A Shocking and Offensive Death (pt.3) –The CENTURION

GOOD FRIDAY: The CENTURION (pt.3 of 4)

MARK 15:33-41pp (also Mt 27:45-56; Lk 23:44-49; Jn 19:29-30)

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

———

Imagine that you were that centurion, that Roman regiment commander who oversees 100 soldiers, that military leader who has orders to stand guard at the crucifixion of Jesus that day.  Public executions like this took place often enough that likely it was not your first or your last crucifixion, so in a way it had gotten to be routine for you, but something about this one transfixed you in a deeply emotional way.

Though the Jews had clearly missed the Messianic expectation, here was an outsider, a Gentile Roman centurion, who became unexpectedly sparked towards making a faith proclamation about Jesus.  So we will investigate by answering three questions: Who was this centurion, what did he say, and what can we learn?

1.   Who was this centurion?

There seem to be two views regarding the identity of this soldier.  The first view, held by Church tradition, was that this man was Longinus, from the 4th century apocryphal “Acts of Pilate”.  Since then, he’s been regarded as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition.  Can this be proven?  No, and the late date (4th century) which was hundreds of years after all eyewitnesses had been dead can be viewed as potentially suspect.

good friday the centurion longinusThe second view is that we don’t know the exact identity of this centurion as he is not named in the narrative, and possibly this could be purposeful.  There are other centurions mentioned elsewhere in the gospels (Mt. 8, Lk. 7 displays the faith of another centurion), and in Acts (Cornelius in Acts 10:22, another named Julius in Acts 27:1), but we don’t know anything else about our centurion standing guard here at the cross; whether he’s the same centurion named in other New Testament narratives, we just don’t know.  Most likely, he is not.

This centurion is not named and that lack of information possibly tells us something.  Current scholars like Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) have done extensive investigation into the gospel narratives (and their history/culture/etc) and they have something fascinating to say.  Bauckham’s thesis, which he argues convincingly, is that the gospel narratives were written based on eyewitness accounts; they are 1st century biographies (different than modern/postmodern biographies; another topic altogether) and therefore when an eyewitness was known within the early church, their name was attached to their account.  An example like this is that Cleopas was the only one of two disciples named in Luke 24 and therefore he would likely have been the “source” because others would have known his name, known of him, and could go and question (or even challenge) him about his testimony.

With that in mind, since this centurion in Mark 15 is not named, he was most likely either not alive, not around the vicinity anymore, or not known within the christian community; possibly because he had not become part of the growing group that were following Jesus.   This would tell us something of the faith depth of his declaration about Jesus in verse 39.

2.  What did this centurion say?

Having been stationed at the foot of the cross, this centurion clearly had seen and heard Jesus.  Something about Jesus’ words, behavior, and demeanor were other-worldly.  This was obviously a crucifixion unlike all the others so this centurion was deeply moved to the point of verbally proclaiming, “Surely this man was the Son of God!

Though it seems like there might be a conversion taking place, we must stay close to the text and not read anything into the text that’s not there.  It would be easy to run with verse 39 and proclaim something to the effect that this centurion was the first Gentile converted after Jesus’ death, how exciting that is and so on, but that would be assuming too much.  Instead, we must not presume anything beyond what we know, for we only know what we’re told plus what we can accurately determine from context along with other clues.

All we know is that this man standing guard, this Roman military centurion, a Gentile, made the public declaration that Jesus must have been a son or the son of God (or of the gods); the Greek article o (otou o) has some flexibility depending on context.  We could make much more of a statement of faith than what’s really there, but that would be improper because the text doesn’t give us any more than that.  Regardless, the centurion viewed the powerful death of Jesus as signifying a certain level of divinity and he bravely vocalized that in spite of his professional allegiance to Caesar as his Roman god and lord.

Now, if the centurion was indeed Longinus, then he did make a valid profession of faith, or at least the beginnings of a life of faith culminating in his sainthood.   If the centurion was left purposefully unnamed in the gospels because he was not enfolded into the new and growing movement of Jesus, then maybe it was not a profession of faith, but rather simply a declaration of awe and intensity over the events and uniqueness of the dying Jesus.

3.  What can we learn?

Regardless the centurion’s identity and the intended meaning of his public statement, we must grasp that this is a seminal moment that broadcasts an important topic:  Jesus is an includer who brings people together from all national, socio-economic, geo-political, generational, and racial backgrounds of life into his glorious kingdom.  This especially as the gospel of Mark was aimed towards a Roman audience.

As the great includer, Jesus’ kingdom, his merited redemption (earned via his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross) is available to people from every corner of the earth, from every hue of skin color, cultural background, and generation.  As we read in John’s Revelation 5:9 “…you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…”

This was (and continues to be) an enormous issue.  Up until this point, the kingdom of God seemed (falsely) to be only for the Jews.  There were some from other backgrounds who came into Judaism, but only if and when they jumped through judaistic religious hoops, and even then were not considered as full and equal to those who could trace their ancestry back to the original twelve tribes of Israel.

This was incorrect thinking on the part of the Jews because from the very beginning God did indeed make it clear that his kingdom should spread out across all nations.  We get this in early seed form all the way back when the Covenant was instituted with Abraham.  In Genesis 12:2-3, God initially calls Abram/Abraham and commits, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.  The Prophet Isaiah expands on this in Is.49:6 “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.  In the New Testament, as this theme became much more clearly understood (and, over time, more faithfully instituted), this is expanded upon by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:8 “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”    All nations!  ALL!

Certainly this was one of the topics that infuriated the religious leaders of Jesus day and, after his death, in the new and growing “Way” as observed in the book of Acts as well as many of the epistles.  The life and message of Stephen, Peter, James, John, and then Paul, Barnabas, and Silas were all about the Great Commission of preaching Christ Crucified beyond the religious and national borders out to Judea, Samaria, and beyond.  Far beyond to all nations.

In this “Death of Jesus” account in Mark 15, we get a glimpse of this very first Gentile who was strongly compelled to publicly proclaim Jesus’ death on the cross to be significant in a divine way.

So how might all this be shocking and offensive to the 1st century culture to hear and read these reports? The answer to this question should be self-evident.  The religious establishment from the very beginning has dragged their feet even to the point of violently opposing this idea of including outsiders into their inner circle.

The good news of God, however, is that Christ Crucified wasn’t only for the Jewish people (who rejected him), but for all nations.

Jesus: The great includer; to Jew and Gentile alike.

#Wade

Part 1: The Cry (vs.33-37)
Part 2: The Curtain (vs.38)
Part 3: The Centurion (vs.39)
Part 4: The Circle of Women (vs.40-41)

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Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Good Friday, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Temple Curtain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Shocking and Offensive Death (pt 2) – The CURTAIN

GOOD FRIDAY: The CURTAIN (part 2 of 4)

MARK 15:33-41 (also Mt 27:45-56; Lk 23:44-49; Jn 19:29-30)

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

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If we unintentionally read this “Death of Jesus” passage too quickly, we might miss one of the most important features presented to us here in Mark’s gospel, verse 38, where it says that at the very point of Jesus’ death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.  Within the flow of this emotion-packed report, it would be so easy to skim past this little verse in order to regain the gripping thread of the larger narrative, but we’d miss so much by not just stopping and dwelling on what it really meant for that curtain to tear like it did; when it did.

With a cursory reading only, we might accidentally miss the significance altogether; the mystic in us might conclude that God was simply showcasing his mighty power by ripping the curtain (Mk 15:39, Lk 23:47), and/or the skeptic in us might deduce that the earthquake must have somehow caused the tear by mere natural means (Mt 27:51).  But this misses the deeper theological point.  It’s about so much more.

good friday the curtainThis temple “curtain”, also translated as “veil”, from the Greek word “katapetasma”  itself held deep religious importance to the Jewish people as it was the impenetrable barrier that separated the special “holy of holies” from the rest of the temple.  If you recall, the “holy of holies” was the inner sanctum where the yearly atonement took place: Nobody but the appointed Great High Priest, and only one time each year (Day of Atonement), and only by fulfilling all manner of procedure and ritual, would dare step foot into that most holy site!  All the Jewish people had far too much respect (and fear) of the Holy God who, in some earthly sense, resided in that most holy place behind that closed curtain.

This word translated curtain/veil, katapetasma, is used three times in the synoptic gospels; once in each “Death of Jesus” account in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Interestingly it’s only used three other times in all of the rest of the New Testament, and all three of those appear in the book of Hebrews.  The writer of Hebrews, connecting this Good Friday event with the person and work of Jesus writes, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:19-22).

So what does all this mean?

What the first century Jews knew, and what the writer of Hebrews is referring to, was that the physical ripping of the temple curtain symbolized the absolute blasting apart of the barrier between mankind and God; so that afterwards, we could now approach God’s holiness face to face without fear of certain immediate death. And more specifically, this all took place because the greatest of all Great High Priests, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who truly was completely pure and sin-free, accomplished the perfect atonement for sins by his death, thereby making that temple curtain (and even the temple itself along with the entire Old Testament sacrificial system) obsolete.

Jesus is our Great High Priest, the very sacrificial Lamb himself, and per the Hebrews passage, the curtain/veil itself also!  He made perfect atonement once and for all through his accomplished work via death on the executioner’s cross.  In a sense, Jesus came into that holy of holies, through the ripped curtain/veil of his torn and destroyed body, sprinkling the blood of the spotless sacrificial lamb (himself) and in doing so, making atonement; consequently redeeming mankind and all creation from sin and death. All because of love.

Theologians use words like expiation and propitiation to describe more specifically what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Expiation with the prefix “ex”, means taking “out of” or taking “away from” tells us that Jesus took away our guilt and shame of sin.  He sent it away much like the scapegoat of the Old Testament would be sent off into the remote wilderness (after the high priest laid the collective sins of the people onto his body).  Propitiation with the prefix “pro”, meaning “for” tells us that Jesus positions us into a positive place before God by placing onto us HIS righteousness, purity, and holiness before God.

In other words, a big switch occurred:  Jesus took upon himself what we should rightly deserve due to sin nature; judgment and death, while he also simultaneously puts upon us what only HE would have otherwise deserved; perfect standing before God along with full adoption as sons and daughters.

So the ripping apart (Greek word “schizo”, also used of the heavens tearing open at Jesus’ Baptism Mk 1:10) of the curtain, though a short verse, nonetheless packs an enormous amount of theological information.  A bit heady maybe, but extremely important and life-changing to comprehend and absorb.

In the context of this short four part series on Good Friday (this is part 2), how then would this torn curtain have been shocking and offensive to the first century Jews? The answer is at the very least, in this way: The actual tearing of the temple curtain would have definitely been frightening as it was perceived as a type of protective barrier.  But more so the message itself which would have begun circulating from the very earliest Christians which would have attributed this curtain-ripping event to Jesus’ death rendering the Old Testament sacrificial system obsolete and unnecessary, this direct implication would have been viewed as tantamount to heresy, if not downright blasphemy!

This begs the question? Why include something so potentially problematic in the text?  The only possible answer is that perhaps it is because these events were exactly what took place on that Good Friday.

Jesus: Our mediator, advocate; our Great High Priest. He is also our sacrificial lamb, our temple, and our ripped curtain!

#Wade

Part 1: The Cry (vs.33-37)
Part 2: The Curtain (vs.38)
Part 3: The Centurion (vs.39)
Part 4: The Circle of Women (vs.40-41)

Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Good Friday, Temple Curtain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Shocking and Offensive Death (pt.1) — The CRY

GOOD FRIDAY: The CRY (part 1 of 4) 

MARK 15:33-41 (also Mt 27:45-56; Lk 23:44-49; Jn 19:29-30)

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

———

If some group was to invent a religion with the goal that it be accepted by the existing culture, this Good Friday narrative of hero Jesus dying on the cross would definitely NOT be the place to begin.   In this “Death of Jesus” text there are four details that would have immediately discredited this religious movement within the context of its 1st century backdrop.  So why are they included in the text? Perhaps because that is exactly what happened that Good Friday!

The four aspects in this text that tell us some very important and crucial (pun intended) things about Jesus are, in order:  The cry (v33-37), the curtain (v38), the centurion (v39), and the circle of women (v40-41).

1. The CRY (v33-37).  The first shocking and offensive aspect of this narrative is the cry of Jesus.  As Jesus hung dying on the cross, darkness swept over the land. Darkness: Signifying death, lostness, and judgment over sin. And as this darkness hung over the scene of this gruesome execution, Jesus continuing to bleed out, cried out in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabachthani?” ; which the text already tells us is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

good friday the cryThe bystanders who overheard him crying out were mistaken. They thought Jesus was possibly calling out to the great Old Testament prophet Elijah, but that wasn’t the case at all.  They misheard.  Jesus was actually calling out to his Father, in brutal agony and anguish, and doing so by quoting David’s Psalm 22:1.  For in a cosmic way that we are not humanly able to fully comprehend, as our Lord Jesus willingly took upon himself the compacted and compounded sin and brokenness of fallen mankind and creation, the result to him by doing so was this distressing separation from his Father.  In that moment, he felt utterly forsaken and alone.  For the first time in forever Jesus was without his Father.

Most people can understand the heartbreak that comes from losing the love of a good friend, a beloved relative, and especially a soul-mate; a spouse.  But nobody can understand what a rupture in relationship could possibly feel like to a Son who is now experiencing complete alienation from, isolation from; feeling absolutely abandoned by his Father, and this after an eternity of blissful relational co-existence together.

The pain must have been devastating.  It was literally hell on earth.

Not exactly hero-like in his composure, Jesus seemed completely fragile at this point; utterly breaking apart at the seams.  So where was the Father in all this?  Scripture informs us that God the Father permitted his Son Jesus to willingly come to our earth in order to accomplish this definitive act of self-sacrifice on our behalf.  This very moment was the very thing needed to redeem this world of ours. Perhaps God the Father was also simultaneously weeping in heaven.

The cry of Jesus tells us that the pain he experienced was above all else a relational pain.  Certainly the act of bleeding to death would be painful in and of itself, but other martyrs before and after accepted their fates with more bravery and peace than this.  But here’s the reason why: For Jesus, this wasn’t about physical pain as much as it was relational pain.  In this darkness before death, Jesus the Son was completely separated from God the Father and this was beyond any pain we could even imagine.

But because of love, Jesus willingly accepted, and even invited, this destiny by incarnating himself into our world to set us free from sin and death.  This cry that demonstrated HIS temporary alienation and abandonment also displayed OUR permanent inclusion and relationship in the kingdom of God; because of his submissive act of substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf.

On that dark Good Friday, Jesus cried in order that mankind (and all creation) would one day sing and laugh with joy.

#Wade

Part 1: The Cry (vs.33-37)
Part 2: The Curtain (vs.38)
Part 3: The Centurion (vs.39)
Part 4: The Circle of Women (vs.40-41)

Categories: Alone, Death on Cross, Devotional, Good Friday | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Palm Sunday

Triumphal Entry -or- Mistaken Identity?

Luke 19:2842
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38″Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!“40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.

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As the unwitting crowds excitedly lay down garments and branches along the road into Jerusalem, they loudly and joyfully exclaimed “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.  But this is not a joyful scene at all; instead it’s quite disturbing.  For those swarming crowds did not really know what they were saying or even who exactly this Jesus was that they were praising.  Their expectations were so off the mark that when it became clearer that Jesus would NOT be the socio-political savior they’d been hoping for; they disbanded, disappointed and disillusioned.

They got Jesus wrong.  Even those closest to him got him wrong.

693px-Assisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro_lorenzettiOver the last three years of Jesus’ public ministry they all grew enamored with his authority-drenched teachings, his counter-cultural style, and his power-displaying miracles.  Those growing crowds thought they could maybe get behind this one who very well could meet their main need: That of removing the yoke of Roman oppression and leading the Jews in a second exodus out into freedom.  They thought Jesus might be the one that the Old Testament scriptures seemed to have been pointing towards, at least in their incomplete (and mistaken) understanding of who that Messiah would be and what his kingdom would entail.

But they got Jesus wrong.  They got him so wrong that they very quickly ended up walking away disenchanted. In fact, while teeming crowds praised him with “Hosanna” and “Peace” that one day, within a short week’s span they’d be condemning him with screams of “CRUCIFY”.  He was definitely not what they had expected or hoped for.

No real surprise here. People always seem to get excited about a Jesus that holds the same ideologies and priorities that they clench so tightly to.  This can be said of the skewed Jesus of the Aryan Nazis, of the Westboro picketers, the Jesus Seminar skeptics, the American KKK, the Western “Me-First” individualists, the post-sexual-revolution permissives, and of the 1st century Jewish disciples who layed down palm fronds before the one they hoped would free them from the Romans.  They all got (and get) Jesus wrong.  Dead wrong.

People get excited about a Jesus that will look, behave, and act according to their own personal expectations, even if based on improper interpretation or understanding of scripture.

Basically, people get excited about a Jesus that is a mirror image of themselves. 

This was true then and it is still very true today.  The “Triumphal Entry Jesus” was more a fabrication and construction in the crowds’ own minds than he was the fulfillment of Old Testament scripture, the Messiah of God.  For one reason, his kingship and kingdom were of another realm (though having broad application to that time and place; as well as to ours).

The crowds, recounted in Matthew’s narrative (21:11) called Jesus “prophet”.   The Pharisees in Luke’s narrative (19:39) called Jesus “teacher”.  But Jesus called himself LORD.   In Luke 19:31, Jesus self-identifies as “Lord” (the Greek word Kurios).  Ironically, this title was reserved for the Roman Emperor and was unlawful to use of any other person.  But Jesus Christ is Lord of all (and over all) including the Roman Emperor and the Roman governmental systems that oppressed the Jews.

But his kingship and kingdom were of another realm.  In verse 42, Jesus distressed and distraught, wept over Jerusalem (the Greek word klaio used of Peter who wept bitterly as the cock crowed twice upon denying Christ three times –Mt 26:75, Mk14:72, Lk22:62) and Jesus declared through those tears that the peace the people were hoping for would indeed come, but in a whole other way.  It was hidden from their eyes (v.42), in a sense, but also right smack in plain view riding that donkey’s colt into town:  Jesus was the one.  THAT Jesus.

Ponder this: A Jesus whom we create that is in lockstep with our own social, political, military, sexual, and/or financial proclivities (that we and our contemporaries often buy into) is a Jesus of mistaken identify and isn’t able to challenge or change us where we need it most.  He’s not the real Jesus but rather a mirror reflection of ourselves when we read into scripture what we desperately want it to say rather than letting the text speak for itself.

The REAL Jesus does not layer himself on top of all our self-absorbed agendas, but rather replaces them with his Christ-centered lordship.  And why?  Because the one who rode into Jerusalem in mistaken identity, and later died a criminal’s death under cloud of shame and isolated aloneness, is the very one who rose on the third day and now is seated on the King’s throne at the right hand of God.  Triumphal entry indeed.

THAT Jesus.

#Wade

Categories: Devotional, Lent, Palm Sunday | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Embracing of Calling (The Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.3)

The EMBRACING of Calling

MATTHEW 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’  11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

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Out there in the desert, there is really only ONE thing lacking for Jesus, it was waiting for him down the road, and that makes ALL the difference; to him and to us!  In the third part of this three-part Lenten series, the focus will be to step back and ask why Jesus was even willing to go through all of this; to embrace this calling?

Pondering the eternal life of the Son, Jesus Christ, we must take stock of the fact that he had always been in relationship with his Father; an eternally blissful coexistence.  The Trinitarian God is a Godhead that is relational in nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loving one another and interacting with one another from all eternity past.  Jesus existed in this fully comprehensive loving relationship and was already being worshiped and glorified by angelic heavenly creatures.  So this begs the question: Why in the world would he leave it?  Seems like paradise, does it not?

Why would Jesus leave that perfectly joyous heavenly existence, and insert himself into our fallen broken world, and do so in one of the most powerless, lowly, and poverty-stricken circumstances at that?  And then on top of that to put up with those 40 days of pain, starvation, and over-the-top demonic temptations in the desert?  And then ultimately ending up succumbing to complete abandonment by followers, friends, and family alike; even by God his Father for a moment (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34) as he hung dying on the cross?

Here is what we know: Even though Jesus had it ALL in paradise, there was ONE thing which was missing.  Jesus was lacking just that one thing, and that one thing was the very reason he set aside his full doxa heavenly glory, emptied and humbled himself (“kenosis”, Phil. 2), and journeyed to our world to sacrifice himself unto death on the cross.

That one thing was you and it was me.

He wanted US to be with him, to join him in that joyous relational existence in paradise, and he was willing to pay the ultimate cost for that to occur.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so desired relationship with the human race that Jesus was willing to offer himself to leave the comfort and full glory of paradise, let go of everything, embed himself into our broken world, and die as our substitute for sin.  As John the Baptist announced, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29, 1:36).

Fallen mankind (along with broken creation) needed redemption, needed a savior, and so Jesus came and incarnated into our fallen world in our form, that of a human being.  Fully divine, fully human, tempted in every way (yet without sin, Heb. 4:15); with a very important mission to accomplish.

The mission: Defeat the devil’s destruction.  To redeem and fully repair this fallen broken world that is full of disorder, dysfunction, decay, and death.

Out there in the desert, the devil attempted everything to try and derail Jesus from accomplishing this mission.  He knew what he needed to do, so he tried to sidetrack Christ away from the Cross.  In verse 9 of our Matthew 4 narrative, the devil himself offers to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would just bow down to him.  The Greek word bow down, pipto, is most properly translated prostate in context.

Interestingly, in all of the New Testament, there is only one instance of Jesus in a prostate position.  In the second garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew the utter pain and loneliness that would come from being rejected by all (including the Father, for a moment) culminating unto death as he was to take upon himself the full blows of the compacted comprehensive sin and brokenness of all time.  As representative and substitute, he knew what awaited him and in this instance, the night before his crucifixion, he was laid low.  Laying prostate in Gethsemane, Matthew 26:39, he anxiously pleaded, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will”.

Jesus would NOT bow down prostate to the devil or any kingdom of the world, but he would indeed bow down prostate to the somber comprehensiveness of the task that awaited him; the fulfillment of his mission on the cross: Dying for the sins of mankind, the brokenness of the fallen world, decay and death, and redeeming it all (including you and me) by rising victorious on the third day.

And in embracing his mission, God’s creation returns, in a sense, back to the original Garden, The Garden of Eden.  Back to that perfection but even better:  New heavens, new earth, new glorified bodies, new regenerated souls, fully redeemed, fully forgiven, and accepted by the Father… beginning now and to be fully manifested in the glorious future.  Perfect paradise and full-on face-to-face relationship with God. No sin, no guilt, no shame, no brokenness, no disease, no dysfunction, no death.  Forever and ever.

That is why Jesus came and conquered every temptation and even death itself on the cross. He embraced his calling and that makes all the difference for you, for me, for all saints across time, as well as for the entire cosmos.

#Wade

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Other parts in this series:

Previously: Part 1: 
The Empowerment of Approval (What was the nourishing “food” that Jesus feasted on during his 40 days of fasting, and how does this help us see his relationship, and ours, to the Father?)

Previously: Part 2: The Embodiment of Scripture (In the cryptic interchange back and forth between Jesus and the devil, we learn this integral fact:  Jesus spoke the Word and the Word spoke of Jesus.

Categories: Creation, Devotional, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Embodiment of Scripture (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.2)

The EMBODIMENT of Scripture

LUKE 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ “ 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ “ 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “ 12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

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tempt-in-desert-stained-glass-chartres-cathedral

In the second part of this three-part Lenten series, the focus will be on the cryptic interchange between Jesus and the devil, specifically relating to the quoting of scripture back and forth.  What exactly was the point of that and what can we possibly learn? In this devotion, we will see that Jesus spoke the Word and that the Word spoke of Jesus.

1.  JESUS SPOKE THE WORD.
Fascinating, this interplay between good and evil.  Considering the crucial nature of this cosmic battle, one might think Jesus would have instead tapped more fully into his divine nature and zapped the devil right off the face of the earth.  But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t, because that would have short-circuited his mission which would inevitably lead him towards the cross; thereby sealing the redemption of creation and mankind.

Instead, Jesus simply quoted scripture.  Three times he quoted the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, and 6:16) to thwart the devil’s attacks.  Strange as it seems on the surface, of all the potential debate tactics that could have been used, this turned out to actually be the most powerful and efficient; it did the trick.  As the Apostle Paul writes, the sword of the spirit is indeed the Word of God (Eph 6:17).  So like any instrument or weapon, to be most effective, it must be most properly comprehended and wielded.

Something very interesting to note in all of this is that the enemy knows the scriptures too; very well indeed.  This is obvious from the fact that he also quotes scripture back at Jesus, but something is missing:  Though the adversary knew the scriptures, he didn’t “know” (in the fullest worshipful sense) the God of the scriptures; the God who would complete his redemptive plan out of love for his people.  The New Testament (Jas 2:19) informs us that even the demons “believe” (and shudder) so there is evidently quite a difference between intellectual assent to theological doctrine and deep heartfelt worshipful faith.  Out there in the lonely wilderness, we get a quick snapshot of that distinction.

About Jesus:  Jesus knows the scriptures, he understands them, and his conversations and teachings are infused with them. He is so saturated with the Old Testament scriptures that he drips them, so to speak, whenever he opens his mouth.  This specific phrase used three times in our narrative, “it is written” (to refer back to the Old Testament scriptures), is used by Jesus 63 times directly in the New Testament.  63 times!

This is a large relative percentage of what the Bible has recorded him as saying!  And not only that, there are many more times Jesus referenced (and inferenced) the scriptures without prefacing with that specific three word phrase.

It needs to be reminded that our Lord held a very high view of scripture.  Let’s allow the full-orbed consequences of that to sink in deeply.

In our present day, there’s a movement towards emphasizing only the “red letter” words of Jesus; downplaying the history of the gospels and Acts, minimizing the teaching of the apostles, and especially discarding the reliability and relevance of the Old Testament.  But that wasn’t Jesus’ approach at all.  He taught as if the Old Testament scriptures (“Law and Prophets”, “Law and Writings”, even “Moses and Elijah”, being synecdoches; a part standing for the entire whole) were both reliable and authoritative.  He built and based his life, works, and teachings on that certainty.  [More on this in a moment].

If this was not true, if the divine Son had not thought the Old Covenant scriptures to be reliable and authoritative, we could only deduce that his numerous references to the Old Testament were then insincere and even deceitfully manipulative, making Jesus out to be quite a deceiver, even a liar; thereby not a perfect teacher, not a perfect savior without sin, and therefore not a redeemer.  But we know much better.

About the enemy:  It’s not just Jesus quoting scripture in this narrative; the Satan does it as well.  And this isn’t the first time either.  Think back:  We’ve heard the devil quoting scripture before, and in doing so, twisting it to mean something OTHER than what God had intended (Genesis 3:1-7).  Back in the Garden of Eden, earlier in Genesis 2, the Father had created the perfect paradise and set only one rule for the first man and woman: “…you must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”.  When the devil, in the form of a serpent, came to tempt, his approach was crafty as he provoked with his sly twists in order to heighten doubt about what God might have meant in that (presumably, to them, unfair and unreasonable) rule.

“Did God really say you would surely die”?  We can almost imagine the private dialog playing out where the skeptic/mocker/tempter played on Adam and Eve’s human emotions.  “Maybe the serpent is correct” Adam and Eve might have said privately to one another, “If Father was really a God of love, he wouldn’t hold back from us anything… he’d certainly let us follow ALL our innate desires and allow us to eat of ALL the trees including THAT one”.

Satan used that weak moment to coerce; to lead them in erroneously believing that there was some mistake in their interpretation or understanding of God’s Word to them.   And so it went.  And so it goes.  And so it still goes, even today.

Sometimes just a slight word change or spoken inflection can cast major doubt, and if we don’t know the full context of the redemptive story of God in Jesus or the smaller grammatical-historical contexts (along with etymology) within the texts themselves, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of confusion, doubt, and potential misunderstanding.

2. THE WORD SPOKE OF JESUS.
It can be said that Jesus held a “high view” of scripture.  To more fully understand this, let’s think back to the narrative in Luke 24 where Jesus walked along the Road to Emmaus.  The newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ was walking with two disciples (one named Cleopas1) and in essence gave them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course as he explained how all those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM.

The Bible isn’t about “us” (or even about “them”);  It’s all about HIM.

Everything in the scriptures is about Jesus.  From the Old Covenant ceremonial laws describing priestly duties and innocent sacrificial lambs, from the prophetic foreshadowings of the prophets about the coming Messiah, on to Wisdom literature speaking of the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge.  From the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Passover lambs of the exile, the manna bread in the desert, the tabernacle, the temple, and all the symbolism and typology we discover in Adam, Noah, Abraham (with Isaac), Moses, Jonah, Boaz, David, Nehemiah,  etc, etc, etc.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about HIM.

To take it a step further, we realize it comes around full circle when we recognize that Jesus spoke the Word that spoke of Jesus.  Think about his first recorded homily in the synagogue “Today this scripture IS fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21) along with the Road to Emmaus narrative (Lk 24) and many more examples.

The apostles recognized this much more clearly afterwards.  In fact, the Apostle John launches his entire gospel biography of Jesus by writing first verse first chapter that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  Jesus Christ:  The Embodiment of the Word.

Jesus himself not only held a very high view of scripture and frequently spoke and taught it to his hearers (followers and detractors alike), but he himself was and is the very embodiment of the Old and New Testament scriptures himself.  We catch a strong glimpse of this concept in this sword fight battle of words out in the desert.

Watch this short YouTube clip for an animated quick summary on this topic.  It’s a MUST WATCH 🙂

#Wade

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Other parts in this series:

Previously: Part 1: The Empowerment of Approval
 (What was the nourishing “food” that Jesus feasted on during his 40 days of fasting, and how does this help us see his relationship, and ours, to the Father?)

Next: Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)

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POSTSCRIPT:  The reader can clearly see I’ve taken a high view of scripture in this devotional.  Two thoughts for later development:  (1) I do not subscribe to a literalist hermeneutic, but rather view scripture through the lens of historical-grammatical-cultural context, genre, and big picture Christological typology.  (2) If or when “perceived” problems or contradictions arise, I most properly interpret/understand that potentially difficult text by weighing it in light of other more clear relevant texts, that along with the big picture redemptive story of God in Christ.  Personally, I find Prof. Darrell Bock’s chapter on “precision” –vs- “accuracy” (for instance, the very words of Jesus –vs- the voice of Jesus)2 to be far more convincing than Prof. Bart Ehrman’s skepticism in this regard.  But all that for some other posted musing down the road.

1 Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans 2006) is a fantastic treatment on eyewitness accounts related to the biblical gospels.  He handles the reason why the one Cleopas (out of two) disciples on the Road to Emmaus is named and the other is not, as well as many other important details and examples of eyewitness testimonies.

2Darrell Bock’s Chapter on Precision and Accuracy in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Crossway 2012). A very helpful treatment especially when we are dealing in this series of devotionals on three synoptic narratives that each deviate from the others, but all three written by gospel writers with differing purposes and some more concerned with “words” -vs- “voice” in the texts.

Categories: Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Empowerment of Approval (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.1)

The EMPOWERMENT of Approval

MATTHEW 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’  11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

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Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John, he is led by the Holy Spirit directly into the desert for a crucial preliminary test of his character and mission.  It. is. ON!!!!

JesusTemptedintheDesertIconAnd it boils down to this: Does Jesus indisputably believe the words of affirmation and approval spoken earlier by the Father at the river?  Can Jesus (in his humanity) truly rest in and rely upon his Father’s goodness and love to provide and guide him along the journey towards fulfilling his mission?  Or will the enemy be able to plant enough of a doubt in his mind to warp and twist Jesus into being willing to short-cut the redemptive plan?

Some important considerations stand out in this passage.  In this first part of a three part Lenten series, the focus will be on the immediate link between Jesus’ baptism and his being tested in the wilderness.

And what might that link between those two events be?  It is the empowerment that comes in hearing the fatherly words of approval and affirmation.

No doubt the words Jesus had just heard from the Father, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22), were emotionally and spiritually energizing.  To rise up from the water and be reminded of this eternal all-encompassing delight would certainly empower Jesus for any task that might be ahead, one would think.

The immediate task for Jesus was this preliminary forty days of fasting (and, we’d surmise, praying) in the desert before his official public ministry was to be launched.  This Greek word “eremos” translated desert or wilderness (v.1) describes a very solitary, lonely, desolate, and secluded place.  Think about it:  There’s no audible voice of the Father heard there, and there’s no Holy Spirit descending in bodily form as a dove there either.  Jesus is alone and lonely.  He’s away from crowds and all by himself.  In essence, Jesus has been dropped from spiritual “high” to “low” almost immediately.  It’s so obvious, and so many of us have experienced this type of abrupt transition, though not in such an extreme form,  that it’s almost predictable; even expected.

How it all began was that right at Jesus’ weakest point, when hunger pangs were the strongest, the enemy came to tempt him. In reality, the word “temptation” doesn’t even begin to do justice to the cosmic battle that was being played out in the desert.

Here’s why:  The word tempted, translated from the Greek “peirazo”,  means to try, to attempt, to conduct a trial.  What was taking place was more than simply the devil testing Jesus’ character to see if he was a good (god-man) person.  No; it was a three-pronged (pun intended) attempt to powerfully sabotage Jesus’ redemptive calling.  Not so ironically, this word “peirazo” was used six times by Matthew in his gospel: Two times about the devil and four times about the Pharisees and religious leaders.  Notice the not-so-subtle connection there.  Basically, it was about anything and everything to keep Christ away from the cross for obvious reasons:  No cross, no redemption!

The FIRST assault of this three-pronged attack came by way of the devil masterfully manipulating God’s words of affirmation “You are my son…” when he intimated to Jesus that if that statement was indeed accurate, and if God was truly a loving Father who would give a hungry son bread, not a stone (see Mt 7:9 for the context), Jesus should then use his divine powers to miraculously change stones into bread.  “You are starving, why not?” we could imagine the private dialog playing out.  “If you died of starvation, what good would you be to anyone anyway, let alone fulfill a redemptive plan from eternity past?”

Jesus countered that first assault by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3, where it is written that “man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.  Jesus had other bread, other food, to fuel him in his faithfulness.  He had the powerfully energizing words of approval and affirmation to ruminate on; his food was God’s word!

The SECOND assault was when the Satan took Jesus (likely in a vision?) to the holy city to stand at the very tip-top peak of the Jerusalem Temple.  Again, the enemy is strongly manipulating those baptismic words of affirmation by again asking, “if you are the Son of God…”  IF!  Another “if”!   The accuser tends to try to cast doubt and confusion over the veracity of the love of the Father.

But Jesus had focus.  The empowerment of fatherly approval and affirmation helped bring the fortitude and longsuffering necessary in order to thwart this obvious attempt to get Jesus to “show off” and earn human worship by jumping from the peak.  The enemy’s plan, it seems, was that the angels would somehow catch Jesus, or that Jesus would float down safely like a cat with nine lives.  Though we can only speculate what might have happened had he jumped, and of course he wouldn’t have and he didn’t, but the intended result would be that the people would worship Jesus NOW, apart from his going the full journey towards the cross and resurrection;  thereby disrupting the cosmic redemptive plan.

So Jesus blocked this potential sabotage like he did the first attempt, by quoting scripture.  In this instance, it was Deuteronomy 6:16.  He would not put his God, his Father, the one who loves and delights in him, to the test by performing magic tricks like some first century David Copperfield or Criss Angel sleight-of-hand master magician.  No!  Certainly it is true that Jesus would indeed earn worship, that one day “every knee would bow ” (Isa 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10-11) and that even the “stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40) under his kingship, but this would take place later, and for something wholly different and something that would have cosmic and eternal consequences.

Finally the THIRD assault took place when the enemy showed Jesus all the kingdoms and nations of the world in what Luke describes as “an instant”.   An instantaneous victory-reel of visionary footage intended to nudge Jesus to accept his due power now, before the cross; to try and get Jesus to institute his royal kingdom on earth now, completely apart from the death and resurrection that awaited him down the road.

Jesus thwarted this attack by quoting scripture as well.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 to insist that the worship that would indeed be due to himself should most appropriately be directed to the LORD God in their full trinitarian glory, not prematurely only to Jesus himself outside of his upcoming redemptive act on the cross, death, and resurrection.  The three persons of the trinity act, work, and love in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.  The kingdom would come, and the kingdom was here (in Christ), but on God’s terms, obviously not on Satan’s or anyone else’s terms.

So much was taking place in this packed narrative and so much more could be said, but in a nutshell, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit of God into the desolate wilderness for a preparatory period of forty days before the official public launch of his redemptive ministry.  In his solitude and hunger, he feasted on the Word of God; especially those recent audible words of approval and affirmation.  His power during these attacks was that his eternal Father delighted all-encompassingly in his eternal Son, and this brought empowerment and faithfulness for the journey ahead.

#Wade

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Coming Next:

Part 2: The Embodiment of Scripture (What is up with the quoting back and forth of Old Testament verses? What does it all mean?)

Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)

Categories: Baptism of Jesus, Devotional, Jesus' Early Years, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Luke 2:22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

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guercino-presentation-jesus-temple-L34-fmRather than digging underneath the surface of this multi-faceted passage, scratching through subsequent layers of rich mineral deposits hunting for precious textual gems, instead let’s soar above at altitude and take the bird’s-eye view gazing down upon some of the big major themes that define our Lord Jesus. There are many here present in this illuminating text.

The HUMANITY of Jesus Christ.
When the time had come, according to Levitical law, for the purification of Mary (40th day after giving birth) and for the Presentation of Jesus (as firstborn son), the young family traveled to Jerusalem to visit the temple.  This was what was expected, so this is what was done.  Jesus, embracing the fullness of his human nature, participated in our human experience; including this childhood religious event.

Theologically speaking, God the Son, Jesus Christ, emptied himself (“kenosis” passage Phil 2:7) of the full rights and benefits he had enjoyed for all eternity past and he willingly and joyfully came into our world to fully identify with us in our humanity.  While maintaining his full divinity, he also took upon himself our full humanity; yet without sin (Heb 4:15).  Jesus Christ: fully divine and fully human. Exactly what we needed.

The POVERTY of Jesus Christ.
In the act of taking upon himself our full humanity at this particular place and time, our Lord Jesus chose to be born into one of the most disadvantaged and underprivileged living conditions imaginable.  God’s angel Gabriel wasn’t sent to the wife of a king, a rich successful businessman, or a renowned Sanhedrin religious leader.  Instead, he visited Mary; and in doing so, set wheels in motion that Jesus would be born to (and raised by) these very young, insignificant, unknown, and disadvantaged human parents living in poverty.

That Mary and Joseph had to present two small doves as their sacrificial offering (vs. 24) speaks volumes to their abject poverty (Lev 12:8).

Consider the extreme shift taking place here: Jesus Christ has transitioned from ultimate King and ruler of the universe into a lowly, needy, helpless, poverty-stricken little baby.  This is how much our Lord loves and adores us; not just being willing to, but actually fully identifying with our poverty, with our need, with our helplessness.

The RIGHTEOUSNESS of Jesus Christ.
In context of being born in human form to a poor Jewish family, God the Son came quietly into our world to accomplish the most important task imaginable: He was to live the perfect human life (without sin) and to completely fulfill the Old Testament covenantal law (vs 22) in such a way that fallen mankind could be redeemed.  In order for this to occur, Jesus was to manifest God’s righteousness in every way.  We recognize, in retrospect, a very early form of this here at the Presentation, and then years later at the baptism of Jesus in a more obvious way.

When Simeon took the baby Jesus into his arms (vs28), he proclaimed the glory of God packaged in that swaddling-cloth bundled baby. In verses 30-32 we read the Nunc Dimittis where Simeon, being filled with the Holy Spirit, telescopes the past, present, and future in announcing that his “eyes have seen God’s salvation” and that Jesus is indeed the embodiment of God’s doxa glory to Israel (and to ALL the nations).  The Righteous One they had been waiting on so desperately, that the prophets had foretold would someday come, had indeed come in the flesh.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, in his letter to the Galatian churches, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal 4:4-5).

The REMNANT of Jesus Christ.
Yet another big-picture theme observable in this Presentation text is that of the ever-present “remnant”.  In each age, place, and culture, God has faithful devotees who worship the Lord and wait expectantly for redemption.  Even in the most extremely depraved cultures and societies, when it seems even the Christian church is off the rails, there are always some who continue on as a remnant of faithfulness: Waiting for God’s perfectly appointed time for the fulfillment of redemption to come.

Consider the obvious Old Testament story of Noah building the ark amongst his extremely violence-plagued population (Gen 7).  And Joseph who retrospectively comprehends that his persecutions and problems came about in order that he would become the remnant (Gen 45:7). And consider the destruction of the quintessentially sexually immoral towns of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19).  And ponder the faithful remnant both staying and going in captivity to Assyria and Babylon (Kings and Chronicles).  And what about each of the prophets, speaking often to unbelieving faithless religiousness?

It seems that each hallmark story of the Old Testament highlights a devoted remnant that provides an ongoing thread of faithfulness that continues onward through history toward the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Llanos_Fernando-Presentation_of_Jesus_at_the_TempleIn this Presentation passage, we read of two such faithful followers: Simeon and Anna.  Simeon in vs 25 is described as “righteous and devout” and that the “Holy Spirit was upon him”.  Though we don’t know much more about this man, the text doesn’t tell us whether he was old or young (many believe him to be old because he says he’s ready to die upon seeing God’s salvation embodied, vs.29, but that’s conjecture) or whether he was a priestly leader or simply a faithful man worshiping in the temple courts.  What we do know, however, is that in a religious society that ultimately rejected God’s savior Jesus Christ, this man Simeon was one who recognized his glory and necessity.  Anna, the text tells us, was indeed old and her ancestry is listed.  Luke also describes that she was known to be always at the temple, worshiping day and night, fasting and praying.

But the point of the remnant isn’t the promotion or glorification of these individual people.  Not at all.  Instead, it’s the promotion and glorification of God who provides remnants to keep his redemptive plan going forward.  The intention is that the faithful remnant ultimately point towards the only truly faithful one; our Lord Jesus.

The DELIVERANCE by Jesus Christ.
Ultimately what Simeon and Anna, and all “remnants”, were waiting on was the promised deliverance that would come at God’s perfect appointed time.  The deliverance and rescue from sin, from evil, and the overall brokenness of fallen creation. Waiting for redemption.

Luke is very specific; he uses the Greek word “lutrosis” (vs.38) which is translated as redemption, a ransoming deliverance, especially from the penalty of sin.  This term only appears three times in the New Testament, being used twice by Luke and then also used once by the author of Hebrews who writes “and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12).

This rescue provided by Jesus would come at a cost, however, and we get a glimpse in the prophetic words of Simeon to Mary in vs.34-35: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  This counter-cultural redeemer would definitely bring deliverance, but NOT in the ways most would expect.  The masses wanted socio-political revolution, but the redeemer Jesus would bring rescue in a wholly different way: Not through strength, but through weakness.  Not through winning, but through dying.  Dying on the cross.

And in doing so, Jesus would illuminate the hearts of all nations as he truly was the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” proclaimed by Simeon that day.

So in this passage that the Church calls the “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”, those are some of the major themes that direct our understanding of the person, nature, and salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

#Wade

Categories: Devotional, Jesus' Early Years | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Conversion of The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul’s encounter with Jesus absolutely explodes into a rich collage of sight, sound, and emotion exhibiting God’s grace.

Acts 22:6-8 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ” ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.

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The conversion of the Apostle Paul was so outlandishly radical, so powerful and instantaneous that we even now today have a term for that kind of encounter; we call it a “Damascus Road” experience.

By contrast, most of us come to faith in Christ fairly slowly.  Maybe through the love of a Christian family or friend growing up, maybe via a weekly church worship, or a meaningful youth camp gathering, and most often due to the reading or preaching of God’s Word; the Bible.

PAULSCONVERSION-RUBENS1601

Paul’s Conversion. Rubens 1601

But not so with St. Paul.  Paul was NOT coming towards Christ in any way but was rather moving forcefully and intensely in the exact opposite direction.

To be blunt, Paul was an enemy of the fledgling church of Christ before his amazing and intense Damascus Road experience.  In fact, Paul (aka Saul) was a terrorist in the fullest sense of the word as he actively persecuted, intimidated, imprisoned, and even participated in the murder of those following Jesus (like Stephen, Acts 8).

Paul earned his reputation as an energetic Pharisee who went way out of his way to stop the growth of this new movement of God in Jesus Christ.  He was so dangerous to those new followers of “The Way” (Acts 9:2) that their turbulent anxiety became heightened in his presence.  Certainly Ananias was extremely wary (Acts 9:13) when called directly by God to go to Paul’s side. For many years to come, Christians most likely slept with one eye open when Paul was in their vicinity (as trust is slowly earned, over time).

But God had other plans.  To showcase His immense grace, Jesus chose the “public enemy number one” (at least as far as the new and fragile Christian church was concerned) and promoted him the director of evangelism to Jews AND Gentiles; the very reverse role that would have been opposite of what everyone would have expected.  Talk about counter-culture and counter-intuitive!

The first time this Damascus Road narrative appears in Acts is in Acts 9 where Luke describes the occurrence in third person detail about the Apostle Paul’s encounter.  The second time is in Acts 22 where Luke recounts Paul’s first person apologia to the riled up Jewish crowds rioting in Jerusalem.  In that particular instance, Paul strongly emphasized both his and Ananias’ Jewish backgrounds and faithfulness in order to gain an effective hearing, even speaking in Aramaic.  But his “called to go to the Gentiles” speech was just too much for people to take in (vs. 20-21) and, much like with Stephen earlier, they roared with the same violent destructiveness that Paul had been known for up to his miraculous change.  Clearly, Paul’s life was in serious danger there in Jerusalem, but God had other plans. The third time this Damascus Road encounter is recounted is in Acts 26 where Luke again retells Paul’s narrative in the first person, but this time to the mostly Gentile royal court in Caesarea (King Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus).

So this story of Paul’s conversion is told not just once, but three separate times by the historian Dr. Luke in his book of Acts.  Obviously this was an event so outlandish and unexpected that it penetrated the hearts and minds of the listeners and readers alike.

Think deeply about the reasons why this might be.

  • Firstly, the religious climate and cultures into which Christianity was born did not believe in a bodily resurrection.  The Jewish religious leaders were split on this (Pharisees –vs- Saduccees, Acts 23:8) and the Greeks held a very Gnostic “material world is intrinsically less” worldview.  So into this context comes Paul announcing, along with the other apostles and disciples, that there is indeed hope of resurrection as he has met the risen Christ himself.
  • Secondly, we must recall that Paul was an apostle unlike the other apostles in that he was not a “follower” during Christ’s life and ministry.  Instead he was one later called (in this Damascus Road christophanic appearance) and would then be “validated” to jump immediately into the apostolic circle by having also encountered the glorious risen Christ.  Did this fact also empower Paul multiple times while he himself was being persecuted, imprisoned, even murdered?  The New Testament scriptures inform us yes.

Like Paul himself self-reported in his circular letter to the Galatian churches (Gal 1:22-24) I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me.”

On today, January 24, a day where many churches celebrate the “Conversion of St. Paul”, let us recall the glorious christocentric appearance of God, in Christ, to Paul on that Damascus Road, and may our hearts too be powerfully changed in our own personal encounters with Jesus as well.

(#Wade)

Categories: Apostle Paul, Devotional | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Baptism of Jesus pt.4 (Lost Art of Repentance)

THE LOST ART OF REPENTANCE

Mark 1:4-5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

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After 400 distressing years of God’s silence among the people, the very last of the Old Testament style prophets, John the Baptist, appeared out in the remote wilderness of Judea, in the model of Elijah, preparing the way for the arriving Lord.

giovannibattistatiepolo_john_the_baptist_preachingJohn was baptizing and calling on the swarming crowds to repent, but this wasn’t just any old ordinary message. No, John was crying out!  This word translated from the Greek “boao” meaning to raise a cry (either of joy or of pain) was the same word used by Jesus himself as he hung dying on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

This word was also used by a vulnerable father about his demon-possessed boy and by a blind/disabled beggar desperate for help (both in Luke).

Within this background in mind, we can hear that John the Baptist’s call was indeed a prophetic cry of desperation for those teeming crowds to please pay attention and act:  Get ready, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Nowadays, “repentance” isn’t a word that frequents our contemporary conversations, sadly even in many church settings.  At a visceral level, our cringing modern sensibilities somehow recoil at the mention of this word, and yet John the Baptist and Jesus himself (along with the apostles and New Testament authors) knew that repentance was key to the new life of fullness in Christ, and they did not shrink back from using that word or the concept it represented.

Out there in that Judean wilderness, two distinct groups came out to observe this phenomenon named John the Baptist, but only one of those two groups ultimately complied with God’s command to repent.

While the one group, the downtrodden average people (the weak and powerless crowds) did indeed repent and undergo John’s preparatory baptism, the other group, those powerful religious leaders did not; instead they were incensed.  In their self-righteous minds, they were irately asking themselves why this unqualified, inexperienced (within the church system/structure) preacher John the Baptist was summoning the Jewish rank-and-file to perform what was up to then a rite of purification required only for “lesser” Gentile converts to Judaism?  This leveling of the playing field was infuriating to them.

So John the Baptist confronted these religious leaders, who came out en masse to investigate, by labeling them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3 and Luke 3).  Very strong words!

Much like with Jesus (who used the same derogatory term to also accuse the self-righteous religious leaders in Matthew 12), and with Paul, Peter, John, and others later, we discover that the very softest words were most gently spoken to the struggling sinners who knew deep down that they urgently needed God (think prostitutes, tax-collectors, criminals, etc.), while the harshest words were reserved for the churchy people who look down on others who are not like them; those with differing customs, views, backgrounds than their own.

This was essential because those same religious church leaders were resting in their OWN self-righteousness and self-importance, and even in their religious ancestry, instead of relying on (and in) God.  In a sense, they showed they didn’t completely “need” God at all, but instead were manipulating their clerical positions to gain prestige and power over the weak and downtrodden.

Two thoughts for consideration:

First, we all must repent. The text intricately links repentance and the forgiveness of sins and John the Baptist’s message wasn’t only for a select few.  It was for all who came out to hear.  Repentance is necessary because it prepares and cultivates the soul’s soil in order for the good seed of the gospel to take root and flourish by bearing good fruit.   We who assume that we mostly have it all together compared to other people are way off track as we end up comparing ourselves to the wrong measuring standard (which really ought to be that of Christ’s perfection); so we end up fooling ourselves.  Instead, when the Spirit of God is calling, our tender hearts must be opened and listening. We must always be in the continual act of repenting; always receiving the grace of Christ.

Second, if we hear the word “repent” and get stuck thinking about the big sins (murder, violence, greed, and sexual immorality), we too get off track as well.  Of course we need to stop and repent if we’re involved in those obvious ways of falling short of God’s mark, but we must not miss the subtle more obscure sins that darken our souls; those that are found in subsequent layers as we dig deeper and deeper below the surface of our hearts.

In other words, we must go beyond repenting for the obvious bad and we must also repent for the non-obvious “good”, meaning those “good deeds” that are done  (in society, family, and in church, etc) for the wrong reasons:  Motivations of self-promotion, self-glorification, and self-centeredness are so less obvious and yet frequently so much more destructive.

Repent.  The Kingdom of God is here in Christ.

#Wade

Categories: Baptism of Jesus, Devotional | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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