Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Kingdom Highs and Lows

As a disciple in 1st century Palestine, you ate, slept and followed your Rabbi pretty much where ever he went. Your Rabbi was teaching you through His words and, more importantly, through His actions. As a disciple, you observed how your Rabbi treated a shop keeper, prostitute, tax collector or anyone he came in contact with. That was part of the training.

The Apostle Peter’s Rabbi was no ordinary one, of course. Peter’s Rabbi performed amazing acts. He told pertinent stories about another Kingdom. A Kingdom that was yet to come. As His disciple, you couldn’t help but admire, respect and well, love this particular Rabbi.

Peter’s particular Rabbi would often take him and his fellow disciples aside for fireside chats, as it were. This particular conversation was on a “camping trip” in the hill country known as Caesarea Philippi, north of Jerusalem.

Jesus draws them into a conversation about who exactly people think He is? I imagine this conversation took place as the sun was setting and logs were being thrown on the fire against the oncoming night’s cool.

It’s the conversation that has divided our world ever since.

Jesus looks around the campfire’s flickering glow at the faces of His disciples and asks a simple question: “Who do the people say I am?”

The answers vary, as they do today. A prophet; a scholar; The Baptist; Jesus being Whomever you want Him to be.

Jesus, as was His way, makes it personal: “But who do YOU say I am?”

This is where Peter shows remarkable insight: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” his reply.

Being that kind of objective when you are emotionally attached to another person showed remarkable insight.

Jesus instinctively knows this and replies, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Only God can reveal Himself to a person. A disciple’s job is to point the way through devoted lives.

Then Jesus confers upon Peter the Keys to the Kingdom, as it were.

The text doesn’t say, but I’m guessing that this goes to Peter’s head. I know it would mine.

And, just as we are experiencing our God-given highs, along come the lows.
Jesus now calls His disciples back together and explains a most difficult thing: this isn’t going to end like you’d hoped it would.

“Here’s the plan,” to paraphrase Jesus. “I’m going to go before the religious leaders and suffer many things at their hands. Ultimately, you will watch me be lifted up, crucified and die. But I will rise again on the third day.”

This is not hyperbole. This is not some script for a Hollywood movie. When Jesus said this, the disciples could picture it all too clearly in their imaginations. Crucifixions weren’t THAT common place, but everyone knew about them and had probably witnesses one or two.

The “plan” cuts Peter to his core. I’m sure he was not alone but given Peter’s new found authority as head of the church, well, time to take Jesus aside and say exactly what everyone is thinking:

“Plan sucks. Don’t even consider it anymore.” To paraphrase Peter.

Of course, one is forgetting the “rise again” phrase. Being raised from the dead was much more difficult to imagine. It is to this day.

Crucifixion, well, they didn’t need much of an imagination for that.

I often put myself in Peter’s position. I slightly shake my head at the plan. “Wow, really?! Why does the Son of Man need to die such a cruel, horrible death?”

I’m also thinking that Peter believes he will be watching this happen. Another good reason to think the plan sucks.

At least I didn’t need to be there.

The way the story ends, Peter is rebuked for his inability to see that God’s ways are not our ways; God’s plans are massively different than ours (Isaiah 55:8).

This is where the concept of “faith” is so important. I accept God at His word, no matter how much I may think that His ways don’t exactly line up with mine or anyone else’s.

I accept them by faith; and I slowly die to self and believe His will be done.

It must have broken Peter’s heart and soul to have gone through such an ordeal; most of us are not willing to suffer for our faith.

But perhaps that is Jesus’ point in rebuking Peter. What good is untested faith for Kingdom Living? Unless a faith has been “tested by fire,” as was Jesus’, then one will simply put their faith back in the idols of science, religion, good works, women, the list goes on and on.

I will never be asked to die the death Jesus died. But I will surely be asked to sacrifice my idols upon the altar of God. Pain is surely involved, but that is what it means to take up my cross.

This is the example Jesus gives us. If God loves us, separating us from our idols is the ultimate goal.

And this time, it is important to pay the proper attention to the all important phrase: "rise again on the third day."

Friday, May 1, 2020

Read the Story Carefully.

Let's take the story of the woman caught in adultery from the gospel of John 8: 1-11, as it is often misunderstood simply because it is not read closely.

The question we are asking ourselves, of course, is what exactly were the religious leaders, the Pharisees, motives at the time.

So first, let’s start by looking at a couple of verses from the story:

 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger  and wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

A familiar story, to be sure, but John gives us the Pharisees' true motivation.

According to John, the Pharisees bring this woman before Jesus because they are trying to find grounds to eliminate a competing Rabbi. They are jealous of Jesus’ fame and following and want Him permanently removed.

John makes it plain that the Pharisees could care less about the Mosaic law.

Speaking of the Mosaic law though, the way the Old Testament law reads is that both the man and the woman caught in adultery must be stoned at the same time.

Like, where’s the man?

Again, check out the original law found, I believe, in Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees, so steeped in the law, are not actually following it, because the last thing they cared about is whether the law is being followed or not.

Lest we all start feeling smug in our own self-right-doing, never forget, we all have the heart of a Pharisee. We all fall short.

But that is the problem with the law: it cannot be followed by anyone really. Jesus said that even if you look upon a woman to lust after her, you have as good as committed adultery with her in your heart (Matthew 5:23).

As Paul points out in Romans, chapters 2 & 3, the law was given to expose our sin. So that we know that we are sinners and we need a Savior.

The Mosaic law was pretty much made obsolete when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with it and found the Israelites violating the 1st Commandment by worshipping a golden calf.

The Israelites’ Old Testament history as told by the Prophets of old has Israel  making the law obsolete to the point of being exiled a several occasions. Although, it does need to be pointed out that there were times when things went well, like during King David’s reign. 

Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).

God knows our hearts. Was Jesus’ heart pure and sinless? He could not have performed the works He did without this being true.

As the story goes, the Pharisees are simply terrorizing this woman. They don’t care about her immortal soul or her behavior. They only care about eliminating someone who continues to expose their hypocrisy. To them it’s a competition.
They worship themselves, not God.

It’s a common problem to this day. That is why this story continues to be very relevant to us today.

A lot is made out of the finger writing on the ground by Jesus. My pastor recently preached on this subject and I’d liked to share his viewpoint. He said that the law was given by the finger of God, as told in Exodus. And here you have Jesus, the Son of God, writing with his finger while the law is being confronted. Jesus is reminding the Pharisees that God knows their sin all too well.

A human heart is restored or reconciled to God through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. No human work can satisfy God’s wrath because it was already satisfied through the death, burial and resurrection of the Son of God.

So, go, and sin no more.