Jesus’s nonsensical message

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10

For us raised in church and in Sunday school, we often shake our heads at how slow Jesus’s disciples were to understand Jesus. But to their credit, and certainly because of God’s grace and the work of the Spirit, they hung in there. And the Pharisees who were considered among the most religious Jews of Jesus’s day, and in fact are considered by scholars to be the group within Israel that were most like Jesus, were divided over Jesus, but the majority of them it seems were obstinate against Jesus’s message. We think they should have known better. And we wonder why they didn’t understand that Jesus had to die for their sins, as well as the sins of the world. And we shake our heads, thinking that they just didn’t understand God’s grace, and sought salvation by works. After all, that’s what we were taught from the cradle, so we take it for granted. And there is actually a grain of truth in it.

But reality was that what Jesus said did not line up with their teaching at all, not in the least. And what the disciples had been taught did not prepare them for Jesus’s teaching, either. At least not very much. Sometimes we pick up from some sources like in the Apocrypha, that there was a bit of what Jesus would bring seeping in. But by and large it made little sense against the backdrop of their Judaism. Though if one took their scriptures, they could find hints of it throughout, that something different was coming. Their view of God was not complete, in fact one might argue even off track to some extent. Jesus did tell the Pharisees that they didn’t know the Father. It’s interesting how the NIV (click link above) begins this section with Jesus addressing these words to the Pharisees.

John 6 is another more stark example of Jesus’s message making no sense to his disciples, so that many of them no longer followed him.

We don’t read the scriptures well enough ourselves, if we don’t see the difference between Jesus’s teaching, and what had come before him. Jesus was bringing in a new covenant which in some respects fulfilled the old, but often cancelled out what was in it. What the New Testament tells us about that is a mixed bag, actually reflecting what had been said in the Old Testament prophet. The Law given through Moses was of a covenant which was not perfect, and not the end. A new covenant was to come, something which would fulfill the words and aspirations of the old covenant, but in a new way. Jesus is the one who brought that, and fulfilled it in and through his death. The resurrection following in which the new life of the new covenant is ultimately to be lived in the Spirit and by the grace of God.

Jesus’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection, with the ascension and promise of his return following is what marks us as Christians, no less and no more. We read and treasure all of scripture, but we find where we fit in the story in the New Testament, particularly after the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world of that time, and even then into remote places.

And hence just a hint of the difference that the faith through Jesus brings. And why we should no longer be surprised at how unprepared anyone was during Jesus’s time to make any sense of his ministry and words, particularly his death on the cross. Yes, hints were in their scripture, those hints teaching us to read those scriptures differently, even as we see them interpreted quite differently in the New Testament.

All of this in and through Jesus.

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being willing to take second fiddle and serve

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22

I have never seen this connection before, and I like how the NIV in its paragraph divisions, brings all of this together in one paragraph. During the Last Supper, of all places, after Jesus told them that one of them was about to betray him, they began to argue with each other over which of them was considered to be greatest.

Jesus pointed to himself as the one who took the place assigned to servants; the more important, or considered greater people, sitting at the tables, being served. But that, because they had stood by him in his trials, he would give them a kingdom in which they’ll sit down and eat and drink, as well as sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The ways of the world easily rub off on us. We need to take care that we neither lord it over others, or expect them to serve us. Instead we need to appeal to them, and serve them. We especially need to be sensitive to those who have been hurt, and who might easily misunderstand our actions and words. But we also need to be open to the need for rough edges to be taken off of us.

I’m afraid that the world sometimes rubs off more on us, than our way in Christ rubbing off on the people of the world. We end up imitating what we admire. We need to learn to see the beauty of Jesus, and come to value that. And then see everything else in that light. Certainly that’s the way of humility and service. And in God’s grace by the Spirit, Jesus himself can live in us and help us. In fact, because of that, we can become more like him.

That is the key, but at the same time we need to be aware, and when need be repent and become like the little children of the Father in the kingdom, loving and serving each other, and the world, in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

comparing one’s self with others

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

2 Corinthians 10

2 Corinthians 10-13 was an expose by the Apostle Paul, of false teachers, false apostles. Paul himself did not measure up to their standards. For one thing, he was weak, when they were strong. Paul’s refute of them is classic, and more than memorable words. We must take them to heart.

I don’t have enough patience with those who put down this or that servant of God as not measuring up to their standard. Usually such people have a propensity to look down on others, as if they themselves are above them. They need to humble themselves.

Paul went right after them, not mincing words. The gospel was surely at stake, since these false apostles were attacking the messenger, Paul. But also what was at stake is what it means to follow Christ, and be a true servant of Christ.

A true servant of Christ helps others to focus on Christ and the gospel, and not on themselves, or how great they are. We are servants of Christ, and of God’s word, and through that, of others (2 Corinthians 4).

The right focus is to celebrate the Lord’s working in everyone who belongs to him in whatever form that might take. The most ordinary may be more imbued with the Lord’s voice and power, than the one who has a celebrity status. Our focus needs to be on Christ and the gospel, and on God’s word. And out of that, be thankful for the many gifts God gives. Real spiritual, Spirit-directed discernment will often find the Lord’s voice, presence and power in people who don’t measure up according to worldly standards.

In so doing, we seek to be true followers of Christ Jesus. In and through him, and the gospel.

 

paying attention to life

God speaks. Primarily through the words of the Bible, and actually that is a word meant for everyone, pointing us to the Word himself, Jesus. God also speaks through life, if we will only listen.

Life itself needs interpretation, actually scripture does as well. We have to depend on God for both, sometimes directly, but most often through others, through the church. In the end it has to be mediated to us. We are recipients of it. Certainly scripture itself interprets life.

And so this is an ongoing project.

What are we learning, not only from the pages of scripture, but also in our every day lives? About ourselves, and others, and the world around us.

Stay in scripture, in God’s word, but also pay attention to what we can learn from others, from experience, and what God might be saying to us through it all. In and through Jesus.

 

no condemnation, or corresponding fear for those in Christ Jesus

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

I believe strongly that it not only doesn’t hurt to go back to some level one gospel truths. All biblical truth in a way, is gospel truth, since in one way or another it’s related to the gospel. But when you start looking at such truth in scripture, you do best to read all of it in context. This is like music albums, when certain symphony or classical pieces are on the recording. Those are nice to have, perhaps especially for those who don’t have an appreciation of classical music. Maybe akin to precious promise books, which have certain verses and passages from scripture. I have two such albums I especially like, one supposedly for morning, and another for going to sleep at night. We all return to certain verses or passages again and again. But it’s best to along with that, look and listen to the entire thing, if we want to gain a keen eye and ear, so that we can better process and appreciate every part. Such is the case with one of the great passages of scripture, itself like a mountain, or beautiful place, Romans 8.

Let me preface these thoughts then to point out that to gain the best appreciation of Romans 8, we need to consider all of this great book. And then to understand the book of Romans best, we do well to be working through the entire Bible. All of that is a project which takes time, to be sure. But even if we haven’t done much there, it’s so good to look at one short passage, maybe even a verse, and then look at a paragraph out from that in whatever translation of scripture you use. And from there a whole section, since most translations nowadays incorporate headings.

The beginning of the Romans 8 masterpiece states that those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation from God based on the cross of Christ; his death taking care of the sinfulness of our flesh, our sin– the work of the Spirit in our life, corresponding to that. We can think we know these things already, but it’s important to keep meditating on them, and actually life itself along with our own propensities will make it essential for us to do so, if we want to keep growing, and going on with the Lord.

The end of this important section of this great peak in scripture is related to the beginning. Since there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there’s no fear of that, either, because such are indeed God’s children, the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit of that reality, as we live in dependence on that Spirit, and do not live according to the flesh, which means the myriad of ways people live apart from the Spirit in the way of this world.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:12-17

Again, to really appreciate this fully, we need to read it more fully in its context. But suffice it to say here that we are simply different people in Christ, because God is our Father, and the Spirit helps us to live out that reality. And front and center here, condemnation and the fear is therefore never to be accepted by us.

Romans 8 stands on its own as a tremendous piece that we need to get into our eyes and ears, into our hearts, and into our bones. Into the very warp and woof of our lives. All of this in and through Jesus.

we are in process on a journey

Many bumper stickers I don’t care for, including the one we sometimes used to see, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” or something to that effect. While it did communicate something important, it seemed to let Christians off the hook for behaving less than well. The wonderful writer and teacher Dallas Willard used to call it “bar code Christianity,” when people somehow thought their profession of faith to get to heaven was enough, with little or no life corresponding.

There is no doubt that it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and not be our works, so that no one can boast. But that passage goes on to say practically the key of that thought. We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has planned for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Faith in Christ, in the gospel gives us assurance of eternal life, for sure. And our sins: past, present and future are taken care of. But it also puts us on a journey in a totally new direction. Faith in scripture is always submissive, and involves repentance. That involves a lifelong renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and instead, often against the grain of even ourselves, following the Lord through thick and thin, no matter what.

We are essentially those in process. We in Jesus never arrive in this life, but we are on a journey. There is a pursuit that keeps us going, even hungry. The completion of everything is promised only at our Lord’s return. Being in Christ, found by God and finding him, means we are on an entirely new pursuit. One aspect of that Paul describes in his great little letter to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

see Philippians 3

This is indeed a growth process. We should be becoming more and more like Jesus, over time. This involves an ongoing renewing of our minds which goes against the grain of conformity to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

And so there’s an ongoing tension in the sense that we are on a journey in which we have not yet arrived. Along the way we might mess up, and we will in some way or another. So that an essential part of it is the ongoing confession of sin, forgiveness and corresponding cleansing. And part of that is the necessity that we walk (or live) in the light, as Jesus is in the light (1 John).

And so we never have a sense in this life of having arrived. Yes, we have those moments, seasons, and times, even if they might seem to be rare, when we especially feel close to God, and when all seems well. But it won’t be long in this life, with the presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, when we will be put both on the defensive, and the offensive, as we take up the word of truth, scripture and the gospel, and by the Spirit seek to follow on with others in Jesus. Someday the journey will be over, and we will arrive to the fulfillment of all things in Jesus. Until then by grace we press on toward and even in the beauty of our Lord.

no true faith apart from love

notFor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

It’s interesting  and actually downright scary when one sees in scripture the examples of those who are devoted to the word, to scripture, but who actually don’t know God. They’re maybe given to knowing the words of the text, but lack the light, and release of the Spirit. They are trying to do what’s right, but they’re not loving well, or maybe not at all. Examples like that can be found strewn throughout scripture. Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the Bible scholars of that day, comes to mind.

Too often I’ve found myself too much in that company, or way of living. Knowing includes knowing the text of scripture, but the point of that is to know God, and others. Relationships come to the fore, of course, the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The light comes on when we are about our Father’s business, when we really love others out of our love for God. And that being true in all that we do in our work and life. And with an emphasis on helping the poor, and those in need, which would include the oppressed and helpless. If we want to find God’s heart, then that’s where we’ll find it: in a faith which is given to good works in love.

Hopefully this won’t seem trite, but we could ask ourselves what one good work we can do today, and practice those kinds of things daily. It really doesn’t have to be much, little things matter, and can make a big difference.

What is essential is that our faith is active and worked out in love. An important part of our life in God in this world, and actually in the life to come, in and through Jesus.