Posts Tagged With: spirituality

Good, Better, and Best: A Meal with Martha, Mary, and Jesus

Good, Better, and Best: A Meal with Martha, Mary, and Jesus
Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself ? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

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Usually when we hear about Mary and Martha, we hear human-centered moralisms that exhort us to be more like Mary, because it says Mary chose the wiser. But that misses the more transcendent point. Ultimately, this text isn’t really about Mary or Martha, but is instead mostly about Jesus: The most overlooked aspect of this text is the astonishing fact that God himself is WITH them there in their home. The creator and sustainer of the entire universe (Col 1:15-20) is sitting in their humble Bethany home WITH Mary and Martha; and enjoying their company no less. Astounding!

In this devotional, we will take a look at these three main characters: The good (Martha), the better (Mary), and the best (Jesus).

1. The GOOD: Martha

Martha typically gets a bad rap in this story as an overly-anxious worker bee, but Jesus doesn’t admonish her for her service. He’s not angry or critical at all; in fact, his tone is quite empathetic and his emphasis focuses on the internal anyway.

"Martha"; Velazquez

“Martha”; Velazquez

So to roll up our sleeves, put on an apron, unlock a homeless shelter or soup kitchen door, or grab a Bible and to get to work for Christ is not a bad thing at all. Of course not. On the contrary, each of us is an integral part of the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor 12), and we are each given spiritual gifts at the point of our regeneration (Eph 2:10) for the building up of and service to the community, in Christ’s name. It’s our calling as Christians.

It’s not that Martha chose a bad thing, it’s that she just didn’t choose the better thing; the better option available at the time. Instead she became annoyed and resentful about her sister Mary who was sitting at the feet of Jesus.

2. The BETTER: Mary

Mary adored Jesus from the depths of her soul. She had much to be thankful for because she had much which was forgiven.

Case in point: Let’s rewind a few chapters in the gospel of Luke. Back in chapter 7, there is a different account about another meal where once again Martha was serving (especially noted in John 12:2) and Mary* was at Jesus’ feet. And in this earlier text, Mary the ex-prostitute (“woman who lived a sinful life” 7:37), is seen pouring out her alabaster jar of expensive perfume, mixing it with the sobbing tears of repentant joy, and figuratively anointing Jesus for (future) burial. That she would even be allowed to worship Jesus in that extravagant way, in the presence of men, in the home of a Pharisee (one who made decisions based on clean and unclean; staying AWAY from religiously unclean people), and using the tainted perfume a prostitute uses to mask the odors of her male customers is nothing short of amazing; an unabashed exhibit of new life.

"Christ With Martha and Mary"; Vermeer 1654-55

“Christ With Martha and Mary”; Vermeer 1654-55

And now to return to our meal in Bethany (ch.10), the biographer Dr. Luke describes that Mary was sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (vs.39 logos = λόγος). Let’s stop for a moment and make it clear that Mary isn’t merely sitting and looking up at Jesus’ face all doe-eyed while he smiled on. No! Jesus was talking, it says. As per usual, he was always teaching about himself; the Kingdom of God, and here was Mary listening, learning, and worshiping.

There are some who would say that “being” with Jesus means just to sit blankly and meditate quietly and while there is certainly the place for that type of contemplative prayer, this is NOT what’s going on here in our story. Instead, Mary is listening intently to Jesus’ Words.

We who also follow Christ would do well, when we sit prayerfully with Him (either in group or individual worship settings), to have the focal point also be his words; the Word of God: The scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments which all testify to Jesus; from beginning to end: To talk less and listen more.**

Any more about this story, we just don’t know. We aren’t privy to the behind the scenes about whether Mary ever helped serve or whether the sisters took turns serving and listening; the gospels don’t tell us. But what they do tell us is that God himself, Jesus Christ, was in their home, in their midst, enjoying their company. Wow!

3. The BEST: Jesus

The simplistic and moralistic message of “Mary chose better… go and do likewise” completely misses the opulent and vital theme of grace. This story, and all of the Bible, is really not about them, you, me, or us at all. It’s all about HIM.

The takeaway of this narrative is that we have a Lord who adores his people so much that he was willing to leave his comforts and throne (as well as his pre-existing intimacy with his Father) and let all those things go (for a time) in order to draw Mary, Martha, you, and me into that similar sweet place of intimacy with himself. That is a life-changing notion.

The most important lesson to learn from this narrative is that the God of the universe loved his people so deeply that at a historic place and time, he became a man and was (and is) content to sit in our midst and enjoy our company as we worship him with our repentance, thankfulness, and attentiveness.

Our Lord Jesus is worthy of all our sincere service and our worshipful adoration.

~Wade

———————–

From the gospel reading for July 29th, “The Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany”.

*Not all commentators agree that the “sinful woman” in chapter 7 is the Mary of Bethany of chapter 10. To me, there are enough clues across all the gospels to make that significant connection. The John 12 account that has Martha again serving is one piece of strong evidence. The Luke 8:1-2 passage following immediately on the heels of Lk 7 which starts off “after that” (though not necessarily immediate and chronological) and lists Mary continuing as traveling companion in Jesus’ entourage is another piece. Ultimately, I like to stay close to the text and let the text speak.  With this issue, I’m playing analytic detective a bit.

**Martha was the more vocal sister (seen also in the death of Lazarus narrative in John 11) and wanted Jesus to listen to HER words where Mary was the more quiet sister and listened to HIS words instead. Today, in our devotional lives, we often give God our complaints and requests far more than we let his Word (the scriptures of both the OT and NT) speak powerfully into our minds and hearts. There should be a balance.

***vs.40 “help me”, the Greek συναντιλαμβάνομαι is only used one other time in the NT. In Romans 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness ; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words ”. Interesting and spiritually uplifting to ponder the connection between Martha’s request for help and the Holy Spirit’s intercessory help in our time of weakness and need.

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Categories: Bible, Blessed Life, Christian Service, Devotional, Mary & Martha, Repentance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Pentecost

Acts 2:1-13 When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

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Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, celebrates the sending and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.  Luke writes in Acts 2 that tongues of fire descended upon the disciples and they began to speak the gospel in a variety of comprehensible languages.  Many call this event the “birthday of the Church”.

A few of the many items of note in Acts 2 are as follows:

1. Pentecost shows that every believer, regenerated by the Spirit of God, becomes a symbol of holiness himself/herself.  In past times, God displayed his glory to Moses in the burning bush, led his people Israel by a towering traveling fire, and spoke of holiness in terms like a refiner’s fire.   At Pentecost, that holiness of God was bestowed on these disciples; as representatives of all followers of Jesus.  We too are now, in a sense, “burning bushes” that display God’s glory and holiness because of the Spirit of Jesus’ work in our hearts.

45-pentecost2. Pentecost shows that the message of the Church is to always bring glory to Jesus Christ by effectively communicating the gospel.  In Acts 2, the miraculous and cacophonous tongues of fire were not to bring acclamation or glory to those disciples, but rather to work through them to speak of the glorious gospel of Jesus; suffering, crucified, dead, then risen… Our Redeemer.  When the disciples received the pentecostal filling, they could not help but speak the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ.

3. Pentecost shows proof of the reversing of the curse of The Fall (Genesis 3). In this instance, it reversed the curse of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) where people tried to reach God’s level in their own self-absorbed and idolatrous ways.  As a result, God confused their communication by mixing out the multitude of languages that could not be understood by most of the others; and therefore they abandoned the tower building project.  Pentecost, on the other hand, shows the opposite:  A unification takes place by way of the language of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus.

4. Pentecost shows that Jesus is still actively at work in his Church.  As promised on the mountain previous to his ascension, he would send his Holy Spirit; the power of God amidst upcoming tasks, trials, persecutions, and martyrdom.  Pentecost proves Jesus is both gloriously at the right hand of God the Father and also indwelling and active in our hearts.

5. Pentecost shows that the Word of God always comes true, in God’s perfect timing.  The Old Testament prophet Joel foresaw the day when God would “pour out his Spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28-32, quoted in Acts 2).  During past times, only some people of God were filled with the Spirit and often only for a short period in order to speak a prophetic word or accomplish an important task.  Pentecost shows that ALL followers are now filled with the Spirit of God.

6. Pentecost shows that not one culture or language is to be elevated above any of the others.  When the Spirit descended in Acts 2, the disciples spoke the gospel in many other languages simulataneously.  Not the primary biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, but the languages of the very people that were in Jerusalem on pilgrimage from many other far off lands.  When the Spirit-filled and Spirit-fueled gospel went forth, it then became heard and understood by all these other language-speakers, cultures, and nations all at the same time.  This event both made culture less important as the gospel was heard simultaneously by the differing peoples, and it also made culture more important as the gospel went forth to them all regardless their national or linguistic backgrounds.

May the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, our redeemer, continue to fill both our hearts and our mouths that we too may be used to speak of this wonderful good news of salvation; the forgiveness of sins, the reversing of the curse upon mankind and the earth, and the going forward as his people with great joy, grace, and power.

#Wade

Categories: Ascension, Devotional, Holy Spirit, Pentecost, Repentance | 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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