Archive for October, 2009

The Lesson

October 29, 2009

“Yet your countrymen say,  ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’  But it is their way that is not just.  If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it.  And if a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so.  Yet, O house of Israel, you say,  ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’  But I will judge each of you according to his own ways.”  Ezekiel 33:17-20.

The whole time I thought about the story of the adulterous woman this passage kept cropping up.  It made me wonder if the Jews of Jesus’ day ever thought about Ezekiel’s message or took it seriously, for their attitudes were quite the opposite of the above text.

At the same time I’m reminded they did have converts to their religious views and they wrote about these in some of the rabbinical literate.  The impression we get of them is as hardline conservatives against Jesus and all He stood for, but this would be a simplistic conclusion quite a bit off the truth.  The Jews had to live with many in Israel not of their faith or morals, which offended them, of course, but they dealt with it. 

Jesus argues against their methods of gaining converts by citing the Pharisees practice of going to far lands to convert other cultures but turning their converts into even worse people than they were before.  (See Matthew 23:15.)  So what were these men after and what offended them so much about Christ’s message and life?  I think the answer to that can be summed up in the high priest’s response in John 11:47b, 48:  “What are we accomplishing?”  they asked.  “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.  If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Do you see their “logic” shining through the rhetoric?  These men weren’t worried about truth so much as preserving their culture.  Knowing a little about their history I see their fears stemming from when they were in captivity in Babylon several hundred years before.  Once the Jews returned to their homeland they must have been afraid to even sneeze the wrong way for fear God would kick them out again.  This fear could very well have been instilled all the way down through the centuries to affect the leaders of Israel.

At the same time, they were fixed on preserving a volatile religion.  Oh, I’m not calling the Jewish religion violent or unpredictable but one which was built to change, for all their literature up to Jesus’ day predicted it in the form of a Messiah.  What they stated as their fear was real, but its origins were more in the form of losing what they knew to be their legacy and identity than fear of displeasing God.  Yet, may be some of the latter motivation also crept into their collective consciousness because if they displeased God, He would exile them and take away their place.

All this is to understand why they resisted Jesus so vehemently and did everything in their power to discredit Him.

What doesn’t make sense is their determined efforts to kill or discredit Him.  I’ve often wondered why they hated Him so much because He interpreted Scripture generously without taking away the traditions or values found in them.  At the same time He demonstrated the mercy coursing through the entire message.

…Which brings us back to our text in Ezekiel.

The lesson we should glean from this text is that repentence is worth the life of the Son of God.  If a person sins but repents, our opinion should be that of our Master,  “Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now leave your life of sin.”  A servant is not above his master and a worker not above his lord.  If Jesus gave hope to the fallen, we should.  If Jesus’ attitude was one of eager forgiveness, then ours should be.

God said one more thing through Ezekiel that we ought to conform to at all times in 33:11“As surely as I live, Declares the Soveeign LORD,  I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

That sorta’ puts it all in perspective doesn’t it.

Through the Eyes of the Fallen

October 26, 2009

“Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,”  she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you.”  Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  John 8:10b, 11.

She heard them sneering at her stupidity and discussing how they could use her situation against that man from Galilee.  Like everyone else in Jerusalem she had heard of Jesus, although she’d never seen Him personally.  His reputation, however, made Him sound too good to be true, though not for her, because she was going to die now, there was no escape.  She knew these men wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of catching her in the act if they didn’t have some other motive—they might prefer her dead, but they wouldn’t wasted their time had it not been for the Nazarene.  If this new rabbi was anything like them, the stones would start flying before she could be tried.

But being dragged roughly through the streets occupied her thoughts too much for her to think of anything except staying on her feet so they wouldn’t kick or slap her.  In moments of calm where the business of navigating the crowds kept them from abusing her much she wondered what had happened to her man.  In the confusion and chaos of the teachers of the law and Pharisees storming into the house, he had somehow disappeared.  She should have known because he was always so cautious about their trysts and some of the men around her must have known him, so let him go.  Her next thought was for her children…who would take care of them once she was gone?  Children of sinners didn’t fair well in Jerusalem, much less anywhere else in Israel.

From the triumphant attitudes of the men pushing and dragging her along, one wouldn’t think they were going to stone her.  In fact, from the comments she heard she knew this whole thing wasn’t about her sin at all but some ellaborate scheme to trap this man Jesus into a political or spiritual mistake.  As she stumbled along, she realized they didn’t give a fig about her necessarily, though they hated her with a passion for her adultery, but it was the man, Jesus, they hated even more than her.  This made her curious about Him, though with this situation unfolding, she barely had time to think about it.

They arrived at the temple and the men with her were nearly screaming out their righteous indignation, calling for Jesus and demanding her death.  At this point the world seemed surreal, her surroundings and the faces staring at her in either shock, disbelief or anger were just a backdrop for keeping herself from falling down too much.  Other voices and men joined in the mob rushing toward Jesus somewhere ahead.

Finally, they reached a gathering of people crowded around the temple steps listening to a rabbi sitting down on the top of them so He could be seen and heard.  The vehemence of her captors startled and parted the crowd like cutting soft cheese, a look of horror and disgust apparent on many of the faces.  Jesus, however, didn’t look at all surprised or agitated, but silently watched their progress till they reached the temple steps and made her stand before them with her eyes on the ground.  At some point, she risked a glance at Jesus, wondering what sort of man He was and what His face would show.  In that one glance she saw a strange mix of emotions which turned her expectation on its ear, and it was her turn to be shocked and amazed.  There was no condemnation there, only sadness, stern disapproval and a kindness so out of place in this situation as to stand out as abnormal.

She knew the law (it was read every Sabbath), they had to let her defend herself if she could, but she doubted she’d get the chance.  They had caught her redhanded, there was no defense.  Then something completely unexpected happened which shocked everyone, Jesus surveyed the crowd, His face unreadable for a moment, she caught a flash of anger as his gaze came to rest on the men accusing her.  He waited for them to speak their judgment against her, then paused for a moment as He considered her, after which He bent down and began to write something in the dirt.  Her heart sank as she realized this man read her like a farmer reads the weather.  Her one talent besides what had brought her to this place was reading men, which wasn’t all that hard to do, for they wore their lust always beneath the surface, though some were better than others at disguising it. 

What disturbed her and eventually alarmed her in that instant of recognition was she could read no lust whatsoever in His look, only pity, sadness and something she had never seen before in anyone’s face:  an longing that had nothing to do with her body or what He could get out of it.  Could it be He actually wanted to give her something without asking for her to pay with her pride? 

No, no, no!  Men didn’t do that nor could they, for their hunger for her always overwhelmed their desire to rescue.  She couldn’t read so she had no idea what He was writing in the dust, and she sensed rather than saw the agitation it caused her captors, but whatever the reason (whether the content or the fact that Jesus seemed to ignore them) it bothered them a lot.  They persisted He give them an answer, the frustration in their voices showing they could feel themselves losing control of the situation. 

Jesus let the tension build to an almost unbearable peak, then stood back up and said,  “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Now she was sure He was the most different man she had ever met.  No one would have given a rotten fig to save her life except this man, who didn’t even raise His voice or argue the merits of forgiveness over judgment.  This one question stalemated the trap and set her on the road to a different outcome, she dould feel it.  She made herself keep her eyes on the ground, though she couldn’t help noticing the oldest of the teachers struggling in fury and helplessness, his face red with indignation, defeat and grudging admiration.

He left first, shoulders slumped and slinking away through the crowd.  Then one by one the others left the same way, and as the older ones disappeared, the younger more excitable men began to see their credibility melting away, which left them exposed, out numbered and lost as to do.  None of them stuck around too long, though, until soon she was standing relatively alone with Jesus in front of her still writing on the ground and the crowd looking on in both admiration and consternation, wondering what He would do.  Would Jesus actually declare her innocent?  Would He pronounce her guilt then excuse it?  Or would He stand in the place of God to forgive her like He’d done that guy in Capernaum?

When He stood up, dusting off His hands and looking around in sardonic amusement, she noticed both the sadness again and a look of satisfaction.  For the first time she mustered up the courage to glance around her and found no one even looking at her except  to dart between the two of them, but their eyes always fixed back on Jesus, waiting for His reaction.  For His part He was quietly studying her without giving a clue as to what He would do next—or may be she just couldn’t read the expression on His face to know what they meant.  She sensed He understood timing better than anybody ever had since He let the silent expectation of the crowd build again into something like them sitting on the edge of their mental seats.

Jesus’ next question sent a thrill of hope shooting up and down her spine.  “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”

You must excuse her amusement mixed with relief in her answer because no one had ever won an argument with the men who brought her here before without shouting them down or threatening them.  So she answered,  “No one, sir.”

The relief at being let off the hook, suddenly turned to surging joy and conviction at Jesus’ final declaration,  “Then neither do I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin.”

No one gave people like her a second chance for the teachers of the law and Pharisees believed the curse of their sin couldn’t be broken, which meant the filth of her sin would cling to her even if she repented.  Sure, her reputation would gain some by repentence, but she would still be considered unclean and no man would ever touch her again, her life would remain fractured, her children unclean because of her past.  Yet here was this man doing just that.

For a long while all she could do was stand there silently looking into His face, the tears began to flow down her cheeks, the flood growing stronger and stronger as the damn held inside years burst from the joy of forgiveness as well as the weight of her guilt.  Suddenly her knees buckled and she found herself weeping uncontrollably at His feet, aching with all her heart to grab them and hold on for dear life, but afraid her touch would be rejected.  She felt filthy in His presence, at the same time cleansed and whole for the first time in her life; loved beyond her ability to grasp and valued for more than the pleasure her body offered—in fact, her value had nothing whatsoever to do with that at all.  It was only her.

The look in Jesus’ eyes (what she could see of it through her torrent of tears) said it all.  Compassion washing over her and elevating her above her past left her limp as a wet rag—which, considering the tears still streaming down her face to soak her simple garment, was a description not all that far off.

He had told her to go, but she didn’t feel safe anywhere else or with anyone else and knew she would never be able to leave her old life behind if she left His side.  Without touching Him physically (the conditioning of the rabbis’ traditions affecting her grasp of reality for the moment), she clung to His presence with a ferocity that bordered on the extreme.  Hope flooded her being, though it had no goal or object to anchor it besides Him.

If she had been able to see the crowd’s expressions, she would have seen utter amazement, for sure, but something else as well.  A dawning of what Jesus of Nazareth stood for began to fill the faces of even the most hardened person in the crowd.  Some faces grew disapproving, many others found joy as they realized here was One to whom all sin could be shown without condemnation.  Comprehension of what this would mean only enlightened a few, but the consequences of what it would bring to Israel’s economy if left unchecked thunder struck everyone.

Without denying she was a sinner or the gravity of her sin, Jesus declared her forgiven, giving her a new lease on life.  The dark path she took with its degrading social constraints and outcast labels, fell away to reveal light not  at the end of a long tunnel. instead she stood in the mouth of the cave she either entered on her own or someone pushed her into without her consent.  Knowing her condition as hopeless before this, Jesus’ pronouncement of freedom left her speechless for a time until the words began to gush out of her in praise and love.

The innocence lost had been found; the condemnation deserved became a reprieve; the convicted, certainly,  but the guilt drained away.  Nothing but the loving words of Jesus remained.

Jesus Makes His Point

October 23, 2009

At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and He sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.  John 8:1-11

First, I must say again, the NIV that I have states that  “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.”  That’s rather interesting to me.  I wondered where it came from and why it’s here.  Then I checked with Jerome, one of my pastors, who is both a Hebrew and Greek scholar, and he told me that the earliest manuscript found in recent years (I believe within the last ten) have a complete set of the other gospels and most of the book of John along with some of the other NT books intact from the late first century or early second.  He says what we have as content in the current NT manuscripts were confirmed by this find.  So it looks like some of the church fathers, after the initial disciples of the apostles, questioned the validity of this story then pulled it.  But if the earliest manuscript found has it in there, it must belong.

Second, Jesus came back to the temple to teach and the leaders decided to trap Him with this adulterous woman ploy.  Once again, I’ll mention the fact that if they caught the woman, where was the man?  Both were supposed to be there and somehow the adulterous guy just mysteriously disappeared?  He either was a plant and helped set her up, or everyone knew he’d been visiting this woman so the leaders blackmailed him somehow for the sake of messing with Jesus.  It could have been a windfall situation for them that they hadn’t expected which they decided to exploit for the moment.  We already know they weren’t allowed to condemn anyone to death for only the Romans could do this.  Whatever the case, they were setting Him up to trap Him.

It seems to me that the only reason they knew they could set Him up must have been His policy and behavior towards sinners.  Jesus hung out with people of all ranks and styles without them feeling condemned in His presence—convicted though, I’m sure, because He was pure and sinless, but He loved them so they felt safe.  Since He taught about mercy, the Pharisees and leaders considered it a good method of teaching Him a lesson about their power and intelligence or else this would discredit Him in the eyes of the public.

No one knows what Jesus wrote on the ground about or if He just doodled.  It doesn’t matter really, the results were the same.  By doing this He allowed all the accusers to think about their actions that day—if they were guilty of instigating adultery, by inference they sinned with the woman and man involved.  Jesus guessed their intentions without worrying about their methods.

But it’s how Jesus handled the woman that facinates me.  He gently asked her about her state of being. “Has anyone condemned you?”  No. “So go now and leave your life of sin.” 

My first thought about Jesus at this point would have be gratitude beyond belief.  If Bonhoffer is right and Jesus mere presence allowed deity to shine through His humanity, many saw it and probably feared it until He told them,  “Then neither do I condemn you…”  God spoke through Him to this woman and gave her hope. 

She was used by men.  No one, of course, knows how she got there, whether it was her doing or someone else’s.  Whatever the case, she was in a bad way with no way out and no way to make a new life for herself or her children.  You didn’t think of that did you?  No contraceptives, folks, and she was an adulterous woman and may be even a prostitute.  Her sexual tendancies may not have kept her married but I’m sure it produced children.

What must it have been like to stand there waiting for the stones to start flying?  In her guilt she knew she deserved what was coming with no hope of reprieve or rescue.  The Romans wouldn’t bother about a whore’s death nor question the right of the Jews to kill her.  I’m guessing that’s why the man wasn’t there to stand trial as well, for the Jews knew the Romans wouldn’t allow a man to be put to death without their ok, but a woman didn’t matter to them.  Her heart sank in front of that crowd where all the faces were set in distaste and condemnation.

Our current society has been “liberated” from the sexual gias of past customs.  We don’t relate to this kind of thinking without the gut reaction of “how backward!” or anger at their utter disregard for human value.  In her world, the best this woman could expect was that men wouldn’t be too rough or that she could win a wealthy paramour to support her while he used her body for pleasure.  She had to know what the men who brought her to Jesus were up to, for people talk without being aware of their servants and those around them they look upon as inferior listening, so it stands to reason she knew her presence was but a means to an end for these men.  In their self-righteousness I doubt they even considered the possibility of Jesus being able to knock holes in their carefully constructed plan.

As she stood there waiting for Jesus’ verdict, His silence must have made her curious after a while—especially when she noticed certain voices calling for an answer growing silent as well.  I’m pretty sure she looked up in surprise when the first of her accusors slipped away—or more likely, slinked away out of embarrassment and shame.  Her gaze fixed on the ground as it was doesn’t mean she couldn’t look from side to side out of the corner of her eyes or see Jesus doodling on the ground in front of her.  If she could read, which is highly doubtful, then she understood what He was writing; if not, then she could read the signs of a man skilled at debate.

He just let the question hang there like some elephant in the room, daring anyone to deny it:  “Are any of you without sin?”

Either she was a victim or a perpetrator.  Women in her day held little place in society but some were clever enough to hold over men the very thing they craved the most–sex.  She could use her sex to get what she wanted.  Nothing tells us how successful she was at this but somehow she got caught.  Tradition has it that it was Mary of Magdala, though really no one knows because John showed discretion by not identifying her at all.  The reason for this discretion?  She might have been still alive somewhere and he didn’t want to hurt her or cause her social pain.

The Master looks up finally after all the men leave and asks in apparent surprise (at least I think He would have done it this way),  “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  In those words hope flared up in her heart for the first time since being dragged into the temple courts.  In fact, she might have known some of the very men condemning her as patrons, so she knew they couldn’t throw a rock at her, but the others who were older, reportedly wiser and more righteous, surely they would have the means of condemning her.  But as they left, a truth dawned on not only her understanding but everyone in the crowd as well, these men were not sinless nor righteous enough to condemn anyone.  The very voices crying out for justice were themselves guilty of sin and deserving of punishment.

Jesus looks at us all bruised and bleeding from the words others have hurled at us and asks,  “Do you want to be well?”  Then He waits while we sort this out.  God’s way is the best way because only He offers life.  When we agree to let Him heal us, He takes the most thorough route.  To heal burn victims we must debris the skin by peeling back the burnt skin and letting the raw unburned skin underneath grow to be the new outer layer.  This takes sometimes weeks depending on how bad the burns are.  It’s extremely painful and tedious for the patient.  God heals us by taking this path because we need to experience some of the natural consequences of sin in order for us to hate it.

I love this story so much because it shows the Jesus we all serve at His most noble and kind.  The God of heaven who declared the law from a mountain came to earth to show mercy and grace.  So why did He give the law?  To help us understand how debilitating sin is and how much it offends Him.  Sin is a disease and hazardous to our health.  Sin is a choice against God, which in essence is a choice against what life is meant to be.

Notice something else.  Those who accused her left by order of age, the oldest to the youngest.  Why did John mention this?  I think it’s because young people can be rash and over confident in their zeal and self-awareness.  Older people can fall into this trap too but experience teaches us something about the necessity of being real.  They realized before the younger guys just how foolish they were going to look if they continued on their course.  They were looking for an argument and got one—an irrefutable one.  Jesus didn’t debate the issue with them the way they expected but simply asked them to put up or shut up.

They wisely shut up and walked away.

All of us are in the place of the adulterous woman for one sin or another before God’s judgment seat.  The difference between our state and that of the teachers of the law and Pharisees is whether or not we are covered by the blood of reconiliation.  We stand condemned for our past and present, God offers mercy, grace and forgiveness through His Son, which none of us deserve.

So why do we tend to throw rocks at others? 

For a variety of reasons, but mostly because we think ourselves better than those we are condemning, while in God’s eyes we all stand to lose without His Son’s pardon.  In the measure we give, we will receive; the judgment we give will be returned to us in a harder measure.  Our ability to judge means we understand what is right and wrong, which means when we sin, we have no excuse and our condemnation will be deserved more readily.

If we choose mercy over condemnation, we will receive it also, pressed down, shaken together and running over.  Mercy, forgiveness, grace and love produced faith in Jesus for that woman I have no doubt.  I know it does for me.

A Story that Oughta’ Be

October 15, 2009

(The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.)  NIV translation team.

Which means, of course, the story might not even be true if I catch their drift correctly.  In the years since I first read this footnote above John 8 I’ve been chewing on the possibilities and wondering what to do with the story in the context of Scripture.  You see, it doesn’t really stand out as false in the scheme of the gospel that Jesus would show such grace to someone like this woman, nor does it seem out of character that the priests and Pharisees would stoop to using a known situation to trap Him.

They had to have known about this woman’s situation for at least a little while, otherwise they wouldn’t have caught her in the act, but here’s the question that should have been asked in the story and wasn’t:  Who and where was the man in this little tryst trap?

These men had an obligation to the law to bring both parties to justice, especially in the case of adultery for it couldn’t be just one person who committed the sin since it takes two to have sex—excluding masturbation.  The fact they only brought the woman suggests the man was someone known to them, one of their number or the woman was a prostitute.  Tradition makes her into a prostitute, which could explain some of her guilt but wouldn’t necessarily shrug off the elephant in the room:  where was the man?

One of the arguments for bringing just the woman, of course, was that women were expendable in ancient society somwhat.  The Jews were forbidden by Roman law to condemn any man to death but that just means women weren’t included in the prohibition unless they were rich and powerful.  Thus, we have at least one explanation as to why only a woman was brought to stand trial in front of Jesus.  The way Moses wrote the law down, however,  meant the Jews were supposed to take her to either her father’s house and stone her on his doorstep, or to the man’s house where she sinned and both were to be killed.  Since they couldn’t condemn the man to death without Roman approval, and adultery wasn’t a crime the Romans generally considered worthy of capital punishment, they could take her outside the city or anywhere they wanted and deal with it there.

So we’ve addressed a couple of the questions I have about the story, but these questions don’t answer why it was included in the canon later or even if it was part of the original and someone removed it.  In the first century copy of the gospel of John only the first chapter and some fragments of later pages survived, if my memory serves me correctly.  This means we don’t have a clear idea if the story is valid or not.

In my POV it’s the story that ought to be true; it ought to be included in the gospel story.  The message of mercy for the sinner and rescue for the weak permeates the gospels as a continuous thread, so this one story doesn’t stand out as false, at least from a plot stance.  If it isn’t true, it ought to be.  Preferences aside, however, the story of a sinful woman condemned to die makes the message is clear:  Jesus didn’t come to condemn but to save.

Since we don’t know, we’ll assume it is true and move on.

What to Believe?

October 14, 2009

On hearing His words, some of the people said,  “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Others said,  “He is the Christ.”

Still others asked,  “How can the Christ come from Galilee?  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.  Some wanted to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him.  John 7:40-44.

It’s important to notice details in Scripture because the details many times reveal things that flavors our understanding of what we’re reading.  For instance, John tells us the people were divided because of Jesus not just for the story to be accurate but to remind us He came to bring a sword that would divide those who sought God with all their hearts from those who merely acknowledged Him.  Where Jesus enters the picture for anyone, division rules the day—not because their growth in righteousness causes this but because of those who stand against what Jesus taught.

Why?  Why do we see such a polarization around Christ?

I believe it’s in part due to His demand for holiness, yes, but it grows more whacked than that into our reluctance to give over our whole being to God.  We desperately want “all this and heaven too” to quote my brother.

Again, some set out to take Him by force and arrest Him, but the timing wasn’t right so no one could lay a hand on Him.

Which brings us the fact the temple guards gave for not arresting Him once they returned to the rulers and Pharisees:  “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”  Jesus’ words held them spellbound, captivated and they lost all motivation to take Him in by force.  I know it sounds ludicrous they would arrest a man just for teaching in the temple, but such was the day when those in power could incarcerate anyone they chose for sneezing the wrong way in their presence.  Many rulers killed those who annoyed them on just a whim without forethought or any regret.

The rulers sneered at the temple guards for believing or even being affected by Jesus.  Yet notice they didnt’ go hear the man themselves because I think they were afraid of His power.  Enough of them had been brought down in debates with Jesus they were a little afraid to either confront Him or listen.  Were they worried He could convince them or just keep them at bay?  I don’t know.  What I do see in this example of their sneering denial is false bravado and distance.  These men kept themselves at a distance, insulated so they wouldn’t be tainted.  Many of them hadn’t even met Jesus much less heard Him speak, so their analysis was based on remote calculations rather than first hand experience.

This type of person doesn’t scare me half so much as those who hear the words of God on a regular basis but still harden themselves to its message.

Nicodemus rebuked their condemnation of Jesus by pointing out the law forbade them to do so without a hearing.  They weren’t allowed to condemn anyone without hearing the pros and cons of the case in person.  But look at their response,  “Are you from Galilee, too?  Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  This argument didn’t hold water at all and they knew it because Jesus didn’t come from Galilee but Nazareth in the hill country.  Plus, the rumors of His birth were already circulated, I’m sure by this time, so His origins would have been pretty well established.  If nothing else, these men should have asked Him to come to a confab in order to explore both His origins and message to discover the truth.  Then, if they were impressed by the personal evidence, all they would have had to do is get witnesses to His birthplace, story and education.

Instead they denied Him any right to the name messiah.  Why?  Because He came out of nowhere in their estimation?  Was it due to His poor background?  Was it because He didn’t belong to any of their sects or religious schools?

No, I think these things were just excuses for keeping the Christ at bay.  They wanted a messiah to conquer the oppressors of Israel and put them in power not change their hearts, which was a mistake.  The problem with sin is the craving for it after a while.  We get so used to our present reality we forget that it’s temporary and transient.  We actually begin to believe God wants us to remain here and in this condition—albeit glorified and somewhat righteous—without a cataclysmic change, and nothing could be further from the truth.

God’s work of salvation has nothing to do with earthly power in the sense of conquering nations or establishing kings, though He does this regularly, rather His purpose for us is to give us dominion over the heart of us.  The greatest power on earth is not the one which rules others but that which rules the inner being.  Our inability to be self-controlled should warn us about our mistaken goals when it comes to developing the “perfect” church or picture of God on earth, for this is impossible in our present condition—dual natures at war.

Another thing these men refused to explore or acknowledge was Jesus’ connections.  First, both His parents were descendants of David.  Second, He was related by marriage or heritage to the priestly line of Aaron because Zechariah was John the Baptist’s dad, a priest who served in the holy of holies, which means he was of the line of Aaron.  Since Elizabeth, John’s mother, was Mary’s, Jesus’ mother, cousin, we see both the prophecies for the messiah fulfilled.  He is the king in the line of David but a priest as well, which means Hebrews 7 calling Him a type of Melchizedek is spot on.

If these men, so eager to dismiss Jesus, had investigated the evidence, they might have taken a step back and been a bit more careful throwing condemnation around.  But they didn’t because they had no desire to understand truth.

And this is a warning, I believe, to us.

Quenching the Thirst

October 9, 2009

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,  “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  John 7:37, 38.

Unlike His earthly counterparts, Jesus really delivers on what He offers.  The sale’s pitch isn’t just about supply, but satisfaction guaranteed.  That is, satisfaction is guaranteed as long as He is what we are looking for. 

John goes on to say:  By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.  Verse 39.

The word “glory” doesn’t denote some surreal light or exalted position exactly but points to the attributes of one’s nature and the things a person habitually does.  We can take from this a couple of things, of course, which point us to the meaning of His glory.  In several places Jesus speaks of the work He did before His death as glorifying the Father and bringing glory to Himself by the Father’s hand.  John’s reference to Jesus being glorified points to His death, resurrection and subsequent ascension into heaven—all things that happened to Him through which His character and purpose shined.  How we glorify Jesus is by honoring Him for what He has done, who He is (meaning His character) and what He continues to do for us.

Humanity is thirsty for a savior.  Today marks the announcements of the Pulitzer prize winners, each and every one of them standouts in their field of study, art or activity.  None of them will save the world in the way Jesus does or will do at His return.  Yet at the moment they are looked on as possible saviors of the world; people who will, by their efforts, change the course of history and bring about peace.  Unfortunately, all these prizes glorifying human efforts refuse to take into account one small factor which prevents us from having that peace:  our fallen nature.  To deny our tendency toward violence is to deny reality.  In the 19th century there was a great cry for education of the masses, thinking that knowledge would solve crime, bring about prosperity for all and stop wars.  All the while these very voices either ignored or were blind to the fact that most wars were brought on by the highly educated of the day fighting over land, love or greed.  Today our populace in America an Europe is the most educated in the history of the world—even our poorest have access to knowledge in a way no other culture has.  Education hasn’t solved our problems with crime or violence.

Humanity is thirsty for the water Jesus offers.  What they drink instead makes them drunk and even more thirsty, sorta’ like hard liquor, which makes them angry and more dissatisfied.  Any acclaimed truth which doesn’t solve the riddle of the human being natural tendency for greed, selfish ambition, violence, etc, subtracts the one thing that will bring peace on earth good will among mankind.

Jesus promises here that those who believe in Him will have a well of water flowing out of them.  It doesn’t sound like an external solution, does it?  That’s because it’s not.  Jesus changes us from the inside which then changes the world around us by the influence we have over it.

I’m thirsty for a Life, a Way, and Truth.  I want to be able to live a full life with no regrets with a clear path to travel and know that what I believe is pure truth.  Christ offers this as no other does.

Things that Made Them Go “Hmmm?”

October 7, 2009

The Jews said to one another,  “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find Him?  Will He go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?  What did He mean when He said,  ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and where I am, you cannot come’?”  John 7:35, 36.

Much of our common problem on earth is being earthbound not only because of gravity but in how we think as well.  When we do get inventive, it tends toward the fantastic as in Superman, Elves, other worlds, Star Wars, etc, for we crave the supernatural even while doing our best to deny it.  Their question lacked any sense of understanding the Christ’s mission—or at the very least, Jesus’ take on it.  The myopia which dominates most cultures effectively eliminates people’s scope and grasp of reality.  Belief is a dangerous thing when it is placed in the limited understanding of an invented culture.

Religion is not God or even a god but the practice of an ethic or teaching surrounding the supposed instructions of a god or, in the case of Judeo/Christian tradition, the God.  Yet even here we can become so narrow in our scope that the big wide universe of God’s creation escapes us.  What’s even worse is our complete distaste for the truth once we establish or grab onto what we want to believe.  Those who give themselves over to a lie will resent the truth as falsehood when it shines a light on their mistaken POV to the point of snuffing it out where possible.

The Pharisees of all people should have grasped the supernatural implications of Jesus’ speach and at least considered it as a possible meaning for what He was trying to tell them.  Instead they were all so earthbound they couldn’t even imagine anything outside their scope of options, having eliminated anything else as a waste of time.  So their immediate response was to pick a familiar enough target where He could go without them following (or wanting to most likely) and apply this as a possible meaning.  Here we have Jesus speaking of the things of God and these men of God cannot think outside their own box long enough to consider heaven might be the answer to their question.

The point is for me that God is far bigger than I’m willing to allow Him to be in my perspective.  Humility in the Christ follower, however, demands we see God as bigger than our ability to imagine or grasp.  Anything else is bringing God down to our grime-fogged universe which loses much of the truth in translation.

The illustration I used about bread several months ago applies here.  If we make banna bread without using nutmeg, we don’t have tradional banna bread.  We’ll be missing a key ingredient which defines the truth about the type of bread we are making.  Technically, we still have banana bread if there’s bananas in it the mix, but tastewise we’ll know something’s missing and here’s where it gets a little dicy for most of us.  When we know we don’t have the complete picture, most of us will bully our detractors or smokescreen the truth about our lack.  Some of us are content with a shred of truth instead of using that thread to spur us on to more in depth discoveries.  I’ve seen those who own a piece of truth like they invented it, when in reality, truth is truth outside of our control or ability to make it so.  I’ve also seen those who will defend their limited grasp of truth vehemently to the point of death and feel justified doing so.

Dying for a lie removes any meaning from the death.

This applies to truth in Jesus.  If we miss key ingredients in His teaching, we probably will misinterpret what He says and somewhere in the future end up miles away from the actual direction He intended.  Being one degree off at the starting line doesn’t seem like much but in a mile race it can mean several hundred feet away from the goal.  Clinging tightly to a fact while not completing the picture that kernal of truth needs to be relevant is complete foolishness.

As an experiement, take a square with marked degrees for Geometry and draw 2 points on it 1 foot apart, then mark another point at the same goal line but 2 degrees off.  This will give you some idea how time, chance and space work together in our inability to get it right.

Yet in all this I must confess none of us have complete truth or can even grasp it for the most part.  Our ability to see only through a darkened glass forces us to make the best of a bad situation.  Still, this isn’t a time for despair but one for humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand.  Instead of being humiliated and frustrated, which a place of foolish pride and hardened ignorance, we must develop attitudes of submission.  None of us have the complete picture, so why pretend we do?  If this is true, then being honest about our lack is the only way to solve it.

Jesus is our path, our truth and our very life, everything filters through this foundation.  All the bricks on our spiritual house must be compared to the stone cut out without hands, which became the cornerstone and capstone to our lives.

“Just Where are You Coming From?”

October 5, 2009

“But we know where this man is from, when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out,  “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from.  I am not here on my own, but He who sent me is true.  You do not know Him, but I know Him because I am from Him and He sent me.”  John 7:27-29.

 It’s kinda’ laughable the people would even go there with a rabbi, for it was well known at the time the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.  It goes to show the myths that grow up around certain beliefs don’t necessarily have to match up to the reality of the source.  Yet it also says something of the duality of their grasp of Scripture, for they knew the prophecy spoke of the messiah’s birth in Bethlehem, but still believed in a miraculous, mysterious and wholly magical appearance.

How can I say with confidence they did know?  Well, look at the incident with the magi and Herod.  Herod gets all worked up and calls in the priests from Jerusalem to clarify where this new king would be born, who proceed to quote from the prophet Micah, who named the place long ago.  Also within a verse or two they actually say something to the effect that the Christ will be born in Bethlehem.

Jesus tells them they might know where He’s from on earth but they have no idea about His origins.

The language Jesus uses here fascinates me because His tense in verse 34 is totally set in the present,  “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”  He’s not referring to a later time for Himself but completely the eternal now, though His words for them speak about their future by using the adverb will.  He didn’t say “for where I am going” or “where I will be soon” but “and where I am…”  The God in Him is always eternal, in all time, in all dimensions, in all places and present in every creature.  The man lived in a linear time frame, the God existed outside of time altogether.

This concept is incredibly important to accept, though I doubt any of us can really fathom how it can be, for most of us can barely grasp our own mortality until it happens much less take on the existence of God.  The Jews, of course, knew Jesus’ origins and most likely His story, which is the stuff of legends and the source of many myths.  The world was much smaller before the industrial revolution, and news of the extraordinary would travel like wildfire only in a culture like Israel because of their many gatherings and feast days.

Knowing Jesus’ story, however, doesn’t mean the same thing as knowing His origins.  He declared without fear of deflating the mystery surrounding His life,  “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from.”  The mystery of the incarnation protected the message from scavengers for the most part and those who would use the gospel for profit precisely because it was so hard to reconcile the equal parts (God/Man) of His nature. 

I’ve said this before but it needs to be emphasized again:  God is a master chess player in this war of ideals and no amount of maneuvering on the part of evil will win out in the end.  So the marriage between human flesh and bone with the spirit of God is an impossibility steeped in improbability that would win the day with no counter move but skepticism, subterfuge and lies.

In the end the only other option left for the Jews at this stage besides accepting Him was to arrest and kill Him.  Yet even in this small action they were stalemated until the proper time arrived.  Jesus could not be held or bound until all of His mission was accomplished.

The moral to the story of Jesus, then, is we who believe in Him must follow in His footsteps, which means if we are in His will and subject to His guidance, we too will experience nothing before the timing is right.

Here’s our dilemma, however:  to walk as Jesus did means we must all pass through Calvary, deny our own agenda for that of God’s and steep our hearts and minds in the message of Scripture through prayer and meditation.

If you’ve lived the message for a while, you understand me when I say this is quite a tall order no matter who we are or how far we’ve come.

It’s All One

October 1, 2009

Jesus said to them,  “I did one miracle, and you are all  astonished.  Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath.  Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?  Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.  John 7:21-24.

Ah, now we get the connection again.  Remember back in chapter 5 when Jesus healed the man by the pool on the Sabbath?  What was the result of His kindness?  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Him.

Doesn’t sound very much like they appreciated His actions now does it.  Our key text above has Jesus rebuking the Jews for their misguided zeal—and make no mistake about it, they were zealous for the law, believed in it totally and practiced it ardently, for the most part.  The fact that they completely missed the point of it doesn’t seem to matter to them (or they refused to believe they’d missed anything), and they rather resent Jesus pointing out to them their inconsistency.  Their twisted values give us an example of what the nature of man will do with even righteousness without  love being the fulcrum for it.

The Jews griped that Jesus was working on the Sabbath by healing, because, doctors didn’t work on the Sabbath for the sick, did they?  Sure they did!  In fact, Jesus points out to them later in this very book that they held a double standard:  an animal can be pulled out of a bog or fed on the Sabbath, yet they wouldn’t allow a man to be healed?  That’s just crazy.

The real reason they persecuted Him was because they just didn’t like Jesus.

Have you ever had someone who claimed they loved and liked you but treated you like you didn’t matter or as if you couldn’t do anything right?  A person’s words must line up with their actions or their words are suspect.

Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher in His home town’s Synagogue, which means His platform for teaching the law and prophets was set up for Him.  The Jews didn’t like His power or teaching so decided to discredit Him, and every effort brought them more chagrine if not outright throwing egg on their faces.  They looked like fools for opposing Jesus, so they opted to kill Him instead.  This trend is common to human nature.  A cause not balanced by perspective will always end with someone being hurt unnecessarily.

A few years ago Portland had some demonstrators against the Iraq war begin breaking windows downtown and destroying public property—and this was a peace rally!  How in the world does that kind of behavior demonstrate peace?  It doesn’t because it’s completely incompatible with the nature of the peace process.  Now I’m not saying that sometimes we don’t need war to gain peace, far from it, violent men can only be stopped by violent opposition.  Yet peaceful people know the boundaries of violent behavior, for they stop their violence in defense of the helpless the moment the aggressor either backs off or is vanquished.

My point is that because of this mentality in humans the Jews couldn’t merely leave Jesus alone but had to kill Him.  They couldn’t let Him have His opinion and ride out the wave of public enthusiasm until His popularity died or whatever, they had to oppose and silence Him.  In their judgment He was endangering their whole system of law and order by preaching a message targeted at the heart.  Nowhere in the law did it say a man could not be healed or helped on the Sabbath, it was tradition based on rabbinical analysis which drew this conclusion.  Jesus’ opposition offended those who wrote the book on the legalistic doctrines of the day, so they decided to kill this heritic.

We might see their actions as extreme, yet if we put ourselves in their shoes for a moment, we can see that we hold our own POV and “doctrines” with the same tenacity they did—and a lot of the same reactions too, though I doubt very many of us would resort to murder to silence someone.  No, we use social means to keep a voice down.  Instead of studying a subject thoroughly to find out the truth, to then accept or reject as we see it align with Scripture, we cut them off without a trial because they don’t fit into our understanding.

I’m pretty sure this is what Jesus meant when He said,  “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.”