Posts Tagged With: religion

Jesus: Our True Rest

Jesus: Our True Rest
Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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Our exhausted and stressed-out society is overworked, sleep-deprived, and even our technology depletes us.  We are truly a culture that desperately needs rest and yet when we attempt to find that rest, it backfires.

In our passage Jesus speaks of a “yoke”, referring to the bar which fastens two oxen together tightly at the neck in order that they could work more effectively.  Weights are attached to that bar in order to maintain constant pressure. In speaking this way, Jesus guides his audience to conclude that there are two choices: The default yoke of idols (leading to exhaustion) and the yoke of Christ (the true sabbath rest).

1. The Yoke of Idols

The yoke that harnesses each and every one of us destructively to our idols is one that always crushes us over time; choking us with an ever-increasing pressure that won’t let up.  Lest we limit our thinking, consider some obvious modern examples of idols:

  • Physical appearance; endlessly shopping for new trends or fashions, but never satisfied.

  • Yoked Oxen

    Yoked Oxen

    Health and fitness; running and exercising our bodies down to a grinding bone-on-bone pain, but never content with what stares back in the mirror.

  • Career and recognition; perpetually climbing the stairs of ambition, only to find out that our loved ones and friends (even ourselves) were left in the dust.

  • Striving for success, reputation, intelligence, being liked, or being seen as cool or hip.

  • Personal freedom; but finding that more sex with more partners or manipulating more people to make more money merely brings emptiness.

  • And what about those things we perceive as GOOD things like family, friends, community, church?  The problem here is that any time we tether our identity, self-worth, and inner peace to something added onto Jesus Christ, we turn that “good” thing into an “ultimate” thing1 thereby converting it into an idol.

And ironically, the rest we seek cannot be found in church or religion either. Paradoxical as this initially sounds, it is true that people can get far more burned and washed out by church and religion than by all other realms of life. Think of our context here in Matthew 11.

Jesus came to a culture that was extremely religious and yet very far from God. The religious systems and structures, as exemplified and directed by the Pharisees (the religious leaders of that day), had been crushing the common people. So near the middle of this long multi-chapter section in the gospel of Matthew confronting those Pharisees, we find our strategically placed verses in 11:28-30 (about coming to Jesus for rest) immediately followed by chapter 12 regarding Sabbath rest. The context speaks of rest from religious striving.

The word “weary” in vs.28, translated from the Greek kopiao, speaks of being tired and exhausted from toil, burdens, and even grief; more than physical tiredness, it’s an emotional and spiritual exhaustion.  Also in vs.28 is the word “heavy-laden” phortizo. This word only appears twice in the New Testament; once here and then in Lk.11:46  where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for weighing down people with religious burdens. The context is important.

Even up til today, the rank and file in the pew have become guilted and shackled by man-made religious rules, traditions, and expectations.  The underlying (and lying) message is that if we somehow can get our act together better,  then we would please God; as if our righteousness was tied to our religious performance. But it’s not.

In fact, any time we say to ourselves, “If only I could ______, then I would be ok” (regardless what we fill in that blank), we have dangerously put onto ourselves the yoke of idolatry and will never be able to find the rest we so desperately need.  However, there’s good news.

2. The Yoke of Christ

Jesus offers a whole other way; the true rest that our human condition yearns for: Rest from striving, rest from trying to measure up, rest from trying to better ourselves for recognition or self-respect, rest from trying to improve in order to be okay with God, others, and ourselves. True rest.

In vs.28, Jesus invites us to “come”, the Greek deute, which has the meaning of “coming with and following”.  We see it in Mt 4:19 where Christ solicits the new disciples to “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men”.  Jesus is not referring to a one-time event but rather an active and continual relationship of following; that we would find our rest in Him.

Van Gogh, 1890 Rest, Work (After Millet)

Van Gogh, 1890
Rest, Work (After Millet)

This is a deep and refreshing spiritual rest.  It’s the same word used in Revelation 14:13 regarding the rest of the saints who have died after all their labors are complete.

Gospel writer Matthew immediately follows this discourse about Jesus’ rest with chapter 12 about the Sabbath.  The connection is that Jesus is saying that it is HE himself, not a day of the week or activity in an assembly, who is the Sabbath rest for the people of God.

In this way, we have yet another example of Jesus Christ being the absolute fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures: In this example, he is the embodiment of the Old Testament Sabbath.

But we must come to him in weakness, humility, and dependence, like little children (vs.25) with hands and hearts opened wide to receive; for children are helpless and needy. For when we come to Jesus in this way, he figuratively removes the default yoke of our idolatry that weighs down and crushes, and places onto our necks His yoke which is “easy” (vs.30; the Greek chrestos which interestingly sounds very similar to Christos, which translates as Christ!).

The yoke Jesus gives his followers is not something that is separate from him (that he places on our necks and then walks away), but rather the yoke IS Jesus.  He is the easy yoke that binds us together with him, and in whom we can truly find the eternal rest for our hearts and souls, both now and forevermore.

#Wade

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NOTES: The gospel reading for July 19, Feast of Macrina, Monastic and Teacher 379

1. Ultimate things is a phrase I’m borrowing from Dr. Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan NYC.

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Categories: Blessed Life, Devotional, Sabbath Rest, Spiritual Rest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raising The Bar

Raising The Bar

Matthew 5:43-48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

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If loving our neighbor wasn’t a difficult enough challenge, Jesus expands the definition of neighbor here in what we call his “Sermon on the Mount” to include our enemies (vs.44), and murder to include every angry thought (vs.22) as well as adultery to include even our most private lustful thoughts (vs.28). And then the unrealistic expectations rise higher and higher up into a wounding crescendo, a painful stabbing point, where in vs.48 the bar has now been raised beyond any conceivable reach. At precisely this point Jesus divulges to his hearers the necessary standard of righteousness that God requires of all: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Wait… what?

This text describes a standard of righteousness which God does require, per Jesus, but that is utterly absurdly impossible for anyone to be able to reach. The result is that every single thinking person who hears or reads those words should be stopped dead in our tracks. We know intuitively it is not even within our DNA to come close.

So if Jesus knows we can’t do it, why does he command it?

Sermon-on-the-Mount

Sermon On The Mount

To answer that question, let’s be reminded of the socio-historical and religious context of first century Palestine. The Israelites, the people of God, had yet again missed grace and embraced works; the human nature defaulting to circumvent the grace of God by attempting to be good in our own strength and efforts. For the Pharisees of the day, this was done by observing the commandments (Ex.20, Dt.5), the Old Testament “Law” in general, plus the midrash; those many additional human religious rules, rites, and traditions layered on top of it all. But it didn’t work. Those hearers were obviously far from the Kingdom of God when Jesus came.

So how can imperfect human beings achieve this perfection that God requires?

The Greek teleios, translated “perfect” in vs.48, is defined as perfect, perfection, and also as complete or finished. It appears seventeen times in the New Testament and is the same word Jesus uses when admonishing the rich young ruler in Mt 19:21, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”. Those were very hard words to hear, even when spoken with compassion, for that earnest young man walked away downcast.

So this all seems so impossibly hopeless, and Jesus really does leave us hanging on verse 48 waiting for a resolution that doesn’t immediately come as it’s not spoken right afterwards. Instead we’re stuck in a conundrum; yearning for a perfection and completeness exceeding that of the Pharisees, but unable to muster it on our own.

sermon on the mount

Sermon On The Mount

But for those who rely on Christ, there is hope and here’s the key: While we do need to be perfect, perfected, holy and righteous, it won’t come from anything inside us at all. None of our attempts or efforts will even make a dent. Instead, what is given to us by the finished work of Christ on the cross is an external righteousness which comes from outside of ourselves; it is HIS righteousness, applied to us on our behalf.

Theologians speak of a double imputation that occurred on the cross and what they mean is simply this: When Jesus took our sin upon himself, he simultaneously applied his perfect righteousness onto us. It’s a big switch and this is exactly how we become perfect in God’s eyes; not by anything we do or don’t do, but by what Jesus did on our behalf. Very simple and yet extremely profound.

Jesus himself IS our perfection and our completeness as he lives his eternal life in and through us by his Holy Spirit. So when he calls us to “be perfect” (vs.48), in essence he is calling us to rest completely in Him. And that is good news.

#Wade

Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Sanctification, Sermon On The Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Lord Is Our Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 34:11-16 11 For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

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People have mistakenly tried to construct a false dichotomy between a wrathful Old Testament God who judges and a loving New Testament God who saves, but that thinking is revealed as flawed in multiple places. Case in point: This chapter 34 of Ezekiel.

In the context of this prophetical book, pronouncing judgment upon sin, we encounter here in this chapter astonishing imagery describing our Lord shepherding his flock with compassion. So it becomes obvious again that God has revealed his depth of character in a profound “both-and” way. He is both sovereign Lord who provides justice AND he is also nurturing shepherd who loves tenderly.

Prophet Ezekiel

Prophet Ezekiel

The prophet-priest Ezekiel was called by God during Israel’s history right around the time of the Babylonian exile of 597 BC when Nebuchadnezzar swept through and destroyed all of Jerusalem including the Temple; the center of religious ritual. It was within this historical context that Ezekiel prophesied; enacting many of his proclamations symbolically and speaking others verbally.

The initial focus of Ezekiel’s prophecies were about God’s judgment on sin and idolatry; initially first against Israel, and then against the surrounding seven nations. But once Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel switched towards a message of consolation; foretelling of a restored people awaiting a glorious future where the Lord himself will shepherd his flock by gathering, caring for, and feeding them in deep and profound ways.

1. The Lord GATHERS his flock

The imagery of the Lord as a shepherd who actively seeks and saves those who are lost brings to mind the deliberate recounting of this metaphor in parabolic form by Jesus himself in Luke 15:1-7. Even though the flock had been scattered and exiled to Babylon (due to the sinful neglect by the “shepherds”; the religious leaders), the glorious day will come when the Lord will gather his sheep who are easily in view, but will also actively pursue those who are far off; those who are weak, hurt, injured, scared, from every nation on earth.

And imagine how comforting the message that they would be gathered “out from the nations” (vs.13) would have been to the scattered remnant captured into foreign lands. It would have brought hope to those exiles trapped there in Babylon.

In verse 16, the word translated “lost”, the Hebrew ‘abad, means scattered but also annihilated/destroyed and the word translated “scattered”, nadach, is even more insidious; meaning to be thrust away, banished, outcast! These sheep were lost to the point of desperately needing divine rescue (vs.12).

To expand our context to the entire chapter 34, we read that the Lord’s gathering of his flock is in stark contrast to the human shepherds (signifying the religious leaders) who only care about themselves and therefore don’t even bother to go out looking for missing sheep. They “have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost” (vs.4). A very strong indictment.

2. The Lord CARES FOR his flock.

Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd

The Lord as shepherd not only gathers his sheep together safely into his fold, he also cares for their every need; making sure they feel safe and treasured. Listen to the power of the nurturing words used in our text such as “look after” (vs.11,12), “bring them out” and “into their own land” (vs.13), “tend” them (vs.14,15), as well as “bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (vs.16). All of these activities would be expected of a normal shepherd watching over his sheep, but evidently those religious leaders, identified as shepherds of the people Israel, were preoccupied with other priorities; namely themselves.

Ezekiel draws the obvious contrast between the Lord as good shepherd (in vs.11-16) against all those who tended to their own comforts and privileges. Not only were they not caring for their own flocks (vs.2-3), they were actually plundering and exploiting them for their own comfort, gain, and well-being. Meanwhile, as they were not watching guard, many of the sheep were figuratively carried off (or scared off) by rampaging wild animals.

3. The Lord FEEDS his flock.

Ezekiel paints a beautiful portrait of the Lord as shepherd who gathers and cares for his beloved sheep, but also as one who feeds his flock in nourishing ways. To get the full sense of this concept, we must go back to the original language and notice the multitude of times the Hebrew word ra’ah is used in describing the pasturing and feeding of the sheep. This word ra’ah describes what shepherds do; pasturing, shepherding, feeding and even teaching (which is enormously significant for ministry application).

In the book of Ezekiel itself, this word ra’ah is used sixteen times and all but one of those times shows up here in this chapter 34. It’s as if Ezekiel is overstating again and again the obvious; shepherd the lost and needy sheep, and he communicates this within the agricultural imagery where the shepherd will bring his sheep to verdant pastures where they can feed without fear or anxiety.

Again we must contrast God’s divine shepherd to the human religious leaders who fed themselves without caring about their flock. Verse 2 is condemning, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!”. This can also be properly translated as “Woe to the feeders of Israel who have been feeding themselves” (rather than their appointed flocks). Verse 3 goes on to explain that they feast on the choicest parts of their own sheep; on the delicious animal fatty meats. The picture is unmistakable: They were betraying their calling as shepherds and were gorging on the very animals supposedly under their care.

But the Lord turns the tables in verse 10, “I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them”. There is hope: He will reject those shepherds and will replace them with one who is far superior.

Note that the sheep themselves are not innocent in the text. Throughout verses 18-21, many of the neglected sheep are judged as selfish and vindictive to the remainder of their flock. They stamp down the pastures after they have eaten, making it inedible for others, and they pollute/muddy the water after drinking, making water unavailable to the others. Verse 21 adds that the stronger sheep are guilty of bullying and pushing the weak ones around. It’s an absolute mess and needs divine intervention.

The True Good Shepherd

Jesus himself explained on the Road to Emmaus (Lk.24) that all of the Old Testament was about him, and this text is yet another example. Even though a partial fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy did take place during the Old Testament period (the exile eventually ended, the people did return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple), it was never completely fulfilled. Something was always still missing, and there continued to be false shepherds leading the sheep of Israel astray. Why was that?

Caring & Feeding His Sheep

Caring & Feeding His Sheep

This was because though partially fulfilled in the old covenant, this prophecy was not completely fulfilled until the new covenant in Jesus Christ. That word ra’ah which was used fifteen out of sixteen times in chapter 34 (about pasturing the sheep) takes a beautiful turn the final time used by Ezekiel three chapters later, in 37:24, pointing towards the true and coming shepherd of Israel, “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd ; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them”. Obviously this is not referring to King David who was already dead and gone, but to the true Davidic king to come, Jesus Christ himself.

As foreshadowed in Ezekiel 34:23, Jesus is the one who is the true shepherd. He will give the true rest (vs.15) to his flock where they can experience peace like sheep laying safely on a guarded field. In fulfillment of Ezekiel 34, along with Psalm 23 (with many other instances), Jesus Christ is the good shepherd who gathers, cares for, and feeds his flock with divine compassion.

In the New Testament, Jesus used the same imagery of himself shepherding his sheep (John 10). Those who belong to him will finally be gathered and secured into his flock, and will experience a banquet feast of spiritual food along with living waters as he will institute, per vs. 25, a “covenant of peace” forever.

We who have been gathered by Christ as his sheep can experience this partially now and then completely at the end of the age when the fulfillment of his Kingdom will have been fully accomplished .

#Wade

Categories: Devotional, Ezekiel, Good Shepherd | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Foolishness To The Greeks

Jesus Christ Crucified is Center

1 Corinthians 1:18-25   18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

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Without Jesus as Center, it is impossible to remain on the right path. It doesn’t matter the good intentions, rich history and traditions, well-meaning followers or leaders.  Without Jesus as Center, the route traveled will quickly deviate off the appointed path to the right or to the left; even at some point spinning off to the degree of necessitating intervention.

This occurred in the Corinthian Church very early on and St. Paul’s “First Letter to the Corinthians” is his targeted attempt to repair it.

1Corinthians

Corinth

A few years earlier, Paul came to Corinth and found a thriving commercial center; a hub of money, influence, thought, and immorality.  Basically Corinth was a power-center much like a New York City or Los Angeles is today.   And Paul, per his typical method, preached, evangelized, discipled, delegated, and then moved on to the next region to do the same; letting the newly placed local elders and leaders continue to shepherd, teach, and guide the newly converted Christians.  This was the pattern.

There were problems with Corinth, however.  Idolatries were very entrenched there and the new church became too influenced by its surrounding culture.

The result was twofold: A growing over-emphasis on human reason and on religious zealotry.  Those two categorical issues were (and still continue to be) deadly in luring disciples away from experiencing the true life that Christ offers.

So reenter the Apostle Paul:  Having heard about these concerns from afar, he sat down and penned this letter (1 Corinthians) to plead the message that Jesus Christ Crucified is the Center; anything else is foolishness and powerlessness!

1.  The Foolishness of REASON

It might seem odd, at first glance, that the highly educated Apostle Paul would minimize the importance of human reason for he was known to persuade, debate, and engage the human mind in synagogues and in public squares alike.  And we modern Westerners, children of the Enlightenment, might miss the gist of this text because when Paul quotes the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah (in vs.19) he is not suggesting a devaluation of truth.  Instead, Paul is directly attacking the Greek philosophy that had so heavily influenced the Corinthian Church after his departure; it had been veering those new disciples away from Jesus as Center.

The Greek Philosophers taught that there was a dualism in life — The spirit being good and pure and the body/earth being impure or nonessential.  Even as Paul was evangelizing, and later penning letters, this Greek philosophy was crystallizing more and more into an intense “Gnostic” strain (meaning “knowledge”).  Scholars call this early appearance “proto-Gnosticism”, but I’ll simply refer to it as Gnosticism as it has changed so little at its core.

Those Gnostics argued much about all the latest ideas and perspectives but it was all “head” knowledge.  There was deadness to all the philosophizing and opinionating about their points of view:  All head but no heart.

Apostle Paul Writing

Apostle Paul Writing

It was within this context that Paul admonished the (Gnostic-influenced) Corinthian Christians that they had gotten it backwards.  All of the head-knowledge philosophizing and disputing was utter foolishness. Instead of arriving at Jesus as Center, all that speculative human reasoning ended up instead at themselves as center.

And so then it became anthropocentric, not christocentric; worthless and foolish.  That word “foolish”, the Greek moraino, is the same used of the salt that became tasteless and worthless thereby needing to be tossed out (Mt 5:13, Lk 14:34) as well as the description of the idolatry of the Gentiles in Romans 1 who “claimed to be wise” (Rom 1:22) but who were really fools about spiritual truth.

Fast forward to today where the Gnostic error continues to hold sway.   There are many current dialogues and conversations about how to “do life” and even “do church” according to the philosophies and progressive trends of the ever-changing culture, and there is also the inundation of the “principles for success” pragmatism as well, but these are not based on the centrality of Christ and Him crucified.

And let’s not miss the important point:  The “crucified” adjective is crucial.  In verse 23, Paul drives home this point, “but we preach Christ crucified  and then elaborates that this is where true wisdom originates.

Let’s be clear: Even though there can be layers of church, religion, and even Jesus placed on top to give an appearance of authenticity, it’s still NOT the gospel unless Christ Crucified is Center.  All else is utter foolishness.

2. The Powerlessness of RELIGION

The other destructive fallacy contaminating the Corinthians was religious zealotry.  In verse 22, Paul writes that the “Jews demand miraculous signs”.  What Paul meant was that the Jews had elevated the importance of religious power, signs and miracles; in essence they were awaiting a Messiah who would fulfill their national hopes and accomplish their socio-political goals by ousting the Roman Empire in a show of power.

They wanted a Messiah to validate their self-centered interpretations, religious rites and traditions.  So by interpreting the scriptures through the lens of their own religious traditions and culture, they had created a god in their own image, and thereby missed the real power of God in Christ.

For God’s true Messiah was not a commanding warrior for the Jews only but quite the opposite; a crucified suffering servant for ALL nations, in the vein of Isaiah 52-53.

To the Jews this concept was mind-blowingly offensive; much like if Osama Bin Laden’s head was carved onto Mt. Rushmore in the prominent place where George Washington’s head used to be.  Unarguably offensive.

Case in point: The Apostle Paul himself.  He describes his religious pedigree in Acts 22 as one thoroughly trained and zealous, persecuting Christians, even to the point of murder (Acts 8: The stoning of Stephen).

3-elders-judging-church-discipline

Religious Zealots Self-Righteously Judging and Imposing Rules

That the Messiah would be crucified (let alone worshiped as divine) was absolutely disgraceful to Paul (before his conversion) as well as to the Jewish people in general.  This is because the Jewish religion held that anyone who was hung on a “tree” was accursed (Gal 1:13-14, 3:13) and they could not wrap their minds around the fact that the God-Man Jesus so loved his people that he went willingly to the accursed cross; dying a criminal’s death, paying the penalty for sin and brokenness, thereby redeeming mankind and creation.

This was a massive “stumbling block” as religious Jews could not get past the offensiveness of the cross.  Here in verse 23 is the Greek scandalon where we get our word “scandal”.  It was an indignity to religiously zealous people that they could not  try harder, self-improve, do or be anything in order to become right in God’s eyes. The message of the cross was an absolute outrage!

In response, Paul is direct, using that word scandalon; echoing back to Jesus words in the gospel where our Lord accused Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt 16:23).

Within the Corinthian Church, those old religious beliefs and traditions were so insidiously formidable that they began to creep in and undercut the gospel.  The religious zealots (much like the Judaizers of Galatians) were followers of Jesus within the church but they layered on top all the legalistic rules and self-righteousness from their traditions.  But by doing so, by adding anything to Christ Crucified, they subtracted Him away.  There cannot be Jesus Christ as Center plus any other stipulations or addendums. To do so deflates the power of the gospel.

A note about belief: The Greek word used in verse 21 for “belief”, pisteuo, carries a far weightier meaning than simple intellectual assent.  To truly believe in Jesus Christ, in the scriptural sense, means to fully entrust and place confidence in him and his work on the cross on our behalf.

Fast forward to today where self-righteous religious zealotry (both fundamentalist AND progressivist) continue to be pervasive within the Christian community.  Where religious rules, denominational (and non-denominational) traditions, and overwhelming focus on what they are doing (or not doing) continues to sweep away the grace of God infused into the centrality of Jesus Christ Crucified.

So, what does God think about all this?

God’s grace is revealed remarkably in verse 21 where the text reads that, “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”.  This word “pleased” (well-pleased), the Greek eudokeo, is the exact word God spoke to vocalize his complete delight in His Son Jesus at his Baptism (Mt 3/Mk1/Lk 3) and later at the Transfiguration (Mt/Mk/Lk 9).

Imagine that!  The same pleasure and delight the Father has for his beloved Son is the exact same he has in saving to himself (through the message of his gospel; the cross) people adopted as His sons and daughters.

What might have appeared like foolishness to some or scandalous to others is exactly what we all need.   The message of the gospel leads us directly to Jesus Christ Crucified as Center.

#Wade

Categories: Apostle Paul, Death on Cross, Devotional, Gnosticism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ascension Day

Luke 24:44-53 44 Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

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There has been a renewed emphasis recently about the descent of Jesus (and what that means both theologically and practically) and while that is vital, the ascent of Jesus, that returning back to where he originally came from, back to the Father’s side, back to the heavenly throne, that ascent is just as crucial as well. It informs us about essential things we absolutely must know.

Dosso Dossi

Dosso Dossi

The ascension story only occurs in the Luke gospel (and in his companion book “Acts of the Apostles”) and is curiously succinct. It has been noted that the book of Luke is lengthy for the typical papyrus writings of his day so we can almost imagine Luke running out of room on that particular gospel scroll. What a quandary! He had interviewed so many witnesses, had personally traveled with the Apostle Paul on many journeys, and therefore had so much to say and yet precious little room left to say it; so here Luke finds himself, at the very end, running out of papyrus to write on. Consequently, Dr. Luke’s telling of this story is very brief.

Despite being so concise, however, this Ascension of Jesus narrative is dense and packed with details for us to learn both about Jesus and also about us. In this devotional, we will break down this passage into seven segments (as they occur in order in this storyline) and we will see why this passage is so important.

1. The Resurrected Lord (v44).

The first item to notice, right away in verse 44, is that Jesus has indeed been resurrected as he had promised: This Jesus here talking to his disciples has a changed body that can now walk through walls and yet also eat fish. Ultimately what we should notice is that Jesus is undeniably alive; thusly confirming the authenticity of his life, ministry, and teachings, and he is now appearing to his friends a final time with something very important to say before he ascends to the Father.

This is not the first post-resurrection appearance; other apostles have spoken and written about other group appearances (the women at the tomb, the two men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples on the boat, the crowd of over 500, to Saul/Paul, etc) but this is the last time they see him in his post-resurrection pre-glorified state.

Jesus is Lord, the power of God has been majestically displayed in the reality of his resurrection, and that which he said would occur has already taken place: He is now ready to ascend to the Father.

2. The Revealed WORD (v44-46)

In verses 44-46, Jesus continues the theme found earlier in this Luke chapter 24 where on the Road to Emmaus the newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ walked beside two disheartened disciples, teaching them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course (so to speak) as he explained how all of those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM. They didn’t get it at first.

Here in this narrative, much like earlier in the Emmaus episode, Jesus speaks of the major categories of Old Testament scripture (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) and this is a synecdoche; where one part stands in for the entire whole. Our Lord Jesus has a high view of scripture, quoting it with the prefatory “it is written” (64 times), and his gist is that the Bible isn’t so much about the Jews or even mankind in general, holy or otherwise. Instead it is all about him.

It is not about us, nor about them. It is all about HIM!

Where this teaching may have been initially misunderstood (or at least not fully comprehended) by his disciples before his death, now they’re starting to get it. After the resurrection there comes a spiritual clarity that is bestowed upon them. How does this happen? Verse 45: “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures”.

This word “opened”, the Greek dianoigo, refers to a thorough opening of something that had been previously closed (never before opened). It is used 8 times in the all the New Testament where 7 of those 8 times is by Luke in his gospel or Acts. Some enlightening instances are found in Mark 7:34 (the ephphatha healing) where he opens the ears of the mute, and in Luke 24:31 in Emmaus where he opened the two men’s eyes so that they could recognize him. Then also in Acts 7:56 where Stephen being stoned saw the heavens opened as he was being martyred. And then additionally in Acts 16:14 where the Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to believe Apostle Paul’s evangelistic message.

The Apostle John writes that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Jesus is the revealed word of God and these disciples are now starting to get it as their minds have now been opened.

3. The Repentant Heart (v47)

Jesus connects repentance with forgiveness of sins in the next verse 47. In all honesty, this concept of repentance makes our modern (and postmodern) minds uncomfortable, so we like to sweep it under the rug. Why? Because repentance, the Greek word metanoia, means a changed mind, attitude, and behavior: We are called to be changed.

This distresses us as we don’t really want to change. Our self-centeredness kicks in here. We want everyone else to change, just not ourselves; but in order to be formed more and more into the image of Christ, we must.

This repentance, this internal (and ongoing) change, is intricately linked with the forgiveness here in this passage. Not that we work it or earn it in any way, but that instead we receive it; for our repentance signifies and proves that the Spirit is sanctifying us; changing us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. All by grace and fueled by his love.

This speaks to a major aspect why Christ died on the cross: To forgive sins. Not simply our individual pet sin actions and behaviors, but our comprehensive foundational sin nature that works itself out (often at inopportune times) into regrettable sin actions.

And lest we fool ourselves that sin only signifies the large obvious negative categories like murder, war, adultery, and robbery, we must be aware that it also denotes the small subtle positive categories like family, church work, community involvement and acceptance; basically every way (especially these positive “good” ways) where we link our identity to anything outside of Jesus Christ.

4. The Responsibility of Witness (v47-49)

The good news of God’s love was never meant to be hidden or selfishly contained; it was always meant to be generously shared with all peoples everywhere. It is for every nation, tribe, tongue, and generation; everyone. To both the religious and to the irreligious; to the self-important and to the humble; to the leadership and to the outcasts: To all nations.

Because of this, his disciples are others-centered. We are called to be evangelizers; sharers of the great news of new life in the risen and ascended Christ; both in word and deed. This witness must proceed to the easy crowds who accept the message quickly, and also to the difficult crowds who do not; those who persecute and attempt to destroy the life of Christ within us.

Since the initial disciples were with Jesus as he walked the streets, teaching and healing, there is a double meaning in the word witness here in that they were not only called to go as witnesses (Great Commission), but they were also received as eyewitnesses; of his life, death, and resurrection. Luke himself gives us a peek into how he gathered the reports to include in his gospel (and Acts) in the first two sentences of his gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1-2)

To Dr. Luke, the historian, these accounts are historically accurate in that he has investigated and interviewed eyewitnesses who have testified to their experiences. So these initial eyewitnesses are also the witnesses who are called to propel the message forward: To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and they did go on to do exactly that: To witness to the reality that the Messiah did suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (v46).

This was a great responsibility culminating in the martyrdom of many of those early apostles and disciples; the story of the early church is the story of the good news going forward despite the dangers and bloodshed that awaited them. This too is our responsibility and our joy.

5. The Remaining for Power (v49)

What the disciples were called to do would be absolutely impossible without God’s active intervention so Jesus instructed those disciples (verse 49) to wait in the city for what was promised; that they would become clothed with power from on high. This concept becomes clearer a bit later in Acts 2:33; Pentecost: The powerful arrival of the promised Holy Spirit who would rest upon and live inside each believer.

But all this would have to wait until Jesus ascended back to the Father, and then together they would send the Spirit to fill and empower the disciples for life and ministry.

What does this mean? That this life of the Spirit of Christ who is active inside our hearts is both a seal and stamp of our adoption as sons/daughters of God, but is also the energizing force for life and ministry.

So as promised, this power would indeed come at Pentecost and would then propel the disciples to spread across the known world (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and beyond) sharing the good news of the suffered and risen Christ.

But as for now, in verse 49, Jesus called the disciples to wait. They could not carry on without this gift. Earlier, they had tried to heal diseases and perform miracles in his name and often failed (Mt 17:16); they needed to be empowered by the Spirit first before going forward.

6. The Rising to the Father (v50-51)

Upon blessing his disciples, and after teaching them what he had wanted them to know, it was now time. Jesus’ earthly work had come to a conclusion and he was ready to return to the Father; back to heaven. He had accomplished redemption on the cross (for both mankind and the cosmos) and with his resurrection had proven that his kingdom had indeed arrived.

Marc Chagall - Zurich

Marc Chagall – Zurich

Interestingly, this short text tells us very little about this ascension event. Luke simply says in verse 51 that Jesus “withdrew from them” and then that he was “carried up into heaven”. Very little description or detail accompanies it.

We do read a bit more about the ascension in the book of Acts where Luke launches into his second volume with a quick recap: In Acts 1:1-11 it is recorded that Jesus was “taken up to heaven”, that “he was taken up before their very eyes”, and a “cloud hid them from their sight”. Not much detail beyond that. Why might that be?

Perhaps there is a reason for this lack of detail. Perhaps it’s because it’s less important that future readers see an exciting Hollywood screen-reel in our minds and more important that we see the significance of the reality of what the ascension truly means.

And the ascension means that Jesus’ work on earth is done:

  1. Jesus could now send the Holy Spirit to empower us and would no longer be limited in location anymore.
  2. As Great High Priest, he performed the once-only perfect sacrifice for sins that all of the previous atonements from past millennia only partially accomplished and pointed towards; he had fully atoned for the sin and brokenness of both mankind and our world.
  3. As the spotless Lamb of God, he was sacrificed for sins, shedding his innocent blood for our redemption.
  4. As Advocate/Lawyer extraordinaire, he argued the case for justice (as it were) before the judgment seat of God and won; his case was airtight because the penalty had already been paid for, by Jesus himself.
  5. As Supreme Ruler, Jesus returned to and now sits on the very throne of God in heaven.  He holds together all things in the cosmos and is king and ruler of every realm.

The most quoted text in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’.” Jesus is Lord and King over all.

Jesus had to ascend in order for this redemptive chapter to come to its final conclusion (from God’s perspective) and it allowed for his presence to be spread abroad in all our hearts and not just remain proximally with that small group of disciples there in Judea.

7. The Repetition of Praise (v52-53)

The narrative (and Luke’s gospel) ends with the disciples in perpetual praise. As Jesus has ascended back to the heavenly throne to be with the Father, ruling and reigning over all things forever, the disciples responded in the only way they could: They worshiped him, they were filled with great joy, and they stayed in the Temple blessing and praising (Greek word eulogeo) God.

If the resurrection and ascension are true, then it changes everything. It validates Jesus’ teachings and his atoning death and proves that our redemption has indeed been accomplished. This is not only good news but fantastic news and should change every aspect of our lives.

To go forward rather with a lukewarm attitude towards Jesus (and the cross) would be absolute nonsense. To go forward with continued self-reliance, self-centeredness, and all accompanying idolatry would also be a ridiculous response.

Those initial disciples knew all these events to be true, as they were eyewitnesses (having been with Jesus from the beginning), and it changed them completely. They were propelled forward with joyful and repeated praise in spite of the dangers, persecution, and martyrdom that awaited them.

To summarize, the understanding about the ascension of Jesus Christ is vital and therefore should be given the rightful place in our minds and hearts. In a figurative sense, Jesus’ ascension was the very spark that ignited the towering timber pile: The logs had been chosen, cut, then placed in array, the tinder has been perfectly and strategically situated, and that spark initiated the brilliant and glorious fireworks of the next chapter in the life and growth of the Church.  The ascension was the event that proved to be the accelerant.

#Wade

Categories: Ascension, Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Holy Spirit, Repentance, Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Shocking and Offensive Death (pt.4) — The CIRCLE OF WOMEN

GOOD FRIDAY : The CIRCLE OF WOMEN (pt.4 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.

—————–

In a time, place, and culture(s) where women were genuinely viewed as inferior and secondary, and where their testimony was not even admissible in court, the gospels are truly counter-cultural; not simply in ideology, but in practice.  To base the perceived credibility of the authenticity of the post-death and resurrection accounts of Jesus on the testimony of women is nothing short of shocking and offensive; almost absurd.  Nobody in their right mind would have written this detail into these accounts unless, of course, it was completely true.

The Circle of WomenThis begs the question why would Mark (as the scribe/amanuensis under the watchful eye of Apostle Peter) highlight this circle of women as primary witnesses?

Even today there exists significant gender discrimination towards females within Middle-Eastern cultures, and back then the testimony of women wouldn’t even stand up in court.  So why not be more protective of the precarious fledgling church, and write about the men in the crowd instead?

The only possible answer is that perhaps it is because these events were exactly what took place on that day, that Good Friday, and also that there was something about the liberating kingdom of God which would become evident in the retelling of the story highlighted and focused that way.  Women are no longer secondary but are instead liberated by the Lord Jesus into full equality in the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is the great liberator.

What we discovered in the previous episode of this devotional series (regarding the Centurion) was that Jesus levels the playing fields in terms of socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds (and so on); but the good news does not stop there.  It’s not just Jesus’ inclusivity as opposed to the exclusivity of the religious and political cultures back then, but it’s about the true liberation of all people within the construct of following Christ as King and Lord.

The gospels are replete with stories showcasing that the group of disciples that followed Jesus included women.  And though they differed in gender, they followed and were accepted even to the point of holding important roles within his group of followers. Verse 41 says that these women …had followed him and cared for his needs.  The English word “followed” is translated from the Greek akoloutheo meaning one who “joins as a disciple”.

The phrase “cared for his needs”, which is also translated “ministered to him” comes from the Greek word diakoneo where we get our word “deacon”.  These women were more than secondary servants to Jesus.  They weren’t just doing dishes and watching babies in the background; this circle of women were full disciples that participated in diaconal ministry in a time and place where this was absolutely taboo.

Jesus Christ is the great liberator.

What we learn from these gospel accounts, as well as from the epistles, is that Jesus frees people up from culturally-determined limits and bondage to human rules, roles, and expectations.  This was very true for the circle of women who stood “at a distance” with the other disciples that Good Friday on that hill at Calvary.  And a few days later, it was some from that same circle of women who were first on the scene to witness the empty tomb and the newly resurrected Lord Jesus.  Those women were the ones who reported to the other disciples (including the future apostles who would go on in power to spread the good news across multiple continents).  This circle of women was integral to the account.

Stepping back to summarize this four part devotional series, it’s important to review that these narratives would have come across as shocking and offensive; almost the direct opposite of what would have been expected. The gospel writers, these first century biographers, include and even highlight aspects of the story (the CRY, the torn CURTAIN, the CENTURION, and the CIRCLE OF WOMEN) which would make sense strategically only if these accounts are reliable and true.

Otherwise, if these accounts were fabricated we would expect Jesus’ crying out in the Garden to be heroic not weak; the Temple elevated in importance not torn asunder; a Temple leader ascribing divinity to Jesus but certainly not a Roman guard; and by all means the primary witnesses to the final death and resurrection accounts would have be trustworthy male religious leaders instead women!  But instead the Gospel writers apparently reported simply what happened, come what may.

All four of these elements could have been counter-productive in reaching the culture with the message of Jesus, but they weren’t; quite the contrary took place.  In spite of enormous odds (including the martyrdom and torture of the faithful), this new fledgling fragile church grew and expanded beyond the borders to become a large force in the world and a testimony to the divinity, love, and grace of Jesus; by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was truly good news: The best news ever.

Jesus, the liberator. Our Savior, Lord, and King.

#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, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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)

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.

————————-

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.

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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

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