Archive for September, 2009

The Many Sides of Opinion

September 26, 2009

“Has not Moses given you the law?  Yet not one of you keeps the law.  Why are you trying to kill me?”

“You are demon-possessed,”  the crowd answered.  “Who is trying to kill you?”

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask,  “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill?”  John 7:19, 20, 25.

Keeping the big picture in mind always helps when trying to grasp truth, as in the case above.  First the crowd scoffs at the idea anyone was trying to kill Jesus, then later some begin to discuss it, which reveals they knew about it all along…or at least some of them did.  John is setting up our understanding by showing the inconsistency in the popular crowd’s POV because of its multiple personality disorder.  In Jesus we are to be of one truth, one God and unified in spirit, if not performance.

It’s no wonder Jesus wouldn’t trust Himself to the people for they were fractured, afraid of the Jews and careless about truth.  I’m not saying they didn’t care about truth, but that they didn’t care about it if it was gonna’ cost too much.  O, I’m sure a few had sleepless nights about their own schizoid behavior, but not enough conviction to stand up to the ruling class and be counted for the right.  The Jews were looking for a way to arrest Jesus covertly so the crowd wouldn’t riot, which also means the crowd as a whole didn’t know for sure, if at all, what the leaders planned.  I’m sure the rumors spread, however, and many of them heard it.

I also like the fact Jesus confronts them about their murderous intentions.  He puts Himself at risk by being in the accuser’s seat and refuses to let them off the hook.  I must confess I wouldn’t have this kind of wisdom, timing or restraint to know when to confront the intentions of someone’s heart.  Yet Jesus does.  At the same time, I think He knew the time for dying was coming up and decided to provoke a dialogue as well as peak their resolve.

Yes, I believe Jesus pushed the leaders a little bit to the killing point, although, as we see from history, it didn’t take much.  He knew they were intent on killing Him, though to my mind why they would choose Him out of the dozens of other “messiahs” running around Israel at the time, I can’t fathom.  May be it had something to do with real power from on high.  He demonstrated God’s favor by healing, feeding a huge crowd from nothing and raising people from the dead.  It’s kind of hard to ignore someone who displays that kind of power almost casually, then sets out to correct your misunderstandings and skewed interpretations of God and history.

But I think the lesson to draw from today is that POV of view as it applies to humanity is fluid, inconsistent and untrustworthy.  Lies, deceptive practices and smokescreens demand we become cautious with our hearts and beliefs.  Trusting too much in the opinions of others who don’t conform to the Word of God as we know it will lead us down a path to murdering the Son of God…Rejecting Him as He is puts the nails into His hands and feet as well as the stripes on His back.

Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  1 Timothy 4:16.

The Rules of Truth

September 25, 2009

“He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”  John 7:18.

Jesus takes the search for truth and works it into a small deductive rule:  If a man works on behalf of another, he has no reason to lie but speaks the truth of the one for whom he works.  On the other hand if he’s concerned only about his own honor, his motives are suspect, methods might be devious depending on the goal and truth subjective at best, fluid at worst.

 For instance:  Those who would like to be thought of as wise will do what it takes to sound wise or be seen as such.  I’ve noticed wisdom sets puzzles out for people to study and find the truth hidden there, but liars simply complicate the process by making it hard to reach the truth or find it at all.  Some proverbial wisemen take truth to be their own special form of wealth.  I know for some of us being ascetic appears to be selflessness, but in truth it can be a form of self-absorption and pedestal building all on its own.  Those who long to know search to understand and since they are on a mission on behalf of truth, they speak honestly about what they do and don’t grasp.  A person seeking their own honor finds anything that will work as an answer then throws half-truths in the mix to keep those who ask their advice off balance.  A liar keeps enough truth in their arsenal to hook the unwary into the falsehoods they are selling.

Jesus spoke the truth of God not because it was to His advantage but because He served the Father’s purpose.  Look at how He lived during His ministry.  He ate and drank, socialized and fasted, taught selflessness as well as economy, and generally affirmed all the Lord God created man to be by striking a balance between them.  When confronted with tithing, He made it clear it was important but included mercy, grace and love as equally so.  Contrary to some assertions Jesus was not ascetic or Nazarite, rather He took on the role as a rabbi, who would be set apart for holy use, but could still join in the community routines.

As I began thinking of this again this morning, I realized that Jesus didn’t necessarily declare a man’s mission on behalf of another based on truth but that the man who represented the other did so with integrity.  That in itself is quite a distinction, for a man of integrity may believe a lie or half-truth because he has no means of proving it to be anything else but true.  It can also mean that within a certain scope of education, cultural belief and a position where this “truth” has never been challenged, the man (or woman for that matter) never had the opportunity to question it.

John wrote three other letters that we know of and another book called “Revelation.”  In the first letter he writes to the church warning her to beware of deceptive spirits masquerading as authentic and he instructed us to test them.  What test could we give these spirits that would reveal their true nature?

The only one we litmus test we have available to us, the Word of God.  Isaiah 8:20:  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Which then means to me the Word of God, for the testimony is that of the history of God’s work in Israel as well as the prophets who called her out on the carpet for her sin.  Isaiah 8:19 takes it a step further to clarify who he’s talking about,  When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a  people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  Horoscopes, financial prophets and political pundits fall into this category as far as I’m concerned for they don’t speak according to the Word but reject it for the wisdom of mathematics, scientific research and “experts” who study trends.

As far as I’m aware most of what man calls “sound advice” mixes human interest sans God, which negates its validity to some extent.  We don’t have to be isolated or critical of every theory, discovery or truth which comes from the world, but we need to be skeptics of their motivations.

Jesus told the Jews just how to tell a man’s integrity:  He works tirelessly on behalf of another.  Jesus sacrificed all the Jewish tradition held dear for life and happiness to spread the word about a God who anxiously desired an intimate relationship with them.  He might have been wrong about His Father, but His integrity was true.  On the other hand, His miraculous power came from somewhere, therefore we must conclude the Father and He were partners in this mission, since Jesus would have no power at all (according to His teachings) unless God granted Him to have them.  He had the power to lay down His life but as part of that laying down of His position in heaven He became totally dependent on the Father for everything He did.

As should we…

Sculpting the Message

September 23, 2009

“My teaching is not my own.  It comes from Him who sent me.  If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.  John 7:16, 17.

Either Jesus used the Scriptures as the Son of God guide Him in His mission, or He was using the Scriptures to sculpt His life to fit them.  In other words, the pathway He needed to use, God embedded in the Scriptures as clues to His mission, which led Him to specific timeframes and actions.  It could also be, if we take Him as merely human, that He found a pattern in the Scriptures which allowed Him to fit His life and teaching into it, then claim the rest.  Both could be true; both are plausible within their own paradigm of truth and highly possible within a universe we barely grasp.

Was Jesus just putting a new spin on an old teaching or revealing the true meaning behind what was written?

That is the most important question we must answer in this debate of His authority.  Either Jesus reveals the real meaning of the Law and the Prophets or He’s shining everyone on (including Himself if He believed His own claims) and merely putting a new facet on an old diamond.

Jesus gives us another key to discovering truth in general:  If a person decides to do God’s will, that person will know the truth for what it is and therefore, by default, know the truth about Jesus.  So we are presented with two possible scenarios in Jesus’ statement about where His teaching comes from and how He arrived at His conclusions:  1)  He sculpted His message to loosely fit the Scriptures then took some of the more debatable texts and reinterpreted them to mean what He wanted them to mean.  2)  The Scriptures themselves were an outline written by the Godhead long before sin entered creation.  This outline became Jesus’ guide to His mission, the cryptic language, which to us is many times a mystery, spoke to the God in Him while guiding His daily choices.

Everywhere we look in Scripture we find clues to knowing and understanding truth.  Jesus’ clue above is not cryptic or mysterious but plainly spoken.  However, once the choice is made to do God’s will, understanding it can get quite confusing as we sort through perceptions, interpretations and our own preconceptions cum bias.  The life of a follower of the Christ is guided by the Scriptures, for sure, but it is a process of continuous correction and realignment to the truth.  We don’t see clearly but through a darkened glass.

I want you to do an experiment just so you can get how hard it is sometimes to see spiritually.  Paul said we on this side  of eternity look through a darkened glass, which in Greek actually means mirror or colored glass.  The mirrors of the day weren’t as clear as ours but had more shadows, tinted by the metal or glass formed.  The sheer flat surface we know today was not what they knew for they couldn’t get the same precision by hand we get with machines, so the image would be slightly warped, dark and just recognizable most of the time.  Take a piece of blown glass and study an object on the other side (mirrors of the day weren’t usually backed with metal like they are now) and try to describe it to yourself or someone else.

Knowing God’s will is a work in progress.  As the scales of human weakness, desire and sin fall off our spiritual vision, we gain a clearer and clearer view of what God’s will and purpose are in the grand scheme of things, and in a personal way what He desires for us.  But the key to understanding is not leaning on our own grasp of reality, instead we submit our view of everything to His.  Only in this way can we get a handle on truth; only in this way can we know what is what and who is who.

Only in this way will we ever know whether or not Jesus’ teaching comes from God or is something He dreamed up to get famous.  Either Jesus sculpted His life to the Scriptures or the Scriptures were sculpted for Him to guide Him in the shaping of His life, ministry and message, which still means He sculpted Himself to the Scriptures, the difference is:  He understood them.

The Jewish Ivy League

September 20, 2009

Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.  The Jews were amazed and asked,  “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”  John 7:14, 15.

 Everyone I know considers any education sans college to be a less than state of knowing.  The fact that even those who are successful but have never gone to any sort of college say  “I’ve never gone to college” at all tells anyone listening they have put this form of higher learning upon a pedastal or, at the very least, realize it as an accomplishment which garners them a certain amount of respect and status.

For the Jew, Jerusalem was the Harvard of his or her world.  To have the means to attend the temple teachers’ “seminars” or daily debates on Scriptures was the highest honor in their society.  To actually be taught and mentored by a famous Rabbi or teacher of the Law meant greatness to be desired.

The Jews question about Jesus showed their disdain for the outlying teachers and rabbis—some even taught by those in Jerusalem.  It’s much like the academia of today being snarky about those who go to community college or some local university not accepted as Ivy League.  We actually believe these people too because how many times have we begun a sentence with the disclaimer of “I’m no theologian or…” (add your degree here) when we discuss a subject either inside or outside of the Scripture.  The Jews weren’t amazed that Jesus had Scripture memorized, rather they were astonished He could interpret and present it in such a coherant fashion accessable to all who heard Him.

Get the contrast of what Jesus’ brothers were urging Him to do with what He actually did.  Jesus didn’t go up to Jerusalem to astonish the Jews but to bring healing, enlightenment and salvation to all.  His mission wasn’t to turn the world on its ear but the hearts of world to God.  Paul called the apostles the “ministers of reconciliation” and this very title grows out of Christ’s mission itself.  The apostles followed Jesus, then taught those who listened to them to imitate Him also—Paul’s exact words were follow me as I follow Christ.  The ministry of the messiah was one of reconciliation not of self-exaltation.

Jesus with a simple move blew the competition away.  He didn’t need to be a sideshow freak or some circus act to gain attention, nor was it necessary for Him to display the power He knew He had or His close connection to the Father through some wild miraculous fireworks.  All He needed was to open His mouth in the middle of a special celebration and He knocked the academia on their proverbial backsides.

Do you think He intended to put them in their places by His efforts?

Nah!  I believe it was a natural side effect because of the condition of their hearts.  They had steeped themselves in abstracts so long that when Jesus brought it down to the practical their dried up souls felt soaked in the rain of the words of life.  One can’t help but recognize moisture, even in small amounts, when they’re parched from thirst.  Yet these men weren’t just dry ground by accident.  Like most Ivy League intellectuals they insulated themselves from choices by creating philosophical conundrums which inspired inaction and cynicism.  Their hardened state, at least for many of them, was a chosen condition meant to keep God at a safe theological distance and themselves successful in their human pursuits.

Jesus cut to the chase and it knocked the wind out of them.

We are to imitate Him, to walk as He walked, to have a renewed mind through exposure to His way of thinking.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Divided Opinions

September 16, 2009

Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about Him.  Some said,  “He is a good man.”

Others replied,  “No, He deceives the people.  But no one would say anything publicly about Him for fear of the Jews.  John 7:12, 13.

In the verse just before the ones quoted above the Jews were watching for Him and asking,  “Where is that man?”  It shouldn’t amaze me but it does how everything stays the same no matter how much around us changes.  Think about the connection John makes between Jesus’ brothers here and the Jews.  Both expected Him to make  some declaration now that He was so popular in the outlands of Jerusalem, both disbelieved in His relationship to God, if not His power and prophetic connection, yet they couldn’t bring themselves at this time to accept Him as the Son of God.  In essence, John is telling us Jesus’ brothers were no different in outcome than the Jews except for the fact they probably weren’t wanting Him to die. 

I just love the fact human nature never changes but remains the one constant in my little universe.  Humans cannot make up their minds about what they want.  On the one hand, they preach freedom of thought, action and creed; on the other, they oppress and suppress all who don’t agree with them.  This goes for every nationality, creed, religion and culture.

Doubt me?

Then why would a movie like “Religulous” have fans?  And explain why people have an opinion about Jesus who barely know where to find a Bible passage that speaks of Him.  I find it crazy that anyone with an open mind would even claim anything about truth being clear, it goes against the very tenets of their faith, if you ask me.  Why would we forbid any other religion’s POV when we can barely prove our own satisfactorily?  Why do some religions decide all others need to be eliminated?  What is it about humanity that craves exclusivity while preaching an open market?  If you’re reading this and wishing people would just shut up about Jesus, Buddha, Islam or atheism, you will find yourself in a hard place to justify if you claim to love freedom of expression and thought.  Have you read about the pastors in various places arrested for slander against gays just because they preach it as a sin?  It’s preposterous to have variety in the world, a yin/yang opinion poll then crucify people for teaching their differences.

Criticism of one another’s ideas is natural, oppressing those ideas through whatever methods is also.

In Christ’s era, the Romans ruled the world with an iron fist and the Leaders called “The Jews” ruled the hearts and minds of their people.  It seems oppression and suppression were the rule of the day for them as well.  Even the philosophically “open” minded people of Christ’s day were willing to silence Him, and I believe it all grew out of the fact that Jesus declared a diffinitive truth to the exclusion all other “truths,” which, in turn, threatened the proponents of the current “truth.”

The opinions about Jesus will always vary, the reactions will always be erratic and strong—yes, indifference can be a strong reaction.

The argument persists today:  Is Jesus a good man, teacher and philosopher?  Is He a liar and charlatan?  Or, is He who He claimed to be the Son of the Living God?

That was the Right Time?!!

September 14, 2009

However, after His brothers left for the Feast, He went also, not publicly, but in secret.  Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for Him and asking,  “Where is that man?”  John 7:10, 11.

God’s timing always surprises me—for that matter, most of His methods baffle me as well.  I mean the people He chooses to be heroes and heroines always goes against the norm, which means there’s some sort of pattern here I’m missing.  Yet may be that’s the point.  If God did things according to our value system, only the good looking, well spoken of, charming, witty, fun, talented, charismatic and well off people would get to be great or do anything worthwhile.  As it is, His system of selection seems totally random at worst and completely cockeyed at best.

So when Jesus goes to the Feast in secret after making a big point of not doing it until a special time, I kind of have to wonder what He’s up to, cuz it makes absolutely no sense to me.  I mean, look at it, first He argues with His brothers about going up to show off His power, then goes up in secret and begins teaching in the temple courts not too long after, what gives?

Sometimes I don’t think I understand Him at all.

Was Jesus just being stubborn here.  I mean, He is the oldest brother in the family so may be He just didn’t like being told what to do.  From the context, I don’t believe it was ever His intention to skip the feast, what He objected to was His brother’s (and disciples as well) pushing Him to gain the world’s attention and appreciation.

John presents Jesus mission as it is in order to show, I believe, His methods served the purpose.  Jesus couldn’t peak too soon or He wouldn’t have accomplished the things He and the Father mapped out for Him before the world was made.  Remember, this whole thing was pretty much planned out before He came, barring a few details that God knew He could improvise on.  Jesus wasn’t hardwired to work according to a certain set of guidelines but guided by the Scriptures.  The Scriptures are not about Mankind’s search for God, rather they speak of God’s efforts on behalf of mankind.  We see a bunch of stories and wonder what they had to do with anything, until, of course, we see Jesus and then our perspective changes.

The Scriptures testified about the Christ, therefore we can conclude they speak of Jesus.  Every lesson from the history of Israel taught Him the nature of humanity, every prophetic utterance predicted His mission and told of the world’s great need of Him, and every single Law guided Him through the maze of human reasoning by setting up guide posts in the form of Sabbaths, holy feasts and the sacrificial system itself.  Everything pointed Him to His destiny.

Jesus could have easily used every ounce of His power to take over the world and no one could have stopped Him—not even the devil.  His purpose, though, wasn’t to conquer the earth for the sake of power or ruling it in its present state, but to cure it of its disease—sin.  Going up to Jerusalem to teach in the temple courts was the mission not wow-ing the people with fantastic miracles and silencing all those who would be enemies.  Secrecy accomplished His goals far more than a marching band and great fanfare.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 Paul gives us a general rule for how we should approach our earthly lives,  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.  It seems Jesus demonstrated this ethic even in His ministry for nearly every miracle was done quietly and without a crowd if possible.  Now some of His miracles were in front of great crowds, but not by choice rather that was the situation in which He had to work—remember they came to Him, He didn’t go looking for a crowd.

If we are to walk as Jesus walked, then our lives must display this same desire to avoid being showoffs and seek rather to serve those we come in contact with on a daily basis.  Our best efforts aren’t in the presence of crowds from my experience but one on one or in small groups.  Why?  Because we our atttention isn’t so divided by over stimulation so that we’re able to concentrate.

The truth the Scriptures emphasizes over and over again is that a small amount of salt is enough for a large amount of food.

Timing is Everything

September 10, 2009

Therefore Jesus told them,  “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.  You go to the Feast.  I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.”  Having said this, He stayed in Galilee.  John 7:6-11.

 The connotation for the phrase “for you any time is right” is either a simple truth or a statement of their hearts and attitudes.  Jesus worked on a timetable written before He came to earth and used Scripture to guide His every decision.  The world doesn’t have the same itinerary as God so any time they choose to move is the “right” time though it might not fit into His plan.  Outside of God’s will one time is as good as another; inside it everything hinges on His good purpose and timing.

We think the law was written for the Jews as a guide for their daily lives, and our conclusion would be mostly correct.  However, if we look at the significance of the Feasts themselves, we begin to recognize Jesus accomplished certain things within the parameters of specific Feast days.  This means He was using them as His own personal timetable.  For instance, He died on the High Sabbath of the Passover, an extremely timely death for sure, fulfilling the meaning of the day both literally and spiritually. 

What did John B call Jesus?  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…  What was the purpose of the Passover?  A lamb was slain, the blood was painted on the door posts and header of the household to remember the night in Egypt when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites and killed only the first born of their captors.  Jesus, the first born of all creation, died on the very date set aside as salvation for Israel as well as the whole world.  This time, however, the first born of all creation died for those who actually deserved it.

God’s time is not man’s time neither are His ways man’s ways.

Jesus’ objection to His brothers’ misunderstanding of His mission.  They simply didn’t get the fact that He was sent to revolutionize mankind’s heart not create a power center for the Jews.  The latter would happen, of course, but it wasn’t the priority for God’s Messiah, His mission was to save humanity from their sinful nature, which in turn would accomplish the rest nearly by default.

I think the more accurate phrasing of Jesus’ comment to His brothers would be,  “The world has no right to hate you for you are of it, come from it, and you approve of their methods as well as goals.”  Do you sense the irony in Jesus’ words?  Those not given over to God are no different from the world so any reason to hate, resent or persecute them goes out the window.  We are just like the world when our hearts are not renewed, which means selfish, greedy, idolaters, immoral, etc.  Since this is how we live without Christ, He’s saying they have no real right to hate us because we are just like them.

Despite our similarities in nature, we still hate and kill one another for no reason, however.  The word rendered “hate” in our text above points at hating the innocent for no reason.  Jesus contrasts the tendency in humans to band together against righteousness to the state of the believer who testifies by their very lifestyle that they object to the world’s POV.  What the world hates more than itself are those who stand up as beacons of light illuminating the darkness and exposing its deeds, attitudes and lies.  Jesus’ very presence in the world testified to its evil, a truth it could not tolerate or let go unpunished.  Though all He ever did was teach the way to righteousness and godliness, they despised Him so much they felt the need to kill Him.

Why?  What did Jesus do differently or that was more irritating than any other teacher or philosopher?

He was sinless.  He owned it all so fighting for earthly power held no attraction; He created it all so scrambling to bow and scrape to the evil one would have accomplished nothing but to submit to evil.

We are taught early on to value the world we live in over the things of God.  Our education comes through those we trust and appears to be spiritually logical and right.  The truth of it is, however, the insidious lie that the goals of God are to create a power center within the context of sin’s domination of humanity is far off that it killed our Master.  The power Jesus promoted was over the inner man/woman, not domination of nations. 

Yet, if we look at it in the light of God, domination over the inner human nature would change the world and create a power center for God which would radicalize the nations.  If every nation, kindred, tongue and people conformed to Christ, His kingdom would dominate by default of ruling the spirit of a person, which means the character would be changed from darkness to light.  However, because of the nature of sin’s hold over mankind, this domination will have to come as a catastrophic change, since most humans will reject Him.

What if every human healed other humans out of sheer good will, no agenda and a desire to bless?

They would be just like Jesus who desired no earthly glory for the good He did.  His greatest praise came from His Father and this was the praise that mattered most.

Sticking to the Game Plan

September 6, 2009

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take His life.  John 7:1.

Does this statement speak of a cowardly Savior?  He knew what was coming (remember He predicted His own death) so was He merely avoiding what needed to be done in order to enjoy life a little longer?  Was Jesus, the Lamb of God, afraid of being the sacrifice?

John doesn’t ask these questions nor does he even hint at them, instead he tells us a story which happened around the Feast of Tabernacles involving Jesus’ brothers.  Obviously they knew of His power for in their encouragement to go to Jerusalem they said,  “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your discples may see the miracles you do.”  Did they know about the Jews wish to kill their own brother?  And if they were aware, were they sending Him to His death knowingly?  I don’t think they did or were.  Where they went wrong is in their emphasis.

“No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret.  Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”

The tone of their pressure is not immediately apparent until John says,  For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.  This statement should make us pause to consider what it means to believe.  They knew Jesus could perform miracles, which begs the question how could John then say Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe?

It’s easy to believe in miracles when they happen in front of your face, and since His brothers mention these miracles, it’s evident they witnessed a few.  It’s a lot harder to believe in the mission of a person we know.  These men grew up with Jesus as a human boy, teen and now a man, so they were acquainted with His dirty feet, cuts and bruises from carpentry and habits.  I don’t think they were objecting to His power, fame or seeking a public position at all.  No, their tone was more about Him taking power in Jerusalem.

Remember Jesus’ discussion with the Jews?  The Jews weren’t disbelieving in Jesus’ ability to work miracles or His power, because they, in point of fact, had wanted to take Him by force to make Him king.  So what was it they didn’t believe?

The brothers of Jesus and the Jews were mistaken in their belief about the messiah’s work for mankind.  Their mistake led them to reject Jesus as the one who would save and restore Israel as well as the rest of the world.  What both of these groups saw in the Man of Miracles was a means to an end.  If Jesus took over the nation of Israel, He could heal any wounded in battle, which would make their armies unstoppable and therefore invincible. 

Do you recognize their mistake?

Their belief did not include Jesus’ own statement about His mission or purpose.  They believed in the miracles, emphasized His power but ignored His words to the point of being imbecilic about it.  The brothers wanted to ride Jesus’ coat tails to power, not save the world from sin.  Their suggestion to go to Judea wasn’t an act of altruism or of falling in with Jesus’ mission but one of strategic planning for His rise to power.  Their argument,  “Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”  gives them away.  The desire for power resonates in the human spirit more than the desire for salvation from sin.  His brothers saw an opportunity and didn’t want to miss it.

Of course I might be wrong about their motivation, and, since isn’t given here, I’m just guessing from the wording and context what Jesus’ brothers might be thinking.  We can imagine a myriad of motivations for their actions, yet when it comes down to the wire, it’s the actions that count.  They refused to believe in their brother being the messiah because He didn’t fit into any known category of teaching they understood.  The proximity of family also needs to be taken into account when looking at their disbelief. 

I’ve experienced this personally throughout my own ministry life enough to know that one’s own family can many times be the worst when it comes to encouraging us in the work of the Lord.  Serving Jesus takes certain sacrifices, so that unless the people close to us grasp and agree these are par for course in the work of God, they will do everything to discourage and turn us away from it.  I’ve even had well meaning believers exhort me to change course and get a real job.  When I point them to the history of the Savior and the disciples of the early church, they shrug it off as if it were merely the hiccups of any beginning business, God doesn’t require that kind of sacrifice anymore, we understand it better today than those more primitive cultures did.

Believing in Jesus means that we accept and act on His teaching, which in turn means we adjust our thinking and opinions about His mission and our own part in it when His teachings turn the light on.  I’m not even suggesting we are going to grasp all of it at once—or even most of it, rather as we grow to know the message, things we passed by in reading the Word will stand out and convict us to adjust our previous grasp of His truth.

Let me give you an example:

Universalism is an attractive teaching and appears to come directly from Scripture, for those who buy into it quote passages which seem to say exactly that.  Yet there are many other Scriptures, a lot of them in the gospels themselves, which make it clear there will be wheat and weeds, lost and saved, evil and good, etc.  Some will be raised in the resurrection to everlasting life, others to condemnation.

If we take one part of Scripture where it says God desires to save all mankind, that He died in order to save all of us, then combine it with the message there will be many who choose the way to the gates of hell, we see a picture not of universalism but of God’s heart for His creation.  He took away the barrier to eternity for mankind by sending His Son to die for them, but as a whole humans have rejected His efforts.  This doesn’t change God’s desire to save all humanity, but the rules of this drama are set up so that only those who accept His Son as Lord will be saved.

If we ignore the Bible’s message on who is lost, we rob the death and resurrection of its need to save.  Change is no longer needed as well for it doesn’t matter how we live or think or believe for God will save us regardless.  I like the message of universalism, I just can’t buy into it if I’m gonna’ believe Jesus through the gospels.

Jesus’ teachings give us no room to negotiate the real consequences of following Him with our will and heart.  Telling a would be disciple,  “Foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head,”  is not merely a suggested lifestyle of self-denial and privation but predicting the reaction of the world to the gospel.  A man who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is not worthy of the kingdom of God.  Anyone who would follow the Savior of the World must take up his cross (a symbol of death), deny himself and follow Him.

These instructions are not optional takes on what it means to be a man after God’s own heart, rather they warn us of what the possible worse case scenario might be if we take firm steps in that direction.  Rejection by our culture is one phase of it, John is showing that even Jesus experienced the loss of family ties because of His service to God.  Don’t think John’s purpose is merely to tell us a good story, for these books were expensive in his day to write and copy due to the type of paper products animal skins available.  No, he’s using this story to comfort the believers who were experiencing rejection by their close friends, families and countrymen, in order to encourage them not to give up.

God doesn’t call everyone to the mission field as a preacher.  I think Paul makes this abundantly clear about gifts to the body of Christ by using the different parts of a human body to illustrate the point.  Not everyone needs to be a mouth, heart or hand, but each must use what they have to make friends for themselves in eternal dwellings or their efforts to earn a living will end up being wasted.

Jesus didn’t bend to the pressure of His brothers to display His power and impress those who followed Him, which in turn would have silenced those who objected somewhat.  Instead, He took the necessary steps to avoid ostentation and display so that His mission might be based on glory to God instead of gaining it for Himself.  And John gives us the key to understanding the purpose of Jesus’ example in one of his other letters:  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  1 John 2:6.

Need I say more?

The Pain of Knowing

September 4, 2009

Then Jesus replied,  “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?  Yet one of you is a devil!”  (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray Him.)  John 6:70, 71.

 It must have been weird to know the identity of the very person who would betray Him to death.  How did He cope with the knowledge without letting the cat out of the bag…and more importantly, why would He take on the very type of man who would sign His death warrant?  It speaks to both Jesus’ character and dedication to His mission that He kept His enemy close.

At the same time I wonder if He didn’t harbor some hope of rescuing Judas from his own choices.  Peter denied Jesus, which in essence was a betrayal, though may be not as bad as Judas’ selling Him for a slave’s price.    Still, Judas holds a special place in history as a very evil man.  I don’t doubt he was in some way evil, but he couldn’t have been all bad because Jesus took him on as one of the Twelve, he performed miracles when Jesus sent out the 72 and participated in some of the other great moments in Jesus’ ministry.

Or did you think that God wouldn’t heal through a Judas?

God works through any vessel willing to be used by Him.  He used heathen kings, humble idolaters and weak willed men throughout the history of Scripture, so Judas would have been no exception.  I believe had Judas come to Christ in repentance and asked forgiveness, he would have received it and a different story would have been written.  Yet if the nails and thorns Jesus wore were due to my sin, then I betrayed Jesus just as badly as Judas.  Jesus prayed about Judas later in this book, speaking of him as “the one doomed to perdition” and fulfilling Scripture.  However, this fact doesn’t mean Judas couldn’t have turned around and been welcomed back, rather it speaks more to his own choice than God’s desire for him.

For a long time whenever I read John’s constant reminders that Judas betrayed his Master, I took it to mean John resented the man and was rubbing salt in the wound.  As I’ve read and reread the gospel, however, I get another point all together:  John wanted to emphasize Christ’s foreknowledge as God incarnate by constantly reminding his readers of Jesus’ awareness about Judas’ role in His upcoming death and resurrection.  The reason I don’t think there is any malice in John’s reminders is that he doesn’t rail against him or try to put him down outside of the truth about him.  One thread all the Bible writers have in common is they don’t shy away from the distasteful truth surrounding human nature—John is no exception.

Judas was a thief and betrayer, yes, but he was also one of the Twelve who performed miracles and preached the message of Christ.

What does it say about who we should be?

In another gospel the author quotes Jesus telling His followers not to worry about the weeds that grow among us for they are God’s worry not ours.  There are people we need to discipline in the church and some who will need to be excluded from fellowship for a time because of blatant sin, but we are not to worry about those who deceive us about their intentions.  We are live intentionally ourselves while not delving into those of others, it’s not our business.

I have lived worried about the hearts of others for a long time.  I concern myself with the intent of the other person because motivation speaks to their character.  I know this knowledge is something only God can know, and if He chooses to not act against these people, as in the case of Judas, then who am I to counter His wishes.  What is the result of pulling up the weeds?  Losing some of the good grain along with them.  It is only in the harvest that the sorting process can take place, which is God’s job alone.

My goal now is to worry less about the intentions of others and concern myself with growing my own heart and of those hearts who come under my influence to be more like the Master’s.  In other words, I want the intent of my heart to be like His.  Though Jesus might know the intent of the heart as in the case of Judas, I can’t, therefore if He, knowing who would betray Him, didn’t uproot Judas, who am I to uproot those I suspect of hypocrisy?

Nowhere Else to Go

September 2, 2009

“You do not want to leave too do you?”  Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered Him,  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  you have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  John 6:67-69.

I once saw a movie called “An Officer and A Gentleman” years ago where this rebellious young man (played by Richard Gere) joins the Marines in hopes of making something out of himself.  In the course of time we learn he grew up to be a street urchin in Asia (I forget which country) some place, where he learned a street form of kung fu.  Toward the end of the movie his sergeant challenges him to a sparring match in the company’s boxing ring and almost loses when he gets a good kick and puts our man on the floor.

He yelled at him,  “Quit!”

The young soldier yelled back,  “I can’t!”

“What?!!  Why?”  shouted the Sergeant.

“Because I have nowhere else to go!”  The soldier nearly wailed it out.

That scene has stuck with me for a long time and I’m reminded of it everytime I read this passage of Scripture.  I feel like that young soldier on the mats, clutching my groin because I got sucker punched and know I have nowhere else to go but Jesus.  Every other option either turns me into a careless person or an obsessed cause.

I’m not gonna’ make this a long explanation because to me it’s a pretty simple choice:  Either Jesus is the way, truth and life or He isn’t.  I’ve chosen to believe He is, so in my mind I have nowhere else to go.