Peter’s denial

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Mark 14:27-29

During what we call Holy Week, not long before Jesus’s crucifixion, we find one of the disciples, Judas, betraying his Lord and friend, and another who was more or less the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denying him even with curses. I think sometimes we just push Judas to the side as a reprobate, without understanding Jesus’s love for him, and disappointment in what he did. On the other hand, I think we also tend to minimize what Peter did in denying the Lord, chalking it up to just the weakness of the flesh. While that is indeed the case, and Peter failed to lead the way in praying in the garden of Gethsemane as the Lord told them to (Mark 14:32-42), what Peter did was indeed serious, a grievous sin in openly denying his Lord. Of course after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, he would boldly proclaim his Lord in the face of strong opposition, even death. But in the story surrounding Holy Week, we’re certainly not there yet.

This was both a painful, yet important event for Peter’s sanctification in learning, awareness, and growth, just as it is for ours, as we look back on it, and probably experience something of the same in our own lives. Note how Peter probably saw himself, or was at least open to the thought that he was a cut above all the rest of the disciples. Pride. And of course we read in scripture that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Certainly this is an apt word for each one of us. Any of us are as capable of falling as anyone else (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). The moment we think we’ve arrived is the moment we’re in danger.

What was the difference between Judas and Peter? That’s a big subject, probably much to say from scripture and theology in trying to come up with some sort of answer for that. Simply here, after Peter’s failure, he had the grace of tears (Mark 14:66-72). But Judas seemed to be choked with self-condemnation, and the blame along with the destruction that can go with it. So that instead of a broken and contrite heart that could have led to repentance (Psalm 51), Judas succumbed to the enemy’s voice in rejecting the salvation that is always available in Jesus. Instead he heaped the blame on himself, taking matters in his own hands by tragically ending his life (Matthew 27:1-10).

We have all failed sometime along the way. We have either betrayed our Lord, denied him, or probably somehow both, at one point or another, perhaps a number of times. And maybe not overtly, but in more subtle, deceptive ways, so that we were failing to follow. Weeping while having a broken spirit, and contrite heart is good (again, note Psalm 51). Self-condemnation is not good. Only God is the judge, and God extends salvation to all who are under his just and righteous judgment. Of course on the terms that they would repent, just as Peter did. That possibility is open to us all.

And so, the great salvation of our Lord. Even to us deniers, who in our weakness and sin fail to follow at times. So that we might better understand, appreciate and experience what our Lord did for us on that cross.

taking refuge in God

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.

What are we depending on? Where do we go when we’re in trouble or in need? The older I get the more I realize how futile it is to depend on anyone but God. Yes, we need each other. But not one of us can be anyone else’s salvation. We can and indeed should be through Jesus priests in various ways for each other in helping us live in God’s grace.

To take refuge in God is to look to God for protection (see NLT translation – verse 30 – in link of above passage). Refusing to resort to anything else. We indeed need protection from enemies both externally and internally to us. Some people might want to see us fail in some way. Behind that are spiritual entities against which we struggle. And we need to be protected from ourselves. No one apart from God can be our savior, including ourselves.

This is a matter of faith: faith in God, faith in God’s word. Mediated in and through Jesus. For us and for others. Finding God to be our protection and protector, the shield we need. As we go on in the spiritual battle of this life.

not having it all together, nor having all the answers

It is good to live in grace and have an assurance that somehow all is well in God’s will, even though that will has yet to take hold on earth as it has in heaven.

I for one often find myself struggling over something. Usually it is something I get over less than a day (as opposed to the past when it could stretch into days- knock on wood). Sometimes it seems in life I’m going up a normal hill which is more like a sand dune. You’re gaining little ground, but getting a good workout in the process. Or this or that or something else is wrong, one of the many challenges of life which can hit us on nearly every side. Challenges which come both from being a human who doesn’t have it all together and living in a world in which problems are a part of daily life.

I know there are formidable obstacles. I seem wired to look at and go on to the next challenge, even as I gladly take some deep breaths and enjoy in between.

I am glad we can turn to the Lord who can work even in the hardest places for good, beginning with myself, my heart played out in attitudes and actions. Being overwhelmed with life and all the challenges that come our way can have its advantage for sure. Then we ought to look to the Lord all the more and find our consolation and hope in him. That means I’m all the more in scripture as well as wanting to be in the fellowship or communion of God’s people in Christ. And wanting to be a witness to the world of the difference that makes.

It is wonderful and best to have lived by grace in a straightforward Daniel-like kind of way, to show others that in and through God such a life of integrity and wisdom is possible. We also need those who having failed along the way or been held in one stronghold or another to have overcome so that their lives tell the story especially to those around them everyday, of God’s saving, sustaining grace in Jesus. I am more in company with the latter. All of us together pointing to the one Savior for us and for the world, our Lord Jesus.

when faced by the accusers

The woman caught in the act of adultery (evidently by herself, since the man was let go, scot-free) was face to face with her accusers who brought her before Jesus so they could have some basis to condemn him while condemning the woman. Of course we know the rest of the story. Jesus stooped down, wrote something on the sand, stood up, and told them, “Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone.” One by one, beginning with the oldest, they dropped their stones (we imagine) and left. In the end it was her and Jesus. Jesus then asked her if anyone had condemned her. She replied, no one. Jesus then told her to go and sin no more.

Some Christians I know are the most gracious, loving people in the world. They take sin seriously and try to adhere to the standard set in scripture, specifically as seen in the fulfillment Jesus did bring. And yet they don’t condemn others, not even those who are deserving. I am thankful for the good number of sisters and brothers like that in Jesus I know.

Sadly there are a few others that seem to take sport almost in looking down on others, judging others, and noting how they fall short. These are the people who evidently must be holding themselves up to that same high standard and must be miserable in the process. Actually according to Jesus and this story, they are not. As soon as Jesus gently points a finger back at them, they have to acknowledge that they too are sinners, so that they are not in the place to condemn anyone, since they too stand condemned.

This is A, B, C basic stuff. But sometimes we need to be reminded. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves in the mirror before we mark someone else off as condemned. Actually we ought to know we are all condemned. And as Michael Card reminds us in a song which was inspired by this story (“Forgiving Eyes”), Jesus took that condemnation on himself.

We need to practice extending mercy to others, just as we would hope to be shown the same. We need to be acutely aware of the beam in our own eye before we attempt to take the speck of sawdust out of our brother or sister’s eye.

This doesn’t mean we don’t take sin seriously and just see life as a free for all. Not at all. But we take it seriously beginning with ourselves and our focus must become not just on ourselves, but on the one who does not condemn us, who indeed took that condemnation on himself at the cross, Jesus.

Those who persist in condemning others may not really be aware of their own sin, or they may even excuse or justify it, and they may not really have experienced the forgiveness the Savior brings. Scary thought. We go on forgiven in and through Jesus, and only as such can we leave behind our life of sin and point others to the same.

the Christmas story

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Something extraordinary happened in the most ordinary of settings that wondrous night so many years ago. Mary’s son, indeed God’s Son was born. In a humble village, in an austere place. Yes, the little baby Jesus was placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals in a stable. No better place was available that night.

Shepherds were granted a breathtaking vision, or we should say a visitation from heaven. An angel of the Lord came to deliver the amazing good news to these humble shepherds. Accompanied afterward with a multitude of the heavenly host of angels, praising God in words of blessing to humankind.

We can, we should bow in wonder, love and praise to God for this most simple, and yet most profound gift to us. God coming to us. And doing so by becoming one of us, in his Son.

The humble beginnings ended in the more humble yet ending, the death of what was the despised cross. Jesus stooped to the lowest depths for us in God’s great love for us, for the world. The Messiah, the Lord, our Savior.

King Jesus, the Savior

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

The message to the shepherds the glorious night of Jesus’ birth came ringing loud and clear:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…”

Prior to that Joseph who was pledged to be married to Mary had been told the following words by the angel which appeared to him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

King Jesus is Lord and Savior. Jesus came to be the Savior, but his salvation was not what the people expected. They wanted deliverance in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. But they little realized, evidently, that such deliverance could not come apart from deliverance of another kind which was also part of the fulfillment. Not only did they need physical salvation, but they needed salvation from the Satan. From the world, the flesh and the devil.

God ends up being their salvation in the person of Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill Israel’s calling to the world. He is Israel’s Savior, and through Israel the Savior of the world. He saves through his birth in becoming one of us, God made flesh/human. His life and ministry are in terms of that salvation to Israel, then ultimately through Israel to the world, and precisely Israel as constituted around him, and under his kingship. And then he dies for the sins of the world, including the sins of Israel. And he rises again as the resurrected one into the new life and order of God. To ascend and from the Father pour out the Spirit on his people, the church. And to come again to bring to complete fruition what was accomplished on the cross.

And so Jesus is the Savior. Our only salvation is in him. Our hearts often are inclined to other gods and other saviors, who in the end prove to be false. We need to acclimate ourselves to the reality that Jesus alone is the Savior. This means renewed commitment to prayer. When things seem to be falling apart, or when a need is known, coming to Jesus as Savior. Not taking matters in our own hands, or looking to something else for help. We need more than what the world can give. We need nothing and no one less than King Jesus, the Savior. That we might be saved and together bring his salvation to the world. A salvation found only in him.



better understanding the gospel

Scot McKnight was in town yesterday (along with Douglas Moo and Daniel Watson) and shared with us a humdinger of a talk and teaching. Moo and Watson were quite good. I’ve long appreciated the work of Douglas Moo, and it was good to meet Watson. But they didn’t set me up well for Scot’s talk. And it was after lunch! I was knocked back on my heels, reeling a bit, recovered (I thought), then evidently knocked out (I hope for a short time). I blame it on the (good) food!

Scot’s proposal (as he told me) is a big one. It is spelled out in detail in his recent book which I’m nearly through: The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I’m hardly qualified to say a word about it, but I not only think he’s onto something. From what I can tell, I think he’s right.

What Scot is proposing is a change into an orientation that always sees Jesus as the center and the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of the story of Israel. He starts with 1 Corinthians 15 through perhaps verse 28. So that Paul is putting down in shorthand so to speak what the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John go into in detail. (Remember, these are the gospel in four different tellings of it.) Scot suggests that we find gospel sermons in Acts from Peter and Paul, contrasting how we ordinarily gospel today.

To see gospel in terms of story, specifically the story of Jesus fulfilling scripture, in terms of Israel’s calling from God, is to see salvation in its fullness: what it is about and is to complete. Certainly calling us to repent and believe this good news/gospel that Jesus is King, and that out of Jesus’ kingship, salvation through his death for our sins, and resurrection is offered to all. That he is indeed ascended and exalted as Lord over all who will return to judge the living and the dead.

As the gospel is presented today, people can be saved, but it is not oriented to help them understand what story they are living in. Is it just a story of salvation while we continue on in our pursuit, or calling, bereft of anything more than seeing the Bible in a soteriological, meaning salvation-oriented way?

No. The Bible is about God’s way in and through Jesus. A way in which God rules centered in King Jesus. And the good news which is found in Jesus for no less than the world. Yes, personal as well as corporate. But in terms of creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, the church (in Jesus), consummation (terms may not be quite right, from N.T. Wright, with last addition by Douglas Moo). Certainly soaked in salvation, in who Jesus and God’s coming in him is in its full meaning.

Yes. This will make a difference. Not only in our reading of scripture, but in our understanding of how it is fulfilled in Jesus, a fulfillment which is about life now anticipating the life to come.

I look forward continuing in this. In closing I want to add that this in no way takes away one fundamental of the faith. But it puts them in proper perspective, steeped in story, God’s Story in Jesus as King, Lord, and Savior taking us and the world into this story. So that every other story is secondary and merely a part (perhaps even footnote) to this grand Story in and through Jesus. And the good news that is found in him.

One huge caveat I need to add: This is according to my understanding of this, which is most certainly a work in progress!

hemmed in

The psalmist declares that God has hemmed them in behind and before, and layed his hand on them. In that word we would find comfort. But what if to get there, one finds one’s self hemmed in by difficult, indeed impossible circumstances? That one has no one to turn but to God for help?

I think God often does that with his children. Or at least at certain times with some of his children. For one reason or another, or for a number of reasons we feel hemmed in. Like the circumstances of life have us, and there’s no escape.

Our propensity would be to escape (with “the wings of a dove” in the words of another psalm), be done with the problem, and live happily ever after.

But God knows better. His ways are not ours. God wants to bring us more and more into the way of Jesus. It’s the way of salvation not only for us, but for all. Even for our enemies. As well as for all things in and through the new creation in Jesus.

I don’t like to feel hemmed in by circumstances, indeed by adversity. But I’ve found in the past that I’ve learned new lessons, gone into deeper depths in relation to God, especially have come out of such times with more of a sense of God hemming me in. Of God’s hand being on my life, indeed on the circumstances of my life as well. So that there could be a sense of peace and even fullness of joy.

But by and large I live more in the in-between places, not caring that much about it, except when again I get hemmed in so that there seems to be no breathing room. A good place once again to turn to the One who has all things in hand. To find his salvation in and through the way of Jesus. God’s blessing, that we might be a blessing to others.

John Stott on a bigger gospel

It is the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message that is impressive. He proclaimed God in his fullness as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father, and Judge. All this is part of the gospel, or, at least, the necessary prolegomena to the gospel. Many people are rejecting our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. They are looking for an integrated worldview that makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without creation, or salvation without judgment, or vice-versa. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesians was to call “the entire plan of God” (Acts 20:27 NAB).

John Stott  (on Paul’s sermon in Athens, Acts 17)

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation, 334 quoted by Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 46.