Getting It

The Disciples Finally Get It

Read Luke 24 from The Message (MSG) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+24&version=MSG

Easter on April fool’s Day – How appropriate! The disciples didn’t know what to make of things – like life had played a nasty joke on them. But God keeps his word even when it involves things that seem impossible.

There are some things that we can accept as being scientifically provable: Jesus was a real person who existed some 2000 years ago. Everything about Jesus was unique: The prophecies of His coming. His birth. His life. His teachings. His miracles.  Everything about him was so different that he upset the status quo of his time and he ended up getting killed for it. But the story didn’t end there. His resurrection is history’s most significant event ever. Everything else about Jesus is hinged on the Resurrection.

Evidence for the Resurrection

  • 1st, Jesus predicted His resurrection. The Bible records, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things … and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21). Even though His followers did not understand what He was telling them at the time, they remembered His words and recorded them.
  • 2nd, Jesus made numerous appearances to His followers. He comforted the mourners outside His tomb on Sunday morning. On the road to Emmaus, He explained things about Himself from the Old Testament. Later, He ate in their presence and invited them to touch Him. Scripture records that Jesus was seen by more than 500 at one time. It might be possible that a few people agreed to a deception, but how can one explain the collaboration of 500 people?
  • 3rd, the unrelenting faith of the disciples. Those disciples who were once so afraid that they deserted their Lord now courageously proclaimed this news, risking their lives to preach. Their bold and courageous behavior does not make sense unless they knew with absolute certainty that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  In part, the mystification of the disciples — presumably the ones who would have spirited away the corpse if it were all a hoax — is the most compelling evidence of the accuracy of these events. Why argue something so improbable, and so unexpected, unless they believed it had actually happened the way they told the story?
  • 4th, the growth of the Christian church. Peter’s first sermon, which dealt with Christ’s resurrection, stirred people to receive Him as their living Savior. Luke records the thrilling results: “That day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). And that group of believers has multiplied until now it reaches around the world.
  • Finally, the testimony of hundreds of millions of transformed lives through the centuries shows the power of the Resurrection. The most conclusive proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that He is living within believers today in all of His resurrected life and transforming power.

The Resurrection sets Christianity apart. No other religious leader has broken the power of death and conquered sin.

 

Significance of the Resurrection

The Resurrection confirms that Jesus is who He claimed to be. Let us consider the magnitude of this event:

  • The Resurrection proved that Christ was divine. The fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross does not prove in itself He is God. Jesus proved His deity by fulfilling the prophecies of His death and by His return from the grave. The Bible declares that “by being raised from the dead [Christ] was proved to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God Himself” (Romans 1:4, The Living Bible).
  •  The Resurrection proved Christ’s power to forgive sin. The Bible asserts, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). By rising from the dead, Jesus proved His authority and power to break the bonds of sin and to assure forgiveness and eternal life to all who accept His gift of salvation.
  • The Resurrection revealed Christ’s power over death. The Bible records, “Christ rose from the dead and will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him” (Romans 6:9, TLB). The Resurrection secured our victory over death as well and “lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6).
  • The Resurrection defeated God’s enemy. From the moment of his original rebellion until the day of the Cross, the devil fought viciously and cunningly to overthrow the kingdom of God. Satan must have thought he had dealt the final and decisive blow in this age-old war. But this was the devil’s most serious miscalculation. The Cross was heaven’s triumph. And when Jesus Christ arose, the power of sin and death was forever shattered. Because of the Resurrection, Christians need never fear Satan or death again.

Completion of Redemption

The Book of Acts records that, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with the Holy Spirit and then to take His message to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world (Acts 1:4,5,8). Immediately after, He rose skyward and disappeared into the clouds, leaving the disciples staring after Him in amazed wonder. The ascension of Christ was the final act in the drama of redemption. His mission completed, Jesus Christ was exalted to His former glory.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ ranks as history’s most revolutionary event. One cannot deny that He shook the world in His day. But His life just as dramatically has shaped the course of history in our time. The Resurrection is the final proof that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be.

Lord, teach us to pray 5

Why would God lead us into temptation? That would not be a loving thing to do for a loving God!! What gives? The Greek word is the same for test and temptation!!! A test is meant to improve a person’s character. A temptation is meant to entice a person to sin. It matters who is behind it – whether it’s a test or a temptation, and also how we respond.

The evil one seeks to turn tests into temptations. It is very subtle and unrelenting. So the prayer could be translated as, “Father, you know that we cannot stand up to much pressure. As you lead us to the test (all of life is a test) as you seek to prove and improve our faith, do not let the test become a temptation, a seduction to sin, but deliver us from the subtle wiles of the deceiver against whom we are no match.”

So why does God test us? Because life, real life that is worth living, is found in trusting God – letting him be king of our lives, submitting, trusting, loving, enjoying…. So God tests our trust for him by putting challenging circumstances in our life and see how much we actually do trust him and not in ourselves. The quality of our lives is a function of the quality of our trust in the one who made us. A test is a situation in which we may fall, but in which we ideally come out victorious: stronger and wiser, trusting God more.

The evil one doesn’t like God and doesn’t want us to like him either. He wants us to doubt the goodness of God. Once we doubt that, the rest is easy: chaos, violence, addiction… Satan uses 5 strategies:

  1. Sowing seeds of suspicion
  2. Focusing on the negative
  3. Helps us make false deductions from the negative
  4. Force the Father’s hand – nut God doesn’t play that game at all
  5. Take things into our own hands.

So Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10-16: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Who is Satan?

In Job 1:6ff. a figure appears who is referred to not merely as satan, Hebrew for “an adversary,” but as hassatan, ” The Adversary.”

The New Testament expands on this theme by describing Satan or the devil as “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30), “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). This is the basis for the church’s claim that Satan has been granted temporary dominion over the earth (see also Luke 4:5-7).

The apostle Peter applies this teaching directly to the everyday experience of believers. He writes, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8, 9).

James agrees: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Satan, then, though he is extremely powerful, has not been given complete control of the earth. People are free to choose whether they will follow him or remain loyal to their Creator.

Luke 10:17-20 refers briefly to Satan’s fall

Why Does God Allow Satan to Attack Us?

Almost everyone wonders why God has done things as He has, but there are almost never any answers in the Bible. The Bible tells us the things we need to know to live holy and moral lives, but it does not attempt to explain or justify God’s actions.

One possible answer is that God allows Satan to test us to see if we are truly committed to practicing our faith (Job 1:8-12, Matthew 7:21-23, 1 Peter 1:6-7). It is easy to say we believe and trust in God and Christ, but our actions demonstrate our true motives and beliefs.

God tells us to turn to him and renounce the occult

Many people, including Christians, think it’s harmless to look at astrological charts or engage in various forms of spiritism. They think it is fun or entertaining.

Others look to astrology, divination, and mediums for guidance, not just entertainment.

But God clearly warns against such practices in many Bible verses. Some reasons the Scriptures warn against engaging in any form of the occult:

  • We are opening ourselves up to spirits other than God’s.
  • We are not looking to God for guidance, but to the occult.
  • We are turning away from true faith in Jesus.
  • We are disobeying God’s word, the Bible.

Bible Verses on the Occult – To be forewarned is to be properly armed.

  • “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes His son or daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures up spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-13)
  • “And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them …” (Deuteronomy 4:19)
  • “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:31)
  • “And the person who turns after mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.” (Leviticus 20:6)
  • “So Saul died for His unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord because He did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because He consulted a medium for guidance.” (1 Chronicles 10:13)
  • The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2)

New Testament Christians turned from sorcery. May their example serve as an inspiration and a warning: Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts 19:18-20)

Lord, teach us to pray 4

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Why do some people say debts? Some trespasses? Some sins? – The Greek word most closely translates to mean debt – but not just financial debt. It is debt in the widest sense of the word. If you do a job for someone, they are indebted to you – that sort of thing.

The Greek word for ‘forgive’ also comes from the financial world – to wipe the slate clean, to cancel the debt.

The debt that we owe is obedience. God who created us calls us into relationship. Because he created us, he knows what’s best for us, so he gave us guidelines. The 10 commandments are not restricting – they open life so that it can be lived fully, freely, in relationship to God. But we all fail. We all owe God a great debt. And not only to God. Every time we fail in our relationship to God, we fail in a human relationship. When we steal, covet, commit adultery, swear – we hurt people and we hurt God – relationships break down. The debt grows.

What we have in this section of the Lord’s Prayer is a simile, both in English and Greek. This comparison centers on the word “as.” With just these two simple letters we have a huge comparison. The problem with “as” is that we often use it to mean “while.” We can say “as I was walking down the street” — but what we really mean is “while I was walking down the street.” That makes us think that Jesus isn’t making a comparison here. If we had translated the Greek word as “like” this would not happen. We would read “Forgive us our sins LIKE we forgive others.” There would be no question.

Just two verses earlier Jesus used the same word when talking about heaven and earth. He has already told us that God’s will should be enacted on earth just like it is in heaven. We are left with the realization that what Jesus is really asking is that God would forgive us just as much as and in exactly the same way that we forgive others. The irony is that Jesus understands we might miss this — so He tells us literally right after He finishes the prayer that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others. 14-15 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. (Matthew 6:14-15 MSG)

There’s an important point we don’t want to miss – the words of Jesus are not all comfort and love, there is also challenge in them:

We are able to ask God to “forgive us our debts”, only because we have already forgiven others for their debts against us. The prayer is pretty blunt about it – don’t come seeking absolution, seeking forgiveness, if you are still holding onto hatred and resentment toward someone else. How can we expect God to forgive us, if we can’t find it within our hearts to forgive others?

We need to be at peace with one another, before we come to seek peace with God. If you don’t, your debt will burden you forever. If you can’t forgive someone, or ask forgiveness from someone, Jesus is saying, then it is going to be like you are in prison – and you’ll remain there as long as forgiveness received and forgiveness given remains elusive.

If we cannot find the love to forgive others, then how can we possibly receive love in return? If our hearts are so closed to compassion and justice and empathy, then it is impossible for us to receive such compassion for ourselves. If we cannot find the grace to forgive the debts of others toward us, then how can we possibly expect to be shown grace?

This may seem backwards to you. But think of it this way, God is offering you an amazing gift: forgiveness of everything you have ever done, but you have a major grump on and don’t want to listen. So you turn your back on God and on this amazing gift. But over time, God works on your heart. God speaks to you through the morning glow of the sunrise, the warmer weather, trees budding, your child telling you that they love you and wrap their arms around you even though an hour ago you yelled at them. God works on your heart and softens it. He turns off the grump bit by bit. You say sorry to your child for yelling – again. And slowly, you turn towards God. (The word repent means to turn around!) Your grump goes away, melts. And then you’re able to receive that most amazing thing that God does – forgiveness. And you’re like, wow, why did I take so long? Why did I hold on to that grump so long? This is pretty sweet. Thank you, God!

One of things that we need to remember about the Lord’s Prayer is that Jesus is trying to teach us. He isn’t asking God for daily bread simply because He needs it. He is teaching us that our existence depends on God. We can’t even have the bread we need to live without the grace of God. Jesus isn’t simply teaching us to ask God for forgiveness. You don’t need to teach people that. We all have a desire to get away with sinning.

No one likes to be in trouble and we like punishment even less. But, for Jesus to simply be teaching people that they can ask God for forgiveness seems too shallow.

We have all been forgiven great debts to God. Jesus took all of our debts, died on the cross, and by so doing, erased our ledger. We are all in need of Jesus. But unless we truly understand how much we need Jesus and how much grace we have been given, we cannot hope to extend that grace to others.

Jesus makes it pretty clear. Either you understand the grace that God gave you and thus forgive others or you don’t. Revenge and bitterness are the enemy of God. When we don’t forgive others we stand in the place of God, passing judgement on someone. We in essence say “Look God, I know that you have forgiven them, but I know better than you do.” Unforgiveness declares that God is either a liar or a fool.

Forgiveness doesn’t always happen all at once. We can pray that God would help us forgive. We can pray that God would give us eyes to see the other person the way God sees them.

When that happens – over time – then you realize that the non-forgiveness has been a huge burden. Just like a financial debt that has been cancelled, that is how it feels when you cancel another’s debt – when you forgive someone. And then your debt is also cancelled. And a huge burden comes off of your soul – you are then free.

May you come to realize that forgiveness is not just for yourself. May you be healed from the wounds that others have inflicted on you. May you extend to others the same grace that God gave you. May God open your eyes to see people the way that He does. Amen!

Lord, teach us to pray 3

Jesus taught us to pray so that we don’t need to wonder if our prayer is acceptable to God. This prayer is totally acceptable in all its shades of meanings.

Today, the prayer shifts to “us” terms, not “your” terms. (Your name, your kingdom, your will) but it is not a shift from the heavenlies to the earth. The first three requests were all connected to that little phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Those requests all had to do with very practical applications here in our midst. That is where the need for bread is also.

Lord’s Prayer switches that around – puts God first. When we ask for God’s kingdom and will be done first, then the rest of our asks fall into place where they should be. Otherwise, we’re asking for that shiny red bike when that’s not within God’s will for us right now. I mentioned last week that we are caught up in the prisons of our own desire, and we pray for a shag rug for our prison cell rather than praying for freedom. Desiring God’s will first makes the rest more clear.

Today: Give us today our daily bread

What do you notice: it’s a demand, not a polite request! It is for today only, not tomorrow or next week. Just for today. That’s where God wants us to focus our prayers

When the Israelites stumbled through the desert, God provided manna for them, a bread-like substance. When they tried to disobey and collect more than they needed, it went maggoty overnight, except for the extra they collected for the Sabbath – read this section Exodus 16:1-5, 13-25

Exodus 16 (New International Version)

16 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today.26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

It does not pay to ask for more than today’s needs, though God knows you have those needs tomorrow as well. That is where trust comes in. We ask God to be our provider. Not Telus, or Bell, but God as our provider.

In the Bible, the kingdom of heaven that we prayed for just before is often referred to as a banquet. Jesus knows the importance of food in our lives. Jesus was always eating with people, celebrating, serving. He fed 5000 people once, with 5 small loaves of bread. So praying for bread follows very logically on the heels of praying for the coming of the kingdom.

This request raises a lot of questions – we have bread in our cupboard most days – what about that? What about the starving poor? Where is their bread?

2 basic questions:

  1. What is Jesus telling us to ask for here? – what does the prayer mean
  2. What are the implications to praying this? – What happens/ought to happen to us when we pray this?

One: it is suggested that it means everything we need for the next 24 hours for our bodily well-being. That we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life and enjoy God’s blessing with them.

6 layers:

  1. Physical bread – fuel for the body
  2. Everything necessary for functioning in the world; a balanced diet; for good weather patterns; for farmers and on up the production line to the baker & cook
  3. Everything necessary for kingdom life – wisdom, courage, strength, patience, holiness and vision
  4. Spiritual bread – the resources of the Holy Spirit that enable us to live in faith, hope and love. The bread that feeds our spirit
  5. Jesus himself – Jesus called himself the Bread of Life [John 6:35] “you need me more than you need your next meal – audacious!! He is the only one who satisfies our deepest hunger.
  6. Bread for the “coming day” – the final day – the bread of peace, joy and rest, for the glorious future when we shall never hunger again.

Two: there are 3 major lifestyle implications

  1. We are in solidarity with all others who call God “Father.” – That is what the ‘us’ refers to. – It makes us ‘kingdom-conscious.’ How would the world be different if we prayed this with greater sincerity?
  2. The prayer calls us into dependency on God for our daily To live one day at a time. We pray for enough bread so that we are not tempted to steal, but not so much that we are tempted to think we are self-sufficient and feel no need to pray. God is faithful, and make much out of little – wedding at Cana, bread for 5000, catch of fish. Today I have God, God has what I need. The same will be true tomorrow.
  3. It calls us into a lifestyle of gratitude. Every time we eat, a prayer has been answered. That demands gratitude. Every time we receive any of the 6 meanings of the word bread – actual bread, good food in general, that what we need for kingdom living, spiritual nourishment, Jesus, and bread for the last day – we receive the goodness of God. The only appropriate response is “thank you.”

We are blessed indeed by a generous and faithful God.

Foolishness

1 Corinthians 1: 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Discussion:

Christians live in the only major religious tradition in the world whose founder was executed by established authority. Why would any first century person have been converted to Christian faith through the preaching of Paul? It doesn’t make sense.

If we think that a good God gives us everything we want, think again. What would have happened to you if God would have given you everything that you wanted during your life? Would you really love a mom and a dad like that? No, not at all. Instead, you would become a monster. God does not try to buy our love by giving us everything we think we need. God just gives us love. It pours out from him into our hearts so that we can also love.

Four ways by which God creates genuine, deep love in us:

  1. God does not eliminate suffering from our lives but God suffers with us and for us. God is with us and we are not alone. That creates love within us.
  2. Unconditional love. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop God from loving you.
  3. A third quality that goes into creating love is to affirm/support/encourage. The quality of affirmation creates love in the other.
  4. The fourth quality that creates love is this: to be willing to die in place of another person if he or she becomes sick. That is at the very heart of the cross. When that becomes an experiential reality in your life, that creates love within you.

Christ’s love is the deepest kind of love, a love which is willing to die for another. The cross symbolizes a way of loving, a way of living, and a way of losing yourself for the benefit of another.

To understand Jesus is to understand the cross. To understand the cross is to understand the love of God. To understand the love of God is to understand a God who suffers with us, who loves us unconditionally, who loves us affirmatively, and a love that loves us so much that God is willing to die for us. That is the Gospel.

The foolishness of the Cross:

The core of Paul’s preaching is the proclamation of the crucified Christ. This is not a message geared to win friends or influence people. The cross was a lousy marketing tool in the first century world and now too.

The first century realities of crucifixion: capital punishment by the forces of the Roman Empire, reserved for disreputable individuals such as rebellious slaves, insurrectionists, pirates, or gangsters who had threatened the social order of the Empire. The cross was the imperial instrument used to suppress subversion (going against the status quo/upsetting the system – something Jesus excelled at)

Given this reality, it would be sheer idiocy (not just mere foolishness) to think how the cross might be a way that God reveals himself. Paul, however openly, boldly, and regularly proclaims the cross as the intentional and exclusive means God has chosen to meet humanity and introduce our salvation.

God’s embarrassing action in the cross relates to our human attempts to establish what we think are appropriate means for meeting God. According to 1:22, Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom. Here, Paul is referring to attempts to encounter God, either through miracles (such as the events surrounding the Exodus) or elaborate philosophical systems. The proclamation of Christ crucified does not fit such human criteria – it is offensive to Jewish feelings and idiotic to Gentile/Greek intelligence (1:23).

God, however, has not sought us out similar to the ways we have sought out God. Rather, God has intentionally and decidedly destroyed the ways and means by which we decided get to God (1:19, quoting Isaiah 29:14). Through the four rhetorical questions in 1:20, Paul declares that God has rejected and embarrassed the best and brightest of human efforts to understand, explain, and experience God.

What Paul rejects is the attempt to know God, to approach God, to be reconciled to God from below, from our side, by our own efforts. We simply cannot think or feel or act our way up to God. We cannot know God or relate to God through our own wisdom. We do not get to God, or find the key to knowing God through our efforts. Rather, God comes to us and establishes the terms of the encounter through the cross.

For many Corinthians, the Romans were the good guys (major trade route bringing wealth, stability, slave labour). So, to their thinking, Jesus must be to blame for his own crucifixion. After all, he was a seditionist, keeping company with zealots, undermining the imperial health and tax systems, proclaiming the in-breaking of an alternative empire. To say otherwise would be foolishness. He was not the last unarmed innocent to be condemned to certain death by powers that justified his killing in the name of their own peace and security.

But, says Paul, God chose what is foolish to shame those who think they are so wise.

Paul’s God is about the work of using the worst the empire can do to overturn its so-called power, overturning it not with force but with the power of weeping women, terrified disciples and a moaning body on a Roman cross.

Paul freely acknowledges that “the message of the cross is foolishness,” but only to those who are perishing. In that shocking statement, Paul uses a word that hints at the identity of those who are perishing. “Message” is the Greek word logos, which to the Jews could be a reference to the law or to wisdom, while to the Greeks it was the reason behind the cosmic order. In using that word Paul is acknowledging that message of the cross is an offense to both the religious mind and the reasoned mind. Indeed, both kinds of people see the word of the cross as nothing less than foolishness. And both kinds of people are perishing because of their rejection of the cross.

“But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Paul chooses “power” here, perhaps as a way of emphasizing that the logos of the cross is not merely good advice to us, telling us what we must do to be saved. Rather, that logos is a message about what God has done. More than that, the cross itself is God’s power at work doing what we cannot do. The message of the cross is not first of all a way of thinking or a way of living; it is God’s actual power at work to save those who cannot save themselves, no matter how hard they think or how well they live.

At first Paul’s argument sounds like a series of baseless assertions. Paul agrees that the message of the cross is, from any normal human vantage point, foolishness, but nonetheless asserts God’s wisdom in it. The text seems to go around in circles: if you think the cross is foolishness, your conclusion just proves that you are perishing.

God in his wisdom invented another way to God. And it wasn’t only his wisdom at work; it was also his love. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Salvation can be gained not by thinking, not by doing, but only by believing the event itself, the actual crucifixion of Christ.

The Jews represent all the people in the world today who simply want proof/facts. We want to see actual miracles, signs that will prove to us that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah promised for ages. The idea of a suffering Messiah or, worse, a Messiah that died on a Roman cross under the curse of God, is not merely nonsense; it is blasphemous/sacrilegious/offensive. A crucified Messiah was a scandal, a stumbling block for everyone who thinks that if God is going to save the world, he will do it through his almighty power (our logic).

The Greeks represent all the people in the world who don’t care about “the facts,” about alleged historical evidence of the truth of Christ crucified. Paul is talking about people for whom the message of Christ crucified just doesn’t make any sense. The idea of a crucified God simply doesn’t fit into the mindset of those whose gods fight and fornicate on Mt. Olympus or who have no gods at all. The humanistic mindset (“Man is the measure of things”) has no room for a God who becomes human and dies for humanity. The whole idea is simply foolish superstition.

Paul knows those people, just as we do. What is his approach to them? How will he preach about Jesus to those who demand evidence of God’s power and to those who are governed by the prevailing wisdom of the day? He preached Christ crucified regardless. He didn’t change his message to fit his audience, precisely because Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God. The cross of Christ was the only way that made sense given the nature of God and humanity and the world.

God chooses the way God chooses not just to demonstrate the capacity to upend the status quo, as if God were saying by these choices, “I’m bigger than you.” God chooses the foolish/weak/nothing in order to upend the status quo and in order to create life. Like the acorn that falls to the ground, cracks, and spills out its guts and by all reckoning is dying, life is created, and an oak tree grows out of that destruction, because of God’s design. God also designed life to come out of the crucifixion – Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive forever now, death has lost the battle! I bet the devil was full of glee as Jesus hung on the cross, thinking he had won, but it was very temporary. In the end, God wins. God has already won. We are living in that time span where the kingdom of God is breaking in, bit by bit, one person at a time, as Jesus is born again in people’s hearts as they come to believe.

Subversive Jesus

Subversive Jesus

John 2:13-22 (NIV) When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

 

The word subversive comes from Latin. “Sub” means from below and “vertere” means to turn. So, to subvert means to turn things upside-down, especially the established system or the status quo, from below.

In today’s story, Jesus turns tables upside down, but what he is effectively working towards is turning the entire economic and political system upside down.

The root for ethical behavior for the Israelite people was that God liberated them from slavery, and now their task was to do the same for others. God chose these people to be a light to the nations – to teach them the ways of God. They didn’t have a great track record, as you might already know. So, hundreds of years later, Jews from all over Israel were required to return to Jerusalem on the festival known as “Passover” to be reminded of that covenant promise. That promise was that God would be their God and they would be his people, and that they were to share this good news of a loving God with the rest of the world.

As an observant Jew, Jesus would have joined the 300,000 people who had crammed into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. According to all gospel accounts, he enters the temple, sees the activities being performed there, and he gets angry!

In the temple courtyards, there’s a market of cattle, sheep, and other animals for sale. These animals have to be bought with the right kind of money – local currency, not Roman. Roman money has the face of the emperor on it, and the emperor calls himself a god. So to use Roman money would be idolatry for them. So there’s moneychangers there for that. And every one of them is trying to make a fast buck. All of them cared far more about how much money they could make and cared nothing for the people who were being ripped off, or for the temple as a shelter for their God, or the purpose of the Passover festival. Their focus wasn’t all that different from some people today, who care more about getting rich than helping their neighbour.

The animals were sold for the offerings made at the temple. That was the tradition. People were required to make sacrifices for a variety of festivals and rites. If you were wealthy you gave a large animal, like a cow or ox. If you were poor, you gave doves or pigeons. However, to ensure “unblemished” animals, you had to buy your animals at the gate of the temple where the prices were higher than in the countryside. And, as is typical, the costs tended to be felt more by the poor than the wealthy. To purchase one pair of doves outside the temple was the equivalent of two days’ wages. But the doves had to be inspected for quality control just inside the temple, and if your recently purchased animals were found to be in fact blemished, then you had to buy two more doves for the equivalent of 40 days’ wages!

The moneychangers were needed to change the money into usable local currency. The money changers were the banks in first century Palestine. Moneychangers were also corrupt and charged more than they should.

So a one day stay in Jerusalem during one of the three major festivals could cost between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars in today’s money, and Jews were required to attend at least one of them each year. None of it was illegal. They were business men operating within the law. But it took Jesus and a few radical rabbis to point out that the law itself was unjust. Just because it was legal didn’t make it right. Does that resonate with any of you?

Jesus entered Jerusalem expecting, or at least wanting, to see a celebration of what God had done during the Exodus – freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Instead, he saw a corrupted system that maintained the economic caste system where the rich stayed rich and the poor stayed poor. Jesus had come to bring good news to the poor and that just isn’t good news. Naturally, his message was radical and unpopular with the rich.

So Jesus lost his cool. This account is the only violent act of Jesus that’s recorded in the gospels. It reminds us that there’s no “business as usual” with Jesus. He came to make the wrong right and that more often than not meant upsetting the status quo. His stated mission was to bring an upside-down Kingdom that would be good news for the poor and the oppressed (Lk 4:18). This Kingdom was not just a place to chill out in heaven after we die – but something that would come on earth as well (Mt 6:10).

The temple had started to look like just any old Jerusalem flea market, and so people were forgetting that to have faith was to believe that God’s house is most definitely not just any old place. Maybe Jesus wanted to shake people up so they could remember that to have faith is a radical thing that should make us radically different from those who do not have faith.

The goal was purification of the temple to restore its sacred purpose, as a place of prayer for all people, without manipulation or exploitation by the religious gatekeepers. We have religious gatekeepers in some churches today too– wearing the right clothes, behaving properly, your children being well-behaved, giving enough money into the offering, being involved in church groups, etc.

The cleansing of the temple is a stark warning against every false sense of security — against every nice-n-neat box we try to stick Jesus into for our own comfort. Jesus comes to challenge rather than to reinforce prejudices and illusions. He comes to make strange what religion makes safe and cozy. He never once says, “Understand me.” He says something far more radical. He says “Follow me.” People talk about Christianity being a religion. To me, religion is a set of rules you have to live by for God to love you – like going to church on Sundays and saying bedtime prayers. But that is not what Jesus/God wants – little robots who go through the motions. God wants to have a relationship with us as real people who love God and show that love by loving others. Jesus loved others. He said “Follow me.”

Jesus is not comfortable. Jesus always challenges. Always away from the status quo, away from comfort, into the messiness of life. Jesus says follow me – because he is already there in the mess, waiting for us to join him in the mission of making things right, of helping the poor and bringing down the rich, by ending oppression and laws that are unfair to the marginalized. We all have a role to play in that, no matter how small. We are called to follow Jesus into the messiness of life and to do something about it. Sometimes that includes getting angry, as we have seen Jesus do in today’s story.

What might this look like in your life? What is unjust in the system that you live in? What can you do to help change it? Where can you increase the love in this world? We all have a sphere of influence – what’s yours?

 

Wise Jesus

Matthew 4 1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a]by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 4:1 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.
  2. Matthew 4:4 Deut. 8:3
  3. Matthew 4:6 Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Matthew 4:7 Deut. 6:16
  5. Matthew 4:10 Deut. 6:13

Jesus had just been baptized – we talked about his baptism a little while ago. It ended with the heavens opening up and a dove coming down on Jesus and a voice saying that he was God’s beloved and that God was pleased with him.

Today’s story takes place immediately after the baptism. This story is a little different than some of the other stories in the Bible. It is not intended to be read literally. The devil is not a person type of figure with horns and a tail. I think the devil made himself into a caricature so that we wouldn’t take him seriously, even though we totally should. The devil can be thought of as the tempter sitting on our shoulder telling us to do the things we shouldn’t do. The devil is a spirit. So this is one of those stories that is true in its message, but not true in that it happened just like this in reality. A little like a story with a message. Temptation is a wrestling match with our conscience.

So immediately after his baptism, THE SPIRIT – the spirit of God, that other part of the Trinity – leads Jesus into the wilderness for testing – to see if he was ready for his ministry. Jesus prepares by fasting. God tests, and the devil tempts. Here, the devil is under the control of God. The 40 days are a common term in the Bible. 40 generally can be interpreted to mean “a long time.” So when the Israelites wandered in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt, they wandered there for 40 years – or a very long time. Same here.

We have wilderness experiences too. Sometimes, these are orchestrated by God to test us. And just as with Jesus, these tests in the wilderness are not to punish us. But I believe that sometimes God tests us. Sometimes to see if we’re ready for next steps, to see if we’ve learned something. God does not tempt us. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Another way to illustrate Jesus’ words “Lead us not into temptation” goes like this: you take your little children grocery shopping with you and you come to the candy aisle. You know that taking your children down that aisle will only stir up greediness in their hearts and lead to bouts of whining and wailing. In wisdom, you take another route—whatever you may have needed down the candy aisle will have to wait for another day. In this way you avert unpleasantness and you spare your children a trial. It’s recognizing that we naturally grasp for things that are not good for us and that God’s wisdom can stop our obnoxious bellyaching.

First temptation: Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread because he is hungry – how many of us would think that is reasonable? I would! But Jesus thought that maybe there was something more important than bread right then and there. He said that we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God. We are alive not because we eat, but because God gives us life. He also said, “31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [Matt 6] God is more important. For sure, Jesus fed thousands of people at other times, but here, he is not giving in to feeding his gut. Not now. In comparison, when the Israelites were in the desert, they grumbled loudly until God gave them manna – bread from heaven – as their daily food. They didn’t trust God to provide.

Second temptation: Then the devil took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem – he has no boundaries as to where he will tempt anyone. Note that we are not safe in church either. We can be tempted anywhere, any time and in any way. The devil quotes scripture out of the Bible to prove his point! But Jesus proves to be wiser. Jesus/God is the author of scripture and not only does Jesus know it inside out and backwards, but he also has the right interpretation of it. We don’t. We might want to test God, to see if we can manipulate him to do what we want. Honouring God excludes manipulation. Just like Jesus would be forcing God to protect him if he decided to jump. God doesn’t work like that. God is not a magician or a genie, someone who attracts followers with gimmicks and tricks. God asks us to trust him, that God is faithful and that he will give us what we need and always be with us and always, always love us.

The third test has to do with compromising. The devil offered Jesus worldly power if he would worship him. That’s just not happening with Jesus! But how often are we tempted that way? How often are we offered worldly power and we turn our back on God and God’s commands because we want that thing?

And when the test is over, God’s angels attend to him. He did well. He followed God’s commands. We do well too when we follow God’s commands. There are many places in the Bible where it says to “follow God’s commands so that it may go well with you” That is God’s desire. That is why we are called to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves. God wants our lives to go well. That is why Jesus came to live in the world – to show us what that looks like. He has his priorities lined up with God’s (he is one with him after all) Jesus is the embodiment/expression of the wisdom of God. Jesus is wise beyond all measure. Jesus is also known as “Logos”, or “the Word of God” – since we can’t physically see or hear God, and people a long time ago could in Jesus, we know this is true. The beautiful thing is that the Bible is also the word of God – the written word that tells us about the living Word. So even though the Bible isn’t complete like Jesus is, we can learn a lot of God’s wisdom from it. God’s wisdom given to us in the Bible is God’s gift to us – a roadmap/instruction manual for living life well. And when we take the Bible to heart, we will become more like Jesus, who is the heart of the Bible.

Jesus’ temptations have to do with the cultural reality of his day: food security, power, and compromise. Our temptations look very different than those of Jesus because we live in a very different world; the pressures from our culture to conform are very different. But the underlying temptation is the same. The temptation to treat God as less than God, to not fully trust Him, to make compromises with the ways of the world.

God loves you so much, God tells us how to live so that we will do well. It is our choice to obey or disobey. There are consequences either way – good and bad. If we all lived and loved perfectly, the way God loves us, our world would be like God’s kingdom. That is why Jesus said, when he first started his ministry, “to repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Remember the word repent? What song did we sing to remember? (Hokey Pokey) Because Jesus came to earth to show us what it looked like to follow the spirit of the Law instead of the letter of the law, we see a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. We get a taste of what that is like. When we make choices that align with Jesus, we experience real joy, even in hardship.

The apostle Paul was famous for saying things like that. He talks about joy all the time, even when he is in jail waiting to be killed. He is not defined by his circumstances, and neither are we! Our hard times, our suffering, does not define us. We are children of God, loved no matter what. Jesus died for our sake. Jesus had said to his disciples one day, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus laid down his life for all of us. Knowing that makes all of life easier, even joyful. Listening to Jesus, becoming wise like him, makes our lives go well, as God intended from the very beginning.

Sign 6: Do You See?

John, Chapter 9 (all of it)

The disciples ask why the man is blind – they want to place blame. Jesus says it’s nobody’s fault. So that means that bad things happen for no reason, not because that person or his parents are sinners and are getting punished. The reason why he is blind is so that God can demonstrate that God exists and is involved in human lives. God through Jesus gives sight to the blind. Undisputed. Therefore, God exists. Everyone in the story agrees that only God can make the blind see. This blind man saw. Therefore, the only conclusion that can logically berawn is that God exists and that Jesus is from God/is God.

We can be like the Pharisees who don’t acknowledge that a miracle occurred. They only see that Jesus broke their Sabbath rules and therefore, they conclude that he cannot be the Son of God, that he is a sinner. They can’t imagine that there is a higher calling than obeying all their rules – that healing a blind person takes priority. That love is more important than rules. That doing the right thing and rejoicing over miracles trumps counting your steps. God said to keep the Sabbath holy. Who said that giving sight to the blind doesn’t fit that category? Jesus said God made the Sabath for us, it is a gift that is meant to restore us. Mark 2:27 says “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was a day to take it slower, to listen for God in life. To notice miracles. Not to count your steps and make sure you’re not doing anything you shouldn’t be doing according to human rules. The Sabbath was not about rule keeping, it was about taking a day of rest. A time to reconnect with yourself, with your family, and a time to sit back and take notice of God in your life.

So my word for this year is PAUSE. It is exactly about that – Sabbath keeping – because it’s something I don’t do well. And the challenge is to not beat myself up about it, because it isn’t about keeping rules. It’s about being, and being still. Looking for God in the ordinary events of the day. Noticing everyday miracles. Opening up to the possibility that God loves you and wants the best for you and is actively involved in your life already. Praying to God to helps with that. So at the beginning of this year, to help with pausing, I started a prayer journal. I started writing down some prayers. I try to have a quiet time in the mornings, and sometimes it actually happens. So I sit down and think about what I want God to change in my life and in the lives of other people and I write those things down. I don’t make it a thing I “have to do” so it’s not like the Pharisees “have to do list”. Then I revisit the notes I’ve made and on the opposite page, if something has worked itself out, I write that down too. And more often than not, I realize that prayers are answered. Some sooner, others later, and others not yet, or I haven’t realized that the answer was something other than what I was waiting for. All of this helps me to pause, which helps me to see God in the world. Otherwise, I’d be blind like the Pharisees. They only see the rules, they don’t see God at work. That’s what Jesus was talking about at the end of the story – when they asked, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?” That’s exactly what he was saying.

Sign 5: Jesus Comes in the Middle of the Storm

John 6 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

  • Jesus spent time alone in prayer to recharge. This is important for us as well.
  • The disciples rowing in the storm were already afraid to die before Jesus came to them. It is highly likely that they couldn’t swim.
  • Everyone back then knew for a certainty that walking on water is only something someone divine can do: Jesus walking on the water is a clear sign to them that Jesus is divine, that is, he is God. This sign, therefore, gives clear evidence to those hearing this story that prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, with power and authority equal with God the Father
  • Jesus walked on the water to show His disciples that the very thing they feared, the raging sea, was just a set of steps for Him to come to them.
  • Jesus was testing the disciples’ faith once again, they were in a position where there was nothing more they could do themselves to get out of this disaster on the sea.

This is the definitive miracle that caused the disciples to believe in him.

The disciples needed multiple miracles in order to “get it” that Jesus was God and was from God, that he had come to save the world from evil, not from the Romans.

Jesus comes to people in the storms of life. Jesus may not come at the time we think He should, because He knows when we need Him the most. Jesus had waited until the boat was as far from land as possible, when all their hope was gone. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life such as illness, loss of loved ones, and financial hardships only to discover that these experiences can bring Jesus closer to us.

So why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Because they weren’t looking for Him. Had they been waiting by faith, they would have known Him instantly. Instead, they jumped to the false conclusion that he was a ghost. The point is this: fear and faith cannot live in the same heart, because fear often blinds us to God’s presence.

We sometimes say that God is love. In 1 John, he writes that perfect love casts out fear – fear and love can’t co-exist.

1 John 4:17-18 (MSG) God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

1 John 4:18 (NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

The fear/love is a spectrum. The more fear you have, the less love is possible. The more love you have, the more you lose the fear. You grow in trusting God that he will be with you in times of trouble. God doesn’t take the trouble away, but walks you through it. Remember the Footprints Poem: “When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”