it is. If we feel arrogant toward others, we have been walking with a god of our making, or worse. Walking with Jesus means we are very aware of our failings and His grace.

If you want people to be different, you cannot change them. Be that disciple you believe Jesus desires, and allow the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus to influence them. Live out Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Corinthians 13. Be that guy.

The Walk

I have been wrestling with a few things in my heart lately. They are a mixture of something I found in Philippians, recent sermons heard in my church, and my recent study of Hebrews. Actually, it also includes what I hear as a consistent theme in modern church music.

The problem is described pretty well in Hebrews 4:1-2:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

Hebrews 4:1-2 NASB

Here’s the problem: what does it mean to unite the truth of Jesus with faith? According to the letter of James, faith without works is dead (James 2:17-18). But what of works? Clearly, works are not what saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9), and yet works are what we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10). So, what are we supposed to be doing? What works fulfill our purpose?

And this is an important question because failing to find that answer endangers our finding the final rest of our Savior (Hebrews 4:1). This question of what we are supposed to be about is crucial to our “Walk with God”. Think about this enormous elephant in the room: Belief in the Cross of Jesus does not save us in and of itself. Are you now horrified, and ready to burn me at the stake as a heretic? Well, wait for it…

The cross of Jesus makes it possible to enter into a relationship with our Creator. The barrier of our sin, of our rebellion, of all our twisting of His work in human history has been removed in the work of Jesus on a Roman cross. All debts are paid at the Cross of Jesus, and, in truth, we are finally free. And if Jesus had only died on that Roman cross, our sin would have been paid for, but He didn’t only die on that cross.

Paul, in the letter to the church in Philippi wrote the following, summarizing the life of Jesus:

who, although He existed in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
But emptied Himself,
Taking the form of a bond-servant,
And being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
By becoming obedient to the point of death,
Even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him,
And bestowed on Him the name
Which is above every name,
So that at the name of Jesus
Every knee will bow,
Of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And that every tongue will confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11 NASB

The quote is from the New American Standard, but I put it in the poetic structure of the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition Greek Text. This is likely from an early Christian hymn, which means it was supposed to be familiar to the church. Yet Paul begins his quote by commanding them to “Reason yourself to the same conclusion reached by Jesus.” (my translation of Philippians 2:5).

From this hymn, we learn that Jesus essentially did three things, three things Paul wants the people of the Philippian disciples to do:

  1. Jesus empties Himself of His equal form and nature of God (v.7)
  2. Jesus took the form of a servant (v.7)
  3. Jesus humbled Himself becoming obedient to death (v.8)

The basic pattern of Jesus is made up of these three things. And Paul goes on to describe three examples of people, familiar to the Philippian disciples, who lived these three things out: Timothy (Philippians 2:19-22, servant), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30, obedience to the point of death), and Paul, himself (Philippians 3:3-11, emptying himself).

What this means for us is that we are designed to live out this pattern as well. It is good to celebrate the Cross of Jesus. But, let’s continue on to celebrate the Resurrection Power of Jesus at work in us to follow the pattern of Jesus. When we stop, content to be “saved”, we fail to continue on walking with Jesus in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). And according to Hebrews 4:1,2, this means we fail to reach the Garden at all.

The purpose of the Cross of Jesus is to bring down the barriers erected in the Garden of Eden. Now we can empty ourselves of the oppressive weight of all our power and achievements. The barriers to becoming a servant have been destroyed. And our obedience is made possible through the blood sacrifice, once for all, of our Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 2:14-3:1).

I have been called by my Master to three things. I have been called to wait, to worship, and to walk before Him. I have been enabled to do these three things because my Master knows my name, He loves me, and He has my back.

Regardless of how you express it, you are called to walk with Jesus, daily. And this walk is characterized by a cross of your own. To carry it, we empty ourselves and become a servant. Then, and only then, can we carry our mark of obedience toward death, even the death of a cross. What this looks like for you will depend on Jesus. For Peter and John, they had to leave their nets. For the “Rich Young Ruler”, he had to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor. What will “emtying” look like for you?

Why The Fuss?

Has God ever done something that simply makes no sense to you? In our lives, much that happens to us, or even around us, is inexplicable. And, in Scripture, every now and then, we stumble onto an instance where the actions of our Creator and Savior make little sense to us. There is one of those in Exodus 4.

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood “– because of the circumcision.

Exodus 4:24-26 NASB

This happens immediately following a side comment by God to Moses as Moses is preparing to head back to Egypt. There God explains why He intends to eventually kill the firstborn of Egypt. This will eventually be the final “plague”, and later, it will not have this explanation. The verses above pickup the account of Moses as he is on the way back to Egypt.

Like most commentators admit, there is no certainty about why God meets Moses along the way to kill (literally, cause someone to die). In fact, it’s not certain that God meets Moses specifically, but, rather, “him”. It’s the third person singular male pronoun rather than a specific person. The pronoun isn’t emphasized, but is the suffix of the verb “to meet”. That’s not truly helpful though. The problem is that grammatically, it makes more sense to understand that the pronoun has Moses as its antecedent than someone else. That may be confusing but there were other males with Moses, two specifically.

We’re told later that Moses has a second son, Eliezer. And the previous reference to Moses leaving his father-in-law says that he put his “sons” on a donkey, not just one. While his firstborn son, Gershom, we already know of, Eliezer hasn’t been mentioned yet. In fact, Exodus isn’t very forthcoming about Moses family-by-marriage. So, the third-person singular male pronoun could be either one of Moses’ sons, the one Moses’ wife, Zipporah, circumcises. But that’s not as clear as we’d like. It makes a certain amount of sense, though.

Circumcision is a practice of both the sons of Israel and Egyptians. Uncircumcised males were ostracized by both groups (Genesis 17:14). But the penalty for uncircumcision wasn’t death. So, even so, this seems peculiar behavior for the One having sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver the sons of Israel.

So, what does this reveal to us about the One calling us to His purposes, to His plans, and what He deems important? For one thing, He takes His callings and invitations to us very seriously. This seems to be a matter of life and death to God. For another, He is a serious God. Our Creator doesn’t take His relationship with us lightly, nor should we take it lightly. Our relationship with our Creator is life and death business. Think of this statement by Paul:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of  knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and  the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7 — 11 (NASB)

It’s easy to ignore the clear uncertainty in Paul’s wording in verse 11, but maybe we shouldn’t. Perhaps Paul senses something in his relationship with Jesus that we miss or conveniently ignore. Maybe, for Paul, his relationship with Jesus is a matter of life and death. Look what he says immediately following:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12 — 14 (NASB)


Notice Paul repeats his view that he hasn’t obtained the resurrection yet. It could be that Paul is pointing out the obvious, that Jesus hasn’t returned yet. But isn’t it more realistic that Paul is pointing out that He does not consider himself qualified for the resurrection? Review the context again, does it sound like he is referring to Jesus appearing? Or have we assumed it’s a reference to Jesus’ return because the alternative is so unsettling? Maybe this One with Whom we have to do is more serious than we think. It seems Paul took Him very seriously.

Perhaps you think Paul is a bit overly fanatical for your tastes. Perhaps you prefer to rely on Jesus’ teaching, as if you will find solace there for this topic. Check out how Luke records the words of Jesus regarding discipleship:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26 NASB

Or perhaps you prefer Matthew:

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39 NASB

Sounds like life and death for Jesus as well. Yahweh seeks to bring death into a family where there is disobedience along the path of obedience. Paul strives as if his life depends on his effort to reach Jesus. Jesus calls his disciples, who have already left home and occupation for Him, to hate every other relationship other than Him, or they are not worthy (Matthew) of Him. It’s serious. God is serious. The relationship we have with Jesus is serious, and it seems like God seeks serious people to relate to. It seems as if this “salvation” in which we live is a matter of life and death now, not just in the future, at a judgement, comfortably far off in the future.

And keep in mind, Moses was on his way, albeit reluctantly, to obey God when he was confronted with death from God. Whatever else it may mean, for whatever other reason may have been present, the inescapable fact is that God sought to cause death within Moses’ family. That was His intent, and He relents when Moses’ wife circumcises their son. They escaped divine disaster by the foreskin of their son.

If this feels creepy, good. If you find this unsettling, that’s probably an indicator you’re finally understanding God better. If you are wondering if you really signed up for the right program, then you are finally getting gist of Luke’s depiction of the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). It’s supposed to be unsettling. Yet, on the other hand, we’re supposed to be focused on making disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20). So, yes, it’s expensive, but, we’re supposed to pony up the cost.

In other words, this unsettling, kind of creepy, Creator of the universe relating to us, not only sacrificed His only Son for this relationship, but expects no less of us. To a bratty selfish entitled culture, that sounds harsh. To so many others around this globe, it makes a lot of sense. For many among the most populous nations of the earth, any expression of faith in Jesus costs them everything. It never occurs to them to take their relationship with Jesus any less serious than He takes it. Maybe it’s time for us to put on a pair of “grown-up-disciple-pants”, lest we too are met along the path of obedience by our Master seeking to cause death.

Is Timing Really Everything?

When the dust settles, the wounds have been bandaged, and the clean up begins, it often becomes the time to wonder, “what went wrong in the first place?”.  The author of Judges looks back over 400 years to examine the early history of his people and their God, and he chronicles the answer to that question.  In the introduction, the “prelude” to Judges, several answers are offered, and they all tend to center around Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh.  And yet, at times, this answer seems at odds with the setting.

The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.  Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. (Judges 3:7-8 NASB)

The account of the judges finally begins, the prelude is over.  One of the elements we were expecting from the notes of the prelude is time.  A generation should have passed of those who were familiar with how Yahweh led the people in war (Judges 3:1-2).  A generation should have risen who did not know Yahweh (Judges 2:10).  For instance, we expect a people who would know nothing of Caleb (Judges 1:11-15).  That’s what we expect from the prelude.  But here’s what we find:

When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.  Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:9-11 NASB)

If that bothers you, then at least you’re thinking about what you read.  If you only get that far, you’ve moved beyond simply reading to complete a task.  If it doesn’t bother you, and you’re already bored with this entry, then either you’ve already found someone’s explanation, or you don’t care.  In either case, you’re free to move on to another blog.  There’s plenty to entertain out there.

This is a challenge around the setting of Judges.  The prelude was supposed to give us a sense of what to expect throughout the book.  Yet, right at the outset of the account of these judges, the timing alluded to in the prelude seems off.  We didn’t get what we expected. But think through the explanation again.  Think through the pattern.  Think through those elements in the prelude about the people, about their failure, and repentance.  How could they repent if they never knew Yahweh in the first place?

The problem for us is a misunderstanding of some of the details in the prelude. We’re missing something about the succeeding generations after Joshua and those elders.  We assume they didn’t know as in knowledge.  But what we discover as we read further is that they didn’t know, as in experience.  Each generation seems destined to repeat the same lesson, that they can’t get along mixing Yahweh worship with any other god.  And that can happen as generations overlap.

When the young and vigorous refuse to listen to, and believe, their elders, this is what we get. We get it today.  We see that the younger generations “know better” than their elders, because the world is so much different now than when they were young and vigorous.  The reasons the young gave then were probably explained differently, but we can see the results repeatedly in Scripture.

Generations in Scripture flip-flopped in their devotion to Yahweh.  And not just in Judges.  Look at the sons of Samuel, neither of them could judge rightly.  The sons of David had only one “good egg” who eventually went bad, and had to recant.  Then his son splits the kingdom.  The succession of kings in Judah went back and forth to the point it becomes difficult to follow.  Look at the sons of Jacob, they didn’t really get their act together until after selling their brother, Joseph, into slavery.  And even then we see hints they weren’t really devoted to Yahweh (Genesis 38).

We point fingers at the people depicted in Judges, but they’re just like the rest.  That’s really the author’s point.  These people are just like his audience.  And, in many ways, they’re just like us.  We point at a generation around us that wanders from Jesus.  But, let’s be honest, they’re simply wandering further than we do.  And we do wander from Jesus.

Take a litmus test of your devotion to Jesus.  Are you what He would describe as a “disciple”?  Keep in mind that the purpose of His church is to make disciples, not “followers”. There’s no valid excuse for not being a disciple.  And as we read the gospels of Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John, we discover a disciple is a radical.  Our culture isn’t friendly to radicals, of any sort.  “Right-wing nut jobs” and “Leftist Guerillas” get the same treatment, suppression.  They’re disruptive – intentionally and dangerously.  And Jesus suffered the same treatment.

We look at the timing of Judges, and we don’t understand.  But, if we look deeper, see the experience from which they learned, the timing stops being the problem.  So, the first judge overlaps with the elders following Joshua, and is, in fact one of them.  That doesn’t take away from the truth that those around Othniel had wandered from Yahweh.  The generation having forgotten Yahweh was right there, rising up among the elders.  Finally, they stopped to listen to Othniel and his account of what Yahweh had done for His people.  Having finally listened, they believed. Only then was Othniel empowered to act as judge and deliverer.

Our elders, examples of disciples devoted to Jesus, may have passed.  Perhaps you have discovered that you are not like them, not the devoted disciple they were.  And once you’re fed up with that life, do as the people of Judges did, and cry out to Jesus.  Cry out for His deliverance.  But, be ready to change, be ready to experience the effects of devotion.  Be ready to loose everything of this “life” to gain everything of His life.  Pray, but brace yourself.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What’s your view of our Master through yours?

Knowing God Through Combat

The life of a believer, follower, or disciple of Jesus can be summarized as spent getting to know Jesus better.  The process of knowing Him more has the added affect of changing the disciple into the likeness of their Master.  The typical methods used today are prayer, Bible study, worship, perhaps service to others, or ministry within a church.  But what about combat?  What about the biblical method of learning about our God through learning combat?  You haven’t heard about that particular method?  Ah, then this entry is for you!

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).  These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. (Judges 3:1-3 NASB)

From the passage above, you can clearly see that Yahweh used the Canaanites in the land to teach His people about Himself through combat.  Does that seem a lot to derive from the word “test”?  Fair enough, then consider the next few verses:

They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses.  The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. (Judges 3:4-6 NASB)

Does the testing seem more clear now?  And, not only the testing, but the people’s struggle to pass the test, becomes clear.  The people of Yahweh seemed content to live among the people, as Canaanites themselves!  Combat was the method Yahweh used with His people to distinguish them from their Canaanite neighbors, to demonstrate they were different than the Canaanites.  Through combat, His people became holy, it was a test to sanctify His people.  Instead, His people married among those they were supposed to oppose.

Do you see where this is headed yet?  We, as disciples of Jesus, are to be obviously different than our “neighbors”.  We are supposed to be holy.  We’re not supposed to look or act like “everyone else”.  Our priorities and goals are supposed to be different.  We’re supposed to be distinguishable from those around whom we live and work.  But, most of the time, we seem content to be different at church.  That we go to church at all seems to be difference enough for many of us.  While going to church is great, and necessary, it’s not “holiness”, or not nearly enough of it.

For a disciple of Jesus, the struggle to be different, for holiness, is not about being an individual.  It is personal combat against the pressure to be unlike Jesus.  This can be difficult, even in church.  But, the struggle for holiness can be easily forgotten in the rest of life.  It’s easy to forgive ourselves for not being different “out there”, after all, who wants to be “offensive”?  Well, to be clear, Jesus did.  John 6 is a great view into Jesus’ “Church Growth Strategy” – drive off inauthentic followers.  To be His disciple means we will be fearlessly offensive as well.

It’s not easy being a disciple of Jesus.  It takes whole-hearted determination, perseverance, and pig-headed stick-to-it-tiveness.  It takes study to get to know Jesus’ priorities, His point of view, and His goals.  It takes study of both Testaments.  The people of Yahweh, the sons of Israel, struggled with Yahweh.  That’s what their name means.  They earned it.  And it’s time for us, as disciples of Jesus, to enter into this struggle as well.

Suit up!  Grab your gear!  Let’s get out there, and fight!

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Great Commissions

“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.  (Luke 24:49-53 NASB)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 NASB)

Have you ever been bored?  When we consider that we’ve got all the people-groups of the world in whom to make disciples, how could we be bored.  And yet, I’m bored more often than I care to admit.  How can that be?

The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28 has a counterpart in Luke24.  While the one in Matthew is familiar, we often miss some important elements.  For instance, we’re supposed to go and make disciples.  If you would like some clarity on what that means, check out my blog entry on the topic of disciples here.  It’s not as nice and easy as it might sound.

In Luke 24, the commission sounds slightly different.  In verses 47 through 48, the commission is to proclaim repentance into forgiveness of sins to all nations in His name.  The concept of “disciples” isn’t mentioned.  That the proclamation goes into all nations is consistent.  In reality, though, repentance is what disciples do, and do for the rest of their time here on earth.  So, actually, the two commissions have more in common than appears on the surface.

All this to come back around to my original question.  Have you ever been bored?  As I mentioned, I am bored in a shameful frequency.  The sad truth is that those living close to me are probably not disciples, nor have they had “repentance into forgiveness” proclaimed to them.  At least they haven’t heard this from me.

I’m simply thinking that I can’t be bored while my neighbors haven’t heard.  If they’ve heard and reject, that’s one thing.  But if I haven’t even tried, then why would I be bored? If I really believe Jesus is all I teach in this blog, then I should be busier telling others about repentance into forgiveness.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week XXVI

Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”  So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”  Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:1-4 NASB)

Having concluded that Jesus claims to be God, and therefore, deity, the religious leaders take Him to Pilate for execution.  The problem is that claiming to be a foreign god isn’t a “hanging offense” under Roman law.  But rebels are punished pretty quickly, so they accuse Jesus of sedition (just to be able to use that word in a sentence).

Their initial accusations refer back to some of their confrontations during the week, like paying taxes.  But others refer to Jesus as claiming to be a king, and that He claims to be an “anointed one”.  Being anointed does have meaning in Roman and Greek culture, just not exactly the same meaning.  Anointing for Greeks and Romans is what you did with medicine on a wounded person.  But the Romans were very aware of the political ramifications of anointing to the Jews.  So when the Jewish leaders say, “king”, Pilate begins his interrogation.

The Problem for Pilate is that when asked, Jesus doesn’t go frothing-at-the-mouth crazy.  That would have made the job easier, and it’s what others did.  But instead, Jesus is calmly saying yes in an oblique manner.  So, Pilate returns and says he finds no guilt in Jesus.

In other Gospels, more detail is supplied about Pilate’s predicament.  His wife warns him to stay out of it.  Jesus has no problem with Pilate’s authority, and claims His kingdom is from another realm (does Pilate think He’s nuts?).  Regardless which Gospel you read, Pilate does not have a rebel before Him, only rabid religious leaders.  The ones frothing-at-the-mouth crazy, inciting a riot among the people, are the ones seeking to have Jesus crucified.  It’s a tragic irony.  And at some point, it really comes down to keeping the peace during the festival.

Still, Pilate will be trying other means to apply a modicum of justice to the event.  Of course, it won’t work.  Unbeknownst to everyone but Jesus, He has an appointment with a cross, at a particular hour on that that specific day.  It’s an appointment set when the universe was created, to be heralded by signs in the sun and moon.  How could Pilate know?  How could the religious leaders have known?  Jesus knew.  Jesus sees this act unfold exactly as written by the Playwright of Heaven.  But Jesus also knows this isn’t His final act.

When confronted with social and cultural pressure to disavow Jesus, what do we do?  Far too often, we do the expedient thing.  In order to not be offensive, we decide to prevent a riot, to keep the peace.  Too many things go wrong with that behavior.  The “reasonable” believers are stuck in the middle between rabid-frothing-at-the-mouth religious nuts wanting to kill everyone disagreeing with them, and the comfortable religious sanguine group who sell out the practice of their faith in Jesus to a bowl of mixed nuts.  Many in the middle are caught between the desire to simply minister to the hurts of humanity, and the clamor for lies in the society at large.

Jesus neither held a sign saying “God hates everybody”, nor did He simply “go along to get along” with the religious leaders.  He wandered the region healing, preaching the truth, raising the dead, and casting out demons.  Jesus set a course, and everyone else could either get on board or watch from the dock as He left them behind.  He invited some, some of those accepted His invitation, and others didn’t.  But He didn’t deviate from His goal, His appointment with a cross.

I suspect our problem is more about not having that sense of divine goal or purpose.  We don’t seek the definitions of our lives which only our Master provides.  When we do, we don’t like the answers we get.  The purpose is behind us, but we won’t turn around.  The goal lies in a direction we’ve already rejected, so we don’t see it.  We look without turning the head or lifting the clutter of our lives.  What we want is for our Master to confirm our goals and purposes.  What He wants is for us to follow Jesus to a cross.  So, we check our calendars for the first opening we can find.  But, finding no convenient time to be tortured to death, we ask for another goal or purpose.  In a sense, we, once again, choose from the tree providing us the right and power to choose good and evil for ourselves.

Life lies at the end of a path through a method of humiliating death.  Death is found on every other path. Discipleship, repentance, and faith are the ingredients resulting in love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  We want those things, but balk at the price God charges.  Will we be crucified with Christ, and no longer live?  Will we live this life in the body by faith in the Son of God who has loved us and gave Himself for us?  We can’t have one with out the other.  That’s just how this play was written.  We can try to write another, but the warning from Scripture is that such a play is always a tragedy.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week XIXc

“But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.  For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”  And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.  And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.  And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.  For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:21-27 NASB)

In Luke, after the inauguration of Communion, there are a lot of elements before the thirteen men leave for the Mount of Olives.  I was going to skip to one of my favorites where Jesus addresses Peter’s later failure, but I think I’ll have an opportunity to get into that next week.  For those who are not familiar with this blog’s use in my own life, this is where I process a Scripture passage I’m using in a Bible study I lead each Thursday.  So, on Fridays, the passage jumps to the next.  But I think I’ll be in the upper room for more than one week.

This passage is also a great one, particularly because it illustrates human nature so well.  Jesus is overcome with grief over His betrayer that He reveals the existence of this man.  We, from reading so far, already know it’s Judas.  The disciples don’t know that yet.  And they begin to discuss which one of them it might be.  This discussion then devolves into an argument about which of them is the greatest.  That’s the basic framework in which Jesus says some pretty amazing things.

Have you ever wondered if there was hope for Judas?  In a previous post, I discuss Judas in some detail, and I refer to what Jesus says here.  Jesus admits that the cross is necessary, and that betrayal is part of how He gets there, but He also condemns the betrayer.  Think about that.  Judas is integral to the plan of God, the God he is betraying.  Jesus makes clear that where He is going “…has been determined…”, but that does not exonerate His betrayer.  As I said in that post, I still believe, Judas was never really a disciple, he was an opportunist.

Now, the second element here, where the disciples’ discussion of which one of them might betray Jesus devolving into an argument about greatness, keep in mind that Luke gets this from a disciple who was there.  What I mean is that, while we think of Paul being Luke’s source, that’s really not possible.  Luke is a “close associate” of Paul, and that gains him entrance into the canon.  But Paul wasn’t Luke’s source.  Rather Luke’s source was also in Jerusalem, like the other sources, and Paul gained Luke access to those sources.  My point is that this account doesn’t put the disciples in a great light, but they “told on themselves”, so I believe it.  Which, by the way, is a consistent feature in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  Both bodies of writing bring out weaknesses of the exemplary characters.

Jesus corrects them with familiar words, used in other places in Matthew and Mark, and resonating vaguely with John’s 3-chapter account in his Gospel.  If you think through what Jesus says, there are some interesting elements unique to Luke in this.  First off, the greatest is as the youngest.  Jesus doesn’t point to a child and a different word is used here tan for “child” or even “young man” or “infant”.  Instead Jesus refers to status among adults.  The “youngest” would be the less experienced, and therefore the least wise, regarded with less honor than the “elders”.  So, Jesus is saying the “elders” (as in the role of elder as leader) are to become as the youngsters, seeking less honor or esteem.  I’m an elder in my church, and this is for me and my fellows.  This is for us, and we need to heed this or fail our church.  Ouch.  Okay, moving on…with crushed toes.

The point to all of this is that we too struggle in the midst of important movements of God.  We miss the point, the importance of the event, the cosmic battle raging around us, and the historic spiritual change about to happen.  God prepares to knock the world on its head, and we’re arguing over carpet, curtains, pews versus chairs, or whether we like sister so-and-so.  We do that.  It might not be chairs, curtains, or carpet, but we do that.  We miss the cosmic spiritual event rising to crescendo because of the earthly physical distraction.  We go there.  It can’t be my failure because, well, I’m not like that, I’m great!  The wheels have fallen off, the train derails, and the catastrophe is just a matter of inertia.

But the alternative exists.  Jesus says that we are to be different.  He says He was at the table as one who serves.  Luke doesn’t say how, but John does.  Jesus began the evening washing their feet.  His point is that those who lead wash feet.  The greatest among their fellow disciples serve with a towel around their waist and a water basin in hand.  In a sense, the elders clean toilets.  They mix it up with people, willing to descend into their messy lives, and bring hope and healing.  It’s Jesus’ directive for every leader, including you.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Spiritual Investing

And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”  Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  (Luke 18:24-30 NASB)

Sometimes, I find that promises in Scripture, from Jesus Himself even, are hard to swallow.  Will I really gain much more than I sacrifice in this life?  I leave my family, goods, and whatnot for the Kingdom of God and I will gain many times as much at this time? Seriously?  I find that strangely at odds with themes we covered prior.  What about the cost of discipleship?  So, I can safely cast away everything now, and have much more at this time not just eternal life in the age to come?

Yes, I doubt. I do.  I’m not apologetic about it, I doubt.  I read the Hebrew Scriptures about how the people followed God, and then fell away.  I see how they were oppressed and cried out and God delivered.  I think of God watching them worship after deliverance, only to have them fall away again, be oppressed, and delivered all over again.  It’s the “Judges Cycle”, but repeated in Samuel and Kings as well.  It happens when the rain doesn’t fall, the crops aren’t ripening, and the grapes and olives fail.  Their neighbors seem fine and worship another god, some storm god, and their crops look good.  So the people hedge their bets and worship both.  I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve seen the pattern in my own culture, sometimes even in my own life.

The problem with which I wrestle is what if I don’t receive many times more?  What if God’s promise doesn’t come about?  Peter is crucified upside down, not in a bigger house with a bigger family.  John dies after somehow surviving Patmos with criminals.  The other ten are all killed for their faith, James almost immediately.  Where was the “many times more at this time” that Jesus promised?  I don’t see that but I do see the faithfulness of the ones Jesus told that to.  They heard that, invested, but didn’t record how they experienced that blessing at that time.  We hear later they all died.  Is it a “Role Call of Faith” sort of thing where they all died without seeing what was promised?  Why even put that tidbit in there about “at this time” in the first place?

I struggle with it.  I read it, but I struggle with believing it.  I suppose the answer is to invest and learn what it really means.  Perhaps I need to sacrifice to understand what exactly Jesus meant by gaining much more at this time.  I don’t see it, but trust Him.  I don’t read about how the disciples and followers gained much more of the same sort of thing, but so what?  Do it anyway.  They did.  And they still recorded this promise, do you get that?  This promise of Jesus was heard by all three sources used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And they heard it and the Gospel writers recorded it.  And yet no one felt compelled to explain how it was true in the lives of the disciples.  It was supposed to be obvious without the need for explanation.

So, I don’t get it, but there’s so much that goes into that category.  I don’t really understand how the promise was fulfilled in the life of Peter, James, John, Paul, or the others.  I don’t understand, but I won’t either until I invest, and wait for the return on that investment from my Master.  And so here I go…

What’s your view through this knothole?  What do you learn from this assurance from Jesus that it’s safe to invest everything with Him and for His Kingdom?

The Cost You Don’t See

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  (Luke 18:21-23 NASB)

Back in Luke 14 (25-33) Jesus describes the cost of discipleship.  Here this cost is illustrated.  Jesus discusses with this ruler the way he can inherit eternal life.  The ruler believes that the association necessary to inherit this gift is through something he does. Since he already follows the law, Jesus notes that he recognizes that isn’t enough.  So Jesus adds another, give up everything and follow Me.

Sometimes we think of those extravagant costs Jesus notes as excessive and naively believe He can’t be serious.  But think of that challenge in this way, for what are we willing to sell eternal life in heaven, or for what will we trade heaven later to gain now?  Economically, that’s what we do.  We sell heaven for stuff we have here, but notice what Jesus says, “…and you will have treasure in heaven;” it’s a trade!  But the ruler sold heaven for what he had at hand.

This is the same thing we do when we look at the cost of discipleship and choose something else.  When we decide not to study, to pray, to meet together and make those things priorities; we sell heaven for whatever we do instead.  I’ve heard it lots of times from a wide variety of people that this view is legalistic.  I believe that too is an excuse to ignore it.  Because when I ask them what it means to them, they still aren’t doing even what they believe it means.  But at least they aren’t legalistic.

The truth is that “goods” aren’t always the problem, the thing that keeps us from devotion to Jesus.  But for many, and in our culture many more than most, the ease of our lives takes priority over the discomfort of being a disciple.  I know it does for me.  I know that for many of the decisions I make, my comfort winds up being the priority.  So, I see where my Master is revealing these things to me, where He is moving me, prodding me off my comfortable couch and easy chair, and into His kingdom work.

What keeps you distracted from obedience?  For what are you “selling” eternal life?  For what will you trade to get it, or get it back?  What’s your view through the knothole?