Archive for August, 2010

The Reality of “Don’ts”

August 30, 2010

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:  “Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!”?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  Colossians 2:20-23.

I’ve read and re-read this passage to clarify Paul’s intent with it because I want to be sure I’m on track with where he’s going.  The problem with quoting three verses out of a chapter is that we many times lose the context with which the author places the point.  For instance, in this passage we need to look at the word “Since” because it takes a previous thought and expands on it.  The previous passage goes like this:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come, the reality, however, is found in Christ.  Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.  Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.  He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Paul is attempting to free people from both the past Jewish regulations given by God and expanded by man, as well as those practices and ceremonies established by pagans.  He’s doing his best to coax us away from the human tendency to buy into form rather than a relationship with the man Christ Jesus.  All the forms, rituals and celebrations pointed forward to Christ—even some of the heathen ones in their gross exaggeration of sacrifice and ceremony—but they were as imperfect as an advertisement is less than the event.

If we explored each of the “don’t” statements in the text above, we’d find some caveats (exceptions to the rules) just by discussing them.  For instance, Paul’s problem with “Do not handle!” could be misread into giving us permission to handle anything we want without thinking of consequences.  He’s not commending freedom without boundaries because in chapter 3 he expands on what it means to be holy, godly and follow Christ, so his point isn’t that there aren’t any boundaries but that the regulations of strict avoidance or abstinence is man-made and holds no value where our Master is concerned.  The same with the other two, since they are similar in nature.  Some religions won’t eat certain animals because they believe they are reincarnations of relatives or important people; whereas other systems of belief avoid certain foods out of religious purity, thinking that by abstaining from these they attain either a better connection to the god or please the god in some fashion.

What we do must conform to the teachings and mind of Christ, right?  Therefore, sexual rites during our services hold no value for the believer because we know God doesn’t require them, first off, and second His intent for sex is set within the bounds of a deep, abiding, growing relationship with another person of the opposite sex.  Trying to honor Him then by celebrating sexual pleasure through any method devised by men actually thwarts our goal and ends up trapping us into a ritual that actually offends Him rather than honors and thus defeats our goal of being like or drawing close to Him.

That’s one extreme example, but what about a command from the Hebrew Law?

Paul troubleshoots this as well by telling us the laws pertaining to special days, time sensitive celebrations and festivals from the Hebrew writings were shadows of things to come.  The reality is in Christ and we celebrate it best by maintaining and surrendering to a relationship with Him.  If we want to keep a certain festival in celebration of Christ, however, we are free to do so.  Yet, in doing so, we cannot see ourselves as superior in our religious fervor than our brothers and sisters who don’t because the festival is but a shadow of the relationship.  We might use it to remind ourselves of the reality in Christ, and Paul commends it as cool to do so, but it isn’t required and doesn’t make us holier or better suited for use in God’s kingdom and so won’t save us from judgment if we sin.

So what are we left with without these regulations and rituals?

Relationships.  Christ’s work centers on relationships throughout His entire teaching.  The Beatitudes focus our attention on our relationship with God first in our spiritual poverty, sorrow and repentance, the second half deal with our relationship with humanity in general juxtaposed against the one we maintain first with God.  His comparison of anger with murder points to our relationship with those who do us wrong.  A discussion of adultery definitely deals with specific loyalties and privileges, as does generosity, and worry about being able to provide for ourselves (in their culture everything filtered through families, clans and tribes where benefits were concerned).

In fact, there isn’t a teaching in the Bible that doesn’t deal pretty directly with our relationship first with either God and second with humanity.  Of course, boundaries exist between us for a reason, don’t they?  Almost without fail we can point to even the most liberal of thinkers and hit walls where they will put gias on human behavior or choices.

Have you ever watched kids play house? It’s very revealing in its simplicity since they go through the forms of marriage without a real relationship to make it come to life.  It’s all pretend so they have mock arguments about stuff they’ve watched their parents fight over, pretend to have babies without knowing how they are really conceived or birthed (the doll just magically appears from the hospital).  They go to work and come home all within the space of an hour but never register the reality of the grind.  It isn’t that they are divorced from reality, necessarily, rather they are imitating it in hopes of living it some day themselves.  They go through the rituals and forms in order to learn the norms of family, work and play time.  They know the “rules” of marriage, work and family play time, but they have no real understanding of the day in and day out.

Children don’t grasp responsibility in matters of work, children, sex or community living.  It sounds fun in their little pretend games but we know it has as much to do with the real life as the game of Life has to do with actually living it.  Until they are older, they also won’t grasp the “why” of many of our boundaries within family dynamics or social interaction.

And, we don’t expect them to either.  Why?  Because they are learning through observation, repetition and imitation.

The laws of the past were for immature sinners without the Christ-reality.  As far as a real marriage is above the pretend universe a child creates, so is a relationship with Jesus above the laws of both Mosaic and heathen origins.  The Hebrew sacrificial system was meant to make us cringe whenever we killed an animal since it represented the consequences of sin for us, but we became inured or numb to it which made it lose its depth for us.  The rest of the world continued on with a sacrificial system but took it into either more Cain-offering-fruit-and-vegetables route or grossness so vile it became an example of horrific overstatement.

Nothing works like the real thing, that’s why Christ is superior to forms or rituals.  The rituals teach us something of the reality, though only experience will give a full picture of it.  The forms of worship before Christ might educate us in the shape of the relationship but they cannot replace it in any way.


Meeting Together

August 23, 2010

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25.

Funny how many times I’ve read this and forgotten where the reference was when quoting it.  The passage above has been bouncing around in my mind for quite a while now.  I can’t even remember how often someone has talked about something related to it and brought it to mind either by quoting it or ignoring it.

Stand alone believers exist often where the body of Christ has become corrupt or disengaged, but this shouldn’t be the norm.  Every time I hear someone claim the reason they don’t go to church is because there are no true believers anywhere I think of Elijah’s lament to God.  He claimed he alone served the LORD and God rebuked him by saying there were 7000 who hadn’t bent their knees to Baal.

Other arguments, from contemporary sources, come in the form of resentment for a rebuke (just or unjust), boring sermons, nothing to do, can’t relate, doctrinal differences, too many fanatics, too many hypocrites and the list could go on.  I find it fascinating because I held myself aloof from joining a church formally for years while remaining a vital part of the body.

We are the church.  It isn’t an exclusive club, though membership does require accepting Jesus as Lord, Savior and coming King.  Church is made up of people not an organization, though organization is God’s established method of helping the church grow and meet the needs of those inside and outside the body.  It isn’t a place of worship either, neither is it the service itself, rather it’s a collection of people of like mind who support and encourage one another in the faith.  It isn’t a place where everybody agrees, for some of the NT writers’ greatest dissertations were aimed at those who differed on the finer points of doctrine and begged them to get along.

I agree with some of the disciplinary measures where wacko doctrinal differences split segments off.  Sometimes those things are necessary.  But why do we need to split up over whether or not Jesus comes in the clouds visibly, whisks us away secretly or the pre/mid/post-trib rapture?  These things don’t matter to my character nor do they do anything to make me a better person towards others.  At one time I belonged to an organization at one time where they split hairs over this stuff and it was the concentration every service just about.

Not to insult anyone but why do we have arguments over mid trib versus post-trib or pre-trib?  Why is there an quarrels about the state of the dead at all?  No one who hasn’t died really knows for sure whether those who were on the operating table or just about to die saw a real light, entered heaven and met Jesus or an angel, or simply hallucinated, and who cares?  Why would I strip the church of dedicated believers who follow Jesus with a whole heart over such disputable matters?  Why is it necessary to begin a whole new denomination based on one hair-splitting detail that holds no value for a changed heart?

Why do we not learn from our own Biblical history?  When Jesus came as the messiah/christ of the time, He didn’t come as many expected Him to because of their interpretations of the prophecies.  Some, listened to His teaching and rethought their position; most rejected Him outright when He didn’t (and seemed to absolutely refuse) to meet their expectations.  No matter that He performed miracles, raised the dead, taught with authority and generally lived a life free from human sinful tendencies, He wasn’t what they were looking for so they rejected Him.

We are no different.  We beat each other up over interpretation preferences that hold no value except for this earth, yet make them paramount to our fellowship, and for what reason?

I’ll tell you why:  pride of place; nit picking, heart-hardening, self-congratulating, soul-evaporating and God-denying pride.

There are some arguments we will never settle because the evidence is just too sparse for a solid conclusion.  Oh we might use the circumstantial, exegetical facts to come to the best conclusion possible, but I’ve noticed these usually have a few differing opinions even then.  Ever studied the writings of theologians?  Well, you’ll notice that those with Phd’s disagree on the finer points of Scripture as well.  I heard recently about the council of Nice during the 4th century, where they gathered to come to an agreement about the canon (the books of the Bible), several of the bishops and respected elders nearly came to physical blows over their “discussion” of what was true or necessary.  It seems that “Saint” Augustine differed with another Bishop who wasn’t all that predisposed to let it lie.  If these “experts” cannot come to an agreement on some of the finer points of Scripture, why should we worry that neither can we?

And, why should we let us separate us into factions called denominations?

Because we want to belong to a group of like-minded people.  Disagreements make us think outside our own boxes and cause us to doubt our stance, which is frustrating to the say the least.  I grew up being taught that my denomination was the truest of all, it took years of study and re-evaluation to come to the conclusion that no one has the last word on some things.  Oh, they might be strong minded about it, shout louder than someone else or be better at argument than most others, but the facts are plain that the irrefutable proof just isn’t there.

So why would God allow such vague truths to exist in the teachings?

I don’t know for sure yet, but my guess is precisely the problem we confront above.  Heaven is made for those who conform to the mind of Christ not just the doctrine.  Paul tells Timothy to avoid arguments about words for they lead to quarrels, which then lead to divisions.  He goes so far as to say that anyone who loves a quarrel will pick at sound doctrine’s finer points or invent issues because of a vague reference.  These have a resemblance to sound teaching but carry little value in suppressing one’s sinful nature.

When Jesus commands that we be one as He and Father are one, He’s not giving us an option or choice in the matter.  Unity in the faith displays the nature of God which therefore becomes our witness to His character.  If we can accept one another in love without condemnation, we display the character of Christ and the nature of the Godhead.

All this is not to say that many who separate into factions and create new denominations won’t be saved.  On the contrary, I believe they are sincere, though sincerely wrong in their desire to divide.  God will bring many into eternity who seemed to lack the necessary character we deem necessary because they truly love Him.  Yet they won’t be commended for their divisive efforts.

I see this as a warning for myself and anyone within the influence of my life:  Don’t forsake meeting together.  Our differences are a part of the process of making us like God.  The working through these things is the method by which God grows us into mature followers of Christ.

Peter’s Fail

August 19, 2010

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.  Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.  The disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

“You are not one of His disciples, are you?”  The girl at the door asked Peter.

He replied,  “I am not.”

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm.  Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.  John 18:15-18.

John always refers to himself as “the other disciple,” though I’m not sure why exactly.  I’ve heard the argument that it was common practice to never mention one’s own name in writing because it was considered bad manners.  My take is everyone knew who he was talking about so he just did it as a fun thing or humorous reference.  Whatever the case, he was known to the high priest, which begs the question as to how?

I read one Christian novel based on the story of Mary of Magdalene that suggested his family were Pharisees and of the priests.  This might explain it but Caiaphas was a Sadducee so the connection might be there but it wouldn’t necessarily follow that John would be allowed into his house as a familiar face.  Whether John was of priestly class or not is immaterial, really, the main fact is he was known to the high priest’s household and let in without objection.  Another fact is he had enough influence with the servant girl at the door to get Peter in as well.

The focus, of course, is Peter’s denial, yet something I’d never noticed before stands out at the same time:  John witnessed Peter’s first denial because he was at the door with him!  One of the reasons why I love following Jesus so much is there’s no gloss painted over the mistakes of the Bible’s heroes.  Their failure to live up to their own standards gives us hope that God accepts everyone without question—and has even gone out of His way to make a place for us.  Peter’s failure to stand against the social pressure,though, probably had more to do with his warrior instincts than fear of being found out.

I’ve heard Peter called a coward for his denial of Jesus, but let me point out that he was the only one who pulled out a sword to fight for his Master.  No, cowardice wasn’t the problem, his grasp of what was at stake was, however.

In a war between nations or even within a nation, the battlefield is never just blood, guts and glory for it happens that infiltrating the enemy camp, bribing government officials and spying becomes necessary in order to win.  Peter entered the courtyard with the stories of heroes of the past ringing in his head.  In his eyes, he was standing with Jesus as a spy for their side not out of fear.  I’m thinking he wanted to be near Jesus, though he knew he couldn’t do so openly as a follower, so his education, background and delusions of grandeur taught him intrigue as a legal and God-approved method of infiltration.  The fact he accompanied a known disciple must have caused him consternation but he dealt with it by denying any ties at all to Jesus and inferring he was simply with John.

This was war now, and he was here to see if he could do anything for his Master.

Before I go on, I need to say there’s no proof of what was in his mind at the time.  The fact that he was afraid to be found out may or may not have had anything to do with cowardice like many have taught from the pulpit and in written form.  My take here is based on Peter’s past actions.

So Peter wasn’t a coward.  He was the one who walked on water, though the wind and waves caught him off guard to the point of fear.  He was the one who cut off the ear of one of the men arresting Jesus.  He, along with one other disciple, followed Jesus to the Annas’ home and stood in the courtyard by the fire just to be near Him.  My take is his denial grew out of a sense of cloak and dagger thinking rather than fear of being found loyal to a known enemy of the state.

But even if this is the reasoning behind Peter’s lie, he still denied Jesus lordship of his life.  Jesus preached about truth, His teachings revealed truth, and anyone who lied or believed a lie followed the enemy.  Peter’s denial of Christ unfolded in two forms.  First, he lied about being associated with Him; next, the fact that he lied at all denied Jesus’ lordship over his life and actions.  His lie itself denied godliness access or power over his own character and choices, which means he justified lying in this one instance for what he considered a greater cause, but in doing so he imitated the enemy of truth.

In a war of cloak and dagger, Peter’s choice wouldn’t seem all that out of the ordinary really, for we humans see it as a necessary evil to gain advantage over our enemy.  Yet in the world where Christ’s teachings rule the heart, Peter rejected those teachings by playing a human game; he employed human methods where only God’s purpose held any sway at all.  It’s highly possible one of his main reasons for secrecy was self-preservation, but I think he understood things like we do.  His Master was taken prisoner, arrested on bogus charges and set to be sentenced to death.  Peter wanted to disguise himself enough so no one would suspect his real reasons for being there—to be near Jesus and help Him if the opportunity arose.

Whatever his reasons for denial, he betrayed his Master, and his betrayal came in the form of conforming to base human thinking and methods over the clear guidelines laid out for him in Jesus’ life.  He failed to conform to the mind of Jesus in practice as well as thought, and in this way his denial goes deeper than a mere fear of being found out.

A Prophet Despite Himself

August 16, 2010

Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.  John 18:14.

I just found this fascinating that the man was given a prophecy despite his spiritual stance, condition, antagonism and willful murderous intentions towards the Son of God.  God created the position of high priest, then continues to honor the position rather than the man by speaking through him.

Which reminds me of Balaam, who’s story we read about in Numbers 22-24.  He attempted to curse Israel though God told him otherwise.  The story finally ended with Balaam later instigating Israel’s debauchery because all he could do was bless them when he opened his mouth.  But on his way to curse them, his donkey confronted him, first, then an angel with a flaming sword.  Our God uses unconventional methods to accomplish His goals.

God used the reluctant prophet anyway.  Caiaphas probably wanted more than anything in the world to be a mouthpiece of his God for the purpose of increasing his own standing within his nation.  What he got instead was a prophecy about the Son of God dying for it—his understanding of his own statement being entirely different than the Spirit’s intention.

His story raises an interesting conundrum for believers since we believe God will (not so much “can”) only use those who join our club.  Deuteronomy 18 gives us the criterion for knowing whether or not God has spoken and Isaiah 8:19, 20 clarifies the sources He will and won’t use.  The position created by Him might be abused but it is still His chosen means of communicating, so He will honor the position in times of need without honoring the man (though we all receive residual glory anyway).  Caiaphas hated and despised Jesus and wished Him dead, yet he was still high priest and in a position of God’s choosing; the man might not have been the optimum for leading Israel, but he was perfect for what needed to be done at the moment, which was to kill the Son of God.

Our God leaves everything to a calculated chance.  In other words, there are very few things He dictates rather than influences.  We can resist His will on specifically salvation and obedience issues, but beyond these we are subject to His purpose like all the rest of creation.  So don’t be surprised if God speaks through the most bizarre and unexpected sources for He moves in mysterious ways beyond our comprehension.  On the other hand, He isn’t the author of confusion, which means those sources which are outside of His will by default probably won’t receive light from Him.  Satan parades as an angel of light and knows the prophecies better than we do.  Manipulating the truth is part of what liars do, of which he is the father of them.

Jesus had to die, Caiaphas just happened to be the best man for the job in more ways than one.

Bound to the Mission

August 11, 2010

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus.  They bound Him and brought Him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.  Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.  John 18:12-14.

And now we see Jesus bound over to the prophesied end of His earthly mission.

As I think about it, I guess there is precedent here for them to “bind” Him because so many times before He eluded their grasp.  From the disciples’ view it seems, however, that He gave Himself over to the officials willingly and didn’t even try to escape.  Jesus’ time had come, the hour of His death approached and He was ready.  This move on this night was the third phase of God’s plan for salvation.

First, God gave Adam and Eve the practice of a sacrifice for sin and let mankind prove what their choice against Him would mean.  Next He brought in the law so that humanity might grasp how far they had fallen from paradise; it’s harshest elements show God having to do damage control.  In the third phase of salvation’s plan God sent His Son to earth to demonstrate the heart of the Father and die as the true sacrifice for sin.  In every way possible God shows His intention to keep us around, yet like that black night in history 2000 years ago, we keep demonstrating to Him our desire to be independent of Him.

Which, by the way, is impossible.

We cannot be independent of God’s life-giving presence or power for we are not self-existent but designed.  Therefore our attempts at being separate and autonomous are simply childish efforts, for they hold no real value where the truth speaks otherwise.

It still amazes me every time I read the story of Jesus’ trial and conviction how things went down.  He submitted to death on the cross it didn’t conquer His will by force or take Him by surprise.  Though no one wants to execute me (that I know of), I know myself well enough to recognize I’m not at a place where I could lay my life down for God without conflicting emotions about it.  What’s so comforting about this story is that Jesus had them too—conflicting emotions that is.  I know my own Savior frantically searched for an alternative method to accomplish the goal—“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.” There was a time during His prayer where He agonized over the decision to die for the whole world.  Raised a Jew and made a Rabbi, no one understood the humiliation of the cross better than Jesus.  We have been desensitized by crosses everywhere, in every shape and size, and the distance of time and practice.  We see them on first the Christian, the careless, the antithetical, the crooks, the the prostitutes, the agnostic, the atheist, and think nothing of it.

I once had a woman ask me why I wore a gross symbol of death around my neck, pointing to my cross with Jesus hanging from it.  She understood it, though she was not a believer and a strong advocate for lesbianism (she was one of the first publishers of the Advocate, I believe), and thought my choice of jewelery a poor choice, sick and wrong.  My reply set us up for a conversation which lasted several hours.  I told her the cross represented to me the greatest demonstration of love and forgiveness known to human history.  I made it clear that even if Jesus wasn’t God or the Messiah, I would follow Him because His teachings and attitude shown brightly against the darkness of human attitudes and practices.  Whether Jesus ever performed a miracle or not matters not to me because I love His attitude towards the disadvantaged—it’s what I hope God’s attitude would be towards them.  I don’t know what she did after that because she moved and so did I, but I loved her heart for gentleness and love.  She talked tough and looked like the woman from The Matrix—tough, wiry and no-nonsense.  When we spoke for the last time, she told me no one had ever helped her understand the message of Jesus like I had—a case of being the right person, at the right place and the right time.

I have to say before I go on, I don’t remember most of what I said to her.  In fact, there were only a few things that stood out in the conversation where I can remember what was said.  This means to me God spoke to her and I was just the conduit.  What impressed me was after our two conversations, she had a different perspective on the what the cross meant and symbolized.

Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross,  but the Scriptures say He learned obedience by what He suffered.

What will suffering teach us?  Or, a better question is:  what will we learn from it?

Drinking the Cup

August 7, 2010

Jesus commanded Peter,  “Put your sword away!  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”  John 18:11.

He makes it sound like bad tasting  medicine for a cold…almost.

I don’t know many people who actually grasp Jesus’ determination to go through with His mission.  I’m not sure I do, if I’m honest about it.  But, then, neither do many of us have the eternal perspective down as yet nor have we realized God’s mind in ours so completely that we know how He thinks.  We understand everything from a survival/prosperity POV most of the time, so altruism in this form makes not a wit of sense to us.

Obviously it meant diddly squat to Peter as well.  He thought they were going to war against the oppressors and might have to stand against the opposition within his own government but it never occurred to him to fight a war on a cross to win.  If, like Peter and his brothers, we had the stories of Moses, Elijah, David and Samson, etc., in mind when we thought of the history of Israel and God’s intervention on its behalf, we probably wouldn’t have thought twice about swinging a sword either.

Oh, wait, things haven’t changed much have they.  We still swing the sword of political influence, spiritual manipulation, guilt, false piety and doctrinal bludgeoning quite frequently without a qualm of conscience it seems.  The church hasn’t learned (or rather most of them ignore) the message and lesson of the cross:  Death to self and the world first then victory.  The real war is against our own natures not the world’s kingdoms.  Establishing a world government where Jesus rules absolute is God’s job after the Judgment not ours in the here and now.  We don’t use the same tools because they believe in weapons of blood, destruction and dominance.  Our fight is against the nature of the powers of the air that permeate all of us.

The greatest fight we will ever face is standing up to our own natural sinful tendencies.  Our fight is not against flesh and blood but spiritual darkness in ourselves and those being saved.

Jesus’ mission held a cup of bitter medicine for the world, which He drank willingly and to the last drop.  We will taste a sample of this if we follow Him through the cross—which means that those who avoid the cross have never really followed Him.

The Last Miracle

August 5, 2010

Again He asked them,  “Who is it you want?”

And they said,   “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you that I am He,”  Jesus answered.  “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”  This happened so that the words He had spoken would be fulfilled:  “I have not lost one of those You gave me.”

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.  (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus commanded Peter,  “Put your sword away!  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”  John 18:7-11.

I guess Jesus just wanted to be sure who they were looking for right?

At the first pronouncement of His identity the men drew back and fell to the ground, and my impression makes the cause His power of presence and word.  The second time He asked the question was exploratory more than anything else, for He wanted to know how determined they were to arrest Him.

They answered His question unequivocally.

God gives us humans chances to prove Him wrong about our intentions, attitudes and habits.  The trouble with us is we keep proving Him right every time, so that, as the Scripture says, He is justified when He judges.  The men from the Pharisees and high priest knew their business to be dark in design yet they were determined to carry it out.  The fallen angels and humanity were in a game of chicken with God and expected Him to swerve first.  Unfortunately for humanity and the fallen angels, God’s power gives Him the advantage of eternity, resurrection and endurance, which means He controls the outcome by being in complete control of Himself.  The crash left Him dead for three days and humanity as a whole with a false sense of victory.

But Sunday’s coming…

I’m really impressed by Jesus the more I know Him.  Peter gets excited and cuts off an ear (probably aiming for the head and Malchus ducked).  The Master rebukes him and heals the man’s ear (the story of the healing is in Luke 22:51).  What does it say about Jesus that He could do this thing in the face of betrayal, false accusations, a bogus arrest and eminent death?  He didn’t deserve to be arrested let alone tried for the crime of rebellion.  In the face of injustice He could be healing, calm, submissive, willing to sacrifice the moment for the hope of eternity.

I like the fact that John knew the servant’s name to be Malchus (partly because John was known in the high priest’s household), because that affirms my suspicion the man became a follower of Jesus.  How could he not?  A man would have to be hardened to the point of rigormortis to not be touched in the heart as well as healed in body by such an act of love and mercy.  Facing the worst possible scenario Jesus rose to the heights of grace that gave the man evidence of His divinity—and not only Malchus but every man in the mob coming after Him unjustly.

I like to think Malchus went back with them in a daze, devotion and duty warring for his attention, but completely convinced of Jesus’ innocence.  The others with him had to be either unaware of the healing or just plain too worked up by mob rule for it to matter for them to ignore this last miracle of Jesus (besides the resurrection, of course).

Again, we see Jesus’ more concerned for His disciples than for Himself.  He remains in command of the situation by requesting the men with Him be left alone to go free.  I don’t think I’d have the presence of mind to think about them or anyone in such a situation; Jesus, however, did.

The contrast between the world’s ability to respond to crisis and the follower of Jesus couldn’t be more stark.  If we conform to the mind of Christ, we gain His calm, peace and grasp the big picture.  He wasn’t worried for Himself since He already knew the outcome to be set in stone.  His death would save mankind.  He would be resurrected, though for a time the darkness caused Him to cry out in agony.  We have much to learn about facing our demons and trials of faith, but one thing is certain, this example displays grace in the face of injustice, calmness in the face of insanity, and a sense of purpose through the worst the world can throw at a man.  Jesus is our Prototype in all things and never more poignantly so as in this moment.

Every Knee Shall Bow

August 2, 2010

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them,  “Who is it that you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,”  they replied.

“I am He,”  Jesus said.  (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)  When Jesus said,  “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.  John 18:4-6.

I’ve heard various explanations of what happened to the men coming to arrest Jesus.  Some have said a bright light shown which threw them to the ground; the record says nothing about this little detail.  Some suggest an angel appeared so that they were thrown to the ground; the Scripture says absolutely nothing about this either.  So what did happen?

I don’t know anything about the “why” of it except what John put in the story.  Let’s go with that by itself and see what we can get out of it.

It’s dark, they see Jesus coming out of a grove of trees and can’t tell who He is even though Judas set up the signal as a kiss.  I don’t know why John didn’t record the betrayer’s kiss, but I can guess it was probably mentioned in other records and possibly just too painful to say again.  Whatever the reason, John doesn’t go there at all, though he does give us one detail none of the others speak about:  the moment Jesus identifies Himself the one they’re looking for, they all draw back and fall to the ground.  John doesn’t spell out why this happens, instead he lets us ponder it by inference.

By dent of argument, one could say they were frightened by the calm way Jesus answered and knowing His reputation for power, they panicked.  Or, the power of who He is knocked them to the ground when He spoke it.  I’m inclined to believe their reaction was a combination of these two things.  There are probably other reasons—and may be an angel showed up and John just doesn’t mention it—but I think these are the two that make the most sense.  A combination of fear (it was dark, they were superstitious, and He wasn’t afraid of them) and the power of Jesus’ word itself (there is power in the name of Jesus) pushed them back and knocked them to the ground.

The very fact they experienced such power should have warned them off and made them back off completely, but it didn’t.  Instead they forged ahead to accomplish their dark design.  Though John doesn’t mention it, probably one of the reasons they found renewed courage to take hold of Jesus stemmed from Judas’ kiss.  Their temporary setback on the ground frightened them but didn’t deter them.  It should be noted the nature of evil’s fight or flight mentality comes from it’s sense of dominance.  If it feels in total control (even if that control is a lie like in this instance), it will brutalize and do as it pleases.  When it feels overpowered, it cowers, snarling in impotent rage or whimpering in helpless terror.  In the presence of extreme evil where insanity is involved, an unnatural calm settles over the person.

Jesus’ power must have been evident at the moment He answered for they backed off and fell down.  Yet the moment they saw no fire from heaven their courage reasserted itself and Judas hailed his Master with the deadly kiss.

What happens to a believer when they betray the Master?  What’s their reaction to being confronted by His power?  Is it fight or flight?  Or is it submission, confession and repentance?