Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category
I am, and have been, reading Mere Churchianity by the late Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk. I really do not think it is possible at this point to write how much I love this book. Michael had a way with words and it continued in this book.
The funny thing about the world is what the church is and what the church does. Churches are strange creatures and, likely, more often reflect the character of the preacher than that of the Head, Jesus. Frankly, I do not know which I dislike more: the church or preachers. Having been a preacher myself for the better part of fifteen years I am erring on the side of caution and disliking the church more.
Preachers are not far behind though.
There’s a relatively new congregation in my community. They are putting the finishing touches on a nice, shiny new building. They are also having a big fair to attract new people–I’m assuming children who will be brought by their screaming parents. Whatever.
I know of another church that proudly announced on its marquee: New Contemporary Service–as if that is the honey needed for the flies. Whatever.
I know another church that, now that there’s a healthy and substantial flow of cash, is fixing a hole in a roof–as if fixing a hole in a roof will suddenly convert the world to Jesus. Whatever.
I can be critical of the church now–as if I was soft on it before. I haven’t had a church home for nearly a year. I’m not altogether happy about that; nor I am altogether sad either. Like I said, church is a funny thing and laying low for a while has given me an opportunity to spy. I’m not so sure I like Big Church (as in Big Oil, Big Money). Church is way too much of a chore, far too much aggravation, and not nearly enough of what I am looking for. That’s not arrogance; that’s reality. What I’m looking for is a church that has a big sign out front that simply says: Friends of Jesus, Friends of People. Welcome.
Here’s what Michael Spencer wrote, “There is little need for large churches stuffed with satisfied audiences. There is a great need for a movement of disciples going into the overlooked places of the world to see and serve the Kingdom of God” (101). I could not possibly agree more. But this will not be the experience of the church so long as the church is comfortable inside itself.
For far too many people church is what we do on Sunday with little regard for actual discipleship created by Jesus. Comfort is the key. The role of the preacher, at least so far as I can see, is to preach the world of God with such power of the Spirit that the comfortable people become agitated and the agitated people are comforted. The Scripture is, after all, a double-edged sword.
I’m still looking for a church that is all about Jesus–by that I mean, of course, that there is a deliberate focus on what Jesus is doing, who Jesus is, and how these two things collaborate and inform, shape and conform, empower and reform the steps we take as disciples of Jesus. I’m looking for a church that is not satisfied.
I am not looking for a church that ‘meets my needs.’ Only Jesus can meet my needs. I’m not looking for a church where I can get helpful hints for living a better life or having a better marriage or anything of that sort. I’m looking for a church where Jesus is the first and last word each week and where Jesus is the substance we meet in the middle. I’m looking for a church where the preacher insists and expects that I open my Bible when the Scripture is read. I’m looking for a church where the preacher, the elders, the communion, the worship–everything–says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” When I go to church I do not need to see myself, I need to see Jesus.
Well maybe I’m going on too much about this. It’s easy to be critical of the church and terribly difficult to jump in and be so much a part of the church that these complaints are overwhelmed with love. The church cannot be what I want the church to be, the church can only be what the church is and is becoming by the grace of God. And in this I believe is the lesson Jesus has been teaching me for the past year: love the church regardless of what the church may appear to be in your myopic vision. Love the church like Jesus does.
Simply put, what the church doesn’t need is me and all my bitterness, whatevers, and criticism. What the church needs is Jesus.
I just started reading The Great Omission by Dallas Willard. Here’s a quote from AW Tozer that Willard has on page 13:
…a notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles–the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to.” (The quote is from Tozer’s I Call It Heresy, 1974, p 5.)
I couldn’t agree more.
Soli Deo Gloria!
In the Gospel of John, we read this story:
1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I have no doubt whatsoever that Jesus loves people. He loves people of all stripes. He loves ‘the church and gave himself up for her’:
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Yes, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ loved sinners and ate with them: tax collectors, ‘sinners’, prostitutes, Pharisees, fishermen, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Peter and Paul. I fully accept the notion that Jesus accepts us for who we are, but I add this caveat in the form of a question: Does Jesus, in accepting us for who we are, permit us to stay as we are or does he demand change?
It is this question that most struggle with, and many in the evangelical church refuse to answer the question. Instead evangelicals allow their theology to be dictated and determined by cultural phenomenons, icons, or superstars: What Mel Gibson says must be the Gospel! But is this right? Is this true? Are the superstars of myspace, youtube, megachurches, hollywood, washington, D.C. the prophets who determine the boundaries of evangelical biblical theology? When Tila Tequila speaks, should we listen?
This is a significant problem in the evangelical world just now. I don’t happen to think that MTV stars and myspace celebrities are reliable sources for Biblical theology or for ecclesiastical practice. In fact, I’m not even sure why it is news when one of them says something about God or Jesus or the Bible because normally it is absolutely, unequivocally, wrong. Such is the case with the supposed phenom of myspace, Tila Tequila whose story is being partially reported at Christian Post as some sort of eye opening, Jeremiah type prophetic revelation concerning God and His Word. I’ll will note but a couple of the more significant problems with Tila’s theology of ‘Love is just love.’
First, my disclaimer, that I have never met Tila, I’ve only heard of her just today, I don’t watch MTV because I only have basic cable, I’m not one of her ‘friends’ at her myspace (of which it is reported she has 2 million!), and I only visited her myspace (which I won’t link to) twice (reading her blog). Second, it should be stated up front that Tila is a self acknowledged bi-sexual who will begin hosting a show on MTV called ‘A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila’ in which 32 straight men and lesbians will compete for her affections (I guess). OK, here’s some thoughts.
Although acknowledging that the show would raise controversy, she wrote, “I just want to say that I am truly blessed to have had an opportunity to share with the world and teach the world that it is OK to be who you are! Gay or not! So thank you MTV for giving me this opportunity.”
Well, this is patently wrong. It is not OK to be who we are otherwise God would have found no offense, would not have declared his coming wrath against all ungodliness, and there would have been no place for the cross. Fact is, there is no sin apart from sinners and there is no room for sin in this world that belongs to God. This is, then, false doctrine. The story above from John 8 declares: I do not condemn you, but leave your life of sin. We are not free to remain in the stranglehold of sin that Jesus died to set us free from. No doubt we are loved; no doubt it is that we might be set free from sin and set free to serve God in holiness. Part of the reason He gives the Spirit is to sanctify us, that is, make us holy. If God were satisfied with who we are, why would he demand that we change? Strike one against Tila’s theology.
Second, she says:
“Growing up, I felt like I had no one to turn to in times of need, who would be there for me with open arms without judgment when I felt hopeless,” Tequila wrote. “I lived in a lonely shattered world and tried to commit suicide quite a few times from a very young and tender age starting at 11 [years] to 22 years of age.
“That is until I made amends with God,” she added.
Tequila said she didn’t meet God in a church, which she had avoided going to with her “‘gay’ problems.” And she didn’t meet the God worshipped by churches that preached condemnation. Instead, she said she made amends with “the God that I can feel and hear in my own heart.”
Well, I certainly feel for the girl who, according to the story, “built her celebrity status online with racy photos and videos, Tila merchandise and album singles.” OK. I wonder, then, if God accepts those who are interested in pornography, those who flaunt their sexuality in order to turn a profit, those who engage in activities that the Scripture clearly condemns? Still, there is sympathy. I feel for her that she was so lonely that she attempted suicide ‘quite a few times.’ Who wouldn’t? I’m sorry she met churches that only condemned and didn’t attempt to teach about forgiveness in the Name of Jesus. Sadly, I don’t think Tila made amends with the God of the Scripture, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. No, I’m afraid she did not.
Sadly, she says that she ‘didn’t meet God in a church.’ Where else is she going to meet God? God has appointed the church to be a kingdom of priests. So writes Peter:
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Where else is one to meet this God? Who else has such a privilege? Who else has God appointed for such a task of declaring his good news, of having ‘beautiful feet’, of preaching? (Romans 10) No one. That’s the whole point. For better or worse, God had chosen the Church to be the repository of His grace and good news. It is in the Church, which is made up of people, that God has hidden treasures in jars of clay. The Church has its flaws–no one can dispute that. But in spite of its flaws God continues to accomplish his Gospel work through that Church, the Body of Christ. Strike two against Tila’s theology.
Third, she said:
“I stopped feeling bad about myself because I was told that I was a ‘bad’ person for whatever reasons and opinions,” Tequila explained. “That’s when I turned my life around. I accepted me for who I am in all my glory. I accepted the fact that God would love me as long as my heart is good.”
I agree that God judges the heart. There’s another problem though. It is this:
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
10 “I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward everyone according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
There’s another problem: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The problem, clearly, is that we don’t have good hearts. Our intentions are never right. We are like those in the days of Noah whose hearts were only evil all the time. We can’t trust our hearts. Strike three.
Fourth, she said (all of these quotes are in the Christian Post story as written by Tila at her myspace site):
“The church should understand that they have a higher responsibility to teach the youth about unconditional love, and how we can spread the love, not why being gay is a bad thing,” she wrote.
This is simply not true at any level and it is quite presumptuous for a 25 year old soft-core porn star, mtv starlet, and myspace celeb to presume to tell the church what its responsibility is in this world. In fact, the only person who has a right to tell the church what the church should do, what the church should understand, and what the church’s responsibility is in this world is Jesus Christ–and He has in the Scripture. The church has no such responsibility to to teach the youth about unconditional love, spreading love. Nor does the church have a right to teach the youth things that are contrary to Scripture–especially when it comes to homosexuality. Sin is sin and Tila Tequila does not get to dictate the parameters of what is and is not: Scripture does.
The church has a responsibility to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and in that respect love is not necessarily unconditional. Love carries with it responsibilities. One, for example, is to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. It demands repentance. The sort of love God calls us to is a ‘believing’ love, that is, we must believe in Jesus–and all that he teaches. We don’t have a right to leave anything out of the Gospel. The sort of love we are called to is a ‘love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind’ love ‘and your neighbor as yourself.’ It is not a free-for-all-do-whatever-you-want sort of love. Strike four. (See I was kind, I gave her an extra strike!)
Something else that is missing from this report is any mention of Jesus. She said:
“[N]ow that I’ve endured all of that pain, maybe God put me on this path so that I would be able to share with everyone else who may be going through the same things?”
Or, perhaps God ‘put’ her on this path so that others might not go down the same path. Tila Tequila is a porn star (I don’t know if she makes movies or not, but her pictures are certainly on that track). And she is not someone anyone should be signing up to take theology classes from. She is not, and I don’t think she is claiming to be, in any way a Christian: not an evangelical, not a biblical, not a Catholic, Baptist, or anything else. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that CP even did the story. There is no mention of Jesus. A lot of talk about God, a lot of criticism of the church, a lot of criticism of Christians; no mention of Jesus. Strike Five! It is impossible to avoid what Jesus says about the God who sent Him to earth, about the God who loves, about the God who demands our perfection, and about the God who, through His Spirit, makes us perfect. It is impossible to mention God’s love without mentioning the sort of love that God demonstrates for people: sacrificial, holy love.
But this goes to show what can happen to a person’s theology when it is not in any way grounded in the Word of God. Our path, our direction, our theology, must come from Scripture. I feel badly for all those who have heard her mention ‘God’ who will now think it is OK to participate in her television and internet shows. My friend Jason Goroncy posted this from PT Forsyth at his blog the other day. It captures beautifully my point:
‘The great Word of Gospel is not God is love. That is too stationary, too little energetic. It produces a religion unable to cope with crises. But the Word is this—Love is omnipotent for ever because it is holy. That is the voice of Christ-raised from the midst of time, and its chaos, and its convulsions, yet coming from the depths of eternity, where the Son dwells in the bosom of the Father, the Son to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth because He overcame the world in a Cross holier than love itself, more tragic, more solemn, more dynamic than all earth’s wars. The key to history is the historic Christ above history and in command of it, and there is no other’. Peter T. Forsyth, The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy (London: Independent Press, 1957), 217
We need to be well aware of the false gospels that are making the rounds. Tila Tequila is another example of someone who talks a lot about God, but knows nothing about theology–or Scripture. We do well to ignore her.
I have no doubt that God accepts sinners because if he didn’t, no one could be saved. However, I do also believe that God does not intend for us to stay that way or else he would not have sent Jesus to earth to die on the Cross. The Cross is proof enough of that. Go now, and leave your life of sin. Love is not ‘just love.’ Love is holy and it is clearly defined in Scripture by pointing us to the cross of Christ. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Love devoid of truth is meaningless. Tia Tequilas love, just from looking at her myspace, is anything but godly, and nothing remotely close to biblical. Again, we do well to avoid her definitions of ’god’, ‘love’, and ‘church.’
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 14:22-31 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 68)
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” 23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25″All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28″You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.
Judas (not Iscariot) asks Jesus a question that Jesus evidently didn’t think was meaningful. Judas asks, Jesus ignores his question altogether and goes back to the subject he’s been hammering home since the 13th chapter: Love. I sense Jesus saying to all of us, “There are some things that, while important, are not nearly as critical as others.” Primarily here he is telling us that the love we have for him takes second seat to no one, no thing, no topic. He began this section of Scripture by showing us the ‘full extent of his love’ by washing the feet of the disciples. He told us to imitate him, to love one another, to love one another, and to love one another. He’ll say other things about this love later too.
Eugene Peterson has an interesting thought about this love. In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places he writes,
As we develop genetically, things come into play that do require teaching and training: reading and writing, social skills, artistic and athletic competence, emotional and relational understandings, how to repair a transmission, how to program a computer, how to get to the moon. At the top of these learned behaviors, these achieved identities, is love” (327-328).
What? We have to learn how to love?
“Everyone more or less knows this, but after we’ve reached the age of thirty or so, having failed at it so many times, it seems so out of reach that many of us settle for a human identity that is more accessible—like the one associated with playing the violin, or playing a ten-handicap gold game, or repairing a transmission, or getting to the moon. When we run into John’s barrage of sentences on love, it just doesn’t seem very practical. We shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, I’ve tried it, tried it a lot. I don’t seem to be very good at it, and the friends I’ve tried it on don’t seem to be very good at it either. How about something a little more down to earth?” (328)
True, we are quick to quit. We easily give up when we fail at love—or, when others fail at love to us. If loving our friends and enemies whom we can see is difficult, imagine how much more difficult it will be to love Jesus whom we cannot see. But here’s where Peterson cinches it:
“This is who you are, your identity, loved by God. But being loved is not all there is to it. Being loved creates a person who can love, who must love. Getting love is a launch into giving love….Every sentence [of John] comes out more or less the same: God loves you; Christ shows you how love works; now you love. Love, love, love, love. Just do it.” (328-329; Peterson is talking about our love for one another and his context is 1 John. Nevertheless, the point is the same.)
If Jesus washed our feet (or if he died on the cross ‘for God so loved the world’ or demonstrated his love while we were yet sinners by dying on the cross) he has not merely created people who are grateful; he has created people who can and will love. This love transcends all the prejudice and hatred and anger and arrogance of others and of ourselves. Furthermore, I believe this love starts with Jesus. If the words Jesus spoke are the Words of the Father, then God is telling us the necessary requirements of his affection: If we are loved, we must love. If we truly love, we will be loved. I don’t think it is possible to say, “I Love Jesus” and not submit to his authority and to his Lordship. If we say we love Jesus then we will have no problems joyfully responding to his call with obedience and submission. But those who refuse to submit to Him in joy and obedience really call their own love into question for the very reason that they are challenging Jesus’ authority to set the standards of reciprocal love.
I don’t think Jesus is talking here about saving grace. I think Jesus is talking about the love that someone professing to be saved, someone professing to be a disciple, will demonstrate. By our obedience to Him, by our submission to him, we demonstrate our love and affection. Is it too much for Jesus to ask that we demonstrate our love for him? Does he even ask us to do so of our own strength? Or does ‘the Counselor’ sent in Jesus’ Name by the Father, guide and direct into the path of obedient love? Furthermore, doesn’t Jesus set the example: “…the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Is this not the example we are to follow?
We are loved, then, in order that we might love in return. We follow the example of Jesus. There is nothing but obedience for those who claim to love Jesus. If we love him, we will obey him and demonstrate that we truly belong to Him.
What does it mean to obey him? How do we demonstrate our love for him? How can we follow his example and be obedient to his will as he was obedient to the Father’s will? That’s the trick, isn’t it? But then again, is it hard? I think not because it all starts back in chapter 13 and the demonstration of the full extent of our love for one another. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that our demonstration of love, through obedience, for Jesus starts with our obedience to his ‘new’ command that we love one another. Think about it: If we cannot obey this one simply command, to love one another, do you think it possible we can obey anything else that Jesus commanded us to do? Or, take it from this way, if we have never known or even experienced the Love of Jesus do you think for a minute we will be compelled to love Him or love one another?
In many ways, I think it is time for the world to see that Christians, those who follow Jesus, always do what Jesus commanded us. It is time for the world to understand that we follow no one but Jesus, that we serve no one but Jesus, that we love no god but Jesus. It is time for the world to see that Christians always do exactly what Jesus commanded us, and I think this starts with love. The first step to learning how to love is by being loved. Jesus loves us, and demonstrates that love, so that we can love, and will.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 14:15-21 (90 Days With Jesus, Day 67)
15″If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
I have done a lot of talking on this blog, and in this series of meditations on John’s Gospel, about the nature of discipleship, what it costs, what its demands are. Being a disciple of Jesus is not cheap, nor is the grace that creates disciples in the first place. Cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer, is the downfall of the Christian Church. And David Wells has written powerfully about how the church has become less powerful because we have adopted the methodologies of the prevailing culture rather than teaching the hard truth about God, the Cross, and the cost of discipleship. In a sense, we have lessened the demands of a Holy God by forcing God into our shapes and sizes and ideas instead of allowing His thoughts to shape us. So Wells,
“Holiness is what defines God’s character most fundamentally, and a vision of this holiness should inspire his people and evoke their worship, sustain their character, fuel their passion for truth, and encourage persistence in efforts to do his will and call on his name in petitionary prayer” (God in the Wasteland, 136)
Wells wrote many such things and we ignore his prophetic voice to our own peril. The author of Hebrews wrote it this way, “It is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Wells wrote, “In His holiness God is not to be trifled with; familiarity with God inherently borders on contempt and is subject to judgment” (Wasteland, 141). But the sad truth is that the American Church, in its ongoing charge to be taken seriously and be considered relevant and to have a voice that is heard, has trivialized God’s holiness and the demands of discipleship, the wonders of loving obedience, and blessings of Trinitarian fellowship. What is the solution?
Elton Trueblood wrote in his little book A Place to Stand that what is needed, desperately, ‘is the emergence of Christian intellectuals. If Basic Christianity is to survive, it must be served by a highly dedicated and highly trained group of persons who are unabashed and unapologetic in the face of opposition and ridicule’ (A Place to Stand, 20 1969). I wonder if this is true or not. Don’t get me wrong: We need highly trained specialists whose focus is in areas of apologetics and logic and theology. My question is where do they come from? I think those people come not from the high towers of academia, but from the rank and file of the church. Their training, thus, begins from the pulpit.
Now this all serves as a brief introduction to my thoughts about what Jesus said here in John 14. Jesus said: If you love me, you will obey me. He did not equivocate. He did not mince words. He did not pull punches. While we are certainly not saved because we obey commands, there is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus fully expected we would obey his commands—not to be saved—but because we are saved. As we thus grow in our love of Christ our obedience demonstrates the character of Christ and the Spirit whom Jesus gives shapes, molds, perfects and sanctifies the Christian. Eventually, there will be no doubt in the minds of those who see us that God lives in us by His Spirit.
The point, I think, is rather clear and far reaching. If we truly love Jesus then we are not merely going to be hear his word. Nor are we merely going to mouth words like ‘I love Jesus.’ If we truly love Jesus then we are committed to obey Jesus. He is the authority to whom we answer. He is the one to whose Lordship we submit. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do these things.” Now what he says is this, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” There is virtually no difference between these two statements. It is impossible to say that you love Jesus and not submit to his authority to dictate commands and his authority to demand of us holiness and perfection.
Am I advocating perfectionism? No. Am I saying we will never falter, fall, sin, do the wrong thing? No. Am I saying we should just be happy to rest in his grace and that we don’t really have to make any effort? No. What I am saying is that true love is true delight. In other words, if we really love Jesus it is a delight and an honor and pure joy to serve him by obeying him. We don’t think of this as an unreachable or unrealistic goal to achieve. We think of this as an everyday adventure to say, “Lord, how may I obey and serve you today?” It is, in the words of AW Tozer, the ‘Pursuit of God.’ It is the ongoing hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is the ongoing first seeking of His Kingdom and His righteousness. It is pure delight! Pure joy! It is pure blessedness! It is what we were created for and what we were not created for. That is, we were not created for slavish disobedience and slavery to the flesh. We were created for fellowship in Christ through obedience to His perfect will.
Is this not what he says? “If you obey…I will send the Counselor to be with you forever…he lives in you and will be in you…I will not leave you…I will come to you…Because I live you will live…I am in the Father…you are in me…I am in you…he who loves me will be loved by my Father…and I will love him too…and show myself to him…” Do you get it? We were created not to be pawns or playthings or disobedient devil worshipers. We were created to live in fellowship with God. Jesus is talking here about perfect fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! (See 1 John 1-2.) If there is anything that is a hindrance to fellowship it is most certainly disobedience because in disobedience we have ceased pursuing God and righteousness first.
I don’t know if I am adequately explaining this or not. I hope I am because what I see taking place in a lot of churches is exactly the opposite. I see striving and chasing and pursuit of many things that have nothing to do, necessarily, with the pursuit of holiness. There’s too much fluff; too much seeking of the ‘experience’ instead of the real Thing. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me” (KJV). What I wonder is if all the fluff that exists in churches is fluff because we love Jesus or because we want stuff? What is the pursuit really of?
Christianity is not merely a discipline to be mastered. Christianity is a joy. We don’t obey to get saved or to get happiness or to get necessarily anything. We obey because we love. We love because we are loved. There is fellowship and peace in loving obedience to Jesus Christ. We pursue, followeth hard after God, because we love Him. Is this not what God truly desires of his people most? Does God require anything of us be the impassioned pursuit of his holiness? Can we think about the fact that He gave us life and be full of love and joy and so seek the One who has shown us such favor? “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, NIV).
Just ask yourself what you are pursuing. Ask yourself why you are pursuing God. Why are you striving to be obedient? Is it because you truly love Jesus and desire perfect fellowship with Him? Or is it something else, something less, something here? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they will be filled.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 13:31-38 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 65)
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 36Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Does it seem strange to you that on the most important night in history, the night before the death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world, that Jesus chose to spend a great portion of time talking about how we should treat one another? From a purely human point of view, there are many things that Jesus could have spoken of that night; so many problems he could have solved; so many errors he could have eliminated. But the scary truth is: He didn’t. And on the night that he was betrayed, the night before his death for the sins of the world, Jesus the Messiah said: “Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.”
Jesus associated this ‘love one another’ with three different things. First, he said ‘a new command I give you: love one another.’ Then he said, “As I have loved you: Love one another.” Finally he said, “All men will know you are my disciples if you: Love one another.” Later in chapter 15 Jesus will say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
This love that he calls us to practice—now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them—is radical to say the least. I can’t live up to it. I cannot even fathom it. I cannot, on the one hand, say ‘I am wrong’ with the understanding that this is required in order for me to ‘love one another’. I know that makes no sense, but it is true. There are plenty of occasions when we are simply required, by the very nature of love itself, to admit that we are wrong—mortifying pride—if we are going to love one another in obedience to the command of Jesus. But on the other hand I cannot say ‘You are right’ with the idea in mind that I am actually wrong. It is an irresolvable conundrum. How can I be both simultaneously right and wrong and still actually ‘love one another’? How can I eradicate the pride that needs to be right?
What I mean is this: there are times when the conflict inside must be laid to rest. What I have found in preaching is that people—and I am one too!—are unbelievable territorial, especially when it comes to what they believe. Once a person reaches a certain age it is nearly impossible for them to change their mind about any subject. Every now and again a cataclysm occurs and their mind is changed. Not too often, however. And so, “A new command I give you.” But how do we persuade folks to change their minds? How can we expect people who have been born into a spirit of hatred and lived in that spirit all their lives to change their minds? How can we, church folk, change our minds? How can we in the church love those with doctrinal differences, practical differences, liturgical differences, and so on and so forth? How can this love be manifested so that people not only see something I know but know of something I do?
Jesus also says we should love as he has loved us. Well what on earth does that mean? ‘As he has loved us’? What, by washing feet? “Now that I your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He did this to ‘demonstrate the full extent of his love.’ Well, we’re certainly not going to do that because that merely cultural! Let me translate: We’re not going to do anything that makes us uncomfortable or makes us get involved in other people’s lives.
Yet Jesus said: Love one another. I have to be honest. There are times when I am profoundly unloving towards brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times when I am just sickeningly condescending and mean towards people who wear the Name of Christ. I have no excuse except my own pride. I love a good spirited debate and conversation, but I also know that I want to be right! You know as well as I do that it is very, very difficult to confess to being wrong.
Jesus could have solved so many problems that night. He could have settled for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over the ‘millennial kingdom’ for example. He could have solved for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over election. He could have solved debates that have raged on in the church over baptism, communion, musical instruments—he could have said, “Evolution is a lie.” But the sad, scary truth is: He didn’t. He deliberately left those subjects vague enough that there would be ongoing debates and conversations and dialogues and schisms and Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals the world over, from the day of Pentecost until today. Why do you suppose Jesus did that?
And in the midst of it all he says: Love one another.
By this, he said, all men will know you are my disciples: “If you love one another.” I wonder what the church has shown the world? I wonder who the world really thinks we belong to? If our love for one another shows us to belong to Jesus Christ, then who does our hatred of one another show us to be disciples of? I have thought that for some time now because hatred is entirely too easy. You know, that is exactly why I think Jesus did not answer all of the questions that we bring to the text, and why, I think, certain doctrines, while patently present, are purposely ambiguous or at least open to different interpretations. For example, I just finished reading a book titled Perspectives on Election: 5 Views. I cannot believe how arrogant, condescending, and unloving Robert L Reymond is towards those with whom he disagrees: As if his supralapsarian Calvinism is entirely without flaw! I wouldn’t be a supralapsarian if that were the only choice and Reymond were only one advocate of it precisely because of his unloving attitude towards others with whom he disagrees. (At one point Reymond refers to someone he disagrees with in these words, “I feel much like CH Spurgeon apparently did, who, when commenting for his students and for ‘ministers of average attainments,’…I almost despair in thinking that anything I say will persuade him and his Arminian friends of their error, but I will try to make Paul’s intention in Romans 9 plain to them!” (138))
I use this as a mere example to illustrate the sort of unloving attitudes that people have towards one another in the church. It is the same in my own tradition where those who worship without pianos have traditionally un-loved those of us with pianos (or any musical instrument) straight to hell. We in the church love to major in minors. Why do you think Jesus didn’t explain everything to us? I think it was precisely so that he could test us and see if we really love each other or if we love ourselves or if we love our interpretations and ideas concerning Scripture more than our brothers. I hate to be the one to criticize the church, because I love the church—and so does Jesus!—but don’t you think that the time has come for the church to organize itself around Jesus Christ and love as he loved, show the world to whom we belong because of our love, and follow the new command he gave that we love one another? Don’t you think it is time for the church to rise up and declare that the very Christ Jesus whom we serve is the very reason why we love people who view certain aspects of the faith differently than we? (This is not a declaration that we will tolerate sin in the church. And this is not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter.)
But you know as well as I do what happened right after Jesus said ‘love one another three times’ right? Well, I’ll remind you. Here’s what Peter said right after Jesus said three times we are to love one another. Are you ready? “Lord, where are you going?” It’s almost like Peter didn’t even hear what Jesus said. Peter was stuck on what Jesus said in verse 33 and zoned out when Jesus spoke verses 34-35 (not that Jesus spoke in verses). Well that had to be somewhat embarrassing. But aren’t we like that too? The preacher will say: “Love one another, follow Jesus, take up your cross.” And the people will say: “Don’t forget about the pot-luck dinner next week.” We all zone out when it comes to the majors.
But what matters most? Does it matter really if we have the information about when Jesus is coming back (which is big in today’s culture) or where He went? Jesus seems to be saying that these things are minors compared to the major of “Love One Another.”
Then the most embarrassing thing is the conversation between Peter and Jesus where Peter professes his undying love for Jesus, his willingness to die for Jesus, His certainty of conviction regarding Jesus. And Jesus says what: No, Peter, you will deny me not once, not twice, but three times. Judas’ sin was that he knew Jesus and acknowledged it; Peter’s was that he denied he knew Jesus and acknowledged it. Don’t you see what happened? We are just like Peter when it comes to Jesus. We are more than willing to do the big things: Oh, yes, Jesus I’ll give away a $1000, or Yes, Jesus I’ll be a martyr, or Yes, Jesus, I’ll sing that really difficult song on Sunday, or Teach a class, or do this or do that. But who among us willing to listen to what Jesus is saying and: Love one another?
You see, I think too often we are more than willing to do the stuff that will be remembered, the stuff that gets us acclaim, the stuff that gets us in the limelight. Very less often are we will to do the menial stuff that no one notices, you know, the ‘love one another stuff.’ Not many of us are ready to be foot washers. Write a book? Sure, Jesus. I’ll do that. Even though it is a great burden, I’ll make the sacrifice, put in the labor, the time. Visit that person in the nursing home? Well, uh, you know that’s not really my gift. There are others who can do that and I’ll pray for them while I write my book, uh, your book.
I suspect we are just like Peter. We want to skip right over the little things like “Love one another” and get on to the bigger things like, “Oh, Jesus told me where he is going and now I will share that with you.”
This is not easy for me to write. I struggle sometimes because I am hunkered down in a congregation that doesn’t seem very motivated to want to get moving on forward. Again, I come back to pride. It is very difficult to confess to the Lord and others something like: Lord, I thought higher of myself than I should have. But then again, there’s this way of looking at it. Perhaps the Lord chooses people for certain roles not just to teach them, but because he trusts them. That is, if only certain people are really qualified to write books and lead mega-churches, perhaps only certain people are really qualified to bury dead people, or comfort the afflicted, or afflict the comfortable, or pray over a really sick person, or show compassion to a young child at school.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense or not. It’s a difficult meditation to write because I find myself being rebuked by my own words, and especially by the Word of God. I confess: It is hard to love one another. It is difficult to love those with whom you disagree in the Church. And if it is that difficult to love those in the church with whom we disagree then what are we supposed to do with those words of Jesus that say, “Love even your enemies”?
I think there is a way forward and it gets back to what I started with in this meditation. We must learn to humble ourselves and not think more highly of ourselves than is true and even then knock it down a notch or two or three. I have to say this: I don’t think the church can survive apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church can effectively evangelize the world apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church even comes close to exalting Jesus apart from our love for one another. The church must learn how to love one another. We must humble ourselves, each and every one, and do the hard work, the very hard work, of demonstrating our love for one another. It is futile to think that we skate by simply saying, “I love you.” Don’t you find it strange that it was in washing feet that Jesus ‘demonstrated the full extent of his love’ and not the cross? No, our love must be demonstrated.
I’ll end with this:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11, NIV)
Love One another.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 13:21-30 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 64)
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” 22His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
I’m not going to pretend to understand all the dynamics that are working together in this periscope. I think it’s too easy to say that Judas acted entirely of his own free-will, but I think it is equally unlikely that Judas had no help. To be sure, I think Judas had a choice in the matter all the way up until the moment when Jesus handed Judas the bread and Judas accepted it. Was it inevitable that Judas would take the bread? Scripture had to be fulfilled. Judas had a choice, but Scripture ‘knew’ all along, or at least declared all along, that Judas would invariably make the wrong choice. Judas had already been prompted by the devil and Jesus, I presume, knew that too, but prompting isn’t quite the same as ‘gave him no choice’ in the matter. I think Judas had a choice right up until the sop was taken from the hand of Jesus. Then, and only then, did Satan enter Judas and make the choice of Judas irrevocable. Judas had a choice; then he didn’t.
I fully realize that doesn’t make matters any better. I think Judas had a say so in the matter. After all, he let Jesus wash his feet and presumably, since John gives no indication that Jesus didn’t wash Judas’ feet, Judas ‘had a part of him’ (see verse 8). I presume that Judas didhave a part with Jesus up until Jesus handed him the sop. There is a tension here that, frankly, I cannot resolve. Scripture ‘had to be fulfilled’ concerning the betrayal of Jesus. Even the disciples who were sitting around the table didn’t know what was going on: Perhaps Judas was making a donation to the poor, perhaps he was buying more food for the Feast. Who knows? If they didn’t know all the dynamics, I’m quite certain I don’t. Judas did and did not have a choice in the matter is the best I can say. I don’t think Judas could have not chosen to do what he did. On the other hand, I think up until the moment he took the sop, he had every opportunity to not do what he did. Hmm.
If Judas didn’t have a choice, do any of us? I don’t think there was any magic in the sop. I think Jesus handed Judas the sop and Judas took it and after he took it the devil too him. Judas was in control of himself until that moment, then he relinquished control: He became an agent, a servant, of the Enemy. I picture that scene from Revenge of the Sith(Star Wars, episode III) when Anakin finally gives himself to the emperor. Up until the moment that Anakin bowed down in front of Senator Palpatine he had a choice. The minute his knee began to break the choice became irrevocable. There was no going back; he was a servant of evil. In some way, I think the same is true of Judas Iscariot.
The point here is not really to debate the epistemology of this scene. There are two or three other points that I would like to draw your attention to. First, the friendship of Judas. Second, the friendship of Satan. Third, the friendship with darkness.
First, the friendship of Judas. You realize of course that since Judas was handed the sop by Jesus that he must have been sitting, or reclining, close to Jesus. I think he was sitting closer to Jesus than was Peter. Have you ever thought about that before? Why was Judas sitting close enough to Jesus that Jesus could reach out and hand him the sop? I suspect, and it is speculation, that Judas was close to Jesus, a good friend. John even quotes the Psalm, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” The full verse of Psalm 41 says this, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9, NIV). Could it be that Jesus and Judas were actually closer friends that we have previously thought? Could it be that this is why Judas had charge of the money bag, because Jesus ‘trusted him’?
But how can someone so close become so full of the devil? How can someone who is on intimate terms with Jesus become the very one that the devil used to accomplish his ends? I think that at some point Judas opened himself up to the influence. “The devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus” (v 2). At some point Judas dabbled, cavorted, carved out a niche in his heart where he would at least entertain the notion of betraying Jesus. Perhaps Judas knew the Psalm. Perhaps he had this in mind all along and used his friendship with Jesus for just such a purpose. Who knows? It is somewhat strange that Jesus and Judas were friends but that is the way it appears.
Second, the friendship of the devil. Whatever else we may say, this much is clear: Judas flirted. And when you flirt you invariably end up on the losing end of the deal. Judas proves that the devil does not keep his word. There’s no telling what Judas thought he would get out of this deal, but in the end he got none of it at all. There is no trust to be afforded the devil and, in fact, we probably would do well to simply avoid him at all costs. Judas also proves that no one can serve two masters: We cannot love them both. We will either hate one and love the other, or love one and hate the other, but there’s no two ways about it. You cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect to be in your right mind.
I don’t believe this was the first time the devil prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. I have no evidence, but I’m willing to bet my cat that it had happened in the past. The beginning of this chapter simply gives us an insight into what had been happening in the life of Judas. Then there’s this: Jesus served Judas by washing his feet, the devil used Judas by prompting him to betray Jesus. Well who got the better end of that deal? Are there times when we do the same? Are there times when we are far too quick to betray the One who has washed us, included us in himself, made us fully alive? Friendship with the devil does not amount to much. It brings with it heartache, hurt, and a heavy does of ‘see I told you so.’
Finally, friendship with darkness. Since the beginning of John’s Gospel we have see this back and forth between darkness and light, day and night. John simply says, “And it was night.” Remember what John wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Remember that ‘understood’ can also be ‘overcome.’ “The darkness has not overcome the light.”
Evil must be done under the cover of darkness. It was their ‘hour’, when darkness ‘reigned.’ Even by the time Jesus is taken to Pilate it was still ‘early morning’ and it would still be dark. And even though John mentions it not, we know that darkness covered the land while Jesus was on the cross. It was a time of darkness. Darkness here symbolizes the evil that filled the world during those days. John was not just marking the time for us. He was making a theological statement about the condition of the world: It was night. In other words, for the time being, the devil ruled.
It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus was ‘troubled’ during the dinner and it’s no wonder he sort of hurries Judas along (read: wanted Judas’ darkness away from him).
I don’t really think that these verses are about friendship. I do wonder if Jesus’ ‘troubled in spirit’ in verse 21 is the same or nearly the same as his ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ in chapter 11:33. Because if it is then Jesus was not simply emotionally taxed; he was angry. In chapter 11 he was angry about death. Here he is angry about betrayal. I don’t think we can take this anger lightly as if Jesus ‘meek and mild’ took it lightly. Maybe the lesson here is that we must indeed be careful to whom we entrust ourselves. By this I don’t mean that Jesus made a mistake in choosing Judas. I mean that Judas made a mistake in opening himself up to the temptations of the devil. We must be on guard! We must protect ourselves at all times giving the devil no foothold, no occasion, no opportunity. I think the devil knew that Judas was available and open to the idea of betrayal. We must not give the Enemy the idea that we are available to be used by him for his purposes.
We have one Master and it is not the devil. We cannot, must not, try to serve anyone but Jesus. The apostle wrote, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NIV). I think this episode is a perfect example of what Paul talked about in Corinthians. Judas was riding the fence. He was dealing from two stacks. Jesus told Judas to make up his mind.
There’s a lot of this in our own church today. There are too many preachers, teachers, professors, and Christians in general who are convinced that they can have a foot in both worlds. It will not stand. And, frankly, it must stop. We must stop playing this game we play with our faith. It’s a dangerous game of thinking that we can live in any way we want with no regard to Christ but on Sundays. When we flirt with the devil, it won’t be long before we are divorced from our husband and remarried. After that, it won’t be long before we are widows. Indeed, our first love is the one we must cling to. If you belong to Christ—if you ‘have a part with him’—then stay with Him. Don’t flirt. Don’t open yourself up to things you cannot possibly control. Once the door is open it will not be long before it swings wide and that which we flirted with—power, money, fame, pride, gluttony, ambition—will reveal its true identity.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 13:12-20 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 63)
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. 18“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ 19“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
It makes one wonder, doesn’t it? You know, if we’ve missed the blessing he promised for doing ‘these things’. It makes one wonder, doesn’t it, what ‘these things’ are. I argued in my last post that we should follow his example and wash one another’s feet. What Jesus said, however, is this: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” It is not enough to merely have information about such things. One must take the information, what we know, and put it into practice, what we do. James the apostle is quite adamant on this particular point:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25, NIV).
What is utterly shocking is that Jesus told us these things and James had to repeat them. I think James’ repetition of Jesus’ statements utterly rule out the mere cultural dimension of Jesus’ statements. But I shall not press the issue here. I understand that when it comes to foot washing we are a bit squeamish, perhaps more about having our feet washed than about actually washing another’s feet. Still, and here I’m sort of thinking out loud, I wonder why it is that foot washing never quite reached the standard of sacrament as did baptism, Eucharist, and, to a lesser extent, marriage?
Jesus says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” What, then, are the things we know and in what way are they commands for us to obey? Or, are they commands we must obey? Just exactly what sort of ‘blessing’ is Jesus talking about here? What sort of ‘blessedness’ is he referring to in this context? Well, I don’t have time to unpack all of the ideas here so I shall restrict myself to a couple or three thoughts about what Jesus says we now know.
First, we now know what he did for them. What did he do? He demonstrated the full extent of his love for them by washing their feet. Now, whatever the cultural implications of these verses (whether or not we should wash feet or not) one this is certain: Loving one another to the fullest extent is not an option. I wonder indeed how much labor the church has wasted evangelizing a world that will not accept us precisely because we don’t love one another to the fullest extent, because we simply won’t wash one another’s feet? We are left with no options when it comes to one another and the love we have. I do not believe for a minute that it is unimportant that Jesus washed Judas Iscariot’s feet. And if Jesus, the ‘teacher’ and the ‘Lord’ washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, how much more should we wash the feet of those we know (‘for Jesus knew which of them would betray him’)? It does sort of help us understand why John mentions Judas so much in this thirteenth chapter.
What a contrast Jesus is to us! We have gone out of our way to sacralize Communion and baptism, but we have not taken one step in the direction of sacralizing the love we are supposed to have for one another. What a shame this is because, as Jesus said, we know this and if we did it we would be blessed. I suspect the church has missed out on a great deal of blessedness because we are so contrary about who we will love and who we will not love. (And because we brag about it as if that were a badge of honor.)
Second, we know who he is: Teacher and Lord. Jesus agrees: Yes, that is what I am. Those two titles accurately summarize the person of Jesus. Jesus says, in effect, that is not nearly enough. I’m not someone you merely listen to, nor someone you, rightly, worship and obey. I’m also someone whose actions you are to emulate. What are those actions but serving, doing the most menial work, the most trivial work, the most dehumanizing work? It wasn’t just about the nature of the work being done though. I think it was about something far more than just the fact that Jesus did a work reserved for the lowest of the low. I think it was also about his willingness to do so and, also, this: No one else was doing it. Evidently there were no servants in the house to wash feet. Evidently no one else was standing up or kneeling down to wash their feet. We see in this story a Jesus who takes the initiative to do what no one else was doing nor was willing to do.
Is this not the nature of the cross? Is this not the nature of the One who does what no one else will do? Not only did Jesus wash feet, not only could he wash feet, but he was willing to wash feet. The Teacher and the Lord humbled himself and shamed everyone in the process. Then he has the nerve, the utter audacity to say: “And you should do the same.” I wonder, out loud again, if we are actually un-blessed because we don’t do these things? I mean, if doing them releases us into a state of blessedness, what would be the result of our failure to imitate Jesus?
Third, we know that a ‘servant is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.’ We know this and yet we persist in unbelief! What I mean is, we know we are not greater than Jesus in our heads, but we certainly do not know it in our actions. Right? In our actions we act as if we are far better than Jesus. We explain things away: “Well, foot washing was merely a cultural thing. Jesus used that as a metaphor to say we should really, really love one another.” Well, Jesus later did say that. But Jesus could have chosen any metaphor to demonstrate how we are to love one another. He didn’t have to use an example he knew would be culturally obsolete a few years after his death. Did Jesus in fact deliberately choose foot washing because he knew we would split hairs about it?
Fact is, we do think we are better than Jesus who touched lepers, ate with sinners, spoke to prostitutes, ate dinner with Pharisees (and we do have those in our modern world), and, eventually, gave himself up on the cross. I think sometimes we American Christians believe, really believe, deep down, that Jesus has not called us to ‘take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him.’ I really think that most Christians are absolutely persuaded that Jesus only meant that for the culture he was living in and that the cruciform life, the Crucifixion Driven Life, is, like foot washing, a cultural anomaly. Is this not why certain ‘feel-good,’ ‘Jesus loves you’ preachers’ ministries are thriving? Is this not way the prosperity gospel (which is really no gospel at all) continues to make its advocates (not its constituents) richer and richer and richer every passing day? Is this not why advocates of healing and well-being ministries continue to prosper even though there is not a shred of medical evidence to persuade anyone that they are actually healing anyone of anything? The fact is, we think we are better than Jesus. Fact is, we think that we can skip out on things like foot-washing. But failing to wash feet is only a half-step away from failing to love one another. If we can’t do the easy things, how are we ever going to do the hard things?
It is terrifying the sort of Christianity that is being perpetuated by and perpetrated upon a generation of unsuspecting humans. Most of them end up just like Judas Iscariot. Jesus comes in and washes their feet and gives them every opportunity in the world to be blessed, but they won’t wash feet. Then they turn Jesus over to the authorities. The very closest, the friend of Jesus, is the very one who will lift up his heel against Jesus.
I wonder if perhaps the church doesn’t need to get back to foot washing, or feet washing. I wonder if it isn’t time for the church to re-evaluate its stance on the whole ‘should we love one another or not’ thing. I ask again: If we are blessed for doing such things, are we un-blessed for not doing such things? Are we worse than the one who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like? Are we that bad? Can the true church be recovered? What will it take?
I think it will take: A basin of water, a couple of towels, and one person who is willing to do what no one else in the church is willing or even interested in doing. Oh, and at least two dirty feet.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 13:1-11 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 62
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
Just as it is most important to consider where one begins a work such as a Gospel, it is also important to consider where one begins to end such a work. John began his Gospel by noting for his readers that the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ We are immediately caught up in what is ‘the Word?’ what is, ‘dwelt among us’? and what is ‘became flesh?’ These questions are, in their own time, answered throughout John’s Gospel as he teaches us about Jesus Christ.
But then we move on to where the author begins to end his Gospel. We know, from reading chapter 12 carefully, that now ‘the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ We know now that Jesus is about to face the cross of crucifixion, the humiliation of crucifixion, and the rejection of all people. We know that Jesus is about to be glorified by being ‘lifted up.’ And when he is lifted up, he said, he would ‘draw all men unto himself.’ The cross is just as unavoidable for us as it was for Jesus.
But then John takes us to chapters 13-17 admittedly some of the most profound, theologically charged, chapters of the entire Bible. What is one to make of these chapters? Why would John announce that the time had come only to take us into a quiet room to listen to a very long speech that really answers none of the questions that the disciples happen to ask him? And they do ask a lot of questions.
It seems these chapters are rather out of place. They change the entire focus and pace of the narrative from the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ on his way to Jerusalem to a slowed down, quiet dinner in an out of the way ‘room’ at an undisclosed location. I wonder to myself: Why the drastic change of pace? Why the huge slow down? Why the downshifting? Why did we go from a mad rush to Jerusalem to a slowed down dinner where Jesus answers a bunch of questions that are not on our minds? Why doesn’t he answer the questions we really want answered: How did you create the world? Who’s right: Calvin, Arminius, neither? Seriously: KJV or NIV? Is Catholicism really the true church? Who shot Kennedy? Yet what we discover is that Jesus had none of the sort of things in mind that we have in mind. And even the questions that the disciples did ask were, for the most part, left unanswered. Strange.
And what’s worse is this: Here we have this One who has told us he is from God, the Holy One of God, the King of Israel, the Lamb of God, the Great I Am, the Bread of Life, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and so on and so forth and what does he do but the most embarrassing thing possible: He strips off most of his clothes, kneels down, and washes the feet of his disciples: Including Judas Iscariot! And if that is not the worst of it John says Jesus did this to demonstrate the full extent of his love for us! And if that’s not the worst of it Jesus later says that we are to do the same exact thing for one another: Wash one another’s feet! I’m not sure, all of the sudden, how I really feel about all this.
Here’s what I have noticed about the church though. Jesus left behind some commands for the church. Some call them ‘sacraments.’ I don’t call them sacraments, but I don’t fuss about those who do. He said, “Go and baptize.” There are virtually no churches in existence that do not practice some form of baptism or another. There is also what most call ‘communion’ or ‘Eucharist’ or ‘the Lord’s Supper.’ Most Christians celebrate both of these ‘sacraments’ on a fairly regular and consistent basis. We are very good at doing these things. But here’s the thing I don’t get at all. John says that Jesus washed feet so that he could ‘demonstrate the full extent of his love’ for his disciples. Then Jesus tells his disciples to ‘do the same for one another that he has done for them’ (14, 17). Later Jesus will say, ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (34). And yet this command of Jesus is the one that Christians, nearly across the board, do not practice. We don’t wash feet! Why?
Why don’t we wash feet? We wash the whole body in baptism without batting an eye. We wash the soul, so to speak, in the Eucharist. Why don’t we wash feet the way Jesus did, the way he commanded, in order that we might demonstrate our love for one another, in order that ‘everyone will know we are his disciples’? Why is it that Christians have so much difficulty demonstrating our love for one another? We are even very good at loving the poor, the sick, the lost, the broken, the needy, the helpless, the stranger, the alien, the foreigner—even our enemies! But when it comes to loving one another, when it comes to demonstrating that love for one another—even in something like washing feet—we shrink back and simply, out and out, avoid the command.
I wonder why? Jesus even washed Judas Iscariot’s feet that night. Why don’t we wash anyone’s feet? (Please, before you bother writing in and telling how foot washing was a ‘cultural phenomenon’ don’t. I could equally argue that baptism and communion (which was originally a Passover meal) were cultural phenomena. I don’t buy that argument.)
My point is simple. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, washed feet. He told us to do the same. He did it to demonstrate the full extent of his love. He said by our love for one another would people know we belong to him. Am I missing something? Why don’t we love one another quite the way we should? I confess that it is hard sometimes because it is too easy to despise people who have different points of view than we do when it comes to theology or matters of church polity and practice. I suppose that it comes down to an inflated opinion of our own ideas. That’s why, I think, Jesus didn’t answer the tough questions that night about election and sovereignty, Calvin and Arminius, free will and puppetry, creation and evolution, emerging church or traditional church, and exactly why he answered questions that had to do primarily with his own agenda. And isn’t it true that these badges of honor that we wear are now nothing more than stumbling blocks?
I love the Reformed theologians and the manner in which they approach Scripture (High Scripture). I’m terrified and horrified by the conclusions they draw from that approach. I cherish the conclusions of the non-Reformed theology, but I am sickened by the rather casual approach that they have towards the Word of God. But are either of these positions grounds for un-love for a brother in Christ? No. But you would think that, after reading some Reformed authors, all who don’t accept Reformed theology are whack-jobs without education. And you would think that, after reading some Arminian authors, that all Calvinists are preaching the devil’s handbook. But I wonder if there is room for love in spite of our differences about such things? Indeed, there must be!
If we cannot love one another, in spite of our differences, in spite of our own arrogances, in full recognition of our utter sinfulness, then how can we ‘know these things’ and ‘be blessed if we do them’? (17) I think that the church has missed out on a great deal of the blessing precisely because we don’t practice such things. I think too often we are far too concerned with being right than we are with being in love and loving. I think too often we are concerned with our appearance and with our dignity and with our pride and that is why we explain away foot washing as a mere culturalism that we can discard. I think that is an excuse we make because we really don’t want to serve one another from the heart. Stubborn pride is what it amounts to.
But if Christianity is going to be thrive and amount to anything in this world then our goal and our ambition must be different. We must wash feet. We must humble ourselves before arrogant brothers, we must humble ourselves before betraying enemies, we must humble ourselves before the Church, the Body of Christ, and we must wash feet just like Jesus did. If washing feet was the manner in which Jesus demonstrated the ‘full extent of his love’, how much more will it be for us for whom foot washing is culturally obsolete? Is there any other way we can demonstrate the full extent of our love for one another?
Soli Deo Gloria!
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27″Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 34The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” 35Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Some Greeks were among those who went up to worship, but there is something not entirely about worship on their minds. They wanted to see. Not only were they in town to worship, they were also in town to see. That’s normally why we travel and go other places: to see. We want to see the sites, take in the scenary, behold things we have never before beheld. We take in all the important things: Famous buildings, a nice park, an historical landmark or two, perhaps a famous person or a show. We go to see. These Greeks were no different even 2,000 years ago. They wanted to see.
The problem is that, as Eugene Peterson has so aptly pointed out, Jesus is no mere tourist attraction. Jesus is not someone you go to see; someone you go to hear; someone you go to meet. And He is about to make that more than clear to those who were within the sound of His voice. It is at this moment that Jesus announces that the time has come for the Son’s glorification. He ignores the request of the Greeks who had come to see Jesus as if he were a carnival show or significant celebrity. He ignores their request, flat out denies them. They never saw Jesus. Then it happens is living color: Jesus tells people the goal he has been working towards his entire life. He tells them what they cannot fail to understand about the Messiah if they expect to truly see the Messiah: You cannot miss His death. If you miss his death, his suffering, his passion, you have missed the entire point of Jesus.
Jesus is not something or someone we go to see as if he were a tourist attraction, a sideshow. You cannot go and look at Jesus and expect, for one minute, to understand Him. Jesus says, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” That’s it. If you want to understand Jesus you have to participate with Jesus. You have to die with Him.
So what shall we say? Shall we say that the church is OK on this count? I think not—and I speak as one who is in the church, one who is charged with the responsibility to instruct the church in these things (in other words, I have a duty to point this out): Too many in the church think Jesus is a mere tourist attraction. They are content to go up to worship and take in a show on the way or even after they get there. There is an entire segment of the church, right now, who is (I know that grammar is rough) convinced that Christianity is a mere spectator sport like a baseball game, or a football game, or an opera. Christianity is OK as long as all I have to do is sit back and watch everyone else do it. Christianity is OK as long as all I have to do is show up and ask for an audience with Jesus so I can see him.
“But don’t you dare ask me to be involved in that sort of Christianity that makes absolute demands on my life! Don’t you dare ask me to make a commitment that involves more than seeing! Don’t you dare ask me to surrender my control of my life. My life belongs to me!” seems to be the calling card of many. We see this becoming more and more the norm in churches all across the Country. Increasingly, this is becoming the character that defines Christians. There is little self-denial, little real sacrifice, little real, absolute surrender to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. More and more it is, and has become, a church full of self-centered, brats who want all the latest gadgets and gizmos and self-help sermons that focus very much on what I want and what I can get out of it. We hear people throwing around terms like ‘relevant’ and ‘practical’ as if somehow the preacher’s job is to improve on what God has delivered to his people once and for all in these last days (see Hebrews 1:1-4). I have been reading Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. Hybels is surely correct that we need to pray more. But as I read this book I am struck at how often the prayers are merely prayers for the helping of the self. You know, help me through this, help me move this mountain, help me get through this crisis. This is not sacrificial prayer.
This is why, when the Greeks come to see Him, Jesus points to the cross. In other words, “If they want to see me, they will have to look to the cross.” The only place to truly see the Jesus of Scripture is to see Jesus Christ crucified. That is where Jesus points. This is where the Church too must point. This is where Mary pointed when she anointed Him with perfume. This is where the triumphal entry into Jerusalem pointed. This is where the Scripture pointed (16). This is where we must point.
I have been reading another book. It’s a fun book called Perspectives on Election: 5 Views. Each chapter is written by an ‘expert’ of a particular version of election. Then each of the other four authors gives a critique and response to the view. There are two versions of Calvinism, one of Arminianism, one Universalism, and one Open Theism. I just finished reading a chapter on a doctrine called ‘universalism’ which basically believes that in the end everyone, literally, will be saved. Near the end of the chapter, on page 258, I scribbled in the margin, “There’s no cross in this chapter.” Then I read the responses.
The second response was written by a Calvinist named Robert L. Reymond. Reymond wrote this in response to Thomas Talbott’s universalism:
I would insist that Talbott’s index for the measurement of the essense of God’s love, namely, a universal expansiveness that must encompass every single human being, is unscriptural, ineffectual, and inappropriate. Rather, the indices by which we should attempt to measure adequately God’s love (and we are bound to fail) are the extraordinary object of its affection—this sinful world—and the indescribably expensive costliness of God’s bounteous gift to us—the sacrifice of his Son in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Talbott has missed both of these measuring indices in his effort to universalize reconciliation to God” (266, emphasis his).
In short, there is no cross in Talbott’s universalism.
Jesus didn’t ask for a way out. Instead He embraced his calling: For this very reason I came. So notice what he says: ” ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” It is in the cross that all people are drawn to Jesus. So the Pharisees were quite mistaken when they said, “Look, the whole world is going after him.” Jesus says that all people will be drawn to Him at the cross, not on the road up to Jerusalem amidst shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ It is the cross where we find hope and salvation. It is in the death of Jesus that many find life. It is in His crucifixion, his substitionary death, that we are saved from empty, meaningless, death saturated existence.
There must not fail to be a cross in the Church. I don’t care how well the speaker speaks, how friendly the friendlies are, how exceptional the nursery is if there is no cross. If there is no cross, there are simply no Christians.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’m currently working on a Theology of Suffering. This is a series of sermons designed to help us work through the Scripture and develop an appropriate response to the work of evil and suffering in this world. In my preparation, I came across these remarks in The Cost of Discipleshipthat I had underlined. I think they matter and speak to some comments made here yesterday about ‘easy believism.’
If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from the beginning, he has only got to pick it up: there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 88-89)
After a while, I suppose I shall this entire book posted here. What is missing in today’s church is exactly that belief. What is missing is precisely the willingness to live as Bonhoeffer describes: Cross centered. No, all you have to do is pay a visit to www.alittleleaven.com to see that Bonhoeffer was right on the mark.
“If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross, deny himself, and follow me.” Pray to God the church gets its bearings.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I posted (below) a link to an essay over at Christianity Today’s Books & Culture section. It appears that one of my friends has also read the essay and made some comments about it. What impresses me about this blog post by Jeff is not his conclusion, but that he actually visited Christianity Today’s website.
Here’s part of what Jeff wrote in “Crazy Reasons For Believing“:
It’s not a matter of evolution. It’s societal. I think there are a lot of reasons why religion came about in the first place, but it continues largely because people like it. They find it useful in their lives. Of course, many purport this to be helpful in proving God’s existence when it has no impact on that at all. But that doesn’t invalidate their reasons for following the tenets of their particular religious faith. I hold that they can’t choose to believe, but they can choose to “be a Catholic,” or whatever. Through doing that, often they will end up believing. It ain’t evolutionary. It’s just people doing what they think is best for themselves. Because, well, that’s what people do.
I wonder if Jeff doesn’t have a point? I think, to an extent, this is a large part of why a lot people actually reject Christian faith: They see too many Christians who ‘think it best for themselves’ or ‘find it useful in their lives.’ Well, I think those are, actually, two of the worst reasons for being a Christian. The fact is, true Biblical Christianity has nothing to do with the self. I don’t deny the benefit of salvation and eternal life, but I reject that these are the primary reasons anyone stays a disciple after becoming a disciple. We might debate for a while about why or how a person comes to faith in Christ, and some of Jeff’s reasons are sound. But take it a step further: Why stay that way? (A good discussion here could be had over Matthew 13.)
Here’s my point. Many preach just that: You need to get right with God so that you can have eternal life. I have said it myself. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with it, although I’m inclined think there are not a few other reasons for doing so that have nothing to do with what Jeff suggests. (This is why it is so imperative that Christians stay grounded in Scripture.) But is that really what keeps us going? Is it really all about the so-called benefits of faith? In fact, if one carefully reads the Scripture it is quite the opposite. Jesus said, ‘You will have troubles in this world’; Paul said ‘we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom’; Peter said we are blessed if we ‘suffer for doing what is right.’ This, I submit, is the true testament to faith–not all that self-centered nonsense that is spewed from the mouths of televangelists (surely a blight on the Church).
So again, Jeff seems to assert that Christianity is merely easy believism. I reject that. The Scripture nowhere says or indicates that being a disciple of Jesus is easy or that it comes with no strings or that it is something we can merely inherit from our parents as if we have no choice. I know plenty who rejected the faith of their parents. Faith, the Bible says, comes by hearing the Word of God. And I’m stating that if the Bible is properly preached, and Christ is exalted, and we resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, then there seems to be every indication in Scripture that more people will reject Christ than will receive Him. The problem we have in the church today is that too many preachers have widened the road that Jesus said is very, very narrow.
I appreciate Jeff writing his piece. Visit his blog, although I do advise caution due to his irreverant and somewhat caustic approach to the use of words. Still, you’ll appreciate his sense of humor.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. 40As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Remember that verse 30 says, “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” Now verse 31 picks up, “To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said…” The following conversation then is spoken to those who had put their faith in him. He begins to challenge their beliefs right from the start; and oh, what a challenge it is!
This is a significant development. I remember one time, just after I baptized someone, saying to them, ‘Well, now the tough part begins.’ He was shocked and looked at me and just said, ‘what?’ It wasn’t too long after that that he stopped worshiping altogether. Immediately, Mark tells us, after Jesus was baptized the Spirit drove him out into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. I believe the point here is that life does not automatically become a bed of rose petals after we become a Christian or after we have some sort of faith or belief in Jesus. I think that faith is going to be challenged right from the start.
Trouble is, that’s not how it works in the church of today. I think we have tended to do things quite the wrong way in the church because we are afraid that if people face trials right away then they might run away. I’m not suggesting that the church need bother set up any such ‘trials’ or ‘troubles’. Each day has enough trouble of its own. What I am suggesting is that the church ought not be afraid of the truth that people will face difficulties in this world, in Christ, and they need to cling tightly to Jesus. Jesus makes it clear: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Does he mean that only those who persevere through all the muck will be truly considered his disciples? Is he saying that there is something more than a one time placing of faith? Bruce wrote, “The power of what he said had already moved some of his hearers to believe in him, but discipleship is something continuous; it is a way of life.” (196)
Is there something to be said about what we believe? Is there something to be said about what we believe about Jesus? “If you hold to my teaching…” It is necessary, thus, to find ourselves persevering in the Word of Jesus—His teaching. Does this exclude all other teachers? Well, no. But, it does mean that all teaching must fall into direct compliance with the teaching of Jesus. I refer to professor Bruce again,
A true disciple has an affinity for his teacher’s instruction and accepts it, not blindly, but intelligently. The teacher’s instruction becomes the disciple’s rule of faith and practice. What Jesus taught was the truth; his disciples, by paying heed to him, received the truth. False belief holds the minds of men and women in bondage; truth liberates them. Truth by its very nature cannot be imposed by external compulsion, nor can it be validated by anything other than itself. One either sees the truth for what it is, or one does not. When we bear in mind the meaning of ‘truth’ in this Gospel, where the concept finds its embodiment in Jesus himself, it follows that for his disciples to know the truth ‘they must not only hear his words: they must in some sort of way be united with him who is the truth’ (FF Bruce, The Gospel of John, 196-197; at the end Bruce quotes CH Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 178).
Their response to Jesus’ statement is a bit strange. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say we shall be set free?” Well, they might well have forgotten Egypt and Babylon, but we’ll forgive that much because Jesus goes on to point out to them that regardless of where they live or who they serve they are still slaves in need of freedom. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Jesus was specifically working to free them from what they were truly enslaved to: the flesh; themselves. And he goes on to point out to them that they will never truly be free by merely being Abraham’s descendants: That’s not enough. Your ancestry is not enough to break those shackles that hold you in place.
They were so incensed at this notion that they were ready to kill him and they had been trying at nearly every chance they could get. His time was not yet come yet. Furthermore, Jesus points out, this message is not from him. He did not ‘invent’ it, so to speak. It was from the Father. The eternal God of the universe, the One who called Abraham, this is His decree. Jesus keeps saying in these verses: ‘hold to my teaching,’ ‘you have no room for my word,’ ‘I’m telling you what I heard in the Father’s presence,’ and ‘…a man who told you the truth I heard from God.’ He keeps on telling them over and over and over again: Listen to what I’m saying. Now my question is this: how can people truly be set free if we do not, in fact, say the same things? And who will listen if we do? There are scores upon scores of prophets in this world and there are multitudes upon multitudes who listen to them. But who will preach Christ Jesus’ Words? Who will preach Christ Jesus?
No one will be set free apart from Jesus: If the Son Sets you Free, you will be free indeed. But he also said, “The truth will set you free.” I understand there to be more than a mere congruance between Jesus and truth: They are One and the Same. Those who wish to be set free will hear and listen and obey the Word of Christ. Those who do not will continue listening to everyone but Jesus. Jesus indicates that it is an either or proposition: His Word or not; freedom or slavery; truth or lies; children of Abraham or children of the devil (v 41, 44); true sons or illegitimate children. There is no middle ground. And it is time for those preachers in the church who advocate a middle ground to repent and preach the truth.
So what are we to do? The current fun way of doing things involves a slackening of obedience to the Word of Christ. Don’t get me wrong: Many people are saying many things about Jesus and they are using a lot of Scripture to back it up. But there is an incongruence between what they are saying, how they are using Scripture, and what the Bible actually says about Jesus, Sin, Grace, and judgment. In other words, their preaching is far more practical than it is theological. This is a problem. Our ambition is to be in line with the Biblical Christ. So again we arrive at this position: There is no other way to the Father except the way the Father revealed. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth; Jesus is the Revelation of God.
Jesus couldn’t get this into their heads though. So offended were they by Jesus’ words that they were ready to kill him to do away with his words. In our subtle culture of middle-grounders many preachers have done the same exact thing. But where these unbelievers in John succeeded in killing Jesus physically, many in our world have killed Jesus theologically or at least reduced or minimized his necessity, supremacy, and authority. There is no need for a Savior when there is no sin; there is no need for freedom when don’t recognize that we are slaves. If those in the church are content with a mere historical connection (such as these were with Abraham) then they will not be set free. Jesus was saying that more than a historical connection is needed: we need a theological connection. God has built the theological bridge in Christ Jesus. And it is sad to say, but there are many preachers who are profoundly missing this point in their efforts to be practical and relevant.
In the end, He says they are illegitmate children. They protest: “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus point out, however, that they were quite wrong. Do you see here that Jesus has the right to make such a judgment? Do you see that it is Jesus who determines the legitimacy of our claims of sonship? It will be Jesus who makes the announcement of who we belong to. We are really his disciples if we follow him (v 12), believe in him (v 24), hold to his teaching (v 31), do the things of Abraham (v 39), and love him (v 42). The only other option is to kill him. But death will not change Jesus’ point; in fact, he says that His death will only prove it all the more (v 27-29).
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’m in my study. It’s a beautiful day outside–I’m inside. I’m making phone calls, returning e-mails, ordering office supplies, and typing on my laptop a post for my blog. Right now I’m waiting on hold with the office supply people; part of an order was backordered and I’m curious to know how long I have to wait. In the meantime, I have a confession to make.
I just received an e-mail from a company who would very much like me to attend a leadership conference in Washington, Dallas or Orlando–cost is on $199.00, which sounds reasonable until you factor in fuel, food, lodging, and all the books I would undoubtedly need to purchase once I arrived for this three day conference. Oh, David Crowder Band will be playing; I’d go just for that. There’s other reasons I wouldn’t go.
One reason, the only reason I’ll expound on here, is that I watched the trailer. The trailer began by showing a clip of JFK, then moved on to MLK, and then to Ronald Reagan–all stalwarts in their respective fields; leaders without peers. But I think that is the very reason I cannot go. The irony of this: I heard a lot of names dropped–impressive names. But I didn’t hear anything about Scripture or even Jesus for that matter. I watched a 2:02 video trailer (minutes, seconds) and here’s what happened.
I heard about choosing the go to the moon. I heard about someone having a dream. I heard about someone else demanding that someone else tear down a wall. I learned about ‘impacting culture,’ which in my judgement is a totally fallacious and meaningless enterprise; it cannot be done; it will not succeed. The fact is, with all the people in this nation who claim to be Christians, the impact should already be felt. I don’t mean at the polls, or in elections; those aren’t the real indicators of impact. Think of Star Wars episode IV when Luke Skywalker and the rest of the rebels are going up against the Empire’s weapon of Mass Destruction: The Death Star. One rebel made a pass, fired his proton torpedo, pulled out of the trench and lamented, “No, it only impacted on the surface.” When Luke Skywalker flew down through the trench, fired his proton torpedo, it entered the exhaust port, flew into the center of the ‘Star’ and destroyed it and all who were on it. For the rebels, there was no success in merely impacting the Death Star. I’m funny like that. I’m not interested in impacting the culture. Christ wasn’t either for that matter. He came and blew up the stereotypes and the status quo and, in a manner of speaking, he totally wrecked culture. Jesus did not come here and say, “OK, let’s see how this Christianity thing will fit into the prevailing culture.” He came and said, “I am the culture.” There’s a big difference that has been lost on a generation of Christians whose preachers and prophets are far less concerned with Scripture and Truth than they are with the size of their congregations and buildings.
Here was the accusation leveled against those Christians, “We gave you strict order not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” (Acts 5:28). I don’t think we can be accused of this any more. The Church is far to welcoming to culture. The Church is far to concerned with having a good name among the pagans. The Church is far too accomodating to those who reject Christ, far too sensitive to their ‘felt’ needs, and far to willing to overlook the problem that Christ died for: Sin. The fact is, the world’s opinion of Christ and His Scripture doesn’t matter or change the veracity of it. It is true whether the world rejects it or accepts it.
Anyhow, this conference I mentioned. I watched 2 minutes and 2 seconds of worth of trailer. When they got around to mentioning who would be speaking or whatever, the video mentioned first a musician, second a musician, and then some other ‘leaders’ who have, no doubt, important things to say. It is about ‘unleashing 20-30 somethings to action.’ I heard zero calls to exalt Christ or to submit to Scripture or to repent from sin. I heard a lot about ‘impacting culture’; nothing about being profoundly counter-cultural. I heard a lot about serving the world; nothing about repenting of sin. I heard zero, count them, zero, calls to Scripture. And no mention of Jesus undoubtedly the greatest leader to ever lead.
Here’s my thing. I just don’t think I fit in anywhere. I feel, I’m very serious about my feelings, left behind, left out, out in left field somewhere because I find this sort of stuff seriously missing the mark, and irrelevant. I don’t see the point. Is this what is necessary to ‘unleash 20-30 somethings’? Isn’t this really beside the point? Wouldn’t the devil love for us to be sidetracked in such a way? I’m 36 and I don’t find it particularly necessary to be unleashed. Why should people need motivation to be unleashed to live what they supposedly believe? Has God ordained such things to promote His agenda? I feel like a 30 year old with no place to call home because I can’t understand those who are of the opinion that I need more motivation to believe, live, and do what is right. And how shall this be done for these folks? How shall we be the exact opposite of everything this culture says we should be? Yes, another leadership conference is what we need.
I’m sort of rambling on a bit. I feel that way today. Our motivation should be other, I think. I don’t need soul-stirring concerts, emotionally charged atmospheres, competition for my feelings, or exceptionally motivational speakers to energize or unleash my potential; and I don’t think anyone else does either.
I think what we need is a fresh look at the Cross. If the cross does not motivate us, unleash our energy and energize our potential, if the Cross does not stir in us a love for God, then I don’t want to be stirred, unleashed or energized. I don’t want what this world calls and offers up as motivation for service. In my estimation, it will be short lived and meaningless–no matter how exceptional the cast of speakers. What is needed is the Cross. “We love because He first loved us.” “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).
Look to the cross. And may God have mercy on those who think that more is necessary to motivate us than the Cross. And May God have mercy on those who think they need more than the Cross.
Earlier this year Eugene Peterson published his third in a series of books on spiritual theology. The book, The Jesus Way, is a remarkable portrait of the nature of a true disciple of Jesus. It is a way characterized by sacrifice, failure, the margins, and holiness. He wrote, “More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus” (The Jesus Way, 8).
And he’s right. This is the model people follow today because they are convinced that the only way to win the culture is to become the culture, or the only way to win the people of the culture is to reflect the culture so they will be interested in us–as if we will be thoroughly, completely lost without them. There is something to be said, however, for being willing to simply preach the Whole, Entire, Massive Word of God. There’s something to be said for preaching the hard truths that most people don’t care about or care to listen to.
PT Forsyth wrote, in the early 1900′s, “What is our task today? It is to take the mass of men (and not only the masses)–inert and hopeless some, others indifferent, others hostile to God–and to reconcile them with God’s holy will and righteous kingdom; but to reconcile them less with the ideal of a kingdom of God than with His way of it. They are keen enough about a kingdom which glorifies human ideals, but the trouble is about God’s ideal and God’s way, about Christ and His cross as the way as well as the goal” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 41-42).
The church must recover this cross centered preaching and those disciples of Jesus who claim to be saved must recover this cross-centered, sacrificial way of Jesus. The cross must be returned to the pulpit. The Jesus way, not the man way, must be followed and preached. Imagine these men, writing nearly 100 years apart, saying exactly the same thing to two entirely different generations of Christians. When do you suppose it will change? Will it start with you?