Archive for February, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

February 26, 2010

Then Jesus cried out,  “When a man believes in me, he does not believe me only, but in the one who sent me.  When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  John 12:44-46.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  Of course we take that to be a literal thing, so in our minds whatever Jesus looked like in physical form is what God looks like physically…only the Father is spirit, outside our dimension and wholly other to us.  Jesus is speaking not so much metaphorically but about a different characteristic of Himself than His incidental physical makeup.

He told Nicodemus,  “God is spirit…those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth…for these are the kind of worshipers the Father desires.”

If God is spirit without a physical reference in our dimension, then we are safe to conclude that Jesus was speaking about something in His makeup other than the physical reality we see.  What else can we look at through Scripture and those in His time on earth could see?  His works of kindness, mercy, grace, healing and the like.  The miracles, the clear teaching, the realignment of Scripture which takes the misdirection of the teachers of the Law and rabbinical interpretations and turns them on their ears.

We cannot separate the Godhead.  In other words, those who say things like,  “That’s the Old Testement God, Jesus is the New Testement” forget the Scriptures say “God is the same, yesterday, today and forever” and also that Paul’s declaration about all Scripture is God breathed points to Old Testement Scriptures because there were no New Testement Scriptures since the apostles were in the process of writing them at the time.

So when Jesus declares above that believing in Him directly corrolates to believing in the Father, we lose the disconnect between OT and NT.  I’m approaching this from the back side of Jesus’ argument, however, for the Jews believed in God the Father but rejected Jesus.  Jesus argument above attempted to redirect their thinking into seeing the truth of who He was in relation to God.  We have a similar problem in modern Christianity where we make Jesus the nice God and the Father the stern disciplinarian who waits in eager anticipation to throw lightning bolts at sinners.  Jesus dispels this notion several times throughout the book of John by claiming a total unity with the Father.  If they are one, then the heart of one is the heart of the other; the desires of the one mirrors the desires of the other.

So what is Jesus saying we should be looking at in order to see the Father then?

Light.  Jesus came to shed light on the world concerning God.  God’s intentions were being skewed and misrepresented by the very nation called to be His representatives.  They were so far off base they killed His Son.  Not a good testimony of their faith, wouldn’t you say?  In my opinion, however, our modern Christian outlook is no different for we ignore Scripture where it disagrees with our want and trumpet the ones that say what we like the most.  In doing this we declare we don’t trust God to be right about everything.

If there are Scriptures we don’t understand or seem confusing, it isn’t Scripture that has the problem, it’s us.  I’ve come across texts that leave me baffled and thought may be someone had written in an addition or made a mistake in the script, only to find out later that I had a blockage in my grasp of God.  Jesus came to reveal the invisible God; He is the physical manifestation of the spirit God.  If we truly believe this, then we can look at the whole of the Bible and find our Master in the message.

Jesus is the filter for the OT.  Through Him, we see the message in a new light and gain an understanding of what it means to know God in Spirit and in truth.  This means that those who read the Scripture without the filter of Christ will be led into all sorts of false conclusions, rabbit trails and be unable to see God clearly, if at all.  Jesus sheds light on who God is by showing us not only miraculous power but compassion beyond anything humans have ever displayed.  It’s one of the reasons even antagonists to the gospel message don’t criticize Jesus directly most of the time but attack the source of the gospels or writings.  There’s nothing in Jesus to call “evil” so they must resort to disparaging it as a myth or tall tale.

Christ shown a light on the world, which revealed the sharp contrast between human and divine nature, through Him and Him alone will the world truly see.

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More of the Same

February 25, 2010

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him.  John 12:37.

 It’s telling, wouldn’t you say, that these people refused to put their faith in Jesus?  John gives two reasons why this happened from Scripture, both from Isaiah, who tells us they became blind because God hardened their hearts.  For a long time this offended and puzzled me because I couldn’t understand why He would do such a thing on purpose.  Then as I began to study more I realized that God’s mere presence causes us to accept or reject Him based on our inner desires.  In other words, we all will be put through the fire of God’s presence one way or another, that fire will harden our resolve for whatever we desire most—for or against Him.

After pointing out the unbelief of the Jews as a whole, John claims many even in the leadership came believe and have faith in Jesus, but they still wouldn’t stand up or be counted for fear of the Pharisees.  Why?  Because they loved praise from men more than praise from God.  These people believed in the miracles, accepted Jesus’ testimony but refused to stand up for Him in public because they would be put out of the synagogue.  What does that mean?  They would lose their heritage, standing in the community and place in society; every single one of those things based on the praise of men.

Yet what did Jesus declare earlier about this very issue?  “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Those who fear the ridicule of others will fold when the fire gets too hot in the human tea kettle.  It’s not for nothing Proverbs says,  The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.  We are not meant to take the fire on our own, that’s why whenever we attempt to do so we fail.  We are to be surrounded by God’s protective presence, for He alone will preserve our lives in the hour of trial.

Are you getting the theme of John?  Almost every chapter deals with the issue of acceptance by God versus acceptance by humans.  The contrast is put in stark relief so we can see it in black and white.  We must grow in our loyalty to God where we stand for Him and Him alone, no holds barred, no compromise, and no facades.  Nothing is more important than this truth:  We must hate the life the world provides so much that we would rather die than give up the promise of Jesus.  If we gain wealth from the Master’s hand, we rejoice; if we lose everything the world deems as vital, we rejoice in our wealth in Christ.  A man who has lost it all from the very beginning cannot be manipulated with what he doesn’t lust after.

The hate we have for what the world values does not extend the people themselves but only to their gods.  We cannot call security what they call “security” for their system is founded on human nature not God’s Word.  We see constantly how human nature works, yet we continue to have faith in human systems as if the statistics have changed.  No world government, system of wealth or social dogma has lasted except one:  one will win, the other lose.  The human system doesn’t provide for everyone because it’s based on scrambling for savings accounts and hording toys.  God’s system harks back to Eden where everything was already in place for us all we had to do was care for and live in it.

Jesus came to restore all things.  Those who cling to the praise of men as if it will somehow keep them safe, will find no security in it.  Those who choose God’s praise will find contentment and peace.

The Voice of God

February 24, 2010

The a voice came from heaven,  “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.  John 12:28b, 29.

We don’t get to hear the voice as it thundered.  We don’t get to see the dove descend on His head and a voice testify “This is my Son, whom I love!” to convince us of the truth.  We don’t get to see the miracles as they completely wow the crowds or watch in amazement as impossible things happen…like walking on water.  We only have the testimony of those who saw or did these things.

The Greeks who came probably fell to their knees in awe, though I can’t speak to the trut of that, it just seems appropriate somehow.

Yet Jesus continued by speaking to the crowd in a most disconcerting way.

Jesus said,  “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on the world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

Jesus already knew His Father approved of Him.  Hours of meditation and prayer, the evidence of the miracles and a host of other things made it kinda’ hard for Him not to notice.

The prince of this world has been Satan, the accuser of the brothers.  By the very method Satan would use to silence Jesus’ voice and defeat Him, God would bring about salvation.  The world would stand judged by their rejection of a man who did no harm.  By condemning Jesus without cause the world proved its heart toward God and righteousness.  Jesus committed no crime, sought no rebellion nor did He seek to build a power-base for Himself that He might take over the governments of the world, yet they killed Him anyway because He seemed to be a temporary inconvenience.

The crowd knew exactly what kind of death He spoke of and rebuked Him,  “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say,  ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?  Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

It’s kinda telling that they couldn’t see what was in front of their eyes nor trust what they had just heard.  Like their forefathers at Sinaii they were hard of hearing and slower of heart to believe.  Jesus stood there as a stark contrast to everything they knew to be normal because He raised the dead, healed the sick and they couldn’t doubt now that He fed thousands from a just a small amount of food.  The Law spoke of manna from heaven being provided by God, yet though they witnessed His power, they still doubted and asked “who is this Son of Man?”.

What they couldn’t see, for they were blinded by the world’s dust, is that the Christ would suffer, die, rise again and remain forever an example of God’s salvation and love for the world.  They were ignoring the light while they had it, straining to witness instead the circus act of Jesus without any commitment to what it meant to believe.  The voice thundered in response to Him, everyone who witnessed it said so, and yet they still had no idea who the Son of Man would be.

God understands our condition and state on earth.  Belief is tough when the world stands against everything and the organized church plays politics within the body and in the world governments.  It’s hard to believe something so fantastic as the gospel in a setting such as this.  We don’t get to hear the voices and see the miracles, so it’s understandable we might struggle with faith.

Yet, what if we did witness all these things?  What would we do then, accept and follow Him?  Most of us can barely do that now, what would be different then?

If we can’t trust the teachings or the change in a person’s life as evidence for the truth, miraculous signs will not convince us any better.  Both require a leap in faith; both require we reach beyond our understanding of the norms and accept Him with a whole heart.

The Hour

February 23, 2010

Jesus replied,  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Again, we must note that timing is everything to God, for He sets up these specific things to be road signs for those who would follow after and to bolster the faith of anyone needing to be reassured.

 Jesus uses the word “glorified” in a most peculiar way.  In this context we know it refers to His imminent death, which doesn’t sound much like glory to most of us, I reckon.  The word used in the Greek is doxaso which means to honor or extol.  In this context it means that through His death God will bring Christ’s glory to light.  The very reasoning of it sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  How can one be honored through a humiliating death like the cross?

Today so many people wear the cross as a symbol of coolness, sexiness or just an ornament among other ornaments.  We have lost the humiliation of that death, for anyone hung on a tree was considered cursed by God per the Law and the teachers of Jesus’ age.  Thus when Jesus pronounced that He would be lifted up the Jews reacted incredulous.  At the same time, many play with the dramatic nature of His death wringing every drop of blood, pain and humility out of it to move the hearts of their listeners.  I don’t object to either being done because I’m not that concerned with drama nor am I gonna’ get all tied up in knots about blaspheme.  My point here is that God is using that chess master brilliance again. 

What we would have thought as defeat, God used to win.  What we would never have imagined as a good tactic, God used as His ace in the hole.  What we would have considered to be the worst possible plan, God designed as His main goal from before the foundations of the world.

Why?

The kingdom of heaven isn’t built around a grab for power but submission through faith to His love.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

We see more often than not people looking at these verses glassy eyed and unaware of what they signify.  Jesus used His own creation to illustrate how life would be restored to us.  Contrary to some opinions He isn’t recommending esthetic living or monastic isolation here, instead He’s showing that through the most innocuous, lowly and degrading circumstance known to mankind God would produce fruit so far beyond the investment it would boggle the mind.

Through a childless couple, God brought a great nation.  Through an old man, past his prime, along with a wife long past her child bearing years, God made many people.  All through the history of God’s people He raised up the most dubious and likely to fail as His heroes, then glorified Himself through these weak vessels.  The world laughed at their efforts until God started to act.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

To the cross on through to life eternal.  I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, our cross is not some burden we drag around with us as a sign of godliness or God’s testing of us.  The cross signified one thing and one thing only:  death.  When we take up our cross, we die to everything we could be for this world’s sake and move to a higher calling.  What comes with this may leave us without any worldly means to accomplish what God has in mind for us, but that’s the beauty of it.  Through our weakness His strength is made perfect.  Gideon, a coward, youngest son and least likely to succeed takes on an army of 100,000 with 300.  The odds against him succeeding?  333.33/1 against.  Do the math.  This means every soldier in Gideon’s army had to slay or rout over 300 men on their own to win the battle.

God’s ways take what’s impossible for us and make it happen.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name!”  John 12:23-28a.

His heart was troubled?  He was sad, afraid, and vulnerable in this moment.  He didn’t want to die on a cross.  He saw all the examples along the main road into Jerusalem of kind of death it was, so there could be no fantasy about a noble death for Him.  It would be slow, agonizing and humiliating—the latter because everyone passing by would throw rocks, mock or shake their heads in shame.  The Jews knew the Law cursed anyone hung on a tree so those on a cross must have been pretty evil to get put there, in their opinion.

Jesus, however, answers His own question with an affirmative “yes!” to God.  He knew the scorn and pain coming would bring glory to God for it would take that which should be a defeat and turn it into an eternal victory.

The lesson for today is:  Stop looking to human methods for success.  I’m not saying God hasn’t ordained hard work, vigilance and dedication to one’s duties as a good method, but we need to recognize the message of the cross reminds us that succeeding in God’s eyes may not bring worldly profit.  Our reward in Christ is far more complex and satisfying in the long run than mere money or acclaim.  We receive a life without the need to fight for a place, scramble for shelter or sweat for food.  Isn’t this what the world promises wealth will bring? 

We have a higher calling, one which will lead us to success through humility and loss.  In the end, however, we gain a crown of life, for those who follow Jesus will be where He is…

From East and West

February 22, 2010

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request,  “Sir”  they said,  “we would like to see Jesus.”  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.  John 12:20-22.

Many from the East and West will seek Jesus.  These men were not allowed in the main temple area most likely because they were first generation gentile believers, meaning if they were third generation, they would be considered Jews no matter what their heritage.  These men wanted to meet the one who raised the dead.  Though John doesn’t record their reasons necessarily, Jesus’ reputation would have attracted them to seek Him out.

It’s strange how when a person is hungry for God he or she is able to see more clearly the evidence for His work in the world many times.  What I mean is when we are full of our own importance in the kingdom or just full to the point of spiritual gluttony, we tend to get either exclusive or lazy.  The Greeks here were hungry for a God who wasn’t a more powerful human or temperamental godling.  Jesus supplied this type of God in both His teaching and life.

It’s also strange how we sometimes believe that preaching is the main form of spreading the gospel when it is the change of a person’s life that displays the fruit of the Spirit.  Try as we might we cannot get away with calling ourselves “Christians” without growing to resemble Christ.  In the fruits Paul lists in Galatians 5:22, 23 we only see attitude and action changes yet not one notation about doctrinal accuracy or preaching.  Evangelism is preaching the Word of God, yes, but for it to be authoritative it absolutely has to be followed by a change in one’s life.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The Greeks who sought out the Master did so because they heard about His glory, the life He lived of service, healing, sound teaching and great power, and they wanted to become His followers.  They were anxious to know the one who could stop a storm with a word of command, who raised the dead and fed thousands from next to nothing.

There are those who sometimes ridicule the Jews for their rejection of Jesus, but I see these same critics rejecting Jesus in just as direct and caustic a manner as the leaders of the Jews did in the first Century.  Remember what Jesus said to the woman at the well?  “Salvation comes from the Jews.”  Jesus was a Jew and anyone who would persecute the sons and daughters of those who crucified Jesus need to read their Bibles more carefully because Ezekiel’s visions of God declare He will not punish the children for the father’s sins.  Anyway, the leaders of Israel only cursed themselves to the 4th generation which would, in their day, have been 200 years at best.  Which doesn’t mean it happened this way, since Jesus hung on a cross and became the curse for us that we might be the righteousness of God.

Pride and arrogance surrounding salvation are pretty natural to us humans.  I mean, we can win the lottery and think that somehow we were favored by the gods for our greatness.  We see the Jews reject Jesus and fall into the same faulty reasoning they did with the prophets, which goes:  “If we had been alive at that time, we wouldn’t have taken part…”  meaning we are children of the people who did it.  Our attitudes make us related to those who crucified Christ, our sin makes us brothers and sisters in rebellion against the Creator of the universe, and our actions show we have learned nothing about what Jesus wants from us.  We miss the point of the New Covenant by either making it a grace-based legalism (an oxymoron at best and complete dichotomy at worst) or a free for all—God will save even if we don’t change.

Neither legalism nor liberalism makes sense in Christ’s teaching.  The gospel is about salvation, peace on earth good will to men, yes, but it is also about reconciling humanity to God.  The only way to accomplish the latter is for those who rebelled to submit to Him as right in all things and allow His Spirit to infuse them with life and power from on high.  The change here is a supernatural one not just our efforts.  Paul’s declaration,  “I beat my body so that nothing can keep me from the prize” spoke to his determination to submit to God all the urges and lusts of the sinful nature.  James makes it clear we cannot kick the sin habit without drawing near to God through submission.

“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

A Temporary Love

February 19, 2010

The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.  They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting,  “Hosanna!”  “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,  “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”  John 12:12-16.

I’m always fascinated and a little afraid when a crowd turns enthusiastic about someone.  Mob rule isn’t just a myth because history proves it over and over.  For example, a demonstration for getting out of the war here in Portland turned ugly as some people started hitting cars and breaking storefront windows.  The juxtaposition of a “peace” rally with the violence I saw struck me between the eyes. 

People from all over came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and, as “luck” would have it, they were able to catch a glimpse of the famous rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.  He not only came to Jerusalem but did something quite unusual, He rode a young donkey into the city, a sign of Scripture that He considered becoming king.  This tradition went back a thousand years for the Jewish monarchs.  The prospects of having a king again meant possible deliverance from other nations oppressing Israel and finally gaining autonomy.

Almost anybody will join in a celebration or parade cuz they’re fun.  I don’t think some of the people even knew what it was about but they joined in anyway.  Yet a lot of them understood clearly what was going down and their excitement looked forward to Jesus becoming king and overthrowing the Romans.  The cries of “Hosanna!” among others spoke to their expectations for Jesus.

Yet not to many days distant from this one, the would be crying for His blood.

Kind of a stark contrast would you say?

Many Christians today will stand for Jesus while its popular to do so, then fall away from orthodoxy the moment it become inconvenient.  My question for myself and anyone reading this blog is:  What happens to our faith when the poop hits the fan and following Jesus’ through His Word becomes politically incorrect or a crime against the government?  It has happened before, it will happen again.  Those who sometimes seem the most enthusiastic will be the very ones crying out for blood.

The evidence of enthusiasm is never a good meter for reading how well the gospel is doing in the world around us.  The only way to know a person’s heart is by their fruit, which means they must demonstrate the characteristics of Christ.

At least the Pharisees were true to their own nature with one another.  They showed their jealousy of Jesus when they said,  “See, this is getting us nowhere.  Look how the whole world has gone after Him!”

God would rather we be hot or cold towards Him than lukewarm.  I prefer to be His.

See Your King

February 18, 2010

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9.

Three gospels record this incident at the end of Christ’s ministry.  All three, I believe, have the same intent which is to prove their Master fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah.

Look at the text above and ask what does it mean?  Take both of the first sentences, for instance, why should there be rejoicing and shouting?  What is going on in the prophet’s text that would inspire such an expression of joy?

If this text actually points to Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem, then we have a messiah.  But realize this as well:  Jesus knew these prophecies, so couldn’t He have manipulated the scene by setting up the specific points mentioned here?  This question probably occurred to the leaders in Jerusalem as well for their reaction said it all,  “Look, the whole world has gone after Him!”  And, yes, their whole world was out blessing God in the person of Jesus and celebrating the man riding on the donkey’s colt.  Their worst fears were realized, the loss of power loomed large because of a no-account rabbi from a small village.

Jesus knew the prophecies well, that is true.  What is also true is that these same prophecies were guidelines by which He structured His ministry so that what was predicted in the past would be followed to the letter in the present in order to be firm evidence for future generations.  God knew what He was doing as did Jesus.  The Master didn’t manipulate the circumstances to fit the prophecies or visa versa, He didn’t need to because He was the real deal.  Jesus’ miracles spoke to His power from on high; His understanding of Scripture showed itself in how easily His teaching reached even the lowliest person who heard it.

In other words, He shined a light on the world and it responded.  Yes, He knew Scripture predicted the things He did, but that’s the beauty of it, He did them because He was the fulfillment of them.

The Plot Thickens

February 16, 2010

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.  So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him.  John 12:9-11.

 Lazarus was a lode stone (a magnetized rock) to those looking for God to reveal Himself.  Jesus gave them the opportunity and they seized it.  The problem they faced now was rejection and excommunication by the Jewish leaders of the day who refused to accept Jesus as anything more than a nuisance.  To my way of thinking the reaction of these Jews who believed is only natural whereas the leaders’ response puzzles me.

I understand those who love power for itself but these men baffle me.  Here’s the culmination of all their hopes, a man who can raise the dead, heal the sick, feed the hungry and interpret Scripture in a refreshing way, yet they feel they have to reject Him.  The fact that John tells us they plotted to kill Lazarus as well shows the dark condition of their hearts.  For one thing what would they accomplish by killing Lazarus?  Wouldn’t it just be futile since Jesus could raise Him back up again?

The answer to these questions lies in the character of desperation.  When those opposed to Christ can find nothing that will silence Him, they resort to death.  I think it’s one of the main characteristics of sin is it not?  We are so surprised the world hates us because we see all the good Jesus brings about in a life changed into His image.  We shouldn’t be, however, because Jesus told us the darkness hates the light and will do anything to put it out.

Jesus gave the leaders of Israel every proof they needed to believe in Him and they turned it into a reason to kill Him.  How is this logical?  How is this even reasonable?  If you have a hard time swallowing such logic, I suggest you look at some of the decisions in our governments today around the world and ask yourself:  were they doing something reasonable and for the good of all or just to maintain their own power? 

I think you know the answer.  My take on it is if one man is eating fat while another is starving, there’s oppression, greed and selfish ambition going on.

There is no doubt these men were standing against God, especially once Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  The rumors of His power proved to be true, those tales about the little girl and young man from Nain being substantiated by Lazarus.  Jesus not only raised Lazarus but by his resurrection raised the bar of the argument as well.  When evil has no answer or ability to stand against the light anymore they resort to violence and murder.  They had tried to destroy His reputation but that didn’t work; they attempted to undermine His understanding of Scripture and that failed, so what else was left to them but accept or kill Him?

The truth of history proves that when a government cannot win with an argument (because their arguments are shown to be foolish and nonsense) they will resort to force.  What this should tell us about the leadership in Christian history as well as the present day is simple:  Those who sell a war based on the Word of God have misread its content and changed its intent.  Christians are not slated to be a world power for our government is of a spiritual nature, the weapons of our warfare not based on the world’s tools for such things.  We are given over to defending the helpless, yes, and that might call for violent actions, but we are never the aggressor or the warmonger.  Such methods fly outside the Christian character.

Jesus called us “salt” and “light”.  Neither one rules in the way men understand such things.  Light reveals truth, salt flavors and preserves.  Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to reveal truth by being a light in a dark place and do the work that salt does in anything where it resides:  preserve and flavor.  God tastes the world to see what the ratio of salt to bitterness is and if the salt loses its flavor or becomes too weak to flavor or sustain, He will throw it out.

I know a lot of people who blame God for the evil in the world, and in some ways He is responsible since He created the possibility in the first place.  But the Word says God cannot be tempted by evil neither can He do it for evil denies who He is, which means it would be insanity for Him to deny His own place in existence.  It is those who love sin who perpetuate the problems we face on earth.  No one would suffer from evil if there were no one who rebelled against God.  At the same time, we can see just about every disaster caused by humans either stemming from human error or selfishness.  As long as there is sin in the world, we have an ingredient in the mix that doesn’t belong, which means we will have bad things happen to the innocent.

It’s our job to be in the world but not taste like it or be lost in its darkness.

Pseudo Objection

February 14, 2010

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected,  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  John 12:4-6.

Do you detect a little resentment in John’s testimony about Judas?  Or is it something else?

John loved his Master ardently, but I don’t think by the time he wrote his gospel there was any resentment for Judas, just disdain.  That may sound unchristian to some, yet they fail to realize that just because a person is sold on God’s love it doesn’t mean we don’t dislike, disdain or stand up to certain things.  I can honestly say I hate what the some “Christians” in history have done when they misrepresented the gospel of Jesus Christ and turned it into a means of gaining power, destroying enemies and “converting” heathen.  The weapons of our warfare are not of this world and Jesus’ kingdom is not either, otherwise His servants would fight, no, we are from another place now; we belong to an alternate city.

John disliked Judas’ hypocritical concern for the poor.  Last night as I read this passage again, I wondered how John found out Judas had his hand in the group’s cookie jar.  Did he catch him at it and tell Jesus or did the Master tell him later?  I don’t really know, but somehow he figured it out.

By inference we can conclude two things:  Judas had no real concern for the poor and he saw a year’s wages being squandered on Jesus when it could go in the group fund where he could then take his share.  His argument for the use of the money fell on deaf ears as far as Jesus was concerned because His retort/response sharply rebuked Judas and anyone else in the room thinking the same thing.  Expensive perfumes were used for special occasions in those days and this one would have been part of the combination of spices and perfumes bought for Lazarus’ burial, I’d assume.  Why else would she have it except for this purpose?

“Leave her alone,”  Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

How was it intended?  Mary didn’t understand Jesus’ predictions about His imminent death, so she wouldn’t have bought it or saved it for such a purpose.  I think Jesus hinted her that her gift being given at that moment had been intended by the Father to be a burial present for His Son.  Mary’s impulsive worship of Jesus took on a means of her repentance for doubting Him and devoted love for His gift to her family.  I bet Lazarus and Martha both knew about Mary’s intentions—you know family always seems to sniff out our secrets—and approved for there is no recorded rebuke coming from them.

Yet Jesus’ rebuke held in it a barb stemming from the Law (there were lawyers and Pharisees present).  Deuteronomy 15:4-6  However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.  For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.  You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

Jesus pretty much rebuked the whole Jewish nation at this point.  While the Pharisees and teachers of the Law blamed the poor for their circumstances, Jesus blamed the greed and power-hungry leaders for their hateful practices of debt collection and extortion.  What caused the poor to remain poor in Israel?  The wickedness of the wealthy who took without mercy or grace.  Why was Israel a subdued state under the thumb of a foreign ruler?  Because they ignored the plight of their brothers and oppressed the poor not only in financial matters but going so far as to convince them it was their own fault they were in their current state.  (Remember Jesus’ speeches in John 9?)

Many in the room were as guilty of pilfering God’s storehouse as Judas.  The Law commanded mercy and cancelling of debts, the sophistry of the teachers of the Law and rabbis helped them create loopholes in God’s commands, and because of this the poor would always exist in Israel.

Mary’s “waste” was seen by God as something refreshingly open handed and whole-hearted.  She gave more than was required to mirror her gratitude and she was praised for her actions.  The men around her barely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah—at best a powerful prophet—and stood condemned with Judas.  Mary, on the other hand, demonstrated her faith by giving something of great value to not only her but her family.  Where would she get a year’s wages to buy such expensive perfume?  She was a woman, and since the reference to the wage obviously pointed to a man’s earning capacity, it meant she had either spent someone else’s money or the family had bought it for a purpose.

Again, the fact that many affluent members of the Pharisees and teachers from Jerusalem attended the funeral suggests that some of them also attended this dinner as well—those that could be trusted.  I’m pretty sure Lazarus’ family knew Jesus was being watched and, having connections in Jerusalem, who opposed or supported Him.  After being raised from the dead, I’m also certain there wasn’t anyone in the room who weren’t supporters as far as Martha and Lazarus could tell.  Yet this establishes their influential status and thus Mary’s situation actually takes on a bigger significance because her actions were not those of a cultured woman in her day.

Judas thought to sound pious, which meant after three years of travelling with his Master he either didn’t know Jesus very well or he was trying to impress the Pharisees in the room.  It certainly would have been dense of him to not know Jesus’ attitude about money since he was the keeper of the money pouch and heard pretty much every teaching the Master gave.  So my leanings are that he wasn’t worried about impressing Jesus as much as the people in the room.  Smokescreens are quite common among thieves, for they use piety and seeming generosity to disguise their true intent.
The contrast could not be more stark; the sides more split in two.  Mary on the one hand giving a year’s worth of her own family savings to lavish a gift on Jesus that would not feed anyone, bless anyone else, and she could get no street cred from at all.  Her only thought was to honor her Master with something beautiful.  Judas on the other hand cared about his reputation and pocket book.  He wanted to look good and steal them blind without anyone knowing.  This makes him a liar and a thief, for his whole objection was a pose to fool those present.

Which one did Jesus commend?  Go and be likewise…

Uncomfortable Love (or PDA)

February 12, 2010

Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was give in Jesus’ honor, Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclined at the table with Him.  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume;  she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  John 12:1-3.

The dinner was given in honor of Jesus and celebration, of course, of Lazarus being alive.  Everyone there must have been either close friends, family or disciples because Jesus was keeping a low profile.  Yet the guest list must have included some Pharisees or priests because someone let it slip and people came in droves to see Him, which meant the Jewish leaders also found out where He was and what was happening.

But the point of the story is Mary’s extravagant, foolish and utterly selfless act of pouring a year’s wages on her Master.  Rising up from her disappointment, Mary went the direction her personality type always goes.  The pendulum swung the other way and she couldn’t contain herself but had to show some act of devotion and gratitude to match how she felt.  She not only poured this perfume on His feet (which if we think about it practical terms, is a waste on a very dirty, smelly area of the body), she wiped His them with her hair to dry them off.  Instead of using a clothe or towel to dry His feet she used her very person.  A woman did not touch a man in such a familiar personal way in her culture, especially not a rabbi.  Every single thing she did here was inappropriate and over the top. 

It was customary for servants to wash the feet of guests since people wore sandals and their feet got dusty and smelled.  The Jews at the time didn’t sit at the table like we do but reclined on cushions to eat.  Usually the feet radiated out from the table like spokes in a wheel, which meant if someone’s feet stank, everyone in the vicinity if not the whole table could smell it.  As a lady of the house, Mary commanded others to do the menial work of washing feet, cleaning up and filling cups.  Women served the food, yes, but servants washed the feet.  The reason I came to this conclusion is the Last Supper found Jesus doing something similar with His disciples and their reactions say it all.

Mary’s family had friends in the Jewish leadership.  We know this because John tells us in the story of Lazarus’ resurrection a large number of Pharisees attended the funeral.  This means her family held quite a bit of standing in the Jewish community, which also informs us her act at the dinner would have been seen with haughty disapproval and set her up as a wanton woman.  She, a woman of a respected family, humbled herself to the place of a slave in the house to show love and respect for a rabbi.  In doing so she sullied her family name.

Notice, however, that it wasn’t anyone in the family who rebuked her but a traitor and disciple, Judas.

What does this tell us about the nature of those who object to expressive adoration of God, praise that goes beyond social norms or decorum and God’s attitude versus man’s?  What does it tell us about where our hearts should be when expressing gratitude?  Mary loved Jesus with a devotion few allow themselves to demonstrate through an act that went beyond cultural norms or even our current decorum.  This should give us pause…it would seem to correct our stilted, falsely pious practices and give us freedom to worship our Lord and Savior in more demonstrative ways.  Barring immoral behavior, which is out of line for the believer, we have a whole range of ways to love our Lord.  Think of His teaching on how we can give to Him, love Him and show gratitude…

I’ll give you a hint:  “If you have done it to the least of these…”

I like that Jesus didn’t have a problem with Mary’s gift at all.