Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Luke 23:27-56 Anticipation Failure

27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

It is so very human to weep at our loss. Yet sometimes, in our weeping, we lose sight of the larger picture. In other words, sometimes our loss is our gain. Sometimes, if we take a moment to think it through, our loss is small compared to the largeness of our gain. This appears to be what Jesus was trying to tell those who wept for him as he walked toward the cross.

On the other hand, if one is going to weep over the things of this life, our grief should be for ourselves and our children. Why? Because we have clung so tightly to our religious beliefs that we have become blinded to the very point of our religion. We have permitted religiosity to usurp spirituality. We have lost sight of the forest because of the trees.

There is a time, according to Judaeo-Christian beliefs, to prefer not producing another generation. This follows the above notion, that we often become so focused on the natural that we lose sight of the larger, supernatural picture. Yes, it is natural for many women to want to have a child. Yet, if we look beyond the natural and take in the whole picture of our times, it is sometimes better to not bring a child into this life. 

Are we living in such times now? 

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. 33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. 

It seems that Jesus was not speaking about the two criminals, but about those who were actually crucifying him. It was those who falsely accused him and those who drove the nails into his wrists who did 'not know what they were doing'. True, as noted below, the criminals did not speak from knowledge, but from ignorance. 

Often, no matter how academically 'smart' a person may be, or how naturally gifted with intelligence, lacking 'emotional intelligence' renders natural intelligence meaningless. The criminals, the Romans, and the Jewish leaders may all have had more than average intelligence, but they permitted their emotions to rule their minds and effectively became spiritual idiots. Thus Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do NOT KNOW what they are doing.' 

35 And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

The people trusted in what their natural senses had perceived - what they had seen and heard - and neglected the spiritual. They had heard what Jesus had taught and heard about the miracles he had performed. They had also seen him get arrested, physically abused, and now crucified. The physical facts out-weighed everything they had heard about him. How could he be the promised Messiah who would, according to their beliefs, be powerful enough to overthrow the Romans, when he couldn't even protect himself? The empirical facts appeared to prove that Jesus was a charlatan. 

Then, in the midst of all the doubts and accusations, a criminal perceives something beyond the obvious. He took in the larger picture and saw that Jesus was the Messiah and the king of a different kind of kingdom. 

What happened? How did he perceive the truth in the midst of so much animosity? How could he 'see' the real Jesus when he himself was being cruelly crucified right next to Jesus? 

Since there is no punctuation in the Greek, should verse 43 be rendered: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise", or "Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise."  Either could be the truth. Did Jesus ascend into Paradise that very day (Jn 20:17)? 

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts. 49 And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things.

50 And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man 51 (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; 52 this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. 

54 It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Luke 23:1-26 Choices

1 Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” 3 So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they kept on insisting, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place.” 6 When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time.

Pilate had already had many interactions with the Jews, but - as far as we know - no previous contact with Jesus. But here was the 'church' bringing an accusation against a fellow church member to the government, asking for him to be executed. There's a whole lot wrong with this picture.

Noticed how they shaped their accusations in comparison with what the chief priests and scribes considered the main accusation - the confession of Jesus. The accusations brought to the civil authority included erroneous teaching among the believers, rebellion against the unbelievers in the government, and claiming to be the real king of the Jews. What happened to the main accusation based on His confession - that he was God incarnate?

Pilate skipped past all the accusations except one. 'Are you the King of the Jews?' By this question was he concerned that he had competition to his rule or did his words simply mean that he viewed the whole 'Jesus' thing as a religious issue rather than a state issue?

When Jesus acknowledge this truth, Pilate still saw no crime. In other words, looking at Jesus - all beaten and dragged in by the leaders of Israel - there wasn't anything that raised his anxiety, nothing that brought fear to him. If the leaders of Israel didn't accept him and had so thoroughly abused him, certainly Pilate had nothing to worry about. But that wasn't the answer the chief priests wanted, so they pressed forward.

The Jews were irritating to Pilate. As soon as he found a way to dismiss them, he did. His excuse all hinged on jurisdictions. Learning that Jesus was a Galilean Pilate immediate had him brought to Herod, effectively - or so he hoped - washing his hands of the whole mess.

8 Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. 9 And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. 10 And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. 11 And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. 12 Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.

Again, it is clear that not just the teachings, but the miraculous works of Jesus had spread far and wide. Herod longed to see a genuine miracle. Jesus did not oblige. He wasn't a circus act. Meanwhile, the chief priests and scribes were present to hurl their accusations about Jesus to Herod. 

Herod quickly became disgusted with Jesus' unwillingness to perform on cue and, shifting gears, permitted his soldiers to mock Jesus. Certainly, Herod found nothing to fear in Jesus - even with Jesus' claim to be the king of the jews. 

Curiously, mutual contempt for Jesus brought Herod and Pilate together. It seems clear that from the perspective of both of these men, Jesus was a charlatan. 

13 Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. 16 Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 17 [Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]

Pilate could not understand how Jesus could be a threat to anyone. He clearly wasn't a threat to the state nor to Herod. So, what was stuck in the craw of the chief priests and scribes? Why were they so adamant about executing Jesus? How could a man who had been so thoroughly physically tortured and mocked and unable to put up any resistance, be a threat to anyone? No matter what he had preached, the physical evidence showed that he was 'nothing' special. To substantiate Pilate's conclusion about Jesus, he was willing to inflict him with additional punishment. 

But, to Pilate's amazement, the Jews could not - would not - be reasoned with. 

18 But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” 19 (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, 21 but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” 22 And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 23 But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail. 24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted. 

Incredible. The chief priests and scribes of the Jewish faith preferred a murderer to Jesus. The evil of Barabbas was evident. Pilate could not find any 'evil' in Jesus. He really didn't seem to care what happened to Jesus. He was far more curious about what made these Jews tick - since keeping the peace among this religious group was part of his mandate when he was appointed governor. 

So, both Herod and Pilate found no particular guild in Jesus, but the chief priests and scribes did. If fact, to the chief priests and scribes the guilt of Jesus was so great in their minds that they demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus. 

What then, to these religious leaders, was the 'evil' in Jesus?

Was it because Jesus claimed to be the Messiah? Was it because so many Jews believed Jesus was the Messiah? Or was it the miracles of Jesus that gave evidence to Jesus' claim that he was not only the long-awaited Messiah, but was also the Son of God? Were they fearful that these claims deceived good people or were they fearful that these claims were actually true? If the former, we can easily understand their concern. If the later, why weren't they afraid of God's judgment if they condemned His Son?

25 And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.

As evidence that Pilate did not really care about Jesus, is the fact that he 'threw Jesus under the proverbial bus' just to satisfy the demands of the chief priest and scribes regardless of their lack of evidence.

26 When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.

This part of the narrative underscores an important element of discipleship. If we claim to be followers of Christ, we need to be willing to follow him wherever he is going. In this case, Simon carried the cross of Jesus. We are called to bear our own cross - which means whatever God permits to afflict us. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Luke 22:63-71 For Evil or Good?

63 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking Him and beating Him, 

Can we assume that the men who held Jesus in custody knew about his miracle working power? Weren't some of them actually present at his arrest? Had they not witnessed him restoring the severed ear of the high priest's servant? So, were they willfully in denial? Clearly, they at least knew 'about' his power, since they mocked him for it - or for the rumors about it. So, again, what was the source of their bravado?

If, for instance, you have seen the neighborhood dog chase and bite people - or you had at least heard a never ending series of accounts about that particular nasty dog biting people for no apparent reason - would you nonchalantly venture up to it and proceed to pet it? What if the dog began to wag its tail in a friendly gesture when it saw you? Would you still approach it, knowing its history? If so, wouldn't you at least move forward with great caution, assuming feigned friendliness with possible malicious intent?

With all that had been heard, even if not personally witnessed, regarding the public displays of Jesus' power - feeding the multitudes, casting out demons, controlling the weather, raising the dead, healing lepers, and chasing the money changers out of the temple - one would expect that those who held Jesus in custody would have carefully kept their distance. 

But why didn't they? 

64 and they blindfolded Him and were asking Him, saying, “Prophesy, who is the one who hit You?” 

Why did they fearlessly, verbally and physically abuse Jesus? Were these men mental Neanderthals? Obviously they knew 'something about' Jesus since they mocked him and requested that he prophesy - implying they had at least heard that he spoke about impending future events. We assume that they found such claims to be impossible, since if he had known the future would he have permitted them to arrest him? If you see pain and suffering coming toward you, sane people run the opposite direction - right? The seemingly obvious often masks the actual facts for the foolishly oblivious.  

We may easily draw from the scriptures the impression that all the Jews - and many Gentiles - knew a lot about Jesus. Multitudes of people followed him every place he went, listening to his teachings and witnessing his miracles. Nearly always, according to the scriptures, there were religious officials in those groups - some seeking to understand him and others seeking to find evidence to destroy him. If what he did actually occurred in those days, and so many witnessed those events, would even word of mouth have fallen short in proclaiming all that he did to even the most obscure corners of the then known world?

That said, it is obvious that many had never personally met him nor had been eye witnesses to his miracle working power. The majority of people had only 'heard' about him. Then, as is true today, many refused to believe what they had heard because it seemed impossible. So these men, those who abused Jesus, easily mocked him, pushing him to do something, anything that might be even a tad miraculous. Since he refrained, they remained merely entertained rather than enlightened.

The barbarism of those who held Jesus in captivity quickly revealed itself. They were not sitting down beside him saying, 'I want to believe what I've heard about you. Please, help me in my unbelief.' Instead, they verbally and physically abused him repeatedly, not expecting anything they had heard about him to be at all true - but merely fantastical rumors, silly myths created by dumb followers of the latest Jewish cult leader claiming to be the Messiah. The more they taunted him, the more convinced they became that Jesus was a charlatan, a lying fraud who had cleverly deceived the people. 

Why didn't Jesus oblige? Why didn't he perform a miracle, mocking their unbelief in return - as God apparently was not bashful about doing in Old Testament times?

65 And they were saying many other things against Him, blaspheming. 

If we have no reason to believe someone is of God, do our words of doubt qualify as blasphemy? Or, are our words considered blasphemous only if we know or at least suspect that the subject of our verbal abuse may be authentic?

Some knew the truth about Jesus, but refused to acknowledge it. Jesus was the truth, but refused to reveal it. Again, Jesus could have, with a mere word, changed their minds. He had been willing to do so with the religious leaders who had thrown an adulterous woman at his feet - possibly writing in the sand each of their own sins - convincing them that they were in the presence of someone that knew them better than they knew themselves.

So, why didn't Jesus reveal the truth about who he was? Would they have then not crucified him? Thus, did Jesus refuse to deliver them from their ignorance and/or rebellion because he was using them to help him save them - and all mankind? Does God sometimes appear to abandon us in order to save us? Are we all, in some ways, pawns in Divine hands for our own good? Does God intentionally elicit the evil in us in order to grant his grace to us? 

Can we receive the Savior without first recognizing our need to be saved?

66 When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying, 

Not all was done under the cover of darkness. Once evil feels secure, it is emboldened to display itself in the light. Jesus had already said that God had given evil this hour. Evil was being used by God to accomplish God's will. Evil unwittingly played into God's hands. Blinded by its lust for power, it ignored the obvious, imagining that the success of the moment confirmed future success. 

But is that really an accurate assessment? Didn't the demons Jesus had cast out of the demoniac know that their end was established for a particular future time? Wasn't that what the demons complained about when Jesus approached them - that he had come before it was their time to be destroyed? Doesn't Lucifer know that he is being used at this time, but not for all time?

Why is it that God uses evil? Is it possible that those possessed with evil sometimes chose to be complicit with God's plan to use them to save others and maybe to even save themselves or are they always unwilling participants? Does God give the workers of evil sufficient rope to hang themselves so that he can resurrect them with a different spirit? How can evil act so blindly, yet know they must eventually pay the piper?

When evil leaves the shadows and continues to work their mischief even in the light, their end is usually near. When evil feels emboldened to remove its mask, heaven often acts to remove the exposed evil. 

67 “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; 68 and if I ask a question, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 

"If"? As evil stepped into the light, the Light remained hidden in the shadows for a moment - giving evil its 'hour'.

Does torture work? Did torture extract the truth from Jesus? When torture is used to extract the truth, the torturers never really know for sure if what they are told is the actual truth or merely what they wanted to hear. Thus Jesus said, 'if I tell you, you will not believe.' So, Jesus proved his point. He told them the truth, they didn't believe it, but they used it to condemn him. The truth can set us free, but it often sets us free from life in this world.  

70 And they all said, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”

At this point in the story those who sat in judgment of Jesus finally cut to the chase. Their question makes clear to us that the teachings of Jesus were not all that cryptic. The religious leaders knew exactly what Jesus had been teaching the people. They could correctly add two plus two. Jesus was not merely claiming to be a prophet, the long expected Messiah, but he was claiming to be something much more - that he was the incarnate One, the Son of God.

They had, of course, previously asked him if he was 'claiming to be God' (Jn 10:33). Jesus had, at the time, given them an answer - of sorts - from the scriptures (Ps 82:5). His answer infuriated them then, but 'he eluded their grasp'. Yet here he was, this time securely - or so they believed - in their custody - and the question was again asked.

Nothing else was needed. Nothing else delighted their souls as much as this confession. Jesus claimed to be the incarnate God the Son. He clearly 'made himself out to be God' among mankind. They not only had his own confession to use against him, but they had, they believed, empirical evidence that he was a false prophet. If Jesus was really God, he could not have been arrested, abused, and then sent to the cross. Could he?

Sometimes a win is a loss. All is not what it may seem. 

Heaven, the scriptures tell us, is wiser than man.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;

That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,

The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;

I am the Lord who does all these." (Isaiah 45:5-7)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Luke 22:47-62 By Faith Alone

47 While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 

What is the difference between Judas who intentionally betrayed Jesus and Peter who intentionally denied knowing Jesus? 

How did Peter go from being the sword wielding defender of Jesus - despite the size of the sword bearing crowd - to being the scared denier of Jesus - in front of a mere servant girl shortly thereafter? What happened inside his head?

Was 'Luke' just retelling this account as one of many 'tales about Jesus' or was there some deeper motive to the way these stories were woven together? 

Why the emphasis on the 'kiss'? What were the cultural norms regarding kissing - especially between two men who were 'friends', or between a Rabbi and his disciple? 

Which comes across as the greater betrayal - when someone you love publicly denies knowing you or when someone publicly shows affection for you only to 'stab you in the back'?  

49 When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. 

After it was clear that Judas was betraying Jesus, the disciples asked if they should attack in  defense of Jesus. This was probably the correct response from the disciples - ask first, act when informed. As stated in our last study, just because Jesus said it was ok to arm themselves with a sword or two, that was not license to apply the sword(s) at their own discretion. Having 'abundance' - a sword in this case - is often a far greater temptation than having 'lack' - no swords. Why does 'abundance' often seem to grant license to act on our own?

Peter, as another gospel tells us, was apparently not of the same persuasion as the other 10 disciples who asked whether or not they should act. Peter quickly assumed that a sword in hand meant the sword must be used - simply based on circumstances rather than when commanded by his Master. (This is usually not the message taught to soldier in an army. They are well trained and well armed, but explicitly under the command of one leader. Armed or not, they don't shoot unless told to.) Peter was an insubordinate 'soldier' of Christ.

Jesus not only informed Peter that his assumptions were erroneous, but immediate set about to clean up the mess. It was as if Jesus turned back time, healing the servants ear to how it had been prior to Peter's slice.

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber? 53 While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.”

What was Jesus' point here when he said, ' you would against a robber?' Was he simply saying they - the religious leaders - should have known by then that weapons would not have been of any use against him, or that they should have known he would not fight them? Either way, he was saying that they had been duped by 'fake news' - the plague of every generation of mankind. They were acting on bad information - either ignorantly or willfully.  

Were the chief priests, officers of the temple, and elders at all scared of Jesus? Had some of them been actual witnesses to the miracles of Jesus? Had Judas told them stories about the miracles he had personally witnessed? Had the leaders not believed Judas? Or, had they suspended disbelief and embraced the notion that a large enough number of club and sword wielding mobsters would easily overwhelm whatever Jesus might try to do? 

Jesus addressed the fact that since the religious leaders came out against him at night, rather than during the day while he taught at the temple, their fear of the people was clearly much greater than their fear of him. Acts under disguise of mask or night tend to betray our anxieties. 

Then Jesus, according to Luke, said these next strange words: 'this hour and the power of darkness are yours'. What did he mean? Was he telling them that they could do nothing against him except whatever the Father permitted? Was he informing them that he had been commanded by the Father to let them arrest him? May we surmise, therefore, that nothing happens in this world except by order from the throne of heaven? Jesus seemed content with that interpretation. Are we? 

Could Jesus have acted against the well-armed mob with a mere word? Scriptures tells us 'yes'. Why didn't he then destroy them all - along with Judas, along with Satan? 

Scripture tells us his arrest was in God's plan, so Jesus let it play out as pre-planned 'before the foundation of the earth'. The way Jesus handled his arrest underscores the notion Luke appears to be presenting. Jesus had an infinite 'abundance' of power as the incarnate Son of God. Yet, he didn't use it in this particular circumstance. How did he know not to use his power? He first spoke to the Father and was told not to. Was this a unique Jesus-God moment, or was Jesus demonstrating the way of faith for all disciples to follow in all ages of mankind?

Peter, it seems, still didn't get the message.

54 Having arrested Him, they led Him away and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. 

When is it time to stand up against an enemy and when must we stand down? When should we protect another against their enemy and when should we permit evil to play out? Has God given these decisions to each individual to make? Should our church leaders make these decisions for their members? Or, does God expect each of us to always get our marching orders directly from Him?

In other words, when we speak about living by faith alone, what does that mean? What does it imply? Is it about an assent to the truth that God exists, or is it about listening for God's guidance moment by moment? If the latter, what practical difference should that make in the way we live?

Are we wise enough to know when to strike and when to retreat? The popularized social justice movement among Christians appears to have settled this issue. If it is immoral and/or unethical and/or unjust - Christians should intervene each time. There is nothing to consult God about. Wrong is wrong. Right is might. It is immoral not to act against immorality. It is unjust not to act against injustice. But is it really as simple as that - that once we are clear on what is right and just we are free to act on our own volition? 

But wait, wasn't that the way life worked under the covenant of law? 

Peter assumed he should act whenever he perceived injustice. Jesus didn't set that example. He came to reveal another way - the way of faith. Christians believe that God alone is wise and is unfolding an eternal plan that does not always makes sense to us in the moment and may never make sense to us in this life, yet we choose to trust in his wisdom and ways. Many things happen in this world that we don't like, that don't seem fair, yet we choose to believe that God will - heaven-side - reveal his reasons for permitting the things he has. If that belief is true, then shouldn't the belief be applied in every aspect of daily life rather than just when big bad things occur?

55 After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. 56 And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” 58 A little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 After about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 

Isn't it curious how quickly our life can unravel in the light of the simplest and unexpected things? Clearly, Peter loved Jesus enough to follow those who arrested him. On the other hand, though he had acted in haste at Jesus' arrest, he now decided not to act hastily. Instead, he chose to lie in order to keep his identity hidden. Jesus was obviously being unjustly accused, but Peter now chose not to act. 

Should Peter have told the truth in this circumstance? Should he have yelled out, 'I object!'? As asked earlier, should we always intervene when wrong is being perpetrated? If not, how do we decide when to act and when not to? Do we trust our own judgment or should we always trust in Infinite judgment? Are we ever wise enough to know what the best decision is? Under law, yes. Under grace, faith in God's wisdom is the way of Jesus.

Jesus knew Peter's nature better than Peter did. The rooster crowed right on cue.

Peter stated that he didn't 'know' Jesus. In the Greek the word for 'know' in this context is 'oikeios', not 'ginosko'. In other words, Peter was not saying that he didn't know anything 'about' Jesus, but that he wasn't part of the Jesus 'household of faith', that he didn't love Jesus.

So, how did Jesus respond to Peter's public denials?

61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

Jesus heard Peter's answers and just turned and looked at his disciple. That 'look' instantly reminded Peter of what Jesus had revealed earlier. He immediately knew that Jesus knew him better than he knew himself. And he wept. 

In Peter's bitter failure was Peter's sweet redemption. He had been acting according to his own wisdom. He loved Jesus, but still trusted himself more than Jesus. 

But now, in light of what had just transpired, Peter finally realized that he could fully trust Jesus with his life because Jesus alone knew what was best. Peter finally realized that he did not know what was best in any circumstance, but could always talk to Jesus and to live by faith alone in whatever Jesus said, and later by whatever the Spirit said.

Once we learn that God knows us better than we know ourselves, faith in God's wise guidance becomes a no-brainer.  

Did Peter ever fail to live by faith in Christ in the future? Yep. As we all do. And that is where grace comes in. It takes a life-time to learn to discern the voice of God from every other 'voice'. Meanwhile, as we learn, we will make many mistakes. God's grace is our safety net. God's wisdom has already taken into consideration our inability to accurately hear his voice. And, as students in the school of grace and faith, it really is the Teacher's responsibility to speak to each of us in a manner that we can understand. God does not expect us to instantly know how to decode his communications without his assistance. But, we must first choose to listen and expect to hear, before we can assume we know.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Luke 22:35-46 Deconstructing Christianity

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 

What Jesus did was intentional. In his school of discipleship, faith meant something. Faith was not merely a reference to 'what' one gave mental assent to, but whom one trusted in. Jesus sent his twelve out without their usual means of survival. They were not to trust in themselves or in things. If their faith was of any value, they needed to demonstrate that they trusted in his word alone. Anything less was not discipleship, it was not 'Christian'. In other words, their faith had to be placed in a person - a person who was more than human, a person who was present while not bodily present. Thus they had to have faith in Jesus as more than a mere human being, but as God in human flesh.

According to Luke's gospel, when the disciples traveled without money or any of their usual belongings, they lacked 'nothing'. They lived by faith in Him, and nothing else. The question is, if we call ourselves Christians - disciples of Jesus - do we also live by this kind of faith? Do we trust all things to him so that we can lose everything we have and still be at peace, knowing that God will care for us? In other words, are we merely religionists or genuine followers of the way of Jesus? If he sent you out 'without money belt, bag, or sandals' would you whine about your lack or praise God for the abundance you have simply by knowing and trusting in Him?

In the Old Testament, the will of God was revealed through prophets and priests. Eventually, the temple in Jerusalem became the place of God's presence and where his will was expressed. The people of God were simply to learn the commandments and statutes of their faith and to abide by them. Their faith was focused on the teachings of their religion and not necessarily in a personal relationship with an ever present God of grace. Without obedience to the Law, they did not belong to God (Dt 27:26).

In the New Testament, a new and living way was presented. The will of God is now said to be revealed through the resurrected, living Son of God. Each individual believer is a temple through which God is heard. Following the way of God is no longer about memorizing and then obeying religious laws apart from a relationship with God, but listening to the living voice of Jesus speaking directly to you as an individual - moment by moment - whether you are in 'lack' or in 'abundance'. You are no longer your own guide, but Spirit-guided at all times. The 'law' once was our guide, but after Christ the Spirit is our guide. Without the Spirit we do not belong to God (Rom 8:9; 10:4)).

It takes time to learn how to discern the voice of God - to differentiate the voice of God from all other voices. Thus, we are first placed under grace, no longer fearing punishment if we make missteps along the way. God understands our humanity, that the human mind is prone to all manner of diversions, self-deception, etc.

Here's the kicker in all this. Paul wrote, 'if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain' (1 For 15:12-19). In other words, if you don't believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and now speaks directly to you - guiding you every step of the way through life - then you are not a Christian. If you are living by obedience to the law, but apart from listening to the Spirit of Christ, then you are more closely aligned with Judaism and not with Christianity. This is also true if you live by the words of the NT scripture without listening to the living voice of God.

In this chapter, Luke intimates what it means to be a follower of Christ. Later, in John's gospel, the way of Jesus is explored far more deeply as he discusses the mysteries of Christ (Eph 3:4; Col 1:27). 

So again, the disciples of Jesus were to trust in Him when they lacked the 'things' they usually trusted in. Then, the disciples of Jesus were to trust in his guidance even when they possessed an abundance of 'things' that they could have trusted in - including a sword. They were to trust in him, though he was not physically with them, in both lack and abundance. Do we? 

36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 

"But now..." Having successfully passed Discipleship 1.0, a course in 'lack' that certified their faith as genuine, they were then instructed to do just the opposite in Discipleship 2.0, a course in 'abundance' that would also test their faith. 

The people of God are called to different things at different times. Sometimes we are led into time of 'lack' and sometimes into times of 'abundance'. It takes faith to trust in God when we have nothing and it takes faith to not be distracted from God when we have abundance.

But there was another important level to this next test. They were to arm themselves, even if that required selling a much needed coat. Owning a weapon does not mean, of course, that you lack faith any more than not owning any weapons means that you have strong faith. True faith is making a choice to listen to God and acting on whatever you hear him saying to you - whether in lack or abundance. 

Here's the catch. Owning a weapon is not license to use it any more than having nothing is license to steal. Owning a weapon increases the need to walk even closer with God because God may not always invite you to use your weapon even when circumstances seem to demand action. That was the lesson the disciples were about to learn (Jn 18:10,11). It is a lesson we must all learn. We are to walk by faith, listening to the Spirit, moment by moment.

Jesus was about to be 'numbered with the transgressors' right in front of his sword-bearing disciples. Should they use their swords to defend the very One in who they trusted? Wasn't the fact that he told them to arm themselves a clear justification to use their swords to not only protect themselves and their loved ones, but to protect their Master? If that were true, this whole story would not make much sense. And the final chapters of this gospel would be irrelevant as well. 

38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” 39 And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. 40 When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 

After telling his disciples to arm themselves with swords if they didn't already have one, the disciples told him that they already possessed two swords among them - the 'eleven'. Note his response, 'it is enough'. Clearly Jesus had no intention of creating an armed body guard. He was about to teach them what it meant to live by faith alone.

In just a few hours Jesus would be arrested by a sword bearing mob (Lk 22:52), hauled off to jail, falsely accused, mercilessly beaten, and then cruelly crucified. With all that on his mind, he told his disciples to 'pray that they not enter into temptation.' Why? What would they be tempted to do? Did Jesus set them up to be tempted - tempted to use their weapons as 'they' saw fit, without waiting by faith for his guidance?

They would, of course, be tempted to react to the situation. They would be naturally inclined to fight or flee. Either response without a command from Jesus to act, would be yielding to temptation - which would be a failure of faith.

Again, Jesus pretty much placed a sword in their hands, then knowingly led them into the trap set by Judas and the priests where they would be surrounded by an armed mob, where their faith would be tested. Would they be tempted to react without first checking with Jesus? Our would they stand their ground until they heard from Jesus? 

Imagine being a Christian today, one that owns a gun(s) solely for the purpose of protecting loved ones from intruders. Permit me to reiterate, there is no sin in owning a gun. There is no law against using a gun to protect yourself and/or your family against an aggressive intruder. But, even though you are fully prepared to act and even trained to act, should you act? Is the fact that you lawfully own a gun to protect your family, license to use it at will if you encounter of criminal in your home? An immediate response would be necessary, but shouldn't you ask God what you should do before you do it? How instantaneous is the Spirit's will revealed to you (Mt 6:8; Lk 12:12)? 

41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 

Jesus, the One who told his disciples to arm themselves and who had the power to protect himself, decided to ask his Father how he should respond when arrested? He didn't assume that having all power at his command was a license to use it at will - his will - at any time (Jn 5:30; 8:28). 

Faith means never trusting in your own judgment, but always checking in with God at all times. We are not given license to steal food just because we are hungry, nor are we given license to protect ourselves simply because we own a gun. Rather, we are to consult with God at all times.

Jesus didn't wait to have this conversation with the Father 'after' he was pinned to the cross. He anticipated all that would shortly transpire, examined in his mind the various options open to him, but then listened to God response. His actions when arrested were pre-determined.  

This is a very important notion that demands our thoughtful consideration. Just because an act is legal and/or we have the means to act, doesn't mean that we should. Our chances of acting according to God's will is far less if we haven't invited the Spirit to help us pre-think various scenarios. In other words, even before Jesus was arrested, he already knew exactly what he would and would not be doing because he had already presented the options before God and accepted God's response. He followed God's idea all the way to the cross, despite his ability to have initiated a very different outcome.

We are much more likely to experience a failure of faith if we give no preliminary thought about possible future events. Run various scenarios before the throne of God and listen for his answer, then imagine yourself acting as God says. Of course, God has also said that if we walk by faith, he will give us the answers we seek even at the last moment. It is, clearly, far more difficult to talk to God under stress, than it is to have been talking to God without ceasing all the way up to a trying event. If we already know God's voice and can discern it in the most trying of times, we will be ready to hear his command in the instant we are poised to respond.

43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. 

This Gethsemane experience was excruciating for Jesus. His flesh wrestled against the Spirit, yet he committed himself to acting only as the Spirit guided him. The pull of the flesh is mighty. The petitions of the Spirit are intense. We want things to play out as we see fit. We often give ourselves license to do obey the flesh and to then label it 'God's will', yet without having wrestled with God, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, how dare we believe we are following in his footsteps?

Religion tends to codify things. We want things spelled out so that we know exactly what to do. We don't want to be judged as immoral. We want to point to a rule and say, 'that's what it  required and I did it. Thus I'm innocent.' So we want, for example, the church to condone owning a weapon to protect one's family or our own life when necessary. Some of the disciples of Jesus carried a short sword with them as they traveled with him. But, there is a religious trap implicit with the request for the church to say it is ok to own a weapon. We naturally assume that permission to own is also license to use at our own discretion. Peter made that mistake when he used his sword to attack the high priests servant when Jesus was arrested. Ownership (abundance) is not license to use. In fact, abundance dramatically increases our responsibility to listen to the voice of the Spirit because 'abundance' is one of the greatest temptations - tempting us to live apart from God. Imagining that our abundance is evidence of God's favor, we subsequently abandon a moment to moment faith in God.

Jesus often taught this same lesson in many other contexts. For example, just because Moses - who we assume wrote under the inspiration of God - said that it is righteous to stone an adulterer, didn't make it righteous to stone every adulterer. 

As Jesus demonstrated, even when the people of God lived 'under the law', the law was given to a people who had not yet been taught to listen to God. But Jesus listened to God and taught his disciples to do the same. Jesus forgave the adulterer. He touched the leper even though the law said 'do not touch those who are unclean'. He healed on the Sabbath, even though the law said to rest from our works on the 7th day. Religious 'law' was designed to keep us hoodlums in custody until Jesus came to teach us how to live by faith, to walk in the Spirit - rather than to live under law. Law places the locus of control in the individual. Faith posits the locus of control in the Spirit.

45 When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, 46 and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Jesus demonstrated what it takes to live as a person of genuine faith. Sadly, the lesson was lost on his disciples as they snoozed. They permitted the flesh to distract them from the Spirit's leading, thus when temptation arouse, they failed to act by faith. 

Circumstances change things, and Jesus was that 'circumstance' that brought complete change to the way of faith. The Christian faith teaches us to walk in the Spirit, not to walk in our own strength. We are no longer under law, but under grace - each thought is to be guided by the living, speaking Christ. But, to walk in the Spirit requires that we first believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and speaks to us through the Spirit. 

If we don't believe in the resurrection, we are not followers of Christ. If we don't listen to the voice of the Spirit, we are not Christian. If we steal because of our 'lack' or apply the sword because of our abundance - without the Spirit's command at that moment, we are not Christian. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, yet Jesus himself said that he did nothing except as the Father guided him (Mk 14:36; Jn 5:19). That's our example. Anything less, we deceive ourselves.