Saturday, March 30, 2024

Silence, Solitude, and Sin

 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time, and Peter remembered when Jesus had spoken the word to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” When he thought about it, he began to weep. (Mark 14:72, HCSB)

Most of us who have been in church any length of time know the story of Peter’s denials. Brash and bold, sure he would follow Jesus to the death, ready to fight in the Garden of Gethsemene, hours later Peter finds himself weeping inconsolably - some translations say he “threw himself down” in deep dismay and grief. What happened in between Sure Peter and Devastated Peter? Three denials of His Savior, to be sure. But this verse suggests something more. 

Why did Peter not weep after denial #1 or #2? To make it more personal, why do we - why do I - sometimes repeat sin patterns and not weep over my sin soon enough? We know from Luke 22:61 that Jesus “looked at Peter” after the third denial. This gives us a hint that Peter’s understanding of his sin was connected to that poignant moment - a look he never forgot. I would like to suggest that verse 72 contains another hint. Peter “thought about it”, as several translations put it. The idea is not that he just had a quick memory of Jesus’ prophecy of the denial. No, the sense is that he finally stopped talking (ahem) and faced exactly what he had done. 

And it wasn’t pretty. 

Commentators generally agree that Peter was Mark’s primary source material for his gospel. Reading this passage again during Holy Week, I was struck with the idea of an older, humbler, wiser Peter talking to Mark and still feeling grieved. I imagined him saying, “Every time I think about it, I still weep.” That’s what repentance does - it makes us so aware of our sin, and Christ’s tender look that we long to keep our eyes on that look of love and our backs to our sin. The forgiveness is deep and real. But when we remember the sin, the remorse is also deep and real. He throws our sin into the sea, but we remember - we always remember. 

Among the forgotten spiritual disciplines in our day are two that I think are key to truly grasping the depth of sin’s presence in our lives: silence and solitude. We must have times when we are quiet before the Lord, to hear His whispers of conviction before He is forced to make them shouts. And, we must have time alone with Him, where we can focus on the look of love and forgiveness that is always offered on his face. Just as a marriage cannot thrive without times the couple can be alone and look each other in the eye, so our relationship with the Lord requires intentional intimacy. The disciplines of silence and solitude set us apart with Him so we can hear from Him. 

Ultimately, Peter didn't let this moment of betrayal define him. After plenty of wrestling, he received the Lord's sweet forgiveness and stepped into the calling God had for him, using his unique gifts and personality, led by the Spirit this time. Our moments of sin don't define us either. We move forward into the life God gives us, the purpose He fulfills in us, the plans He makes for us. But like Peter, we may still find times that when we think about it, we weep. And that's ok. Let those moments keep turning us toward His look of love. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

When Enemies Are In Your Face

One of my favorite pictures of God is found in Deuteronomy 33:27: "The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms." For some time I've prayed for Him to both cover me with His strength and carry me with His grace and mercy.

Today in my Bible read-through, I saw something new, something precious, in the latter half of this verse and its immediate context: 
“There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, ‘Destroy.’" (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV)
This passage is tucked into a chapter with Moses' last words to each of Jacob's sons, the twelve tribes of Israel. This immediate section focuses on the entire nation of Israel, using a term of endearment as a synonym for Jacob, representing all of Israel ("Jeshurun" means "upright one" and is translated in the Septuagint with a form of agape that means "beloved one"). The point is that He is saying this to a people He loves - His covenant people. And what does He reveal about Himself? 
  • He rides through heavens in all His majesty to help His own
  • He is our dwelling place
  • He protects us with His arms, forever
  • He thrusts out the enemy and says "destroy"
Wait - what? God helping us, I get that. He is sovereign and powerful, after all. Dwelling in Him, letting Him catch us in His strong arms - yes, please! 

Having our enemies thrust in our face (the meaning of the phrase "before you") and being told to destroy them - um, can we rethink that one? Can't You just do the destroying, Lord? 

The answer, of course, is no. Just as God called Israel to move forward through the book of Joshua and conquer the land He had already promised, leaving some enemies in the land of Israel so the younger generation could learn to fight (Judges 3), He calls us to partner with Him in fighting our enemies of the world, the flesh, and Satan. 

I'd like to say I have all the answers why, but I don't. Here is what I know for sure though, looking back over my life: If He just took care of all those enemies and I never had to wrestle, I wouldn't know as much about Him as I do. I wouldn't know how to recognize them when they try to come around a back way. I wouldn't have been sanctified by the Word through wielding it while wearing the armor of God. I haven't fought every battle perfectly (or even well) but I have learned, deeply learned, that if God puts an enemy in front of me, He's calling me to fight. And when victory comes, as exhausting as it is, I know that even the small part He asked me to play would have been impossible without His help - and that victory over that enemy would have never come had He not first subdued the enemy, thrust him in front of me, and said, "Child, destroy." 

And I certainly would not have learned that these battles are not fought alone. He reveals this truth to the people of God. My battles should be fought in community, with others helping me as needed. We're terrible about this as Americans (myself included) but I'm learning more and more how vital this is to victory.

Yes, God is our dwelling place. Yes, His arms carry us. But there is more. He is the God who sets us up for victory as we learn to fight His battles, His way. The next time your flesh rears its ugly head, or you are faced with a demonic or worldly battle - rejoice. He's simply prepared an enemy for destruction and thrust it in your face. Gather your people, and destroy.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Secret Places

Attribution: Alpha Stock Images -; Original Author: Nick Youngson - link to -; 
Original Image:

I've been challenged lately to think about authenticity. 

We know that when we trust Christ, part of the Gospel is that we get a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Yet we also continue to live with our flesh still stained by sin, the world around us trying to press us into its mold, and Satan bringing direct attacks. The process of sanctification changes us to increasingly reflect the new heart, but we stumble and fall along the way. We are told clearly how to walk in the victory of faith when we recognize the battle before us: 

But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NET)

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. (1 John 5:4 ESV)

And yet there are those battles we don't realize we are fighting. The reality of not living up to who we are in Christ is real every day. It's clearly inauthentic to deny the struggles. Those hidden faults, those mixed motives - things that would break our heart if we realized them - things that do break others' hearts at times. 

What does it mean to be genuine, authentic, pure, without guile? None of us does it perfectly; we all have hidden sins and mixed motives that make it hard at times to discern what is happening in our "secret places" - which is why David cried out: 

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:12-13 NIV)

I'm so grateful God hasn't left us without guidance about these sins. Recently in our evening devotional this passage jumped out at me in a new way:

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:10-11 ESV)

Suddenly I realized something about the how of transformation - transformation from the inside out. As I seek Him with all my heart, HE keeps me from straying - even from things that are deep within me, things I don't realize I need to confess. Hiding His Word is not just memorizing scripture, but taking it in, making it part of me. Jesus described it as the word "abiding" in us -  making its home in our hearts. As I am increasingly filled with Him and have less space for me, filled with His Word, I find myself changed in ways I didn't realize were within me. Sometimes He allows pressing circumstances to reveal something ugly within me; other times He convicts me of something I've never considered; and there are also those times He changes me by giving me new desires, new "cravings" ... when something that had appeal, that attracted me unhealthily, no longer does, and then I realize that the root of the old desire was sinful all along. I'm convinced that there are even times He changes something without me even being aware - just making me more like Him, as He has promised. I become more authentically the way He created me to be, the way the new heart is aligned toward Him.

So I'm learning that in order to be authentic, I have to be open to being changed in ways I might not realize need to be changed. There are genuine struggles at unconscious levels. At the same time, it's also inauthentic to act as if there are only struggles. As I walk through the trials of life, God constantly reminds me of who I am in Him - Blessed, Chosen, Adopted, Accepted, Redeemed, Forgiven (Ephesians 1). Never forgotten (Isaiah 49:15-16). Seen by my Creator (Genesis 16:13). Never forsaken (Hebrews 13:5). 

The most beautiful thing to me about inviting Him into all of my secret places by seeking Him and making His Word at home in my heart is that I know I will never be cast out. He has already been cast out for me. But He does invite me to join Him there:

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:12-13)
To me, this is the heart of authenticity: Seeking Him, letting Him change me, and being honest with others in the process. I don't have to let fear of man keep me from pursuing this depth of intimacy with God. When I understand His grace, I can resist the temptation to protect myself by locking my heart down, and instead identify with Him, knowing I am already fully known, fully loved, fully accepted, and ultimately will be fully changed. 

Grasping grace, I can embrace true authenticity: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #12: Who is Worthy?


 (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10, #11)

Following the Sermon, Jesus returns to His "home base" in Capernaum. The disciples are with Him, learning about His approach to ministry. As we walk with Jesus on these encounters, we will see along with them that indeed, as Isaiah said, His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

Who is Worthy? Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-17

In Capernaum, Jesus is approached about healing the servant of a centurion - a Roman officer. Remember, the Jewish people were under Roman occupation. They were allowed a measure of religious freedom, but they did not have ultimate autonomy over their own land. It's not surprising, then, that the centurion initially feels the need to send an "advance team" of Jewish elders to appeal on his behalf. These elders add their own commentary to the request - "He is worthy" - explaining that this particular centurion "loves our nation" and had funded the building of the synagogue in Capernaum. 

Based on the parallel passage in Matthew, the centurion must have been close by, because he makes his own request - but when Jesus agrees to go, the centurion directly contradicts the appeal of the Jewish elders. "I am not worthy," he says, "for You to come under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed."  Jesus is so moved by the man's faith and acknowledgment of Jesus' authority that He calls it out as surpassing the faith He had seen among the people of Israel. 

This centurion reflects the heart of Jesus Himself in caring about his servant. He regarded this servant highly (in contrast to much of the standard attitude toward servants in that time); he observed the man's deep pain and suffering (the Greek word indicates the servant was "tortured" by his condition); and he wanted to do something about it. As we have seen, Jesus' active compassion not only felt the needs around Him, but intervened to make a difference. The centurion wanted to do the same. So he turned to the One whose reputation was starting to precede him - he asked Jesus to intervene.

We have no way to know how much he knew of Jesus' claims. We see no worship (the word translated "Lord" is also used as a general term of honor or respect). We just know two things clearly: 

  • The centurion had a need, and was drawn to Jesus to meet that need. 
  • The centurion realized that he was "not worthy" of Jesus' presence in his home.

"He is worthy." 

"I am not worthy." 

Let's not miss the power of these contrasting phrases. A man, wealthy for his time, and in need of help from Jesus, focuses not on his own credentials but on the power of Jesus. The Jewish leaders are only doing what we all do from time to time, making a recommendation of someone they know to someone who doesn't know the person. And yet the man, in a position of honor within his culture, humbly rejects the accolades given to him. He had faith that Jesus could heal, to be sure, but much more deeply he discerned something about who Jesus was - something that so many of the Jewish leaders missed, despite all the prophecies and preparations for the Messiah. The centurion understood on a deep level the authority that Jesus held within Himself - and Jesus recognized the faith that required. 

In this case, His word alone heals the centurion's servant, and then we see in Luke's Gospel that He continues His ministry next by raising from the dead the son of a widow - another case of touching the "unclean" and bringing about transformation. 

The truth is, none of us are worthy of a "visit" from Jesus. We are sin-stained, all of us, and He is perfectly pure and holy. Every parent who has tried to scrub a stain out of a white shirt dirtied by a child who couldn't stay clean for five minutes has experienced the idea of the pure being stained by the impure. And yet here we see Jesus walking around on the earth, encountering unworthy humans - and entering into their struggles and challenges in ways that make a difference. He is not stained by us, but His touch does make us clean - from the inside out. 

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2

Jesus does not place value on "worthy" in a human sense - building big sanctuaries, being on a certain political side, having certain religious practices. Instead, He looks for humble hearts drawn to Him, regardless of how much or how little they know of who He is. He reveals Himself more and more to those with eyes to see and hearts to discern. 

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The heart of God is shown in the unexpected encounters of Jesus. A Roman centurion. The dead son of a widowed mother in an out-of-the-way location. God's heart for the vulnerable, the weak, the outcast, the poor, is shown in the way Jesus chose to spend His time. As Adrian Rodgers once said, "The cross didn't change God's heart; it revealed it." Jesus' actions show where God's priorities lie. 

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
Jesus' example is incarnational living. He could have just saved us from a distance - spoken a word, demonstrated miraculous signs in the heavens. Yet He didn't. God's plan from the beginning was to give us Himself in flesh and blood - and through His perfect sacrifice, purify us forever. To clean us from the inside out, to transform us in such a way that we become "salt" in the lives of others, with a purifying and preserving effect and making them thirsty for Jesus. 

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4)
This story deepens my fellowship with Jesus as I identify with the "unworthy" centurion, and realize that I am now cleansed to the point that I am actually a temple of the Holy Spirit. I am in awe that His touch has had such a transformational effect in my life. 

While I must practice wisdom, and be in community with believers who can help "wash my feet" (John 13:10), I do not have to fear. I do not have to determine who is "worthy" of an encounter with Jesus. I just have to live out His commandments to love Him and others, bringing truth, grace, and love into every encounter.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #11: Glimpses of the Kingdom

  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9, #10)

Having just called the Twelve, Jesus immediately helps them learn to start walking in the new reality of why He called them - to be with Him, to send them out, and to give them authority (Mark 3:14-15). Before giving them specific assignments, though, Jesus does what any good teacher would do: He lays out the expectations. Specifically, He begins by breaking down their ideas of what it would mean to follow the Messiah - and gives them glimpses of the Kingdom He is asking them to promote.  

Glimpses of the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:17-49)
Because this blog series focuses on learning to walk as Jesus walked, we won't be looking at every verse of the "Sermon on the Mount/Plain" or the controversies of interpreting a few of them. We won't take up the debate on whether Matthew & Luke present two separate sermons or two versions of one sermon. Instead, we will focus on what is clear: Jesus immediately moves from calling His disciples to teaching them, and in doing so gives them a vision of their calling that would have been quite countercultural to Jewish understandings of the Messiah at the time. In the Sermon, Jesus provides glimpses of the kingdom – glimpses of what life can be like if we truly embrace kingdom living nowThe best summary of these glimpses of the Kingdom is found in the Beatitudes.

(Matthew 5:1-12 NIV) - Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: 
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

From start to finish, the Beatitudes are in stark contrast to our natural reaction to a given reality. The Beatitudes turn me on my head and shake me around, so that I find that what seems “upside down” is really “upside right”. In a word, they transform my mind. There's no doubt it would have been the same for the Twelve. 

Jesus didn’t call them so they could overthrow Rome - probably an especially surprising truth for Simon the Zealot who would have trained for that specific opportunity. Jesus didn't call them so that they could withdraw from the world, as the Essenes of their day did. Instead, He called them to be part of the prayer He teaches in this very sermon: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

As we learn to walk with Jesus, in order to truly live these words we have to first understand that the typical Western Christian's thinking about being “blessed” is all messed up. Think about it – when you hear someone says “God has blessed me” what are they usually referring to? Not always of course, but in the West that phrase often references material prosperity, or circumstances that have gone the way the person wanted them to go. We have an erroneous idea that challenging circumstances are tests we have to pass in order to get to the blessing. Before we can effectively be part of bringing a glimpse of His kingdom to earth, we have to learn what blessedness really means.

The word makarios literally means “a sense of God’s approval”. It’s a contentment that comes from doing what is right in His sight and is rooted in right relationship with Him. A.T. Robertson defines it as "happiness identified with pure character" that pictures the "ideal of a world-wide sympathy and of a happiness realized in ministry." The word is used in the opposite sense of “need” to describe a state of sufficiency and fullness. A literal rendering of Psalm 23:1 reads, “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.” This is a perfect definition of a state of blessedness. When we are "blessed" we are fully satisfied. Jesus’ words teach me that this blessedness, this satisfaction, comes when I chose holiness over sin, His way over mine, His presence over popularity; when I live congruently with the new creature He’s made me, then I experience true blessedness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who ardently opposed Hitler and the overwhelming majority of churches that gave into Hitler’s schemes. Over time, Bonhoeffer came to see the Sermon as a call to a lifestyle of radical discipleship for all Christians. In his insightful book, The Cost of Discipleship, he expounds on the Sermon in great detail. 

Bonhoeffer observes that while the crowds were present, it was His disciples to whom the message was directed. These disciples followed Jesus (like us!) but lived among the people (also like us!) to preach His call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer sees that the very call to follow Jesus led these men into a status of being poor, afflicted, and hungry – a place they might not have been if they had stayed in their businesses and minded their own business. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer sees the Beatitudes as encouragement for those whose call to discipleship has led them to a place of struggle.

Yes, Jesus calls the disciples blessed in the presence of the crowd. This becomes a call to all who follow Jesus to live out what He makes us by His promise. For His path to satisfaction and joy has never been a path to more of this temporary, fading existence. Instead His promised depth of satisfaction and joy is directly linked to us bringing a glimpse of His kingdom to this broken, needy world. 

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2

Freedom for the oppressed. Meeting the tangible needs of people.  Trading in legalism and accusations for spending ourselves on behalf of others’ needs. Repairing things at a societal level. Enjoying the presence of the Lord. This is true satisfaction and joy. This is true blessedness. The life He gives is blessed in ways I could never imagine in my preconceived ideas of happiness. 

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts, His priorities are not my priorities - and yet when I read these words, I see things as the way they are supposed to be. Living in a fallen world, I too often learn to accept as normal things which are simply "not supposed to be that way." God graciously lets us have a peek at His ways in this extended Sermon, and it is both challenging and incredibly beautiful.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be part of His kingdom in heaven coming down to earth – bringing “up there”, down here. Not in its fullness, and not in a worldly political way, but in a very real, tangible, practical way that expresses our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. To either spiritualize or legalize the Sermon misses the point. What Jesus wants us to do is live it.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4)
What we need in the church is an expanded understanding of all it means to be Christlike. Too often we've limited Christlikeness to moral actions and failed to explore His deeper emotions and motivations. Scripture records Jesus as feeling compassionsadnessangerjoy. He sought the prayers of others. We see Him resting and eating and walking through the fields. As we behold Him, Paul tells us, we are transformed more into His image.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus, studying what is revealed in the Gospels about who He was in all His humanity and deity, will help us to know all that it means to be fully human - and we'll be changed in the process. If we're believers, we should be on a journey toward Christlikeness. Seeking to be authentic in that process of transformation means we let others walk that journey with us.

Monday, May 30, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #10: The Call


  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8, #9)

As Jesus' ministry grows, we have seen Him go small - reaching the one woman laying on her sickbed, the one man possessed by a demon. We've seen Him get deeply personal, choosing four fishermen and asking them to follow Him as their leader. We've seen Him reach beyond cultural prejudices to call a tax collector. We've seen groups start to follow Him, looking for miracles and watching Him at work. Now, we see Him once again doing something unexpected: He spends the night alone with His Father, then chooses twelve men from among the crowd. These will become His apostles, the "sent-out ones". But first, they would have to understand the call.

Calling the Twelve: (Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:12-20a)

In Luke's Gospel, the order of things is always important, as he sought out to present things in chronological order. It is not surprising then that he alone records that the call was precipitated by Jesus praying all night. We might find this unusual, since Jesus is fully God, but it shows the dependence on the Father that He demonstrated every day of His walk on earth. He is fully God, but He showed us how to live as fully human in relationship to God. As we will see, this time of prayer also models the call He is going to give these twelve men.

He chooses twelve, a number His Jewish followers would immediately understand. There were twelve tribes, each with a leadership structure. He is publicly calling out these men to be leaders. He will spend the rest of His time on earth teaching them what that means and then send the Holy Spirit after He leaves to empower them to fulfill this call. But for now, He lays out the basics for Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas,  James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot. 

Mark 3:14 records the elements of this call: 

  • To be with Him
  • To send them out
  • To have authority to cast out demons. (Matthew also adds that they were given authority to heal sickness.)
"To be with Him." The first thing they would have to learn would be the most critical - and in many ways the hardest. To take a group of men, many of whom were used to working at hard physical labor, at least one of whom was a "Zealot" (a Jewish sect trained for revolution), and ask them to learn to "be with Him" - that certainly turned their understanding of the Messiah upside down. And yet, in another sense it was completely in line with the idea of discipleship. Disciples in first century Judaism spent a lot of time with their leader, and learned to model him in every respect. The call, then, is a call to discipleship - and a call to prioritize Jesus above all service for Him and authority from Him. 

We are still learning this lesson today. When God stirs our hearts to desire to serve and minister to others, it is easy to start with the "go". We might seek Him for the "where" and "who", but ministry too often becomes an end in itself. When we use God-given gifts in His authority, we often find more satisfaction in the outcome than in Him. We must consistently learn (and relearn) how to be with Jesus and let Him send us out, giving us the gifts and authority we need to do what He asks us to do - and to be with Him in the process, so that whatever the outcome we have drawn closer to Him and ultimately become more like Him.

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

  • What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
  • How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
  • How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4)

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? 
The life He gives is based on relationship - relationship with Him and relationship with others. Any assignments He sends us to complete must flow from this context of relationship.

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me?
God wants us to prioritize His presence. He wants us to be with Him. As a (fairly) newlywed, I can now more fully understand the picture of Christ and the church that marriage offers. My husband and I love doing things for each other, but even more than that we just love being with each other. To fill a day with tasks and not connect with each other, then point to the marked-off to-do list, is not sufficient. Similarly, all we do in Jesus' name should flow from sitting at Jesus' feet.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image?
Jesus modeled what it looks like to be with God first. He spent all night in prayer before calling the Twelve. Everything He did flowed from relationship to the Father.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others?
If my focus is on being with Jesus, then I will naturally grow in fellowship with God. And since loving God and loving others are two sides of the same coin, I will also grow in love for others. I will learn to see with His eyes, hear with His ears, and feel with His heart - not seeing ministry as an end in itself, but as one part of a lifetime pursuit of being with my Jesus. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #9: Something Greater


  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6, #7, #8)

In our last post we saw that Jesus showed Himself to be, at heart, compassionate. As we know from our own experiences, people who are merciful and compassionate draw others to them. They gain a reputation based on their character. Jesus is no different. As Jesus continues His ministry, we see more and more people coming to Him with their needs. We also begin to see the religious leaders feeling threatened by Jesus' presence. Why? Not because of good works (they knew their own Law prescribed such actions), but because from the beginning He made it clear that the religious boxes first century Judaism had placed around the Law were insufficient. Something greater had arrived - and He brought not a challenge to the Law, but a perfect fulfillment of it in ways that kicked down the sides of those boxes and let in the light of Love.

In these passages, Jesus deals with two aspects of the law that the religious leaders knew very well - fasting and the Sabbath. First, in response to a question from John's disciples about why His disciples do not fast, He gives three pictures to help them understand:
  • There is no fasting while the bridegroom is present - that happens when he is taken away. 
  • A garment is patched not with unshrunk new cloth - otherwise it would tear. 
  • New wine must be poured into new wineskins - otherwise the old ones would burst. 
Much has been written about this passage, and my purpose here is not to delve into all the details of these pictures. Rather, what we see in Jesus' response is part of the larger message of this section of the Synoptic Gospels: Something new is going on

Around the same time, Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and the disciples begin to eat grain. This prompts an accusation from the Pharisees - they point this out to Jesus and the obvious sense of the passage is that they want to see Him correct them for disobeying their view of the "law". Instead, Jesus challenges them with a story from the life of David - a story of David eating bread that was supposed to be for priests. He reminds them that the priests break the Sabbath in the temple and are innocent. He tells them that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath - and then on another Sabbath, He goes to the synagogue to teach and heals a man with a withered hand. This time the Pharisees' and scribes' accusations remained unspoken but Jesus addresses them directly - asking if it is lawful to do good or harm on the Sabbath, to save or destroy life. Of course, nobody could respond. It was obvious that the One who created the Sabbath was living out the core of its meaning - not a new meaning, but one reflected even by the prophets (see Isaiah 58, for example). We see the heart of Jesus in Mark 3:5 as He perceives their attitudes: He is both angry and grieved. Grieved at their hardness of heart. Angry at the unnecessary burdens they have placed on those who would pursue God. 

In the midst of these Sabbath exchanges, Jesus says something that I believe is key to understanding all of these controversies: "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here." (Matthew 12;6). Greater than the temple? That was hard for first century Jews to fathom. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC, the scattered Israelites longed for their homeland and their temple. Under the authority of Cyrus, a group returned to Jerusalem, ultimately rebuilding the city and the temple. By the first century, King Herod undertook a building project to overhaul and refurbish it. The center of religious life for Jews, the temple was the heart of their worship. 

Yet Jesus says something greater has arrived. Greater than the temple. Greater than Jonah or Solomon, as we will see in a future study. As the author of Hebrews points out, greater than Moses or the angels. Jesus Himself is greater than all of this. And He doesn't reject the Law, or expressions such as fasting and the Sabbath. As we will see, He guides us to the law of love for God and others that is at the heart of it all.

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

  • What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
  • How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
  • How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? 
Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, but not in the ways people expected. His way of law-keeping prioritizes the glory of God and the good of others. He might not always move and act in ways I expect, but I will be able to see God's heart and others' needs more as I walk with Him.

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? 
God is grieved and angry when people misuse His Word in ways that move us away from love and toward "rules for the sake of rules." He wants us to have what is "greater", not the lesser ritualistic obedience but the deeper heart change He works through the New Covenant.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image?
Walk in a manner sensitive to His Spirit. Look for where the fruit of the Spirit is at work and join Him in that work. Don't let the expectations of others conform me into something that does not allow His deeper work to penetrate hearts.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? 
When I am walking with Him, I will be pointing people to Something Greater. This gets me out of the way and allows Him to do what only He can do - and ultimately, that deepens my relationship with Him and with others.