Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Luke 22:47-62 By Faith Alone

Monday
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?

What insights into human nature might all this give us? Was Luke just relating this story or was there some deeper motive involved in the way he wove these accounts 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'?  

Tuesday
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 to defend Jesus. This was the correct response from the disciples. As stated in our last study, just because Jesus said it was ok to arm themselves with a sword, that was not license to use it at their own discretion. Having 'abundance' - a sword in this case - is often a far greater temptation than having 'lack'. Abundance often seems to imply license to act on our own.

Peter, another gospel informs us, was apparently not of the same persuasion as the other 10 disciples who asked whether or not they should act. Peter just assumed that a sword in hand meant a sword should be used when warranted by circumstances, rather than when commanded by his Master. Jesus not only informed Peter that his assumptions were erroneous, but acted to clean up the mess - as if turning back time to heal the servants ear to how it had been prior to Peter's slice.

Wednesday
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, '..as you would against a robber?' Was he simply saying that they should have known by then that weapons would not have been of any use against him, or that they shouldn't have known that he would not fight them? Either way, was he saying that they had been duped by 'fake news' - the plague of every generation of mankind? 

Were the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders scared of Jesus? Had Judas told them stories about the miracles he had witnessed Jesus perform? Had the leaders not believed Judas? Or, had they thought that a large number of club and sword wielding mobsters could overwhelm whatever Jesus might do? 

Jesus addressed the fact that since the religious leaders came out against him at night, rather than during the day at the temple, their fear of the people was clearly much greater than their fear of him.  

Then Jesus, according to Luke, said these 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 - and that he knew this was the hour that God had permitted them to come against him? Is it therefore true that nothing happens in this world expect by order from the throne of heaven? Jesus seemed content with that interpretation. 

Could Jesus have acted against the well-armed mob with merely a word? Scriptures tells us 'yes'. Why didn't he destroy them all? Scripture tells us that his arrest was in God's plan, so Jesus let is 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 circumstance. How did he know not to use his power? He first spoke to the Father and was told not to. Peter still didn't get the message.

Thursday
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, our church leaders to make, or does God expect each of us to always get our marching orders directly from Him? 

Are we wise enough to know when to strike and when to retreat? The 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?

This chapter tells us 'no'. Peter assumed he should act whenever he perceived injustice. Jesus didn't. Christians are 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. With that in mind, we trust in his wisdom and not in our own wisdom and strength. To act otherwise is to act under law - that our understanding of justice is sufficient to act whenever we discern injustice. If God wanted his people to continue living under law he would not have sent Jesus. We are now under grace and walk by faith being led moment by moment by His Spirit.

Friday
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 took no action. 

Should Peter have told the truth in this circumstance? Should he have yelled out, 'I object!'?

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

In fact, 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 words?

Saturday
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 said. 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 only talk to Jesus and to live by faith alone in whatever the Spirit said. 

Did Peter ever fail to live by faith in Christ in the future? Yep. As we all do.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Luke 22:35-46 Deconstructing Christianity

Monday
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? 

Tuesday
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. 

Wednesday
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)? 

Thursday
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.

Friday
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.

Saturday
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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Luke 22:24-34 True Greatness

Monday
24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 

The contrast is stark. Jesus humbled himself to accept death on the cross, while the disciples pursued exalting themselves to be at his side when he established his kingdom. They did not, of course, grasp that at the moment he can all in obedience the Father, it would be two criminals hanging on crosses by his side - not any of them. 

If we want to be exalted with Jesus, we must be willing to be crucified with him (Gal. 2:20). There is no higher position in this world than to be willing to sacrifice even life itself for another - when the Spirit calls us to that task.

Tuesday
25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 

The opposite of true greatness is to wield power over others - to 'lord oneself over the less fortunate' - while deceiving them into believing that you are their savior, their only true 'benefactor'. A true 'benefactor' serves others for their sake, not his/her own. True greatness is not about permitting 'trickle down crumbs' to just barely support the lives of those less fortunate, and calling it generosity.

Truly great leaders serve those they lead - serving them for their benefit alone.  

Wednesday
27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

As Jesus reclined at the table with his disciples, he asked them to consider which person was greater - the one who reclines or the one who serves those who are reclining. He then got up to wash their feet. 

Are you the kind of person who demands to be served first, or the person who gets up to serve others without thinking of yourself? Do you get up an make a token effort at serving, but quickly hope someone else takes over, or do you serve to the end and still look for others to serve? Do you see yourself as one among others or as one who is better than all others? 

Do you abandon your calling when it gets tough, or do you 'never give up'? 

Thursday
28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

We often imagine that life at the side of Jesus was a 'piece of cake', but Jesus implied that his twelve - despite the dullness of their minds - 'stood by him in his trials'. In other words, following Jesus was not easy for the twelve. They chose to endure whatever confronted them as his disciples because they trusted in him. Well, except for poor old Judas.

The fulfillment of his promise to the twelve was not going to be realized in this world, but in the next. If they chose to be servants in this world, they would be reclining at his table in the next world. In his kingdom they will be sitting on thrones. Their work would include 'judging the twelve tribes of Israel'.

Why would the twelve disciples be judging the twelve tribes of Israel? What qualified them to be judges of Israel? The answer is most likely linked to the context of this story. As servants of Jesus they would have to grasp God's grace. The twelve tribes were mostly under the law. It is only by grace that we can judge others righteously. If the disciples were true to Jesus, they would not be looking down on their fellow Jews who we blinded by life under the law. Rather, they would be understanding.

The question is, how would Jesus transform them from also having a law-based worldview to having a grace-oriented worldview? The answer to that question requires us to keep our eyes on Simon Peter.

Friday

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 

Jesus told Peter the truth. Satan was out to get him, to destroy his faith in Jesus and to separate him from Jesus. Of course, Satan cannot do anything without God's permission. God apparently gave Satan permission to pursue Peter. Yet the Father also gave Jesus permission to tell Peter exact what was going to happen.

Now, here is one of those stories that raises so many questions. Happily, it also answers a very big question. Our question might be, 'why did God even grant Satan permission to tempt Peter away from Jesus? Why didn't God just remove Satan to the other end of the universe and be done with him? Instead, Jesus not only knew that Peter would be tempted by Satan, but Jesus also only offered to pray for him - that he would not make a shipwreck of his faith.

This serves as a clue to how God actually teaches us to live by grace. He permits Satan to lead us into temptation - particularly into a temptation that we are sure we would never embrace. After having fallen, and then receiving forgiving grace, we have the means to pay it forward to others. Again, like with Judas, there is a certain fidelity in betrayal. Why? Because believers give God full permission to do whatever it takes to humble us as his servants, to trust in his grace no matter what, and to have a reason to need his grace.

Jesus did not say to Peter, 'Don't worry. You can't ever shipwreck your faith because I'm praying for you. My prayers never fail'. Rather, Jesus said, 'I have prayed for you that you MAY not fail, not that you will not be able to fail because of My prayers for you.'

In other words, for Jesus, sin is not a problem. God knows that we all fall short. He also knows that his sacrifice would more than adequately cover all sins past, present, and future. Under grace, sin is no longer a problem to fear. Rather, losing faith because of our sin becomes the real issue. More so, God permits Satan to lead us into sin so that we can experience the grace of God.

Once we - as proud believers - fall flat on our faces because of our weakness, we become even far better disciples. We are humbled and far more likely to prefer to serve others rather than to have others serve us. This is exactly what Jesus told Peter would happen. He would have a lapse in faith, yet would experience forgiveness, and only then would he be in a position to strengthen the faith of other disciples. 

Saturday
33 But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

Of course, Peter did not want to accept this paradoxical way of God. He refused to accept that it is only through acknowledging our sin that we can serve other sinners. 

Now note, Jesus did not say to Peter, 'sin will be good for your spiritual health. So, when Satan comes knocking on your door, don't hesitate to say yes because it will all turn out to your benefit. It will be an awesome learning experience.'  Rather, Jesus told Peter, I know that everything in you will try to resist Satan's temptations, and that is a good thing to do. But, I know that you will fail even though you will sincerely try not to fail. So, yes, resist every temptation, yet if you don't, trust that God has a beautiful contingency plan in mind. He know us well. He knows our weak points. He will permit us to be tempted beyond what we can bear - but only to strengthen our faith. 

It is like receiving the pain of a needle full of an analgesic to help you not feel what would have been a far great pain apart form the lesser pain. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Luke 22:14-23 The Shared Cup

Monday
14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 

What we have studied up to know strongly implies that Jesus knew exactly what, where, and when events important to his calling were going to transpire. The OT scriptures needed to be fulfilled or his legitimacy as the promised Messiah would naturally be questioned. 

On the other hand, no one but Jesus interpreted the OT as he did relevant to his mission. No one anticipated the details as Jesus did. The Jews expected something very different - divergent from the expectations of Jesus. So, many of the statements Jesus made about the near future made no sense to his disciples or to the people.

When Jesus reclined at the table to eat the Passover with his disciples, the events he saw unfolding were confirmations of the premise of prophecy. If the disciples had held the same premise about this Passover, they would have easily discerned and deduced the specifics that confirmed the premise. But they didn't because they clung to an alternative notion. In the years to follow, with a newly formed premise, they would go back to the scriptures - like the Bereans - and deductively find the evidence for what happened. The disciples could not have known, inductively, what was really going to happen, because they were already wedded to an erroneous premise.

Tuesday
15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus revealed his foreknowledge of the events in his words, 'I have earnestly desired to eat THIS Passover with you before I suffer...'  He had eaten the Passover meal with his disciples before, but the previous Passover meals were not THIS Passover. This Passover meal was at the right time and in the right place with the prophesied characters all ready to play out their parts. The whole plan, as prophesied in the OT scriptures, had come together. This would be the last time Jesus would eat the Passover meal with his disciples until all prophecies were fulfilled.

Wednesday
17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 

What was the significance of the cup? Jesus, according to Luke, gave us some hints. (1) Whatever the cup signified to Jesus, thanks was given for it. (2) Whatever the cup stood for, it was to be shared among those present. (3) In the cup was the 'fruit of the vine' - most likely wine - and it, not the cup itself, had a symbolic meaning. And (4) Jesus said he would not drink of the wine again from that day forward - 'until the kingdom of God comes.'

We may surmise from the above four points that (1) Jesus knew he was probably going to die the next day, therefore he would not be drinking wine again. (2) Jesus believed that he would be resurrected when the 'kingdom of God' came, since he said that was when he would drink the wine again. (3) Jesus believed that the wine symbolized 'life' - and life is a gift from God, therefore he was thankful for his life. But the wine symbolized more than 'life'.  Lev 17:11 tells us that 'life is in the blood' and 1 Cor 10:16 tells us that the fruit of the vine symbolized the 'blood of Christ' - His unique life. And (4) since this cup of wine was to be shared among his disciples, it was not only a confession of faith that each life is a sacred gift from God, but that Jesus' life in particular bought them life eternal. The 'fruit of the vine' is the 'new covenant in his blood' (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25) - the covenant of grace.

Thursday
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. 

The body 'given for you' and the 'cup poured out for you' both suggest sacrifice - a sacrifice made for his disciples. In other words, according to Luke, Jesus was acutely aware of his Messianic mission. The fact that Jesus died does not mean that God required blood in order to save mankind. Rather, God was setting an example for us to follow - an example in which we are to be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of others - agape love. 

If Christians focus only on the idea that God required the blood of his son to save mankind, they (we) miss the point. The death of Jesus was not needed, rather what was needed was the example of putting others before ourself. 

Friday
21 But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. 22 For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” 

What is betrayal? In this context, betrayal was confessing one thing while thinking something different. Judas sat at the table with Jesus, pretending to be one with him, yet was planning something contrary. 

Jesus revealed his knowledge, knowledge from the beginning, that Judas would betray him. Judas was fulfilling prophecy - 'as it has been determined'. Judas was doing what he was pottered to do (Rom 9). In one sense, it would have been a betrayal of scripture if Judas had not fulfilled his role. 

Saturday
23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.

Why did Jesus make this public? Why did he tell them that one of them would betray him? Was Jesus suggesting that as Christians we should not trust anyone? Or, was he just trying to get each of them to check their own hearts. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Luke 22:1-13 Prepared to Believe

Monday
1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people. 

I recently overheard a parent say, 'If my son just had the same opportunity to walk side by side with Jesus he would have become a believer.' We know, of course, that such a grand opportunity does not a guarantee coming to belief. Many walked with Jesus and then walked away (Jn 6). The most striking example of this is none other than Judas, not to mention God's former covering cherub (Ez 28:16), Lucifer. 

On the other hand, many are never given a choice to even become acquainted with God. Many die before birth, shortly after birth, or during early childhood - long before they could make a personal and reasoned choice to surrender their life to the Lord. The age old question remains, will they be saved even though they were never given the opportunity to choose to place their faith in God? Or, does the omniscient Creator know which ones, had they been given the opportunity, would have chosen Christ and which would not have? But, if the latter is true, are we all predestined for either heaven or hell? 

Some, like Judas and Lucifer, shun 'life eternal' despite having had grand opportunities to see the light in a way that few others have. So, was Judas created to fail no matter what? If we say 'no, because Judas intentionally chose to betray God,' then we must go back and ask about those who never had the chance to choose. Is personal choice really the deciding factor?  Are we truly saved through faith in God's grace, or not (Eph 2:8)? If we haven't had a chance to choose to live by faith, does God slip us in anyways because he knows what kind of 'heart' we were 'would have had' had we lived on? Are God's judgments based on the extrapolated potential of the heart or on the actual decisions made prior to death? If God judges by extrapolation, why do we so often worry about those on death row or those who died before being baptized, or those who commit suicide? 

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) celebrates God's grace for those who chose to  place their faith in his word. In their case, back in the days of Moses, God had given plenty of examples demonstrating that whatever he says, comes true. Regardless, many Egyptians chose to ignore the evidence and subsequently lost their first born. On the other hand, God's plague 'passed over' those (Jew or Gentile) who followed his instructions and painted blood on their doorposts. Yet, even those who were disobedient during the time of Noah, appear to have received a second change after death (1 Pet 3:18-20). How great is the grace of God?

Faith is not faith unless we act on what we say we believe. That being said, I imagine that many 'first-born' boys during the time of Moses were saved from the plague because of their parent's faith, not because of their own - maybe because they were still too young to believe or because they had chosen not to believe, yet just happened to be in their parent's home where the door posts were painted in blood. The scriptures appear to support the notion that the faith of the head of household exists as an umbrella of safety over everyone else within that home, making a parent a type of proxy 'savior' (1 Cor 7:14; Acts 11:14).

Back to our text and the question at hand. The priests chose not to follow Jesus. Instead, they chose to kill him. Did Jesus also die for these ungrateful miscreants? Or, did he only die for those who he knew would eventually come to faith despite their past evils? Does the love of Christ only extend to enemies he knows will later confess faith, like Saul/Paul. Does the love of God extend to those who he knows will be eternally lost, like Judas. 

What caused these priests to be so evil? Were they born that way or was there something in their religious culture that had conditioned them to be evil, despite no being pottered to be either good or bad? 

Romans 5:6-10 reminds us that Christ died for us when we were still his enemies. It doesn't say that he died for his enemies in general, but for those who 'were' his enemies, yet later came to faith - like Saul/Paul (2 Th 2:13). How do you put all these pieces together?

Tuesday
3 And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. 4 And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. 5 They were glad and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd. 

Was Judas 'pottered' to betray Jesus, as Paul appears to suggest in his letter to the Romans 9:13-23? In other words, did Judas no have a chance to choose any other course of life other than as one who would betray Jesus? 

"It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." 

Really? 

"The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'why did you make me like this', will it?" 

Huh? 

"Does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" 

Yikes! 

"What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?"

Could it really be so, that God pottered Judas to betray Jesus, that Judas had no choice? Did God create Judas to be a vessel that Satan would or could occupy? Was Judas designed to be 'faithful' to God by becoming the enemy of God? Is this the 'fidelity of betrayal' that many Christian authors have puzzled over and written about? Was Judas not able to choose any other way or did he chose to betray Jesus because that was what Jesus needed him to do or did he chose to betray Jesus because of his love of money? Was Judas intentionally molded to be thrown away after accomplishing what he had no choice but to accomplish or will he be saved because he accomplished the role that he was molded to perform?

What does it mean that Satan 'entered into Judas'? Does that mean that Satan shifted from being the 'backseat driver' in the life of Judas, to taking the wheel?  Was Judas out of his mind? Who, in their right mind, would betray someone like Jesus for 30 pieces of silver - unless they had lost their mind? When the scriptures say that Satan entered into Judas, was this simply a first century explanation that Judas had a nervous breakdown or that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, or...?

Wednesday
7 Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” 

Jesus, according to John (6:64), knew from the beginning who would betray him. Note, scripture does not say that Jesus suspected Judas could betray him, yet that He would make a grand effort to convert him. Rather, Jesus either knew that Judas was 'made' for this task or simply knew the future choices Judas would make despite other choices being freely available to him. Luke's words, 'the Passover lamb had to be sacrifice', suggests that a sacrificer had to be involved. There can't be a sacrifice without someone being willing to 'make' the sacrifice happen. Someone needed to bear the knife, to fulfill scripture (Jn 13:18). Judas appears to be the one 'chosen' by God, rather than being the one who chose. Or, is there another way to read this?

Jesus appears to have co-opted both Peter and John as unwitting participants in this Passover act. They were 'chosen' to prepare the Passover. In other words, they were the ones who set up the scene in which Judas would be told by Jesus to 'complete his mission quickly (Jn 13:27) and where Satan would enter Judas. Jesus was, it seems, complicit in fulfilling the scripture (Is 53:7), being "like a lamb that is led to slaughter."

Thursday
9 They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?” 10 And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. 

Also, prepared ahead of time, was a place in which these scenes would be played out. Again, everything was planned, molded according to God's will from eternity past. That is our story. There is nothing past, present, or future that God is unaware of. Nothing happens apart from his permission (Job 1:10-12). Even Lucifer, we must assume, was 'created' for mischief making, if we accept the words of Is 45:5-7 and Is 14:24-27.

Note, though, God apparently creates for good and for evil, or at least this is how the ancients pictured God, that view permeates both the old and new testament scriptures. Our modern view of God dismisses such notions, preferring to view a God of grace, who sent his son to die for all mankind - including Judas - and who has sent his Spirit to lead all to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), without having molded anyone to be either good or bad apart from their own choices. Many now believe in universal grace, regardless of the multitude of statements in scripture that appear to present something quite different. Maybe, then, our questions can't be truly answered until we address the issue of the nature of inspiration.

Friday
11 And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 12 And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.” 

The scriptures teach us that God is preparation savvy (Lk 1:17; Mk 10:40; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:5; Heb 11:16; Rev 9:15). Should we ever worry about anything when we worship a well-prepared God, one who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves and who works to prepare us for that which he has prepared for us? Our task, as with the disciples who were sent to prepare for the Passover, is simply to choose to say yes as the Spirit leads us, knowing that all things will be 'just as' the Lord said they will be. Should it matter to us 'how' God accomplishes his will? Should the many disagreeable things of this world matter to the person of faith if we believe that our God will bring it all to a beautiful eternal end? 

If we are like the noble Bereans, examining the scriptures closely, day after day, to either confirm or dismiss the things we have heard - what if 'reason' leads us to a conclusion that differs from what we want to believe? Should we hope against scripture? Or, should we reexamine our notions of inspiration? Did the authors of the Bible write what God said to them or did they write what they believed at the time being moved by their love for God? If the latter, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that their love for God did not automatically excise all erroneous notions about God? Can a great person of faith also be theologically in error? For instance, is everything King David wrote in his psalm's an accurate portrayal of God's nature? If so, what about David's imprecatory prayers? Imprecatory psalms are those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist's enemies. To imprecate means to invoke evil upon, or curse. Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139 all contain prayers for God's judgment on the psalmist's enemies. 

For example, look at Ps 137:9 "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock." How are these 'little ones' enemies of God? Have they chosen to rebel against God? Or, does God judge them as evil because their parents have been preparing them to be enemies of God? Was their no hope for those raised as enemies of God? If so, what about Rahab (Jos 2, 6; Heb 11:31)?

Saturday
13 And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

It was, as Jesus promised, 'just as He had told them'. The two disciples were able to accomplish their given task because the One who sent them had already prepared for their success. 

Thus the question remains. How thoroughly does God 'prepare' us for His (and our) success? Does God provide the opportunities for a life of faith and we either choose or reject the opportunities, or does God potter each person to be good or evil?

One final related thought from this week's study. Is it possible to have hope (trust in God's promises about the future - apart from any evidence about the future), without first having faith (trust in God's promises for the present - apart from evidence that God is present)? And, is it possible to have faith without having first personally experienced God's love? If we cling to hope having never tested God's love in the present, wouldn't that simply be another example of the suspension of disbelief that is so prevalent in our 'Hollywood culture'?