So You Want To See Jesus…

“He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?  Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’  And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’  ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:22-27 NASB)

Why is it that we seem to forget the Bible, the whole Bible, prophets and all?  Why we do we find it so easy to create this cardboard version of Jesus who is so two dimensional? Why do we forget that He came to fulfill the law not abolish it?  Why is it so easy to forget that He came to divide not unify humanity?  The truth of Scripture is that Jesus is God, not a god, not some new god, and certainly not “God Transformed”.  He is God!

God, the One putting up with Israel’s wayward ways for 400 years while He sends prophets, is the One wiping them out with the pagan empire of Assyria.  And then, a hundred years later, Judah goes down by the pagan Babylonians.  Flash forward 400 more years, and Jesus becomes the same One pronouncing woes of judgement on Galilean cities and Jerusalem itself.  It’s as if the judgement of old was returning again, this time at His say so.

And then we have this parable.  Luke seems to intertwine a parable of a king, possibly using the ascension of Herod’s son Archaleus, with the parable of slaves use of money.  The point of the slaves with money is being enterprising with the resources God provides us until He returns.  The point of the king ascending a throne is opposing him does not go unpunished.

If Jesus is the king and master of the servants, then this picture of Jesus ought to make us uneasy.  Then we are to be responsible with what has been entrusted to us while He is away, making more of what was given.  Being industrious is rewarded, not doing anything with it is punished.  We have to agree to be ruled, to submit to the reign of Jesus over us.  That means agree to who He is not who we imagine Him to be.

And this isn’t meant to take away the love Jesus has for us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus any more before His throne than it can now, or could before He ministered in person.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  But that doesn’t then change the personality of God into something other than what we read elsewhere in Scripture.  It’s both.  And that’s probably where we fail most often to our greatest detriment.

God did not have a personality break between the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  He didn’t switch from wrath and anger to mercy and love.  He has always been all of that and more.  There has always been vast oceans of grace in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There has always been wrath in the Christian Scriptures.  So our challenge is read both and let God define for Himself who He is and how He will relate to us.  It’s tough, and it should be frightening to us.  But then again, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom after all.

So, what do you see through your knothole this morning?  I hope I didn’t bring you down, but I do hope I sobered you up!  You may need sobering after last night…but that’s fodder for another post.

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Some Rich Guy…And Lazarus

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.”  (Luke 16:19-21 NASB)

This parable isn’t one of the more difficult to understand, it’s just one of the more disturbing that Jesus tells.  It’s possible there are some literary genius elements in it, like that Lazarus is the only named character between the two, but never speaks.  But other points, primarily the details of the setting after death are particularly troubling.

For instance, does it bother anyone else that heaven and hell are within sight, and close enough to discern actual people?  Does it bother anyone that in heaven it’s possible to see tormented people in hell?  I think, if you’re like me, you sort of figured that they would be “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” for eternity.  I just never thought about it actually.  You, know, except for now.

Does it bother anyone that Abraham and the unnamed rich-guy can talk across the gulf that no one can travel across?  There’s no bridge, but they can shout at each other.  Isn’t that a bit too close for “comfort”?  How is the blessed existence of heaven possible when you can witness the torment of those who refused the kingdom of God?  That sounds a bit morbid or at least sadistic in nature.

So now the real question: If all that is accurate about the parable, did Jesus intend for it to be an accurate depiction of heaven, what John saw from Patmos?  I have heard it various ways: heaven & hell prior to the cross, heaven & hell prior to the final “new heaven/new earth” (during the “church-age” – nonsense), and so on.  Jesus simply leaves that question unanswered.

John’s vision on Patmos was different in a lot of ways, but some details he simply didn’t mention.  For instance, John mentions the “lake of fire” but doesn’t say whether it was visible from the “New Jerusalem”.  He has an abyss, but again it sounds like a lockable hole, temporary place for the Devil prior to the final battle.  Still no mention as to the “layout” and whether there was this “chasm fixed” that no one can cross.  So, it’s possible that John’s vision and this parable describe very similar settings.  How’s that for uncomfortable?

One of the real problems here is how this depiction seems to cast God in a unloving light, at least by our definitions of love.  Even if people in rebellious ignorance chose to go there, why leave both places within sight of each other for eternity?  Can you imagine an eternity of worship before the Throne of God with tormented souls as “backup”?  You can see them and hear them while worshiping with an unnumbered throng before the throne.  Seems some how discordant.

So what do we do with this depiction?  My favorite choice is to go with the main point, and trust God for the setting.  The main point is that the wealthy need to reach out to the poor in recognition of the Sovereignty of God; viewing themselves as equal with the poor.  It’s a matter of responsibility with the resources God has provided us, rich, comfortable, getting by, barely making it, stretching, or homeless.

If I focus on the obvious point, and let God worry about the “setting” after this life, then I’m not distracted sitting as judge over the Maker of the entire universe.  See the problem?  When we call God’s character into question, we do so at a very core level.  It erodes our faith just to do so.  If we believe that Scripture is inspired, that Jesus actually said these things, then draw the conclusion from those beliefs that Jesus reveals God as a very unloving harsh God; we reject other passages that say otherwise.

Part of the problem we face on this side of the “afterlife” is that we have little idea what we will be like on that side.  It could be that “the glory to be revealed” so far surpasses our ability to comprehend now that any vision of the torment of others actually becomes incorporated into the glory of God and His character.  To say that’s not possible from this side is fine, but impossible to actually know.  So the challenge is to learn the obvious lesson, and also hang on to what we already know about God.

That’s my view through this knothole…you?  What do you see?