December 9, 2019- Advent 9, Luke 9- The Cost of Following Jesus

feeding five thousand

Read Luke 9

As Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, He instructs them:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Luke 9:1-6 (ESV)

The idea was that the disciples were to stay where they were welcome and cared for, not to take advantage of their patrons, but to teach and care for those who wanted to hear the Gospel.

At this time Herod, who had recently demanded the head of John the Baptist, was hearing about Jesus.  Was this Elijah? Was it John raised from the dead?  Herod would soon find out more about Jesus.

The disciples came with Jesus to a place called Bethsaida, where thousands of people came to hear Jesus speak and to seek healing.  There was nothing to be had as far as food save for five loaves and two fish.  But Jesus insisted that the disciples feed the multitudes with the loaves and fish rather than sending them home hungry.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he (Jesus) looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:16-17 (ESV)

The number twelve here is said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel- that we see the Bread of Life was given for the sake of the twelve tribes.  Whether or not this is true, Jesus shows us in this miracle of provision that He takes a little and as we share it, that little bit is multiplied.

Simon Peter was one of the first people to come to faith in Jesus.  “You are the Christ, the son of God!”

There is a cost to following Jesus. All of the twelve apostles suffered and died horrible deaths – Judas hung himself out of anguish for betraying Jesus to the high priests.  Peter was crucified upside down.  Only John lived to old age, and that was as an exile on the island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation.

And he 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. Luke 9:23-26 (ESV)

Following Jesus is the way of the cross.  As we live our lives submitted to His will, we have the constant conflict between what we want and what God wants.  Yet Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, even if living for Him causes us suffering here and now.

At His transfiguration, the disciples get to see who Jesus really is.  Not Elijah or Moses or John the Baptist reborn, but the Son of God.

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.  And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.  As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

Following Jesus is something we cannot do without His intervention.  We cannot follow Jesus based on our own decision or power, but only by His grace.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)

We pray that by the grace of God in Christ we can follow Him.  We will not always follow Him perfectly.  We sin and stumble often.  Yet as the apostle Paul reminds us, it is not in our works or what we observe or don’t observe, but in Christ we stand.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4 (ESV)

 

June 24, 2019- Jesus Loves You, MYOB (sometimes), Follow Me (always)… John 21:20-25, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

 

business

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 (ESV)

The disciples, like us, were human beings subject to sin (also like us.)  There had to be a moderate degree of tension between Peter and John upon Jesus’ return, especially because John had to know not just that Judas betrayed Jesus unto death, but also Peter denied Jesus three times.

Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (ESV)

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” Luke 22:61 (ESV)

Peter was wondering about John’s position with Jesus.  Rumor had had it that John was going to be around until the Second Coming.  There had to be a small bit of jealousy going on there, otherwise Jesus probably wouldn’t have been as quick to tell Peter to mind his own business, at least as far as what happens to John.

John did outlive the other disciples, and was the only one of the Twelve to die of natural causes, at the age of 90+, but John did, in fact die.

It’s easy to look around and wonder about “What is going to happen to so-and-so?,” or “Why doesn’t God use me for _____?” or even to speculate on the worthiness or unworthiness of another person.

Jesus told Peter to MYOB when it comes to John and what John will do and where John will go.

It can be hard to mind our own business when we should be minding our own business. As the apostle Paul taught regarding the body of Christ- if everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? God puts each of us in the places we are with different vocations.  Paul talks about the diversity of the body of Christ at length in 1 Corinthians 12.

It truly isn’t our business to wonder why this person ended up in a place that seems “cushy” or “privileged” to us.  We don’t know the back story.  We don’t know why God chooses one person to live 100 years and another to live two.  We don’t know why we fit in the tapestry of God’s kingdom in the place we are assigned.

Minding our own business is not about ignoring the needs of others, but about not being jealous of others, about not coveting others’ positions and stations in life.  It is about being content with our vocation and concentrating on the mission we have right in front of us.

Most of us are not called to be missionaries or millionaires, but all of us are called to live out our daily vocations with the knowledge that serving our neighbors is really serving God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (ESV)

May 14, 2018 – Another Will Take His Office, God Will Decide- Acts 1:15-26

lady justice

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man – Judas Iscariot- acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; (Psalm 69:24-28) and “‘Let another take his office.’ (Psalm 109:6-8)

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:15-26 (ESV)

The Christian church has debated the fate of Judas Iscariot for centuries. Judas was once numbered among the twelve apostles.  He walked with Jesus, lived with Jesus, and shared meals with Jesus.  Even so, Judas, who had been one of the inner circle and who was considered an apostle, ultimately betrayed Jesus.  The remaining eleven had to choose another who had walked closely with Jesus to take Judas’ place.  Their decision was left up to God as they cast lots (Proverbs 16:33) to choose Judas’ successor, Matthias.

The behaviors and the ultimate fate of Judas lead us to an ongoing discussion of predestination versus human free will. If we are predestined to an ignominious fate, that we have no place in choosing, then are we denied mercy forever, even though we were only doing what we were created for?  Could Jeffery Dahmer or Charles Manson have chosen different paths?

How do we know who that child on the playground will become? Is that child a future Mother Teresa or a future Adolf Hitler in the making?  If God is omniscient, then He has to know every decision we make before we make it. He must have a purpose in letting the weeds grow up along with the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-30)  God is the one who judges the injustices others may perpetrate on us. We are called to live peaceably and serve others as Jesus did, regardless if we are put in places that might have a lot of weeds.

The Psalmists made chilling warnings about Judas and to anyone else (namely everyone…) who betrays Jesus. In Psalm 69:24-25, burning anger and desolation are the betrayers’ due.  Psalm 109:8 calls for another to take the office of the betrayer.  All of us are sinners as well as saints, and we are completely reliant on Jesus to keep us faithful and walking with Him.  Only He can deliver us from the snares and traps of sin, unbelief and being distracted by the world.

None of us, even including the apostles, are or were perfect witnesses for Jesus. We aren’t able to witness to Him perfectly, and what witness we can and do give is solely by the grace and power of God.

God does not allow us to be omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. It is not given to us to know God’s plan for anyone.

As far as Judas, or Jeffery Dahmer, or Hitler,- or even the people society sees as being “good,” such as Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, God alone is their Judge. God alone knows what is in anyone’s mind or heart.  All we can do is pray the prayer Jesus taught us- that His will be done, and that our hearts and minds might be aligned with His.

April 27, 2017- Receive the Holy Spirit- John 20:21-23

 

Holy SpiritAgain, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:21-23 (NRSV)

This is the scene in the Upper Room that the apostle Thomas missed out on. There are some key elements that we learn about the Holy Spirit here.

Often the Holy Spirit is symbolized by breath. God breathes out His Spirit upon the void, for example, in the creation narrative. Jesus breathed on the apostles as He sent them forth.

The Holy Spirit is also symbolized by fire, as we learn in the story of Pentecost. Without air, without breath, there is no fire.

Since the Holy Spirit is the breath, the fire, the life-force of God, turned loose in the world, and bestowed upon us, we are empowered to share in the creative force of God. We have the power to bring healing, forgiveness and peace to an ailing and fallen world.

April 24, 2017- Unless I See For Myself- John 20:24-29

Doubting_Thomas

But Thomas (who was called the Twin) one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:24-25 (NRSV)

“Doubting Thomas” gets a bad rap.  After all, he wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to the rest of the apostles in the Upper Room.  Maybe Thomas thought the rest of the guys were playing a joke on him, or maybe he thought they had some sort of mass delusion, and they were claiming to have seen Jesus arisen because they wanted to see Jesus alive again so badly.

I understand Thomas wanting to see Jesus alive for himself, and to really know the truth. As a rational and analytic type, it is really hard for me to take anything on faith unless I see it, touch it, and have something tangible to convince me it’s real. I understand the value of taking the pragmatic, realistic approach to the world around me.

Jesus did not expect people to follow Him mindlessly.  As followers of Jesus we are instructed to test the spirits, (1 John 4:1-2) and to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).  Faith in false things is worthless.  All the belief in the world, if it is put into a lie, doesn’t make the lie true.  We only need to observe the actions taken in the names of the false religions and twisted cults of this world to see the damage that believing in a lie can do.  When Jesus spoke of teachers and leaders and movements, and of those claiming to be believers, He said, “You will know them by their fruits.”  (Matthew 7:16-20) He didn’t tell us to just jump on the bandwagon.

This being said, there is a fine line between being so cynical that there is no room for wonder or mystery or faith, and being open to everything that is said without any sort of filter or discretion being applied.

The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of wisdom and discretion if we only ask for them. But Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first revealed the Holy Spirit to the other disciples, so how was Thomas supposed to know?  He took the logical route, and given the options he could clearly see, that was not a bad thing to do.

We come to places in our lives as well where all we can do is come to faith like Thomas- only through what we can see and touch and experience for ourselves. It is a harder road than to simply be able to have the faith to follow those before us, but the lesson sticks harder as well.

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas, because Thomas came to Him the only way he knew how. There is no shame in needing hard evidence to believe, but Jesus also said to Thomas, ”Blessed are those who don’t see but still believe.” (John 20:29)

It is a blessing to be able to learn from the testimony of others. It is important for us to share our testimony so others may be blessed by it. Our stories can strengthen others’ faith, and if we ask, the Holy Spirit will help us find the courage to share them.  Sharing our stories may save another person the pain of having to have to go to the school of hard knocks to learn what our experience may teach him or her.

Lord, if we have to share in Your suffering, and walk in Your shoes, and feel Your scars, in order to believe in You and to walk in Your way, let it be so. Let us listen to the Holy Spirit so that we will have the discretion to test the spirits and reject what is false, but also the faith to trust Him to open our hearts to those things that are of You and therefore true. Make our love ever stronger and our faith ever deeper, so that we may believe You even when we can’t see.