Passion Week XIXe

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”  And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NASB)

The beginning of Job is almost as disheartening as the rest of the book (except the ending).  We read that, and think, ‘Wow, that guy was setup!’  And we’re sort of left with the unsettling feeling that God was complicit in the setup, after all, He points out Job to Satan!  Many of us probably settled into some sense of relief that this is the only place we see God do this…except, for this one.

The wording of Jesus in this passage implies that God gave into Satan’s demand.  The context supports that too, but the choice of words and tense support it all on its own.  So, God does this thing using His people in some sort of challenge with Satan, still.  It’s not just with Job.  With Job it was God’s idea, with Peter, it was Satan’s idea.  Either way, it happened again.  And I suspect still happens.

This is one of those places where we experience a sense of depersonalization in our relationship with God that is very counter to our self-centered culture.  Even in those who see themselves as philanthropists, they are generally shocked when they are mistreated and disrespected.  There’s just something about human beings that refuses to let us believe that all this is not really all about us.  Even in cultures that are more enmeshed in either family or cultural groups, they still think life is all about them (examine modern Japanese culture right now…it’s as if WWII never really happened).

On a personal level, the inconvenient or catastrophic circumstances we encounter about which we have no control we consider personal attacks.  But from this we learn that it’s possible it has nothing to do with us at all, and God and Satan are just pushing each other around the “heavenly realms”.  It’s a bet, and we’re the one’s being bet on or against.  We’re the horses, the greyhounds, the players on the field, and we run, race, and play for the sport of others.  It’s gladiatorial combat all over again, and we’re the combatants.  The really frustrating this is that we signed on for this.

Here’s the deal.  God and Satan argue over us.  When Scripture says that Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father, we need that for reasons we aren’t even aware.  We think it’s to help us in our lives, make us happy, something like that.  But now we see that  actually it’s to help us survive the game the Father and Satan are playing.  That sort of changes how we see this relationship with God which we have given everything to gain.  We give up everything to be pawns and gladiators in the cosmic contest in the heavenly realms between the Father and Satan.  But it’s okay, because we have Jesus interceding on our behalf with the Father; kind of like “legal cheating”.

If this all sounds like we have been duped, then now is the time to read the end of Romans 8.  We win and our victory is inevitable.  We cannot be separated from the Love of God in Christ Jesus, not even a little.  We win.  To be specific, we are on the winning side when we give everything to be a disciple of Jesus.  The alternative is to be on the losing side, just to state the obvious.  So the question is how valuable is it to us to be on the eternal cosmic winning side.

But to those of you still stinging from our lack of status, or feeling duped because we’re merely pawns, let me just ask, “So you thought the Maker of the Universe would make you some sort of ‘general’ in a fight you didn’t even know was raging?  What are you, some sort of numbskull?”  I’m sorry to burst your bubble that this really isn’t about you at all, but it isn’t.  It’s about God, Maker of the Universe (and probably a lot more) soundly and embarrassingly humiliating the rebellious pompous narcissistic enemy of all creation.  You want in on it, then you get in as a private; not a sergeant, not an officer, not a specialist, or corporal; a private.  That’s the deal.  Study to show yourself approved a workman rightly handling the Word of truth, and you can be a “lead private”.  But seriously, until you actually get there and see the fight, how would you even know what you’re doing?

Trust that God has it all under control, stay the course, fight the good fight you have before you, and hang in there until you finally get to see what’s really going on.  You do that, and maybe in the Kingdom to come you gain rank.  Until then, just hang in there.

That’s part of my view through this knothole.  The other part has to do with the foreknowledge and grace of Jesus’ statement.  But that will be for tomorrow.

What’s your view through your knothole?


Passion Week XVII

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching.  The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.  And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve.  And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.  They were glad and agreed to give him money.  So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd. (Luke 22:1-6 NASB)

It was really hard not to drop the passion week numbering and call this entry “Sold Out”.  In terms of what those words mean, it can be positive or negative, especially in regards to our relationship with Jesus.  In Judas we see the clear negative meaning in someone who should surprise us.

Judas was chosen just like the others.  Judas was one of those who were familiar with Jesus from the time of the baptism until His death.  He had seen Jesus heal, raise the dead, feed five thousand, walk on water, and calm storms.  He heard demons cry out in terror at Jesus’ approach, seen them flee and loudly leave those whom Jesus cured.  Judas knew Jesus was Master of the natural and spiritual realms.  And Judas sold Jesus out for silver.

I believe that, in retrospect, the disciples saw in Judas the worst of human character.  But at the time, suspected none of it.  It’s one of the ironies of Scripture that this man can be so close to the Savior of the world, be so accepted and loved by Jesus, and then betray Him.  John especially has no good thing to say about Judas, even about his conduct while among the disciples (6:70,71; 12:4-6, 13:2, 26-30).

This character then, when viewed as the disciples looked back to tell the story of Jesus’ life, was rotten from early on.  He was one of those who no one would have picked for holy service. And yet Jesus, who knew a guy with a jar of water would go to a house ready to use for the Passover, looks at Judas and invites him in.  In John 13, it’s clear Jesus knows exactly what Judas is doing.  Any theories that Judas is a close friend, ally, or some other inner-circle sort of character clearly has a lot of Scripture to ignore.  He wasn’t seen that way by the disciples.

So why?  Why did Jesus pick this thoroughly wicked looser?  Why did God-in-the-flesh call this twisted and deviant version of His beautiful human creatures?  In Lord of the Rings, he’s Gollum.  In Star Wars, he is portrayed in the betrayal of the good by Anakin surrendering to be Darth Vader.  All good fairy stories have a betrayer character, and Judas is the penultimate betrayer in the one fairy story that’s actually true.  He had the best of all circumstances available to him, but he chose silver instead.  He saw it all, he heard it all, he was a witness of the Fullness of God in bodily form; yet, in the end, it was all for sale.

Even so, Jesus celebrates His memorial supper with Judas.  Jesus washes Judas’ feet.  Jesus gives Judas the preferred morsel of “friendship” at the Passover.  Jesus gives Judas every opportunity to stop the train wreck of his life.  But Satan entered into Judas.  Satan had put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2), so in a sense, he had already possessed this sorry puppet, as Luke says in verse 3.  But when Judas accepts the morsel of friendship, Judas accelerates down the disastrous rails to his doom.

A great Communion message I heard this past weekend said that Judas was interesting, not as a pattern to follow, but as a warning of what working for salvation looks like.  I thought that was an odd thing to say until the gentlemen explained that, after he betrayed Jesus, he then tried to repent by giving the money back and, in despair, committing suicide.  In other words, Judas tried to earn his way back in, when the very thing he caused was actually the only means of his salvation.  Once again, Judas completely missed it.  I thought that was an amazing observation to make.  The tragic figure of Judas is as important as the malevolent evil one.

I learn two lessons from the character of Judas and his relationship to Jesus.  On the one hand, I see that the danger of missing who Jesus truly is, is a danger even the ones closest to Him face.  I can’t stop focusing on my Master, loosing sight of His face for a moment, or thinking I’ve figured Him out.  But the second thing I learn is from Jesus’ choice to hang with this tragic creature. Who is so evil that I can’t love them?  Isn’t that true even though their life may be a train wreck coming on at break-neck speed?  Even if I know I can’t change them, should I too love them and accept them, and give them every chance to jump from the train of disaster?  But I typically find them too risky or not worth my time and effort.  I don’t want to jump on their train, but I should be willing to wait at the next whistle stop to invite them to get off.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Disentangling Metaphors and Similies

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 ESV)

One of the teaching techniques I use is pretty cheap and easy.  In fact I use the term “technique” rather loosely.  What I do is try to use a completely different setting or circumstances to explain a concept I’m trying to teach.  The trick is to pick a new setting or circumstance the person understands better than the one I’m explaining, and to describe the concept  with the scant understanding I have of their setting/circumstance.  I have to say the results are mixed.  Usually I accomplish a thorough revealing of how ignorant I am of something in which they spend most of their lives.  So picking a workable metaphor or simile is difficult.  Jesus did it a lot, but for us today it’s not really that easy to follow, sometimes.

In this passage I see two or three things that immediately jump out at me and one which forms Jesus’ main point.  First, the seventy were so effective that they got Satan’s attention in a bad way.  Second, they have more power and protection than they knew, and third, and more important, their lives are secure with God in heaven, so they can safely risk everything and lose nothing.

Now, the thing that draws me into this passage, arrests my attention and captivates my mind is the reference to Satan.  It’s a statement that includes a simile, but is it itself a metaphor, or maybe it isn’t.  Did it actually happen right then?  If it did, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?  If it didn’t, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?

Here’s the problem: Jesus says He “saw” in the ESV, NIV and NLT, “was watching” in the NASB, “watched” in the HCSB, and “beheld” in the KJV (of course).  The problem is that the Greek tense here is the “perfect” tense.  Usually what this means is the action has completed, but still has a present and possibly future effect.  So, did Satan fall while the seventy were running about or way before during the war in heaven?  How far back did the fall happen?  It happened in the past, but so did the work of the seventy.  I believe Jesus referred to a recent past “falling” of the enemy.

“Why do you ask?” you ask. Or as my wife often puts it, “So what?”   But the timing is a valid question. The simile compares the enemy to “lightning” which is bright, but merely a flash and is gone.  The statement is in response to the joyful return of the seventy, so timing of the fall is important to make sense.  And lightning is an earthly event, so Jesus’ point of view to make the simile work would be earth, not heaven.  In other words, the way in which Jesus uses and times His statement about this enemy gives the distinct impression that it happened while He was waiting for them to return.

You may find Satan tramping about heaven difficult to accept, but this enemy seems to wander heaven at times accusing the people following God whenever the sons of God come meet in heaven for a council (see Job).  Paul mentions that our “fight” is against the “spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” which means that enemies of God seem to exist in heaven, including Satan.

Here’s why I think Jesus may have said this with a very amused grin or laugh.  If this enemy, in response to the work of the disciples, has to “fall like lightning from heaven”, then it would seem he got caught with back door open or something.  Something about what the seventy were doing was so damaging to this enemy kingdom that he had to rush back to repair the damage or bolster his defenses.

Can you imagine what it would be like if this were happening a lot through our churches across the world?  What if some activity we were doing were so damaging to our enemy that he had to rush back to help fight?  When’s the last time you’ve heard of something that impressive being done by churches, especially in the Western “First World”?  Sometimes I get the impression that, in America, the churches are sort of “behind enemy lines” in a way.  We’ve capitulated the territory and don’t even notice any more, fooling ourselves that “we’re okay”.  What would have to happen to get Satan’s attention here instead of in those Third-World countries where the dead are being raised in Jesus’ name?

I would think one of the best things we could do to support our brethren in these oppressed regions is be so on fire here and so diligent in working in the power of the Spirit here, that we get the enemy’s attention off of them for a bit.  They’d probably really appreciate the break, however long it might last.

What do I need to do to do that?  Perhaps letting my faith replace my fear would be a good place to start.  On the other hand, I think the obedience of the seventy preceded their faith.  Go fearful and let my faith be grown.  I wonder.  I think I may need to go talk to my neighbors, I feel some grilling and “fellowship” coming on.

What’s your view through the knothole?