March 27, 2018- The Offspring of Eve, the Offspring of God- Genesis 3:14-15, 22-23, Isaiah 49:5-7

adam and eve

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”- …And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3:14-15, 22-23 (NIV)

The entrance of original sin into the world followed creation very closely. It didn’t take long for the human desire to “be as God” to enter into the dynamic of creation. Fallen humanity shares the curse of sin and banishment from the Garden. All of creation groans under the weight of human failing and sin (Romans 8:18-25.) We are no longer perfect and sinless and free from suffering the way that God originally created Adam and Eve. Apart from the grace of God and the gift of Jesus, humanity is still hopeless and fallen. We can’t stop sinning and falling short of God’s expectations for us no matter how hard we try. We are still waiting for the final realization of God’s kingdom.

Even as fallen as we are, we are not without hope. We learn even from the beginning, God made a way for humanity to be saved from our sin and to be brought back to Him. We learn in Genesis 3 in the account of the Fall, that the serpent (or the tempter) will be defeated by an offspring of Eve, Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, an offspring of both God and of Eve. Jesus suffered death, but in doing so He conquered death and He defeated evil.  This week we reflect on Jesus, the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, as he takes the journey to the Cross, to endure the piercing that covers our transgressions, and to endure the punishment that brings us peace. (Isaiah 53:5)

Isaiah the prophet lived about 700 years before Jesus walked on earth as a man. Isaiah was given words of God regarding Jesus so that we would know Him when He appeared.

And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:5-7 (NIV)

Jesus came to earth in a flesh body as a man, to live like us, to suffer like us, to die for us, so we can be saved from sin. This is the Gospel in a nutshell, but what does that mean for us?

Jesus came to restore, to bring humanity back to God and back to the purpose God created us to fulfill. This restoration and redemption was not just for the people of Israel, but for all the people of the world, and for all creation.

As we contemplate Jesus’ journey to the Cross in the following days, and knowing that we are still living in the paradox of now, but not yet, may we remember that His sacrifice was made for us. Our sin and our human weakness and all of fallen creation hung with Him upon the Cross. He gave His very Body and His very Blood so that we could be part of His abundant, forever life. He endured the punishment that we deserve and that we have earned.  We don’t remember Jesus’ suffering because we need a guilt trip, but so we can live in gratitude and thanks for what only He could do for us.  We honor him by living in response to His gift to us, with open and generous hearts.

 

 

April 12, 2017 – Holy Week Wednesday- Purchased With Holy Blood- 1 Peter 1:18-19

jesusdiesonthecross

 

“You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, but [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah) like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 (AMP)

Interesting, the paradox of this week.  First, Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 –

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV)

Then just a few short days later, Judas betrays Jesus and offers him up to the high priests for the equivalent of less money than it would take to fill up a Honda Accord.

Jesus freely gave His precious blood, that has value way beyond any material currency here on this earth, to redeem us from the conditions of sin and death that humanity put in motion to begin with.

Somehow, it seems like a rather raw exchange.   Something in us wants to say, “Jesus, you got ripped off!”

There is a deep injustice here.  Jesus was sinless, yet He had to endure the torture and death on the Cross?  Crucifixion wasn’t really done in the neat and easy and clean way that medieval and Renaissance authors usually depict it.  The artwork is aesthetically pleasing, but not terribly accurate. It’s a lot more bloody and dirty and nasty than the sanitized painting above.  Mel Gibson had the gory details of Roman torture and crucifixion portrayed pretty closely in his movie The Passion of the Christ.

438px-Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580

Unfortunately we are more like Judas than we want to admit.  How often do we sell Jesus down the river for trivial things that have no eternal value?  How often do we overlook or miss an opportunity to be a part of His Kingdom to do something else?  How many times do we make decisions without thinking about whether or not our actions are pleasing to God?

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 (NRSV)

This statement Jesus makes is scary. We don’t acknowledge Jesus in everything we do 24/7, 365.  Sometimes our behaviors and actions and the words we use betray our faith.

The good news is that (paradoxically) Jesus forgives us when we ask Him.  He forgives us just for the asking, no matter how badly we have screwed up.  We are not forgiven because we are such great people.  Left to our own devices we end up like Judas- selling out Jesus for the most trivial and mundane of things, and sinning over and over and over again in spite of “knowing better.” Our salvation is made possible only by the greatness, love and mercy of Christ.

Mercy

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

We can thank God today that Jesus took the punishment that we deserve.  We can pray that the Holy Spirit will help us live in response to His priceless gift of salvation.

April 10, 2017- Monday of Holy Week – James 5:16

vulnerable

We need to make ourselves  vulnerable.  We need to admit that we are weak and fully dependent upon God.  We need the prayers and intercession of others.  We need restoring for our souls.

“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].  The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” James 5:16 (AMP)

Traditionally Holy Week has been a time of prayer, contemplation and reflection.  As we reflect upon Jesus’ journey from the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to His Passion on Good Friday, we are called to examine ourselves as well.

The apostle Peter (who was anything but a wallflower) thought that he could hang tough with Jesus when the time came, but his reaction was very different when he was thrown into the time of trial.

“Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:33-35 (NRSV)

Who could blame the apostle Peter for acting as any scared human being would?  Sometimes we speak with crocodile mouths, only to discover we have canary patoots.  We can be cowards.  Sometimes the only way we can muddle through trials is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and even then we struggle.  We only pray to have as willing a heart as Peter. Our intentions are good, though our flesh is weak.

If we were to enumerate our faults, sins, false moves, bad judgment, poor decisions, and so on, one by one, it would take us years.  We are inherently flawed. It is part of the human condition.

It’s important for us to see the apostles and other heavy hitter characters in the Bible for who they are- simple, human people who GOD used for big purposes.  Apart from meeting up with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the apostle Peter would simply have been an obscure fisherman like so many other fishermen of his day, and his name would be lost to history forever.

That’s why I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance with putting “saints” on a pedestal.  We should examine the lives of the people who are part of the Biblical narrative.  We should thank God for their record and their witness, but to see the players in the Biblical story as serene figures on stained glass windows misses the point.  They were flesh and blood human beings.  They made mistakes.

Saints in stained-glass

The aesthetic of stained glass windows is lovely, but we miss the point if this is the only way we see the “saints.”

The calling to the Christian life is a bold calling.  It is a calling that requires us to be open and vulnerable if we are to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us- not only through our own prayers but through the intercessory prayers of others.

The Christian community is important- it is the Church Militant here on earth.  Although the military reference is rather un-PC, we are called to fight, not with weapons but with healing actions and gentle words.  We are the ground forces here on earth who live out the Kingdom of God here and now.

We should see the apostle Peter as he was- a tough, barely educated, coarse, fisherman who worked with his hands.   It’s easy for us to relate to a guy like that.  He wasn’t someone with pretty clothes and a halo on a window when he was living and acting down here on earth.  He did some things right.  He made some pretty drastic mistakes.  He was human.  What made him and his witness special and gave him purpose was God working in and through him.

This Holy Week we pray for our friends and fellow Christians that we would look to Jesus for our courage- because we don’t have any reason to be courageous apart from Him.  We pray the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and make us vulnerable- not so anyone can take advantage of us- (we have all been there and done that too many times)- but so Jesus can give us a new heart and new strength, that He would transform us and invite us into His story.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:36 (NRSV)