Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Category
Day 10, Colossians 1:11-12: Strengthened with God’s Strength
“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”
Well, I haven’t worked on this series of ’90 Days’ posts for a while, so I’m hopeful that I won’t foul up too badly.
So, then, how do we ‘live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God’? Can we? Should we bother trying? We are weak people, weakened daily by the pressures of daily friction involving our friends, co-workers, family members and any and all in between; strangers and enemies too. The fact that Paul says we are ‘being strengthened’ (he says something closer, and rougher, akin to ‘by all power being continually empowered’) means that we are necessarily weak, prone to weakness, constantly being drained of whatever we may call power or strength.
I think it also means that we have no strength in and of ourselves. We constantly need to be replenished. We are wearing down constantly and but for the strengthening and empowerment of God we would likely whither into nothing. This echoes, I believe, what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
And this is no mere strengthening or empowerment. No the apostle says we are being empowered according to his glorious might precisely so that we do not run out of endurance are flag in our patience or become wishy-washy in our joy or lackadaisical in our thanksgiving. Instead, we are strengthened with his strength so that we can persevere in joy and patience and thanksgiving and endurance. I wonder sometimes, when I am weak, do I remember that as long as I try to persevere and endure in my own strength I am doomed to fail? This is why He strengthens us.
We are the ones who grow bored in the flesh. Ailments, pressures, anxieties, people-the flesh has a way of wearing us down, burning us out, beating us up and we fail. But God strengthens us according to His strength, according to his glorious might. I wonder if this means that we always have enough strength even when we find ourselves particularly weak. I wonder if this means that our weakness isn’t quite as bad as we like to imagine it?
That’s not all, though. The Father has also qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. This is nothing less than an unqualified, unconditional expression of God’s grace. He has qualified us. He has qualified us. He has qualified us. It’s all quite remarkable as he will point out in verse 13. Not only qualified, made sufficient, but transferred from the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of light (13). He has qualified us. This is no small, individualistic thing. We are in this together. We stand qualified together. What a great love the Father has showed us to qualify, make sufficient, those who were at once weak and defiled and slaves.
It was said elsewhere, “Once we were not a people, but now we are a people. Once we were not shown mercy, but now we have been shown mercy.” We are a totally new people, qualified by God (I believe he is talking here of an instant, the moment we first believed), and now continually strengthened by His glorious might.
So if we are qualified by God, who then has a right or an obligation to doubt or qualify our qualification? It is God the Father himself who has qualified us. We stand, even now, qualified by God. I read, “H.C.G. Moule therefore rightly argues that the reference is “properly to the believer’s position and possession even now. This Canaan,” he explains, “is not in the distance, beyond death; it is about us today, in our home, in our family, in our business,… in all that makes up mortal life” (pp. 65, 66).
Two of the biggest problems we face as Christians are thus weakness and anxiety. First, weakness of the flesh. This is an outer turmoil, so to speak. It comes to us in any of a million forms a day, but we are constantly being strengthened according God’s strength. Weakness will not trump God’s empowerment no matter how weak the weakness. Second, there is a sort of inner turmoil we face, which is, the constant anxiety over our salvation. Paul counters this by noting for the Colossian church that we are qualified by God. As such, our qualification neither rests upon our shoulders nor is rendered moot because of fleshly weakness. We can have such confidence in God’s work to qualify us. It is God who does this work for us. He qualifies us. He changes our status from unqualified to qualified. He rescues us. He, not we.
And finally, this is a community idea. We stand even now as those who have already inherited the kingdom of light. We already share in that blessing and we stand together. We are strengthened. We are qualified. We share in the kingdom. Maybe it would be a good idea for the church, for the saints, to celebrate the community aspect of our faith more often. I don’t mean in a superficial, and merely Sunday morning, kind of way, but an always, everyday, praying, encouraging, suffering kind of way. The practice of Christian faith must come alive and stop being stagnant. We share in the Kingdom of Light. The Kingdom of light is visible not only to the world around us, but also to one another.
Intercession for Sodomites and Gomorrahites
Genesis 18, Luke 15
Properly speaking, of course, a Sodomite is someone who lives in Sodom the ancient city that one afternoon Abraham, the father of our faith, stood interceding for. A Gomorrahite is someone who lived Gomorrah. I suspect we have clung to the former because it is much easier to pronounce.
Genesis 18. If the Old Testament had Comedy Central, this chapter would certain anchor the prime time line-up. This chapter runs some extreme ends which is probably one way to adequately demonstrate the intrusiveness of chapter and verse divisions.
At one end of the chapter we are confronted with the absurdity of 100 year-old people being informed of impending doom. Not only is it absurd for 100 year-old people to find themselves suddenly parents, but it seems equally absurd for a baby to find himself being raised by people whose diapers he should be changing—and could very well be changing in a few years’ time. Then again, by any standard it is absurd to think of people that age…well, you know.
At the other end of the chapter we see the absurdity of Abraham arguing with God about how many righteous people it would take to convince God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. I hear echoes of a tootsie pop commercial. Ironically, or not, when the angels go out later that evening to investigate whether there are ten righteous people between the two cities, they barely make it out of the first city alive. I think we have an insight into the depths of depravity in the cities since Abraham started with 50 and whittled that down to 10. He wasn’t expecting much. Chapter 18 is absurd and everyone reading it knows this to be true.
I’m not the only one who thinks this story is absurd. Even the characters within the story think the story is absurd: “Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” I have said before that sarcasm is one of God’s greatest gifts to us and Sarah’s response to the angel’s announcement surely ranks up there with some of the best sarcasm every uttered.
It might even be absurd that as the visitors were getting ready to leave Abraham goes with them to ‘see them on their way’. It might be absurd that they happen to glance down and see Sodom. It might be absurd that the Lord here, whoever that is, decides that Abraham is a worthy to know what he is about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah because an ‘outcry’ has gone up to the Lord against them.
So in the first half of the chapter we note that Abraham is told the news of Sarah’s impending pregnancy. He is informed that the long awaited heir is only a mere year or so away. This heir ‘story’ connects these two scenes because as they are leaving and accompanied by Abraham the Lord repeats the promise, “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (18-19).
That’s saying much; a lot, especially when it is considered what Abraham does next. He interceded on behalf of Sodom. I know his nephew lived there, but Abraham’s prayer was specifically for the entire city: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (23-24) And God assures him that he would not—all the way down to ten people.
The reality is that in our world Christians have feasted far too much on imprecatory prayers than we have intercessory prayers. What sort of ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ was Abraham going to teach his heir if not that we should pray for and intercede for the wicked as demonstrated in this chapter? Does anyone find it strange, or ironic, that there was an ‘outcry’ going up against Sodom and there stood Abraham interceding for the very people the Lord meant to destroy because of the outcry? As Abraham’s heirs, his household (Hebrews 2:16), I wonder if we learned the things of Abraham that the Lord said he would teach us? (18:19)
We like those imprecatory Psalms and prayers because we think we are justified in praying them. Abraham’s prayer wasn’t answered, right? Sodom was destroyed so we think we are right to pray against those modern Sodom’s and Gomorrah’s. All this proves is that we haven’t learned from Abraham. What I am saying, to make my language plain, is that Christians spend far too much time praying for God’s judgment on the wicked and not enough time interceding on their behalf. Abraham asked God to spare the entire city for 10 people.
Isn’t our intercession on behalf of the modern Sodom’s part of the way we as Abraham’s heirs continue being a blessing to every nation on earth? Which brings us back to God’s sermon to Sarah when she laughed: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
I suppose it is much easier to laugh at what we think impossible, you know, things like God rescuing the most wicked cities or the most unrighteous. I suppose it is much easier to simply pray God send a tsunami or a cyclone and just deal with those people than it is to actually stand toe to toe, face to face, with God (it seems that 18:22 might mean something like ‘God stood before Abraham’) and argue and debate and delay his judgment. But I think we are meant to answer the question: Is anything to hard for God?
If God can help two 100 year old people have a child, can he rescue a lost sheep? Can he find a lost coin? Can he wait patiently for a lost son to come home, and for a steady son to join the party? Can he drive a legion of demons from a man? Can he raise the dead, heal the blind, and cause the lame to walk? Can he rescue Sodom and Gomorrah? Who is it that limits God? Is there anything too hard for God?
And I think that’s what Abraham was thinking as he stood there that evening pleading with God for Sodom. Jesus said, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Not only does this mean that all things are possible, but it also means that all things are possible. It means that perhaps we would do well to stop writing off so many we think God can’t save and open up our prayers to the possibility that perhaps God is just waiting for someone to intercede. Maybe we doubt too much what God can do and thus we never ask him.
So consider: Is anything too hard for God? It’s not so absurd to think that God can save anyone, is it?
Don’t Be Afraid
Genesis 15, Psalm 7-8
Well, there is a day skipped in here. Sorry.
I think I mentioned the other day that Abram is one of my favorite biblical stories. I would love to spend a day with Abram and learn from him and talk to him about his story and his life. I cannot imagine what life must have been like for him: Called away from his family, given a promise by God that one day he would own land, have an heir, and be a blessing (all of which must have seemed radically impossible, endured a huge battle against a bunch of kings—this was a man who saw a lot of things in his years. He had endured famines, travels to Egypt, the wrath of Pharaoh, quarrels with his nephew, and his life would grow no easier as the years went by and the narrative of God’s providence unfolded.
Chapter 15 is unique, I think, in this sense. It is sort of a peaceful chapter, and yet the things that happen in it are rather frightening. Nevertheless, it is the opening words that thrill and delight me. Can you imagine the ‘Sovereign Lord’ (v 2) speaking to you in such a direct way saying, “ ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’” Imagine that! God was his reward! This means, to me, that of all Abram had to look forward to (land, blessing, and not least a son), his greatest reward, his ultimate reward, was YHWH himself. God was his protection. Abram would not rely upon military prowess or the gifts of kings or anything but God.
God would do everything needed to protect Abram and bring about His intended purposes; namely, to provide the seed who would destroy the serpent.
For Abram’s part, all he had to do was ‘not be afraid.’
God was calling Abram into scary, uncharted territory. He was asking Abram to do things that no one else had ever been asked to do. He was asking Abram to believe things that no one else had ever had to believe. He was asking Abram to go to places where no one had ever been asked to go. “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” I seriously cannot imagine doing what God was calling Abram to do, and I can scarcely imagine having the sort of faith Abram had to believe God. Doesn’t it take a lot of effort to go in the direction that God calls us to go?
Isn’t it strange, somewhat, that the first command God gives Abram is, “Don’t be afraid?” You know, I need to read that verse every single day and hear those words spoken to me every minute of the day. I need to hear the word of the Lord speak in the midst of the ‘everydayness’ of every day and remind me that ‘it’ is not dependent upon me: “I am your shield; I am your very great reward.” This is God’s way of letting Abram know that ‘it’ does not depend upon Abram. It is God’s way of taking the burden off of the human and putting it back on himself. It is, to be sure, another instance of God’s grace in action.
“Don’t be afraid.” Why? There are a million reasons every single day to be afraid—especially living here in the world now where everything seems so damned uncertain. But God spoke to Abram about uncertainty too, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country no their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” There will be uncertainty, but that’s the whole thing. God’s plan doesn’t seem to depend upon the strength of certainty in human circumstances. That is, life can be topsy-turvy and upside down and God remains true and faithful: Don’t look around, Abram, keep your eyes fixed on me, your shield and very great reward. Nothing else you see, nothing else you possess, nothing else I give you is the substance of your reward. Your reward is nothing less than Me.
“Don’t be afraid!” Right. Kids. Money. Bills. How are we to not be afraid? In a sense, not being afraid is the essence of faith because that is when we trust that God’s wisdom and purposes and plans are far greater and far more likely to succeed than our own. Of course we shouldn’t be afraid. Sometimes, however, we are just too darn afraid of living without fear because it is like a crutch that we feel we need to get around from day to day. God, however, was telling Abram: You won’t need the crutch of fear because you belong to me and that is, and will be, enough for you. Your faith will be the standard by which all generations will be measured. Indeed, the righteous will live by the same faith Abram did.
That is the sincere call we have as people of faith, as Jesus followers.
The other day, I posted this but now I think it is worth a re-read:
And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”
Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)
Resurrection people do not live in fear because perfect love has driven out all fear.
As People Moved Eastward
Genesis 11, Luke 10
The first time we read of man moving ‘eastward’ it was in Genesis 3 and in direct relation to the curse which was a direct result of the sin. The eastward march continued with Cain who ‘went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden’ (4:16). Here, a few chapters later, and a significant narrative distance removed from the flood, man’s march continued, ‘As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.’
God drove Adam and Eve east, and seems to have done so with Cain. Here in chapter 11 it appears that man’s eastward march seems to be under his own power. And not only is man ‘moving’ eastward, but now he is ‘settling’ in the east; a place geographically ‘out of the Lord’s presence.’ I don’t see anything here that suggests God is behind man’s eastward pilgrimage. I guess it is fair and safe to conclude that perhaps man is simply starting to feel far more comfortable in the east, away from God’s presence, away from Eden.
I’ve often wondered if Adam ever sat outside the Garden of Eden staring at the flashing sword as it flashed back and forth and sighed with regret. I wonder if he ever tried an end-around or tried to out-flank the flashing sword and sneak back inside the Garden.
It’s that word ‘settled’ that has me rather unsettled. I think that is the author’s way of saying that the people made a permanent residence away from God. Thus, they start building a tower. I have had this Sunday school image in my head forever that they were trying to build a sort of stairway to heaven or maybe a stairway from heaven. Maybe they wanted to climb up or maybe they wanted God climb down. Then I got to thinking, dangerous I know, what if that tower were more like a watchtower built to keep watch and make sure God wasn’t coming? What if the tower wasn’t so much an attempt at salvation as it was an attempt to keep guard against God moving in or against God destroying them with another flood?
I know they wanted to make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the whole earth, but what does that mean to us? Maybe they were simply marshaling their forces and efforts and power against the prospect of God moving in and outflanking them?
Frankly that seems to make a lot better sense to me. They were moving east, settling east, building a watchtower, trying to make a name for themselves, and prevent scattering—these aren’t people who were building a tower to climb to heaven or bring God down, these are people doing everything they can do to war against God. Bricks and mortar suggest permanence and defense. They were building defenses. Against whom? I suggest at this point their enemy had become God. They were no longer running: they were fighting. They were fortifying, building defenses.
These are a people who had come to see God as the enemy. That is a long way from Eden.
But what is perhaps the worst part of this, at least as far as the English translations are concerned, is this: ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’ Do I hear God saying that he, at least in a sense, feared what man could do when united together in such an effort? Well, of course a God who has the power to confuse language and accomplish the very thing man feared (‘scattering’, see vs 4 & 8 ) is not a God who fears man. Rather, it seems to me that what God is doing here is preventing this united, unified effort against himself. I suspect that this is actually a picture of grace at some level.
And no matter how far east they moved, no matter how impressive their fortifications against him, no matter how unified their efforts they cannot thwart God or hide from him. They cannot, as it were, win. Or, maybe we look at it this way: No matter how much they waged war against him, no matter how much they tried to defend themselves against him, he was still gracious enough to come down among them. He still cared about them. He still heard them. He still saw them. Instead of waging war against them, he demonstrated grace. He came down among them
Isn’t that like God?
It’s the same sort of picture we see of God in Luke 10 if we imagine ourselves to be the man in the ditch (as suggested by William Willimon). God climbs into the ditch and rescues us: “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).
Or, Jesus in Luke 10 does this: He sends out seventy-two others to go out ahead of him and gather those who had been scattered. Tell them, he said, “The kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). In Genesis 11, God came down. In Luke 10, the Kingdom was near. Isn’t it like God: The further we move away, the more he chases after us?
The further eastward we wander, the more defenses we build up against him, the more he chases after us. He pursues us. He comes down, destroys all that we build against him. He comes down, and breaks all united fronts. We can stand against him. Our best efforts against him are nothing. He laughs at our efforts against him because he is not the one sending us east any longer. Now he is gathering to himself. Now his kingdom has come near.
As people moved eastward, God went with them. They tried to run away, he was already there. That’s grace.
Friends, here is the text for tomorrow’s sermon from Luke 9. The gist is that Jesus has given us power and authority to do something. That something is defined by Jesus himself as ‘proclamation of the kingdom’ and ‘healing the sick’ and ‘authority over demons.’ It seems to me that sometimes we church folk have forgotten about the power given to us, what Paul calls Resurrection power. Still, we have to be careful. This power is nothing like the power that the world wields. This power has the power to confound and perplex for that very purpose. It will all make sense once you have read the entire text. grace and peace. jerry PS- This sermon grew out of thoughts I posted the other day and posted here.
The Kingdom of Crucifixion
“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)
1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.
10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. 37The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44″Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 45But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”
49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” 51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases.
It kind of makes me wonder, seeing what he armed them with, what they would be up against. After all, he didn’t send them out with AK-47’s or Master Cards.
He sent them out, indeed, as sheep among wolves, doves among vipers, and he stripped them of all outer defenses: No staff for defense, no sack for extra gear, no bread for sustenance, no money to pay people off, no extra shirt for the long journey. Maybe he was reminding them that he was sending them out into a hostile badlands much like the Lord had sent the Israelites. Maybe even here Jesus was thinking about Scripture:
But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:4-6)
So Jesus arms these men he sends out with nothing more than power over sickness, authority over demons, and a proclamation about a kingdom. And so they went, village to village, proclaiming the message of the Kingdom and healing people everywhere. They went out and did the very thing they were armed to do.
It appears they did it well. And it appears they did not lack anything they needed, despite the fact that they left everything behind. Jesus gave them power to accomplish a mission and that is just what they do.
Jesus warned them, however implicitly, that this power did not come from them, that this power is not for them, and that this power is not to be used for any purpose other than what he has assigned it, and that this power will confound people, and that this power is unlike anything found on earth among those deemed powerful.
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This is a podcast of a sermon I preached this past Tuesday evening at a community Thanksgiving Worship event in my hometown. The sermon is 18:14 long and is based on Luke 1-2. A good, thorough reading of those two chapters will aid you much as you listen. You can also access the manuscript at the link below.
The sermon itself opens with a breif look at the current popularity, among some preachers, of preaching sermons about sex. Many people have no problem justifying this activity. I see it as a monumental waste of time. I also point out in this sermon that I think at least part of the reason why preachers preach this stuff is because they are bored; bored with the Gospel Jesus story.
Manuscript: Jesus and Sex
Download MP3: Jesus and Sex
Thanks for stopping by.
Semper Deo Gloria!
Here are my sermons and Powerpoints on the Crucifixion Driven Life. The sermons are based Matthew’s Gospel, and, as I said elsewhere, I have drawn illustrative material from a variety of sources. I have also included two study guides that I wrote for my Bible school class. The study guides contain short bibliographies on the back pages. Sadly, I have lost the print version of the first sermon in this series (“The Crucifixion Driven Life Begins with Birth“), but I have posted the audio version in a skycast (podcast) elsewhere here. As I did with my sermons on Daniel, I have provided links to box.net where the work can be downloaded. You can also use the box.net widget on the right side of the blog.) If there happens to be any incorrect links, please let me know.
The Crucifixion Driven Life, 2006
Sermon 2 The Crucifixion Driven Life is Victorious in Defeat, Matthew 16:21-28, PPT
Sermon 3 The Crucified Life Hates Sin: The Cross and Holiness, Matthew 17:22-23, PPT
Sermon 4 The Crucifixion Driven Life Does Not Avoid the Cross, Matthew 20:17-28, PPT
Sermon 6 The Crucifixion Driven Life Is Concerned About Jesus, Matthew 26:1-13, PPT
Sermon 7 The Crucifixion Driven Life Partakes of Jesus’ Death, Matthew 26:20-30, PPT
Sermon 10 The Crucifixion Driven Life: Carried to the Next Level, Genesis 22; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Matthew’s Gospel; Various Letters, PPT
Study Guide 1: January 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)
Study Guide 2: February 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)
That’s all. I hope that you find these sermons helpful to you in your own studies of the Word of God. I know that the study and preparation that went into these sermons radically altered the course of my own discipleship in Jesus. May you be blessed in your efforts to serve our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
If you have the time, and get the chance, check out this blog by C Michael Patton concerning whether or not Joel Osteen is preaching a different gospel and worshiping a different God than that of the Scripture. Patton writes,
Let me be serious. I don’t know if Osteen’s God is different than mine. What I do know is that there are characteristics and motivations in his God that are completely opposite of mine. My God allows suffering and pain for His own purpose. My God is a potter, who has sovereign right over His creation. My God does what He will, not what I will. My God is loving, but He is also one of great indignation. My God does love everyone, but He also created a terrible place called Hell for his enemies. My God does not have it high on His agenda for me to be rich (or even pay the bills).
I also know that this theology [I presume he means' Osteen's here], while motivational for a time, destroys lives. It builds false expectation. It makes people put their trust in characteristics of God that just do not exist. When these characteristics fail (and they will fail —ever heard of “death”? It is hard to escape no matter how positive your thinking is), then, in these people’s minds, God has failed. I have seen too many people walk away from the “Jesus” that they created when he failed to heal them of their cancer or when he could not seem to get them a job. But the question is Did they walk away from Jesus or from Daikoku-Sonja (aka Jesus)?
Here is the question: Where does one draw the line? When has ones description of God become so foreign to the biblical God that it should thought of as a different god with the same name? After all, a name does not mean much if that which the name represents does not mirror its true characteristics.
I think Patton makes a pretty good point, but you’ll have to decide for yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that Osteen is not preaching the Gospel of the New Testament. What do you think? Do you think that Osteen worships the God of the Scripture or not?
35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36″Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
I confess that I have been distracted this week. Maybe it was right that it was so. After all, I learned some important lessons this week, lessons that I shall not soon forget. Lessons that will most likely change the way I approach conversations with people who do not believe as I do. Accordingly, I need only say a few things about this current Scripture we are reading together today.
Every time I read this chapter, I am amazed that this man’s faith continued to grow, all throughout their questioning, and he had never once even laid eyes on Jesus. For all intents and purposes, he did not even know Jesus. Jesus later says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet have believed.” I wondered if perhaps Jesus wasn’t thinking of this man when he said that.
Nevertheless, Jesus does say to the man, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking to you.” Jesus identifies himself as the One the man was being persecuted for.
Here are a couple of thoughts then. First, Jesus made it rather clear that even though this man had gone through a terrible ordeal (being accused of lying, being berated by the intelligentsia, perhaps being disowned by his parents, and eventually being kicked out of the synogogue), there was still more required of him as far as his belief was concerned. Even though he had ‘defended’ Jesus whom he had never met, there was more that was necessary: There was belief—but, perhaps a different sort of belief that just the belief that was on trial that day. I happen to think the man shows what sort of belief Jesus means in two ways. First, he calls Jesus ‘Lord.’ Second, he ‘worshipped’ Jesus. A similar scene is repeated later in John’s Gospel—after the Resurrection—by Thomas. After seeing the resurrected Jesus, Thomas responds, “My Lord, and My God.” So there are two aspects of this belief. One aspect is that of submission to Jesus (Lord). The other aspect is that of worship (God). Belief in the Son of Man has consequences and requires a certain disposition of the believer. It’s not enough to say and know. This man had progressed in his faith (The man called Jesus, Prophet, Godly man, etc.). Jesus takes him to the next step: Lord and God.
Second, it is painfully obvious that Jesus did not reject this man’s overtures of submission to Jesus Lordship and his overtures of adoration to Jesus divinity. What does this mean? Well it means that Jesus has affirmed this man’s faith. It means that the man’s response was correct. It means that, at least, this should be our response too! Here’s where it is amazing: Jesus is not just talking here about the opening of physical eyes. Oh, that’s part of it, but not all of it as the ensuing conversation shows. Thus, Jesus declares by accepting the appellation of Lord and the worship of this man that He is the proper object of our worship and devotion.
Third, and this is a wee bit out of order, Jesus found the man and told him who he (Jesus) was. Remember, the man had never seen Jesus—he only knew what Jesus had done for him. Later, Jesus finds him and introduces himself: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Jesus thus makes himself known to this man and, however implicitly, declares himself to be the reason behind the man’s newfound vision and the painful ordeal before the Pharisees. (It’s amazing, isn’t it, how his faith grew during the trial?) Jesus claims full responsibility. Here, I think, is a brilliant evangelism strategy. How often has someone told us something great has happened in their lives and we say, “Oh, Good!” or “Congratulations!” or “Wow, you were lucky!” Why not, “Do you believe in the Son of Man who has made this happen for you?” Why not turn the tables right then and there and give Jesus the credit and the blame and confront people with the decision one way or the other?
Fourth, despite his ongoing claims to the contrary, Jesus here says that he did come into the world for judgment. However, noticed that judgment has two sides to it. On the one hand, his judgment involves the clearing away of the clouds and confusion so that the blind will see. And on the other hand, his judgment involves the heaping up of mud and murk so that those who are confident in their own wisdom will go blind. His judgment cuts both ways—and no one remains unscathed; no one is safe. Those standing there with him caught on quick enough: Are we blind too? Some people can have mud splattered and stacked on their eyes and come home with eyes as clear as crystal. Others will only find themselves even more blinded. Elsewhere I may have quoted Paul’s note to the Corinthians, it’s necessary that I do it again:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:1-6, NIV).
Here’s the kicker: So long as we contend that we have insight, so long as we refuse the healing mud of Jesus, so long as we refuse to acknowledge our ignorance, we remain helplessly, utterly, profoundly blind. Furthermore, the Gospel will remain a mere mist to us, something incomprehensible, beyond our reach. Finally, so long as we remain in our state of hubris and contempt for Christ, our guilt will remain. “You will look for me,” he said, “but you will not find me. And you will die in your sins.”
There are many hopelessly lost people in the world who don’t even know it. They are blind to the truth of God. They are deaf to the Gospel. They would rather believe the lie. The god of this age has blinded them to the truth of Christ as revealed in Scripture and proclaimed by His servants and worshiped by his disciples. They can’t acknowledge that they are involved in the lie—supressing the very truth of God. They don’t even know they are the devil’s pawns, aiding and abetting the father of lies. The don’t even realize that they are captive to their own will, slaves to their own unbelief, servants of their own hubris. They are so far blinded that they confess the very lies they believe are actually, in their minds, truth. And what of those who think lies are truth? What hope is there for people who are that far gone?
Well, I hold out this one hope: Jesus here in John 9 healed a man who was so blind he had been blind from birth. I hold out this hope: that even those whose truth is a lie, who work to surpress the truth of God, who exchange the truth of God for a lie, who are blinded by the god of this age, whose father is the father of lies—even people who are so far gone, dare I say, are not yet beyond the healing power of Jesus. If He can open the eyes of a man born blind, and man who can’t see, how much more can he open the eyes of those who won’t see?
Soli Deo Gloria!
41At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43″Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44″No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
John’s Gospel as a whole contains mountains and mountains of stories relating various peoples’ objections to Jesus. There was always someone discontent with something he said, or something he did, or who he spoke to or with, or who he ate with, or where he went. These verses today begin with that idea: “At this, the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” There was some deep seated dislike, distrust and hatred of Jesus inside these people. And here’s the irony. The story that precipitated all this conversation was the miracle of the loaves and fish. When Jesus did that, everyone wanted to make him a king. As the story has developed in John’s Gospel, the people have grown more and more angry, more and more disconcerted, more and more distant, and eventually, they turn away from him altogether and ‘follow him no longer.’
But why were the people so offended? What was so difficult for them to comprehend? Jesus gave them two scenarios. In one scenario, they were fed some bread that filled their bellies for a day until they were hungry again. In a second scenario, they were fed The Bread of Life and were satisfied forever. Again with the irony: They did not want bread that would help them live forever. They wanted bread on the table today. You know as well as I do that in the church today, many are saying: Jesus is all about bread on your table today. And as long as preachers say this, the flocks will grow. But as soon as Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (and he said it more than once, to be sure!), the people ran away, fast and furious.
These words, Jesus says, are not something to grumble over or about or because of. They simply did not like that Jesus said, “I came down from heaven.’ And they grumbled. And grumbled. And grumbled. Then they ‘argue sharply among themselves.’ John says later, in verse 61, ‘aware that his disciples were grumbling about this…’ Then some turn back and ‘no longer follow him.’ I sense in here, to a degree, that Jesus just kept raising the ante, the bar, the standard, the qualifications for being truly considered his disciple. And the more he raised the bar, the more they raised their voices in protest. He said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then they argue. Clearly they were not too well versed in the use of metaphor.
They missed some things in Jesus’ words. They missed that he said he would raise them up at the last day (43), they missed that he said ‘everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me’ (45), they missed him saying that he had seen God (46), they missed that whoever believes has everlasting life (47), they missed that humans who seek to subsist on mere bread will die (48), they missed that there is a bread a person can eat and not die (50), that whoever eats the bread will live forever (51). They missed all this ‘live forever’ nonsense and focused in on that one tiny phrase ‘eat his flesh.’ At the same time, Jesus did not mince his words. There is no life at all apart from our appropriating his flesh into ours. There is no eternity save for those who have found their only survival in His survival. There is no eternal life for those who steadfastly refuse to participate in the life and death of Jesus. There is no eternal life for those who are more and only concerned about a king who feeds bellies here with bread that is not of himself. But Jesus shows the absolute pricelessness of what He offers to humanity when he says, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the World.” How can any such sacrifice have a value stamped upon it? His sacrifice for the world is beyond compare, beyond measure, beyond our comprehension. It is incomparable; utterly unrepeatable.
This caused only more argumentative debating and grumbling among the people. Strange or funny how people get hung up on the smallest aspects of the Gospel and thus are utterly turned away from it. Strange that these folks who wanted Jesus to be their king a couple days ago should turn on him so quickly when they find out his real motives and his real designs on their lives. They did figure out that it was necessary to consume Jesus; they just could not figure out how. So they rejected him altogether on the basis that his claim was utterly absurd. That is as near as I can figure.
I’m writing this rather late. I am on vacation and I had intended on writing earlier. I got caught up in a story I’m reading and a baseball game that was not quite as thrilling for the home team as last night’s game was. So it’s late, but I hear what Jesus is saying. What comes through loud and clear is that Jesus is offering eternal life to those who want it. What is necessary is a level of faith in him so deep that it can only be described in terms of eating his flesh. What is described by Jesus here is, to an extent, the forsaking of those confidences we place in the bread of this world. What is heard by those he spoke with that day is something like, “How will everyone eat his flesh? Eight months wages wouldn’t buy enough for everyone to have a single cell.” And yet the demand is no less demanded. Eternal life is found only by those who so identify with Christ through faith that it appears they have consumed his flesh, or been consumed by him. Either way, those who wish to live forever, according to Jesus, are left with no alternatives: It is either in Jesus or not at all.
What he goes on to teach us is that this way he is speaking of is terribly difficult and not at all strewn with marigold petals or lined with mammoth sunflowers. It is hard and at least most of the people did figure that much out and turned back. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw this too.
“The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and he alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road with increase our certainty. The way which the Son of God trod on earth, and the way which we too must tread as citizens of two worlds on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way. The narrow way is bound to be right” (The Cost of Discipleship¸ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 190-191).
May your 26th Day with Jesus be Full of Grace & Peace.
Soli Deo Gloria!
30So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34″Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” 35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Michael Horton wrote in his essay Christless Christianity, “The Greeks love wisdom, so show them a Jesus who is smarter at solving the conundrums of daily living and the church will throng with supporters. Jews love signs and wonders, so tell people that Jesus can help them having their best life now, or bring in the kingdom of glory, or drive out the Romans and prove their integrity before the pagans, and Jesus will be laureled with praise. But proclaim Christ as the Suffering Servant who laid down his life and took it back up again, and everybody wonders who changed the subject. The Church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various ‘missions’ to save the world to Christ’s mission that has already accomplished redemption.”
He also wrote, “If the message that the church proclaims makes sense without conversion; if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time, so that they too need to die more to themselves and life more to Christ, then it is not the gospel. When Christ is talked about, a lot of things can happen, none of which necessarily has anything to do with his doing, dying, rising, reigning, and return. When Christ is proclaimed is in His saving office, the church becomes a theater of death and resurrection, leading to genuine lives of witness, love, fellowship, community, and service—yet always requiring forgiveness and therefore always coming back to the good news concerning Christ.” (Issue: “Christless Christianity” May/June Vol. 16 No. 3 2007 Page, 14)
They want signs. Many today want signs too. I have been writing about such folks for a few days now. Church buildings are filled with people who are astounded at the fancy building where they sings songs and go to McD— in the front lobby after the worship. Card sliders collect the offering on Sundays as if people were standing in line at Giant E—. Before you know it, we will be able to have virtual communion where we only imagine eating the loaf and drinking the cup. It’s a funny thing, in an ironic, terrifying sort of way, what the church has become. It’s not that all these modernizations are necessarily evil. It is that they signify a greater change in the church which is the lack of theological depth and appreciation for the things of God. I happen to be familiar with a congregation that is currently in the process of what appears to be a major expansion of their building. I also happen to know that this congregation does not have a baptistery and does not serve communion except in a private out of-the-view-of-everyone-room. I don’t know if there are any crosses inside or not. A new building is not evil; a shortened Gospel is. And in my estimation there is a correlation between the two.
Realistically speaking, we are much like the people in this story. They forgot that it was God who provided bread (manna) for them, not Moses; we have forgotten that is was Jesus who died for us, not some super preacher.
Jesus here says that these people did not recognize one very important aspect of life: It was God who provided for them and not Moses. They placed far too much value on Moses because they did not know the ultimate source of their own sustenance. If they knew where the manna came from, or rather who it came from, they would not be so hung up on Moses. As it was, however, they were hung up on Moses. Notice what else Jesus says: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. There is a better source of nourishment that gives life not just to a few people scattered around Israel, but to the entire world. I wonder if we have such a grand conception of the Messiah?
Look, people today are no different: “Sir, from now on give us this bread.” Just like the woman at the well, “Sir, from now on give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming back here to draw water.” The difference is that she got it and these ones did not. She won’t go thirsty; they won’t go hungry. It’s all the same meaning: Jesus provides what this world cannot which is a satisfaction beyond this earthly life. Believing in Jesus results in hunger pangs abated, thirst slaked, and the death sentence rescinded. And what can stop Jesus’ work? Nothing. He says, all that the Father gives him he will never drive away. He will lose none of those whom God has given him. He will raise them up at the last day. I know that not too many Restoration Church type of people believe in the doctrine of eternal security, but here in John 6 a pretty good case can be made that one you are saved, there is nothing anyone or anything can do to snatch you from Jesus. I like that idea much better than the idea that somehow I can be lost after being saved.
Finally Jesus says that it is the Father’s will that everyone who looks to the sun and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. Sadly, not everyone will look to him, even fewer will believe in him, and I image that what Jesus said about the way being straight and narrow is true: Even fewer will be raised up at the last day. But for all those who hope and believe and put their faith in Jesus, there is this promise: Eternal life. It is a sad, sad reality that some will never look to Jesus. There is security with him, unrest without him. So what I cannot figure out is why more churches are not preaching this Jesus who saves. Why are so many preaching things that are bound not to last, things that cannot save, things that are simply, irredeemably, meaningless for the human condition? Jesus said that the will of God is that everyone look to Jesus for salvation. The work of God (v 29) is to believe in the One God has sent; to recognize who gives life and who does not. Jesus said: Even the mighty Moses is not the giver of something so simply as daily bread. Now if Moses could not do that, how can any other human give bread for eternity?
My hope is that those who read these words will look to Jesus. We who preach the Gospel must stay on task and preach Jesus. The church must stay on task and demand that their preachers preach Jesus Christ Crucified. There is no excuse for not doing so; and there is no substitute for Jesus. God has given one Loaf to all of humanity. His Name is Jesus.
I hope this 2 day of 90 is Blessed for you and yours in Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4Now he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
This is the first of our meditations on John chapter 4. We’ll be here for the next five days reading about Jesus’ encounter with an unnamed Samaritan woman. What strikes me here is that John tells us that Jesus was tired, that he ‘had’ to go through Samaria, and that he asks this woman for a drink—he is thirsty! There is something magnificent about Jesus being tired and thirsty and having to do something that he, according to all the smart people, did not have to do. I suppose all of this might be beside the point, but I have not found John to be one who throws words around for no purpose. He uses words carefully and not necessarily liberally. So later on he will famously tell his readers that the woman ‘left her water jar behind’ as a way of telling us that because she met Jesus she forgot about her worldly problems. It’s sort of the same way the author of the book of Judges tells us, the Samson narrative, that Samson’s hair started to grow back apart from the notice of the Philistines. It’s a narrative clue giving you and me information that the characters in the story may not have. The woman did not know that Jesus had to go through Samaria. She did not know, when she woke up that day, that a tired and thirsty Jewish Male would be at Jacob’s well and ask her for water.
I might also add this: Why did Jesus wait behind by the well when the disciples went into town to buy food? Did it take 12 men to get food? That’s a lot of food! Why didn’t Jesus go with them? Why did he wait? Well, all of this could be just my fanciful desire for there to be something more going on than there actually is. It could just be that Jesus was tired, thirsty, and didn’t feel like going into town to get food. Later on he does say, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Maybe he wasn’t hungry and food was their idea, not his. Who knows?
Ironically, it is Jesus who begins the conversation by asking this unnamed Samaritan woman for a drink. We are told rather pointedly that Jews and Samaritans do not ‘associate’ with one another. The NIV footnote informs us that this could also mean ‘they do not use one another’s dishes’ or something to that effect. Whatever the case is Jews and Samaritans did not get along well at all with, sadly, the Israelites leading the way on hate and dislike. What’s worse is that this woman was, well, a woman. So, here’s Jesus. All alone. A man. A woman. Talking. Preachers don’t do things like this in today’s world. In today’s world that is taboo. Someone might get the wrong idea or spread a rumor or gossip and cause the ruin of reputations or formulate all sorts of sick mind fantasies. Not so with Jesus. Jesus talks to anyone, anywhere, and he really could not care less what people think or say. (Later John says, in verse 27, the thing all of us were thinking: “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”)
I think the woman is either offended or surprised at Jesus’ request. I’m not sure which it is. I’d like to think surprised, but something tells me that she did not like Jews any more than Jews liked her. I cannot get into this too much, but there is something to be said about this (and I don’t want to get too far away from the theological point Jesus was making). But how many times in our lives have we come across someone and written it off as mere chance or coincidence? How many times have we purposely refused to talk to someone precisely because we were terrified of what someone else might say about us; what they might say about us? Or how many times do we simply go out of our way to avoid someone because of what we think we know about them? Yet here is Jesus for all intents and purposes going out of his way on purpose to meet with this unnamed, Samaritan woman. That was bad enough. At this point we have yet to read verses 16-18 which, when read and understood, will surely make this situation far worse for Jesus and his reputation probably will not hold up under scrutiny. Interestingly, Jesus was more concerned about this woman than he was about himself. The servant life, the Cross driven life, carries this burden and refuses to be stigmatized or calloused by the world’s peccadilloes. Jesus sat down—he didn’t stand up, back way off, wait for his disciples so that all hint of scandal could be diffused. He sat down, meaning he meant to stay for a while, and he initiated the conversation.
And then it gets fun. Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus cuts to the chase and begins to unveil his identity to this woman.
This is not something for mere admiration. Forsyth wrote how some people, liberals in his day, viewed God. They think ‘God is our helper and no more. He is not a real sense, but only a figurative sense, our Redeemer. He helps us to realise our latent spiritual resources and ends. There is no break with self and the world, only a disengagement from an embarrassing situation” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 65). Jesus did not engage this woman in conversation that day to merely help her through a bad day or to help through her embarrassing marital situation or to help her through all the, undoubted, abuse she had endured at the hands of many men, or even, really, to help her physical thirst be quenched. He unveils to her not the solution to all of life’s woes and inadequacies and injustices and tediums, but he unveils to her himself. And it is only after she realizes who Jesus is that she eventually leaves her water jar behind. Jesus did not stop by Jacob’s well that day merely to engage in polite conversation about water, or merely to rest, or merely to break all sorts of social and racial taboos. Jesus sat down that day to reveal to this woman the Savior of the World: Himself.
Finally, did Jesus ever get his drink of water? He asked, but John never tells us if he got it or not. And the woman who came to draw water? Did she ever get her drink? Oh, I think she did! What happened though is that Jesus diverts attention away from her physical need, thirst, and redirects it to himself. He does the same thing later in chapter 11 when he raises Lazarus: He diverts Martha’s attention away from her grief and redirects it to himself. Essentially he is saying, “I am the solution to your grief, the victory over death (”I am the Resurrection and the Life”)” and here in chapter 4, “I am the solution to your thirst (”I you knew the gift of God…He would have given you living water”).”
Sometimes we think that the only way to be effective evangelists and witnesses for God is to solve the physical problems people have and then introduce God as the purpose or reason behind our good deeds and joy. People politely listen so they can get what they really want from us or Him. I think it should be exactly the opposite. Jesus first introduced himself. I believe we must first confront people with the reality of God, with the presence of Christ–they must hear the Gospel. It is through the Gospel that people will come to faith (Romans 10). Jesus saves; water does not. In other words, what people most need in their lives is Jesus Christ.
I hope this 13th Day of 90 is Blessed for you in the Lord Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
31″The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
Ours is a world that is dominated by many gods. Ours is a world that is filled to the brim with theologies of these gods. These gods have their apologists, their theologians, their exegetes. These gods have their preachers and teachers and singers and dancers. These gods have their bibles and their bible colleges and their PhD professors. These gods have their own churches. The difference between our world and the world of, say, the apostle Paul is that he had to walk through Athens to get a glimpse of all these gods. The Athenians had them stacked and erected and perched all around for people to see; all they had to do was walk. Our world is much, much easier. I’d say, to an extent, that we are much closer to Laban from Jacob’s day whose daughter Rachel stole some of his ‘household gods.’ I don’t know really what that means: ‘household gods.’ But I’m guess it’s not as far removed from us as we might think. Laban kept them in the house; the Athenians perched them all around town; we do both.
Our gods are all over: we perch them in town squares and call them memorials or nativities. We line them up on shelves in our living rooms so that visitors can see, smell, and touch them. We have their sermons preached to us nightly as we watch the television or listen to the radio or surf the internet. Sometimes we go out to the park and hold a collective worship service with others: cheering, clapping, hooting, participating in responsive readings, and singing their songs of praise and adoration. The gods have come down among us, we say. We invite them in for dinner or we share with them, or make an offering to them, through Visa and Master Card or Amex or Discover. Truly we are a remarkably religious society. And yet, we are profoundly empty, hollow, and virtually meaningless.
We can make a religion (or a god) out of anything. It really doesn’t even require much thought or effort. I visited a web page yesterday and listened to an old man prattle on for about 15 minutes (the entire video was nearly 60 minutes long!) about the joys, benefits, intellectually satisfying, and benevolent nature of secular humanism. His stated purpose is to prove that one can live this way, with joy, intelligence, benevolence, quite apart from any religion. The clear point he is making, however, is that these can be had quite apart from Christianity. As I watched, I actually felt sorry for that man. He who deigned to feel sorry for us, who obfuscated the reality of Christian faith and human centered religion, and who set-up himself and his ilk as the martyrs in this nation—‘the poor, persecuted, secular humanists’—was a actually a pathetic lump of flesh with no hope beyond his secular, humanist, fleshly life. He was hopeless despite his efforts to remain hopeful. His means would be his end. For him, there was no sacrifice left. God have mercy.
But John here makes the point that we needed outside help. His point is that we cannot for a moment save ourselves by or in our flesh. That is why Someone was sent ‘from above.’ And John further demonstrates this One’s superiority by stating that He is Above All. This leaves no room for any other. The One (and this is more than a neuter marker of identity; it is also a singular marker as in ‘One and Only’) from above is above all. David Wells notes, “There is nothing in the modern world that is a match for the power of God and nothing in the modern culture which diminishes our understanding of the greatness of Christ” (Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 11).
But it’s worse. Wells also notes that the place once held by God in this world has been replaced by human beings: “Meaning and morality, which only God could give, were taken to be purely human accomplishments; but in promising what only God could do, the Enlightenment sowed the seeds of its own downfall. It promised too much. It promised, in fact, that all human problems could be solved by purely natural means—and that, plainly, rested on false assumptions. It both underestimated the magnitude of the problems and overestimated the capacity of human nature to remedy them” (Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 31). Sadly, there are prophets of human nature still convinced that we no longer need outside interference or intervention. We don’t need God, God the Holy and True, to do anything—if He even exists—or intervene in any way. We have created gods in our own image, they are at our beck and call, we worship them, they serve us; it’s a very convenient relationship.
But the fact that God did in fact intervene in history proves to us that this premise is fallacious. In fact, we cannot solve our own problems. Indeed, the gods we have created are indifferent and incapable of solving our problems. And, ironically, we have identified not the problems which need solved, but the symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are sinners, corrupt, degenerate, depraved. We are in a condition unsuited for saving anything because everything we touch falls to pieces. God knows this and thus He sent His One and Only Son. And this One from above, who is above all (31 two times), also testifies as to what He has seen and heard—and no one accepts him. We are told later the reason we don’t accept him is that we don’t want to hear the truth; we’d rather believe the lie. But the One from Above, who is above all, who testifies to what He has seen and heard, speaks, John tells us, ‘the very words of God.’ That is, we have God’s testimony about us, to us, for us. God informs us of our position and our needs. Apart from His opinion and testimony we can only rely upon ourselves and history has shown that man is thoroughly incapable of making sound judgments about anything.
So we learn: The Father Loves the Son and has placed all things in His hands. This means all things and nothing is outside of his control. This means that secular humanism cannot save us. The enlightenment cannot save us. Politicians cannot save us—no matter how many promises they make. Money and technology cannot save us. (As a sidenote, Wells insightfully notes, “Along the way, however, we have come to think that happiness is unattainable and unimaginable in the absence of comfort and affluence. The means to reach this end—capitalism and technology—have, in the absence of serious engagement with the truth of God and the God of that truth, become themselves the final ends of life”, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 47.) It also also means that this world is still under the Sovereign control of the Son. Paul said later, “All things hold together in Him.” We need this continued Providence. We need this continued guidance. We need His constant intervention. We need the ‘whole world in his hands.’ As John writes, “The one who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” We certify God’s truthfulness because we accept his assessment of our situation and His remedy.
The final end? There is only One Savior: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” I need not say anything about this because it says all that needs to be said. There is simply no hope outside of Christ. I am here today, in this meditation, making the appeal to all who read these words: Return to Christ. Surrender to Him. Don’t you understand that apart from Christ there is only death, decay and decadence? Don’t you understand that those outside of Christ are already succumbing to the wrath of God which ‘remains on’ them? I make this appeal to the church and to the Christians who claim Christ: Return to the Way of Christ. Banish from your midst all the buying and selling and living and pursuing the empty gods of this world. If Jesus is in fact Above All Things, and in fact Everything has been placed in His hands, and in fact there is no other way to eternal life but through the Son, then isn’t it time for the church to start believing it?
I heard someone say recently, in a sermon, that the church has always been good at orthodoxy and poor at orthopraxy. In other words, we believe the right things but do not do the right things. I disagree. I think the reason we don’t do the right things is precisely because don’t know and believe the right things. It seems to me, I say so humbly, that it is high time for the Church to renounce its ways and one again Lift Jesus High. In my humble opinion, when Jesus has again been elevated in the church, then the church will do the right things. Until then, I submit, the church will continue to be inundated and overwhelmed by wrong things—things that do not have the least bit to do with salvation through Christ alone and everything to do with exalting the god we call ‘the American Christian.’ Jesus is the Way. The Only Way. He is Above All.