June 20, 2019- The Absolute Truth- John 18:33-38, John 14:6

jesus-before-pilate

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, (the apostle Thomas) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” may or may not have been asked in a sarcastic or snarky tone.  Pilate was a product of a largely permissive culture that embraced multiple gods and belief systems- similar to our culture today.  Our culture also has a real problem with absolutes.

How many times have we heard in the media or from others, “You have your truth, I have mine.”   The implication in that statement is that truth is subjective,  but for truth to be true, it must remain absolute.

Either Jesus is the King of the Jews, the inheritor of the throne of David, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God in human flesh, the Savior of the world, or He is not who He says He is.

There is no middle ground with Jesus, no gray area.  As Jesus tells Thomas- who is sometimes reviled as being “Doubting Thomas-” No one comes to the Father except through Me. 

Thomas was actually wise to ask Jesus questions and to demand proofs of Him.  Faith must have a valid object.  We have faith that the highway bridge over the river is going to hold up because it is built with steel and concrete and it was engineered by people who understand what it takes to build a bridge that will stand up to weather and time and tons of vehicles driving over it.  Faith would be sorely misplaced if one were to have faith that it’s possible to float a car across a river on a pool float.

God has given us the inspired Word of Scripture so that we can be like Thomas and find the proofs of Jesus’ truth.  There is nothing wrong with having an informed faith.

So what is truth? The truth is found in Jesus, and in the faith in Him passed down to us in the Scriptures.  The Apostle’s Creed is a synopsis of the Christian faith which is derived from the Scriptures:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

June 14, 2019- Father, Forgive Them, Luke 23:32-43, John 14:1-7

crucifixion

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus).  And when they came to the place that is called Golgotha, or Place of the Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And he (Jesus) said to him (the second criminal), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (ESV)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus says this from the place where He is being crucified, after He has been brutally beaten and He is suffering.  He is asking for forgiveness for His tormentors, even as His blood is being shed to atone for their sins.

We are His tormentors. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  All of humanity was represented in the crowd that chanted “Crucify Him!” before Pilate, just as all of humanity was born into the Fall and the curse of the Garden.

The two criminals are both looking at Jesus, yet they see Him very differently. The first mocks Him, deriding Him because He doesn’t simply snap His fingers and miraculously release them from their crosses.  The second, in faith, fears God and trusts Jesus.  The second criminal is saved by his faith in Jesus.  The first is lost in his unbelief and left to die- condemned and in despair.

As people who believe and trust Jesus, we know that we are not always going to be released from our crosses in this life. When we pray that most difficult of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done, we know that thy will and my will are not always the same thing.  God is faithful, God is good, but He does not excuse us from our crosses any more than He took the cup of suffering away from Jesus.

Jesus did nothing to deserve the condemnation and suffering He endured. We might look around and rail at God, “If you are God, why do kids get cancer?,” or “If you are God, then why is there injustice?” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, especially if we look at the perfectly innocent suffering of Jesus.  It is only by the mercy and grace of God that we are spared more suffering than we can bear.

The object of our faith is Jesus- the One who has the power of life and death. Jesus, who bled and died to save those who screamed, “Crucify Him!,” is the One who says, “Come to Me. I forgive you. Trust Me. Believe Me. I came to save you from the consequences of your sins.”

(Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

No matter who we are, where we come from, what we have done or have not done, Jesus came to save us from the penalty of death that we have earned and deserved.

The Substitute. Is the Cat Really Away? Luke 20:9-18

classroom_2

And he (Jesus) began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”  But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’? (Psalm 118:22) 

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Luke 20:9-18 (ESV)

There is a saying about the human condition – “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” A good example of this can be seen when a class of young students is left with a substitute in charge who isn’t aware of, or doesn’t have the fortitude to enforce the regular teacher’s rules.  Chaos often ensues, because some children see the absence of the regular teacher as an absence of rules and leadership.  The substitute just doesn’t radiate the same authority or carry the same gravitas.

Who are we, and how do we act when we think nobody’s watching?

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants really didn’t care what the owner’s servants were trying to accomplish. They were just hired hands after all- substitutes- and the tenants knew that the servants didn’t carry any real authority to carry out any sanctions against them.  So they were just going to do what they wanted, because they were confident they could get away with it.

The tenants didn’t take the owner’s son very seriously either. In fact, they took the opportunity to do away with the son so they could take the vineyards as their own.

We can see some of the parallels of Jesus’ example today. Many people in today’s world do not acknowledge the existence of God, or believe that He is involved in the world and in individual lives. The “cat’s away” mentality among many people has led to widespread lawlessness and an increase of evil in the world.  Those without faith and trust in God are like the tenants who behave as if the owner doesn’t care what we do, or that the owner of the vineyard is powerless to do anything about our misbehavior.

Jesus makes it clear that even though the authorities of the world rejected Him and even put Him to death, that He is the foundation- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To reject Him is to reject the life of the vineyard, to be banished and separated from God.

The way of the cross will break us- when by the grace of God we fall upon that Cornerstone we are broken, but broken in good ways. Our pride will be shattered. Our hearts of stone are replaced by soft hearts of flesh that God can use to His glory.  The haughty smirks are wiped off our faces. We fall to our knees and pray as the tax collector prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  We remember that in our baptisms we are daily washed in water and the Word.

The “cat” is not away.  Someone is watching, whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Someone who bled and died at Calvary to take away our sins and the sins of the world is involved in every detail of our lives. For the sake of Christ and of God’s kingdom, how we live and the witness we have in the world matters.

We still live in the now, but not yet, world. We are both saints and sinners, but we should not be living like elementary school kids looking to get as much mischief in as possible while there’s a substitute teacher.  We are called to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, because He is not away.  He is with us.

May 15, 2019- Life Saver, Lose Your Life, Pick Up Your Cross- Luke 9:23-27, Hebrews 13:14, Galatians 2:20

Jesus carrying the Cross on Good Friday

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:23-27 (ESV)

The teaching of Jesus is amazingly counterintuitive. “Eat, drink and be merry,” the world tells us.  “If only you buy this product or do this activity or drink this brand of beer, your life will be wonderful!” Jesus says, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Lose your life.”  Jesus tells us exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, and instructs us to do exactly what we instinctively don’t want to do.

We want what we want when we want it. We want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.  Nobody left to his or her own devices is into denying his or her desires and passions.  Life left to strictly human nature is all about self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.

Life as a hedonist (one who pursues pleasure) might be wonderful for a little while, at least until the money runs out, or age and disease and chronic pain take over. All the material things and all the money in the world cannot change the fact that we will age and we will die.  Even the very oldest humans after the Flood have not managed to live beyond 120 years. Modern science has not progressed human health to the point where people are consistently able to live beyond 100 years.  In the timeline of history one person’s lifespan is a rather insignificant period of time.  Nobody gets out of life alive, to quote Axl Rose.  Living for the temporary pleasures of this world is ultimately unsatisfying and unsustainable.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

When we try to build a legacy in this world, we have to ask, how long do buildings, and even empires last? What are we working for?

The old Adam really wants to believe the serpent’s lie: “If you eat of the forbidden fruit, you will be as God.”  In reality it was the beginning of separation and of enmity with God.  The Fall sparked a rebellion that save for the grace and mercy of God in Christ, would land Adam and all his progeny in the fires of hell.

Jesus teaches us that our life in this world – life with its trouble and pain and loss- is fleeting and temporary. Our true life is bound up in Him. The way to this true life, eternal life, is in Christ alone, and it is found only in the cross.  He gave His Blood, shed to cover our sins. His Body was broken, given to strengthen us for our earthly sojourn.  He gives us the faith and the strength to follow Him.  We cannot follow Him in the power of our own decisions or in the strength of our own will.  We cannot carry the crosses we are given- save by His grace.

Death came to humanity in the Garden of Eden. Life was promised to humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The curse of death was broken as Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished!”

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

May we always find our identity in Christ and give away our life in the way of the cross as the apostle Paul did.

May 13, 2019- Seeking Signs, The Work of Christians, and the Eternal Bread of Life- John 6:25-51

bread of life

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”   Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.  It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:25-51 (ESV)

Every now and then fast food restaurants have giveaways- we have all seen the promotions where one can get a free cone at the DQ, or a free taco at Taco Bell on a certain day or with a specific coupon.  Lots of people line up for the free food- and often buy more food to go with their freebie.  Whenever people have the perception that they’re getting something for free, rest assured, such promotions draw crowds.  Giving away free stuff gets a business noticed.

Jesus drew crowds also when He fed the multitudes.  Everyone wanted to follow Jesus when free food was involved. Yet it was Jesus’ aim to provide something far better than tangible, physical, edible bread.  Jesus had come as the Bread of Life, not as a gimmick to sell stuff or to hawk His wares, but to give Himself away for the salvation of the world.

We have a tendency to look for signs- the gimmick so to speak- but Jesus teaches us that faith is a gift of God, and that the Father draws us to Him. The work of Christians, regardless of our specific vocations, is to believe God and trust in Jesus- God Who took on human flesh and lives among us.  There are no points to earn, no ladder to climb, though there will be crosses to bear.  We are called to walk by faith and not by sight.  We may not see signs.  We may only have the sign of Jonah, that Jesus was swallowed up by Death, and released from Death on the third day.  (Jonah 1:17)

He fed the multitudes with physical bread, but that sign was to point us to the reality that HE is the eternal Bread of Life, that HE is the Life.

We are given an even greater gift, a greater provision than the Israelites had as they ate manna in the desert as they wandered for forty years.  We receive both our daily bread- our physical provision along the way- and our eternal provision, Jesus, the Bread of Life from the hand of God.

Thank God that Jesus has come to put death to death.  He has risen, and He gives us His very Body and His very Blood so we who the Father draws to Him in faith may share eternal life with Him.

 

 

 

May 10, 2019- Jesus Alone, Free from Legion- Luke 8:26-39

possession

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:26-39 (ESV)

We don’t hear much about demon possession today, although we learn in Scripture that there are powers and principalities that work against us, as well as our own sinfulness and the age old fallen human desire to make ourselves our own god. We have a similarity with the demon possessed man- we are in bondage to sin, whether or not it is markedly visible to the world.  We are separated from God because of our sin.

The demon possessed man didn’t ask for Jesus’ help to be set free. The man was so far into bondage to the legion of demons that he couldn’t ask for help if he wanted to.  Jesus came to him.  This is how the Kingdom of God comes to us.  Jesus came to earth as a flesh and blood man to reach into the world, to reach out to us with the gifts of faith, repentance, forgiveness and redemption.

The possessed man didn’t earn or deserve to be set free of the demons. Jesus saving him from that possession had nothing to do with the man-  and everything to do with Jesus.

By His grace, Jesus sets us free from those things that would keep us from Him. He forgives our sins.  He gives us the grace to love others, to serve others, to live in a way in which we can say to others, “See what God has done!”  In Christ, our sins are forgiven- and the old Adam is sent to drown in the abyss, like the possessed horde of pigs.

It is indeed good news that Jesus comes to us in our need, in our helplessness and in our utter inability to save ourselves.  May we have faith in Christ alone, and fall upon His mercy and grace.

 

April 23, 2019 Why Do We Seek the Living Among the Dead? Luke 24:1-12

Cross

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12 (ESV)

Why do we seek the living among the dead?

On the first Easter morning Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the stone rolled away from the tomb, and horrified to find the body of Jesus missing. It’s not every day that a stone weighing several tons moves all by itself, and a dead person disappears from a tomb- much less a tomb that also had an armed guard.

Christianity is the only world religion with a truth claim that can be verified. Should the bones of Jesus be found- shown to be His beyond a reasonable doubt, our faith is proven null and void.   While faith is not something that comes about based upon scientific evidence, the multiple eyewitness testimonies of those who saw, walked with and ate with the risen Jesus attest to the veracity of the Resurrection.  Those accounts were written in Scripture for our edification, so that by hearing the Word of God, we too, would believe.

There was no body in that tomb. Jesus had enough adversaries (and some did try to claim that Jesus’ body had been stolen, as some Jews still believe today) that had His body been stolen, it would have been widely known. Jesus had enough followers who had been with Him after the Resurrection who could attest that He was alive in bodily form, including Thomas who had asked to see His side, His hands, His feet and touch the scars of the crucifixion wounds.

It’s not always easy to tap into the joy of Easter and the reality of resurrection when we are here in this world living with very real problems. We still see the same old death and suffering and trouble that are part of this sin-soaked world.  What does resurrection and new life mean to the poor, the suffering, they dying, the grieving?  What solace can we bring when we know that the common denominator is death?

We are still living among the dead in a manner of speaking. This life, this world, and our situations are all temporary and will pass away. If we look for salvation and comfort in this world and in this life, we are only going to find death.

The good news is that Jesus is not among the dead. He is risen, alive- and in Him we have life too.

Jesus is with us. He asks us to seek, knock and ask, because in Him we have life that doesn’t end.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.