feel the emotion

John 10 (and note John 9 preceding it) is an interesting example of a point made in one of John R. W. Stott’s excellent books, Christ the Controversialist. Jesus was up against it time and time again, against his Jewish opponents. Yet you can see throughout that Jesus is still humbly trying to make his appeal to them. But his words were loaded for them. Jesus noted his works which he attributed to the Father, pointing to the claim that he was in the Father and the Father in him.

John 8 is not children’s bedtime reading so to speak. Jesus is not the meek and mild fictional Jesus which is understood in society at large, and it seems even in many of our churches. Jesus doesn’t mince words, and the words said would never be put in Jesus’s mouth in popular portrayals of him. Like “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father, you want to do.”

But back to John 10. In our habit of marking down doctrine or precious promise passages, neither of which we should dismiss, we can easily miss context. What can help us is reading Scripture in real life, and realizing what we’re reading is couched in real life. Jesus’s opponents were emotional, but so was Jesus himself. Jesus’s following words were surely mixed with pathos in the form of grief in lament, along with perhaps something of a defensiveness, even as we was trying to defend the truth that he was from God.

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:25-30

 John’s entire gospel was written to underscore the truth of who Jesus is.

But watch for the real life emotion in passages. What can help us is the emotion we live with. And we need the Spirit and what the church has given us, as well. As we continue on in Scripture and in this life in and through Jesus.

following the suffering Messiah

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

We have to take the full Jesus as given to us in scripture, or else we risk having no Jesus at all. The Jesus given to us in scripture is no less than the suffering Messiah. What the Messiah was expected to do was triumph unscathed, definitely not suffer, as Peter makes clear. I think not only Peter’s concept of Messiah was threatened, but that probably Peter himself felt threatened, likely enveloped in fear.

God had given Peter the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. But then Jesus pointedly tells what the lot of the Messiah, his lot, is to be. One of rejection, suffering, and death, before rising from the dead. Jesus kept his Messiahship under wraps because people expected a conquering Messiah in the way of the world, likely with the sword. But instead it would be the way of the cross. Something unfathomable to everyone, no less to Jesus’s followers.

Peter took Jesus aside, and rebuked him, but then Jesus roundly rebuked Peter. And used the occasion to teach that their lives must be marked by what is to mark his life if they are indeed to be his followers, his disciples. And that it’s either or. You can’t have the world and Christ. You either lose your life for Christ and the gospel only to find your true life, or you end up gaining the world, but losing your life.

The issue is a question of identity. What defines us? What informs and out of that, forms our lives? For the Christian, it’s to be Christ. And not just any Christ or maybe something of the world’s, or even our own imagination. But the one revealed in scripture. And revealed to us by the Spirit. Peter knew by God’s revelation that Jesus was the Messiah. He had yet to understand the mission of the Messiah, how the Son of Man, a term for the Messiah, would fulfill scripture.

To follow Christ is to follow the way of the cross, as Paul says, to become like him in his death (Philippians 3:10). Something we’re to aspire to as Christians, given to us in and through Jesus.

regaining our focus away from politics or what not

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.

We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan.  Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.

We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.

That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.

We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.

 

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low

“Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:4-5

This time of the year (along with Easter and other times) I listen to one of my favorite musical pieces, Handel’s Messiah. Two pieces which point to God’s fulfillment of Advent are Every valley shall be exalted and And the glory of the Lord.

Someday God’s kingdom will be entirely present, and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Something we’re to pray for now in the present age, but which will be completely fulfilled when heaven and earth become one at our Lord’s return in the new creation.

Meanwhile part of our passion and message is to proclaim this salvation to the world, and to be a people who show the world what this salvation looks like both in how we are as the church and how we extend that to the world.

Of course we would like governments in place which will be advocates and helpers of the poor, oppressed and helpless. And we should pray for and encourage such policies. But until our Lord returns, we the church, the people in King Jesus are to demonstrate to the world what this kingdom is like, how it is different in and through King Jesus.

And the Bible makes it clear that at the heart of this good news of the Messiah is a righteousness which is just, a justice which is righteous. And that this good news, this gospel brings with it a passion for those in need which proves itself in good works. And does not ignore corruption in high places, especially at the expense of others.

Every valley shall be exalted, and mountain and hill made low. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed. And all humankind will see it together. That is in the heartbeat of God and God’s people in and through Jesus.

 

God’s light in Jesus

The star that the Magi saw rise, which they identified as the star of the one born King of the Jews has been the source of speculation as to exactly what it was. There was some heavenly light (angelic?) that could be seen, guiding them to the light of the world himself, Jesus.

Of course there were all sorts of lights in the sky, probably the Magi seeing a multitude of stars in galactic space. But this was a distinguished and distinguishing light. There was something about it which went beyond the mere observation of the light itself. They were led through that light to the one to whom they would bow down and worship (Matthew 2:1-12).

The heavens are telling of the glory of God, but there is one in  whom the light of God’s glory shines the most, and in a distinctive way: the Christ Child, the Messiah, King Jesus the Lord. In this dark world, in large part our own darkness can eclipse the light at least to ourselves. We need the light of God’s love and life which brings the one hope for us and for the world. So that the darkness in us can eventually be displaced by that light, and so that the same light in us may point others to the one who himself is the light and Savior of the world.

N. T. Wright on the meaning of Jesus’ death

…nobody in this period supposed that the Messiah would have to suffer, let alone die. Indeed, that was the very opposite of normal expectations. The Messiah was supposed to be leading the triumphant fight against Israel’s enemies, not dying at their hands. This is why, having come to the view that their extraordinary leader was indeed God’s anointed, the disciples couldn’t imagine that he meant it literally when he spoke of his coming death and resurrection. Resurrection was something which, in Jewish belief, would happen to all God’s people at the very end, not to one person in the middle of history.

Jesus appears to have seen it differently, and here we come close to the heart of his own understanding of his vocation. We have already noted—with unavoidable Christian hindsight—that at the heart of Isaiah’s prophecy stood the figure of the “Suffering Servant,” a development of royal ideas earlier in that Old Testament book. So far as we can tell from surviving sources, the Jews of Jesus’s day understood this figure in two different ways. Some saw the Servant as a Messiah all right; but the “suffering” of which Isaiah spoke would be the suffering he would inflict on Israel’s enemies. Others saw the Servant as one who would suffer; but this meant—inevitably, in their eyes—that he couldn’t be the Messiah.

Jesus seems to have combined the two interpretations in a creative, indeed explosive, way. The Servant would be both royal and a sufferer. And the Servant would be…Jesus himself. Isaiah was by no means the only text upon which Jesus drew for his sense of vocation, which we must assume he had thrashed out in thought and prayer over some considerable time. But it is in Isaiah, particularly the central section, that we find that combination of themes—God’s coming kingdom, the renewal of creation expressed not least in remarkable healings, the power of God’s “word” to save and restore, the ultimate victory over all the “Babylons” of the world, and the figure of the Servant itself—which we find again so strikingly in the gospels. Like an optician putting several different lenses in front of our eyes until at last we can read the screen in front of us, we need to have all these themes and images in mind if we are to understand what Jesus believed he was called to do, and why.

Plenty of other Jews of Jesus’s day studied the scriptures with care, insight, and attention. There is every reason to suppose that Jesus did the same, and that he allowed this study to shape his sense of what he had to do. His task, he believed, was to bring the great story of Israel to its decisive climax. The long-range plan of God the creator—to rescue the world from evil and to put everything to rights at last—was going to come true in him. His death, which at one level could rightly be seen as an enormous miscarriage of justice, would also be the moment when, as the prophet Isaiah had said, Jesus would be “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). God’s plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worst to the Servant—that is, to Jesus himself—and thereby exhausting its power.

N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense,  107-108.

 

for the sake of the gospel

What are we here for, and what are we (out and) about? There is no doubt that in this world we can have a wide range of concerns. And quite legitimate concerns, by the way, even matters which surely have their place and well can be a priority in our lives. But the gospel should be at least one of our first priorities, on the front line with other priorities. Along with our love for Christ we are to put the gospel first in how we live both in regard to the manner as well as the content of our lives.

It is not necessarily wrong to opt off some event, or part of that event due to health concerns, and sometimes actually that is necessary. Allergies can be a case in point. My wife gets deathly sick if she mistakenly eats cantaloupe muskmelon. We may have other legitimate health concerns as well, for example, although the science is not yet necessarily hard (established enough, though some would argue otherwise), it is becoming known that wood smoke is not good for humans to breathe, at least not in large quantities over prolonged periods of time.  What if we have neighbors who have bonfires from which the smoke comes our way? Or what if we are invited to such a gathering?

Our lives are to be lived first and foremost out of love for God and our neighbor, for the sake of the gospel. We certainly do that out of love for Christ, as well as love for others. Jesus talked about this, and Paul as well. Paul made himself a slave to all to win as many as possible. And he identified himself with those to whom he was trying to reach. All this for the sake of the gospel.

What needs to be factored into all of life, into every part is our devotion to the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ coming; life and ministry; death and resurrection; his ascension and coming return—all of this as the Messiah, the King of the world. So that individuals can have forgiveness of sins and new life. And so that the world can be pointed to its new king, destined to rule with God the Father by the Spirit forever and ever.

That is what I want to be about. It isn’t always comfortable. It may mean setting aside certain inclinations or even goals, since this must supersede them all. And in the end this alone is what matters.

when tested

I want to welcome the hard places and knocks which come my way as somehow coming from the hand of God. It is interesting how after what one would think was quite surely a wonderful experience for Jesus: baptized in the Jordan by his cousin John the Baptist/Baptizer, seeing the Spirit descend on him like a dove, and hearing the voice from heaven: “This is my son whom I love, with him I am well pleased,” then Jesus was compelled -I think the word is similar in meaning to forced, or driven- he was compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. The test Jesus went through was in terms of his Messianic anointing and calling, which his baptism had been all about. Jesus refused to yield a moment to the devil, surely the test which he would have to walk through to the cross, though the essence of it was passed then and there, in the wilderness.

In my weakness I have to depend on Christ and his strength. In a true sense it is Christ who has not only opened the way for me, for us to walk through, but has done it himself for us, already, so that in our weakness (and fallacies) of walking through it, what he has done, by the Spirit will carry us through. Of course on the basis of his death, in his Messianic mission, which in a true sense is carried on now by the church in the power of the Spirit, in all of its weakness. Not in its sin, but in spite of that. But truly in its weakness.

When tested it is a heads up for me to consider. What is God working on in my life? What does he want to see changed? Perhaps I’ve been aware of that to some extent already, but in my weakness have been acclimated that way over time. In my case a struggle to take myself seriously in a healthy way, simply throwing in the towel and giving up, so to speak, at least in significant measure and for the most part. Of course there is a healthy sense of not taking ourselves so seriously since life and all that is good is not dependent on us, but on God through Christ.

And so I shouldn’t be shaken when I hit the valley after being up on the mountain. I need to stop, consider, and above all pray. With the goal of letting God’s work continue to be done in me, in and through Jesus.

the telling circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth

Mary was pregnant, but she and Joseph had not yet come together as husband and wife. Everyone knew what that meant, and people were talking. And now they have to make the long journey (around 93 miles, 150 kilometers), four days to a week, from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. To say the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth were not easy is an understatement. And when they at last arrive to Bethlehem, there is no room for them in normal living quarters. But there is a stable where they can lodge. And it is there that Mary gives birth to Jesus.  And places him in a manger, that is, a feeding trough.  And so we see the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of our Lord. A sure sign of what was to come.

The world wants glitter, glamour, the spectacular. Life on its terms, which actually ends up being on the serpent’s terms. With the knowledge of good and evil accessed apart from God. With God out of the picture, and other gods to serve their agenda, and in the process be served. There again is no room for the birth of one who would shake up and even dismantle the status quo.

But that is precisely what the coming of Jesus ends up doing. Nothing at all is the way at least the populous would have imagined it. Jesus grows up in a family that is hardly royal, and learns a trade from his father, Joseph, which he carries on until he is nearly thirty, not that young in those days. And we know the rest of the story. He does not fulfill the expectations of Messiah at all, except for miraculous signs he does which point that way. He proclaims God’s kingdom having come in him, and yet there is nothing of the trappings expected, yes long awaited for such a kingdom.

And at last after three amazing years of ministry Jesus meets the end of all failed, would be Messiahs. The terrible death of crucifixion. Apart from Simeon’s prophecy, it seems that no one would have suspected that this very death would be the means from God to bring life, to bring in the kingdom over which the resurrected Jesus would reign, first from heaven, seated at the place of ultimate authority and power at the right hand of the Father, and later when Jesus would return/reappear, when heaven and earth is made one in him. In final judgment and salvation, to bring in true justice and peace.

So this wonderful birth we celebrate is the beginning of the great end God has for the story of the world. The one story that gives us the needed hope before the completion of the fulfillment of God’s promises through Israel in Jesus for the world. Yes, it is this way, the way of Jesus to the very end, and forever.