Pegged By a Woman

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.  Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (Judges 4:10-11 NASB)

Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.  Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.  He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him.  He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.'”  But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. (Judges 4:17-21 NASB)

The account of Deborah and Barak would not be complete without Jael.  You simply cannot get the point without her.  We get so focused on the fact that Deborah led the Sons of Israel as a woman, that we forget that the enemy of God’s people was defeated by a woman from another people.  Not only did God keep the victory from Barak, but also from the Sons of Israel.

Also, much is made about the fact that Deborah prophesies that Barak won’t be given the victory because he asked a woman to go with him.  I think that has more to do with literary irony from the writer than some sort of indictment from God on women involved in leadership.  Deborah remains the judge, and there seems to be no problem on God’s side with her in that role.

The irony for me derives from the layered issue.  This Kenite, Heber, separates from his brethren in the south and is near Kadesh.  He is at “peace” with Jabin, the enemy of the people of Israel.  Yet his wife seems to be the enemy of Jabin and Sisera.  She pretends to be friendly, like her husband, but then secretly assassinates the general.

So, a battle ensues with the chariots being less effective than foot soldiers.  The general escapes on foot, and is killed by a woman while he sleeps.  Just when he thought he was safe, among friends, he wasn’t.  The battle followed him to the tents of his ally.  In all of this, where was Heber, anyway?

I think God’s sense of humor peeks through here.  Sure, the grisly nature of Jael’s actions is kind of gross.  But a woman driving a tent peg through a guy’s head into the ground?  When you consider he’s the chief warrior for the king of Canaan, it has to be the most embarrassing way to go.  What do you put on that tombstone?

I suppose the point for this is that God uses whoever He likes, and uses them in ways that show off His work.  A seasoned warrior killed in his sleep by a woman with a hammer and nail?  Yeah, that would be God.  Nine hundred chariots out run by foot soldiers?  Yeah, that would be God.  How does anyone else get credit?  They don’t.  They get points for participation.

So, what are we after?  Recognition?  Credit?  Kudos?  What?  God doesn’t give points for anything other than participation.  If we’re not okay with that, then there are s a few layers of problems with our relationship with God.  God has to be the Main Character, the Hero, the One in charge.  Who else can save?  Through whom, other than God, can human creatures be saved from eternal death?  If only Jesus saves, then isn’t it in everyone’s best interest that He get all the attention?

I like getting credit, for people to like me, think well of me, be impressed, and so on.  I need to get passed that.  People won’t be saved through any achievement of mine.  My best day won’t get one more person into eternal life.  Only Jesus accomplishes that.  So, let my Master use Jael, Deborah, Barak, foot soldiers, and tent pegs.  That should gain Him so notoriety, and that is the point, because that’s what brings people to Him.

So, what’s your view of God through the fence today?

Passion Week XXXII

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NASB)

One of the most poignant accounts of the crucifixion is the repentant thief on the cross.  But the thief is also one of the strangest characters in the Gospel account as well.  Keep in mind that we no nothing of why either criminal is being crucified, nor any other information about them.  Only Luke has this account of the repentant criminal.

The crucifixion crowd seems to be focusing their abuse on Jesus.  The chief priests are in attendance challenging Him to come down since He’s the “chosen one”.  The people claim He’s saved others but cannot save Himself.  The soldiers mock Him, now that they’ve finished divvying up His clothes.  And now one of the criminals joins in the mocking, “save Yourself, and us.”  Matthew and Mark mention the abuse Jesus receives from the criminals as well (Matt. 27:44, Mark 15:32), but they say both criminals abused Jesus.

In Luke only we have this lone criminal who, apart from everyone else, seems to actually understand what Jesus is doing.  Imagine the scene, crowds watching the tortuous death of three men, hear the shouted insults, taunts, the soldiers mocking, and the mocking criminal.  Then, the other criminal calls to the other, “Do you not even fear God?”  He continues by confessing that they belong there but Jesus does not.  This is a sharp deviation from the rest of the scene.

The criminal calling out his fellow and confessing his sin, then turns his attention to Jesus, and he says one of the most startling things in Scripture, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”  To really get how strange this is, keep imagining the scene.  The painful death, the jeering crowds and soldiers all point to the immanent death of this same Jesus.  And the criminal says, “…when You come into Your Kingdom.”  How does this guy know the Kingdom follows after the cross?  Not even Jesus’ disciples seemed to know that.

The theological genius hanging on his own cross next to Jesus knows that there is more to follow this horrific death.  But He also knows to ask to be a part of it.  No one else asked for that.  The crowds, the soldiers, the priests, they all jeer the Savior.  But this guy wants in Jesus’ Kingdom.  This guy, probably as beaten and shredded as Jesus, doesn’t see the death of hope or of a problematic teacher.  He sees one in Whom he hopes anyway, regardless of the impending death, in spite of the jeers and derision he hears.  Who does that?

And Jesus replies even here, to this confession of faith, with a promise of paradise.  Up to this point, that term hasn’t been used by Jesus.  He’s used other terms for heaven, including “heaven”.  And there are various teachings or understandings about this term, both from rabbinic teaching and early church fathers.  Whatever it means technically, this criminal will be there with Jesus before the day is out.  That much is certain.

I learn some really important lessons here.  This criminal repented from his mindset to Jesus’ mindset at some point along the way.  Defending Jesus, confessing his own just death sentence, he then seeks to be accepted by Jesus Himself.  And, of course, he is accepted.  Can I, at the darkest point of my life, when the horrible end is obvious, and hope is really gone; can I, then, believe in Jesus’ Kingdom?  Let’s say it’s not actually that bad.  Can I, then, believe in Jesus’ Kingdom?

These are fairly meaningless contingencies for me.  I’m already in the Kingdom.  The real lesson for me is how I behave toward those seeking entrance.  Because people in those contingencies aren’t pretty, they aren’t typically “nice”, and they don’t “behave”.  Life, for them, is scarce and hard.  So, if they seek entrance, “Jesus, remember me…” then the plan is how to respond.

It doesn’t seem very wise, but Jesus makes His disciples “gatekeepers” of His Kingdom.  If it weren’t for the fact we’re kind of stupid, we’d be a fine choice.  Yet, in spite of our foolishness, Jesus uses us in this way.  And those outside seeking to enter see the fools at the gate.  And the challenge is to seek to be included among the fools, or seek another kingdom.  The criminal sees the impossibility of what was happening, and sought to be included in the foolishness.  Why not, he’s about to die anyway.  What does he have to lose?  Those closest to Jesus left Him.  The ones you would expect to be there seeking entrance to the Kingdom are hiding or looking on from a distance.  It’s the guy being tortured to death with Jesus who fearlessly asks for entrance.

So here’s to the fellow fools at the gate.  Doff the funny hat as the riffraff enter our Master’s Kingdom.  Smile and welcome them into the life of misfits where the fools are wise, and the wise foolish.  Welcome to the happy village of idiots.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week XVI

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.  Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24 NASB)

And so, Jesus finally gets to the question of His disciples, about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Here Jesus describes the scene.  In Matthew and Mark we have the reference to Daniel’s “Abomination of Desolation” and the then the parenthetical “let the reader understand”.  Luke leaves that out.  His omission is one of the clues used to place his writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, but that’s not really conclusive.  More telling might be his description of the encircled armies (see also 19:43,44) which is a detail missing from Matthew and Mark.

Then follows the instructions to flee.  These instructions are consistent in the three Gospels, with only minor differences between.  Except for how Luke ends this section.  Matthew and Mark use the destruction to mark the beginning of a great tribulation, where Luke softens his description.  Luke has the added detail of falling by the sword and dispersed into the nations missing from Matthew and Mark.  And then Luke ends with a statement about Jerusalem being closed to Jews, which it was after it was destroyed.  But Luke also has a comment about the time of the Gentiles, which sounds a lot like something he would have learned from Paul (see Romans 9-11).

Then from here, Jesus leaves the answer to the disciples question…or does He?

“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory.  But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  (Luke 21:25-28 NASB)

This passage sounds a lot like the great “appearing” of Jesus to wrap up human history.  There are several interesting details here: 1) the end will be signaled by astronomical events, 2) the “powers of heaven will be shaken” which can be a technical reference to the war in heaven, and 3) people will be in great fear of the near future.  So, astronomers will get the first clues, the war in heaven will reach some sort of crescendo, and rampant panic will seize everyone on the earth.  So, who’s ready for breakfast?  In any case, this is a clear reference to Jesus’ appearance to wrap up the history of this world.  When seen, we are to be encouraged because our struggle is coming to an end, our salvation approaches.

But it is interesting that this element is included in Jesus’ answer about the destruction of the temple.  The disciples asked about that not about the final establishment of the Kingdom of God, like at other times (like after His resurrection).  So why answer that question here when the temple is what is in their view?  This is one of those times that I really wonder if there were some editorial choices made by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The problem in answering that question to make me feel better is that all three seem to have made the same choice.  Three witness establish a fact, so…I’m guessing that, through the inspiration of the Spirit, this reference actually belongs where it is.  So here’s why that bothers me:

Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.  Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (Luke 21:29-33 NASB)

And now we have a reference to the timing.  The reference includes a few parts:  1) parable to instruct to look for the signs of these events as we look for signs of seasons, 2) assurance that a generation will not pass before these signs appear, and 3) assurance that Jesus’ words endure longer than the earth (another end-time reference).  The reference to the signs as clues for what is to come ties in both the destruction of Jerusalem (look for encircled armies and/or the abomination of desolation) and Jesus’ final appearing.  It’s possible that the other events, wars, natural disasters, and so on could also be signs of the fall of Jerusalem, but the coming of Jesus in the clouds is definitely heralded by signs as well.

If all these things, Jerusalem falling and Jesus returning, are preceded by signs; then when Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”, it’s very difficult for me to divorce this statement from His final appearing.  There are lots of interpretive liberties taken to reconcile this statement with the absence of Jesus’ appearing.  The plain sense of it though is that the generation to whom Jesus spoke passed and Jesus has not returned in the clouds.

Now, let’s consider John.  John never touches problem of Jesus’ return except in his “Revelation” or “Apocalypse”.  At least he never touches it directly in his Gospel or letters.  The closest he gets in his Gospel is to a final scene where Peter looks back over his shoulder and asks Jesus about John.  But John is using this to show that Jesus never actually promised that He would return in John’s lifetime, as if clearing up a rumor.

Now consider a few more points.  Paul very clearly believed Jesus to be returning so soon, it was needless to marry, except for human sex (to avoid sexual sin).  There was no sense in propagating, since it only bring children into a time of tribulation.  He, and presumably the church at large, believed they would see the coming of Jesus with their own eyes.  And they longed for the vindication and salvation it would bring.  This left the Apostolic Fathers and Early Church Fathers in something of a conundrum.

My conundrum ends with John.  If he didn’t see a problem then neither do I.  He describes a wild summary of history with the end in full color.  I’ll go with that.  I don’t know what Jesus meant by what He said, and I’ll just have to be content with that.  If “generation” meant something different than those people alive then, I’ll know soon enough.  If Jesus simply referred to the destruction of Jerusalem, and not His return, then I’ll know that soon enough as well.  Right now, I don’t know which, if either, or if there’s another explanation.  I know it doesn’t sound right though.  I may not like it, but it is what we have the way we have it.

That’s my view this morning.  What’s your view look like through your knothole?

What Resurrection Means

“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB.  Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:37-38 NASB)

I thought I knew, think I know, but now I’m not so sure.  This is one of those passages where I’m sort of left wondering what it really meant.  Jesus is questioned about the final resurrection of the dead, right?  Yet I see in His answer more something of “life after death” than a living body again.  In other words, I was looking for something that would indicate that people would have and relate to each other through some sort of body.  That’s not really what Jesus describes.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are who Moses ties to God, He is their God.  I think what Moses assumed was that this God was the one who they worshiped…in the past, back when they lived.  This is the same God who they had related to and received promises from.  But what Jesus is pointing out is that any sort of statement like this also implies an existing relationship.  In Hebrew of Exodus 3:6, the verb is left out, so it’s not “past” or completed action necessarily.  And in the Septuagint, the verb is present active, meaning it’s a current state of affairs.  God is the God of these three.

So what am I getting at?  That Jesus’ statement about life-after-death to the Sadducees is that there is a relationship with God after one’s relationships here are cut off or lost.  Death here does not mean death to God.  That’s kind of huge if you let it be.  We sort of assume it (unless you hold to a “soul-sleep” theological view).  But Jesus points out that it simply is the state of affairs once we die.  Luke adds to Matthew’s and Mark’s account the statement that all live to Him.  Even so, what does this have to do with “the resurrection”?

Jesus states that the answer to the question, “are the dead raised” is this statement from Exodus 3:6 where God identifies Himself as the God of these Patriarchs.  God being the God of the living not the dead does not seem to me to be an obvious proof of a final resurrection.  Instead what Jesus has done is effectively countered the view that the closest anyone comes to life after death is Levirate Marriage.  But having countered that view, He also implies that the relationships lost here because someone dies will be regained again in heaven (or existence after this life) assuming both are worthy of resurrection.

So now the question is whether resurrection is what Jesus says happens after death when the relationship with God continues?  Is this what happens when an earthly relationship is regained after both die?  Or is this description of resurrection merely describing a precursor of the final resurrection to come by stating the waiting condition between death and that final event?  If you have an answer to that one, you have to share it, because I have no idea.  Honestly, this baffles me.  All I can solidly deduce from this passage is that Jesus claims there is life after death.  How life after death is proof of a resurrection is something I’m not solid on.  But I’m sure there are plenty of opinions out there.

By the way, life with God after death is only for the worthy?  And that existence (see verses 34 through 36) seems to be what Jesus is referring to as a state of “resurrection”.  In other words, life after death is resurrection.  Some final event doesn’t seem to be in Jesus’ view here.  Which is odd because I was assuming that some final event was what the Sadducees were arguing against.  I thought the Pharisees argued for some final event.  But it could be that they were actually arguing for some sort of cognitive existence after death, and calling that resurrection.  We all confused together yet?

Any who, the point for me is that my relationship with God isn’t endangered by anything people can do to me.  I have nothing to fear because what is truly important, my relationship with my Master, is not in any sort of danger what so ever.  I’m truly saved in the most visceral and important sense of that word.  I can’t be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).  This is true as long as I am worthy of the resurrection from the dead.  Fortunately Jesus defines my worth based on His relationship with the Father, not mine.  What a relief.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Theology of The Last Man Standing

 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17 NASB)

The British SAS have a motto of “Who Dares Wins”.  It’s a good motto for those who’s life is spent preparing and then daring to enter the most dangerous situations imaginable.  But Scripture has a different approach to winning.  The word in the passage above for “overcomes” is the Greek word for “win”.  It’s the verb form of the Greek word, nike.

The context of this statement ties this “victory” to “repentance” (change of mind).  But a scary aspect of this word is that it’s singular, meaning the one who wins gains the prize.  That’s not an expectation of a crowd in the “winner’s circle”.  On the other hand, it could very well be that every one who wins gains the prize.  It doesn’t have to be exclusive, but it does make it difficult to blame another for either being or not being included.  You either win or you don’t.

So, how is this nike attained?  Is repentance the only avenue to find the way to win?  This word is used in several of the Letters to the Churches in Revelation.  In each case, the criteria for winning isn’t the point, but rather the prize.  So here too, the point is more about what is gained.  But in 1 John 5, we’re told that our victory is our faith.  Or, another way to think of that is our tenacious “bulldog” belief in Jesus.  Therefore enduring belief is what brings victory.  The one winning gains the prizes offered to the churches in Revelation.

This is usually my answer when the discussion about losing salvation turns to my belief.  My answer is typically, “yes, and no”, which also typically bothers both sides.  I consider their discomfort an entertaining side benefit.  What I see in Scripture is that the concern of Jesus is not whether someone along the way at any point is or isn’t “saved” but rather whether or not they will be among those standing before His throne in the end.  The one enduring to the end will be saved, not necessarily the one along the path doing x or y, or believing like I do, or holding this position or that.  The one who’s faith is in Jesus at the end wins.  We may not be terribly comfortable with such an answer, but Jesus seems to be.

So, the call from this passage is to remember the “hidden manna” and “white stone” await us, but we have to get to the end of the race to get them.  The crown, the escape of the second death, the chance to eat from the Tree of Life, to be a pillar in the Temple of God in Heaven, and so much more.  All these things are reserved for the one who wins.  The call and challenge is to win, to remain faithful and steadfast to the end.  “Run with endurance the race set before us.” It’s hard to do with entangling sin and encumbering thinking.  Set them down and get running.  See you in the winner’s circle!

What’s your view through the knothole?

What Can You Do For Me…Today?

Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:23 NASB)

People want to know what they gain by following Jesus, but their language is important.  Whenever I hear, “How is He relevant today?” I’m immediately suspicious that I’m dealing with someone for whom heaven is not much of a motivator.  When it comes to our relationship with God, that’s a problem.

Continue reading What Can You Do For Me…Today?

Blessings And Curses From Jesus

And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.    Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.    Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.    Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.    But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.    Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.    Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. (Luke 6:20-26 NASB)

It doesn’t take a pair of loops, a lifetime of review, and a PhD to notice that Luke’s “Sermon” is different than Matthew’s.  One of the most obvious differences in in their set of “Beatitudes”.  Luke clearly has a different use and point to make from these statements of Jesus.  Part of that comes from the inclusion of “Woes” in Luke’s set missing from Matthew’s.

Continue reading Blessings And Curses From Jesus