Ninety-nine Sheep

ninety nine sheep

Looking at the grace of God, a grace which surpasses all human understanding and comprehension.  A grace which just makes no sense to us, because the only ways we can understand are the ways of our world, the ways we have learned and lived our whole lives.  Consider this story of a shepherd and a particular lost sheep.

Lost-Sheep

“”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7 ESV

open country

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting this one.  It seems simple enough, but when I really consider it, what about those other ninety-nine sheep?   Jesus tells us this man (God the Father) would leave ninety-nine sheep in the open country to chase after this one fool sheep who wanders away.   In the open countryunprotected, there would be thieves, wolves, and any number of other threats.  More could simply wander off.  What if he comes back with this one lost sheep, celebrating and thanking God, and twenty more are missing?  Then what?

wolves_at_2

It makes no sense to us (at least me) because I am too busy counting. I like to know I’m doing the right thing, making the right decision.  So why would I leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep vulnerable to attack, unprotected, to go chasing after one scoundrel who never should have wandered off in the first place?   In trying to win back this one little sheep, I’m not going to risk losing any of my good sheep.

Name in 3D coloured lights

But here’s the thing about God and his grace – if you’re busy counting, doing the math, you’ve missed the whole point.  In the words of Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing About Grace?, “Grace is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting.”   God’s grace is a free gift, not something we can ever earn.

healthy people

God’s not doing the math.  God is not about making sure we have done ten more good things that bad things in our life so we can then somehow be found worthy of his love.  God is not even about distinguishing “bad” from “good”.  (What was that tree Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from in the garden?)  If he were, he had ninety-nine perfectly “good” little sheep and would never have left them to chase after that one “bad” sheep.   But, as Jesus also says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”” Luke 5:32 ESV.  That one lost sheep is the whole reason Jesus ever came…

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God did not come to us in the form of Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, because of how righteous we are.  He came to chase us down because we are all his lost sheep.  He comes out of heaven, walks with us on earth, joins us in our mess which we have made, and guides us back.   He is gathering his flock.  If we have been brought back into the fold, now we get to join Jesus in chasing down the rest of those lost sheep.  We are out in the open country, there are wolves watching and waiting.  If we are just standing still, how easy will it be for the wolves to pick us off?

jesus searching

So we don’t stand still.  We join Jesus in his search.  In our search, we draw closer to Him, we become more like Him.  As we become more like Him, we too begin to stop counting.  We too begin to see the value of one lost sheep.  We too will leave ninety-nine in open country to chase the one who has strayed.

harvest is plenty

There are so many lost sheep.  So many that, as Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2 ESV.   If you are that lost sheep, Jesus will not rest until he has tracked you down.  He’s come all the way from heaven to find you.  If you’re one of those ninety-nine in the open country, the wolves are watching and waiting for their chance to strike.   Quit standing still, go with Jesus, and find that lost sheep He is looking for.

John Lewis

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A Prophet in His Hometown

prophet in his hometown.jpg

Back into Luke today.  After his baptism and testing in the wilderness, Jesus returns to Galilee.   He begins to preach throughout Galilee, especially around Capernaum.  After a few weeks, he finally returns to his hometown of Nazareth.  On the sabbath day he stands in the synagogue to read.

JesSynagog

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

scripture fulfilled

This is very dramatic.  Luke presents it in a very dramatic way.  News about Jesus had been spreading.  News about Jesus had come to Nazareth well before his homecoming.  Rumor was that he might be the One, the Messiah, the liberating king.  This news was well received in Nazareth.   For the backwoods town of Nazareth to have its own hometown boy actually be the chosen king, how big would that be?

So the hometown boy they’ve heard so much about has finally returned.  As is his custom, he is in the synagogue.  He stands to read, is handed the scroll of Isaiah, and reads the passage about Messiah and the year of the lords favor.  It is a very familiar passage in that synagogue.

Jesus-in-Synagogue

And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth – yes, it’s what you’re thinking.  Yes, I am Messiah.  I am the one.  Jesus gives a thinly veiled acknowledgement that, yes, he is the Messiah.  This was very well received, they were all speaking well of him, there was much excitement in the air.

throw jesus from a cliff

But within an hour, before the day was over, the people of Jesus’ own hometown would try to throw him off a cliff.  These same people in the synagogue, who know Jesus and Jesus knows them, who are speaking so well of him and marveling at the gracious words he is saying, will turn on Jesus and try to throw him off a cliff.  Why the quick change??

spirit of the lord is upon me

There is a hint of why they change tone so quickly in how Jesus reads the passage from Isaiah 61.    The full passage reads “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord ‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…” Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV.  Jesus stopped mid sentence.  He didn’t finish the sentence.  Jesus omits the part of about the vengeance of our god.   They didn’t get that, they missed it, but it was a hint at what going to go wrong.

vengeanceof god

What was Jesus saying in not saying something?  He’s saying – I’m going to proclaim the favor of god, but not the vengeance of god.  Notice how Isaiah 61 says it-  the day of vengeance of our God…  The implication is clear.  God is on our side.  He’s going to take vengeance, but not on us. He’s going to take vengeance on those who don’t have our god.  The dominant vision of Messiah was that of a payback messiah. Messiah was to be an agent of God’s payback, God’s smack down, God’s vengeance.

We have in American culture, mainly through cinema, the ingrained concept of hero justice.  Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Matt Damon, and the rest.  They come riding onto the scene with payback, they turn the tables, they get vengeance, set things straight, and smack down those who need smacking down.  We get excited over this, we will pay good money to see this storyline time and again.  We believe in payback…

judah macabbee

Two hundred years before earlier, about 167 BC, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Greek Syrians.  They were forcing the Jewish people to become Hellenistic, to adopt Greek culture.  They were being forced to do things like sacrifice pigs, eat pork, etc.  There was at the time a righteous priest named Mattathias from Modi’in who resisted and was executed.   As he was being executed, he cries out You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people.  1 Maccabees 2:67

His son Judah was there, heard the cry of his father for vengeance, and led a revolution.   Judah brought the hammer down on those Greek Syrians, and earned the nickname “Judah the Hammer”, or as he’s known to history, Judah Maccabaeus.   “The  Hammer” brought the hammer, and in so doing became the prototype of Messiah.  This is what messiah would,  could, and should do, be another greater Judah Maccabaeus , and exact the vengeance of our god.
Judah-Maccabee

Judah Maccabaeus was a national hero.  They celebrated holidays in his name.  They felt about him much as we Americans feel about George Washington.

Fast forward again two hundred years.  The gentile Greek Syrians still lived about forty miles north of Nazareth.  The Jews still hated them.  And so these in Jesus’ hometown, how they longed for the day of the vengeance of our god against those Gentiles.

Jesus had grown up with these people, he knew the people in Nazareth. He really knew them.  He knew how they felt.  He knew they were good people, but he also knew how they hated.   He knew the nationalistic vision of their god.  He knew how they hated their enemies, and how they wanted messiah to once again bring the hammer down.

But Jesus was not just Messiah,  but also a  prophet.  He’s a prophet speaking to his own hometown, and that’s hard.

2nd temptation

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 

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Jesus knew they wanted to see miracles, to do tricks, to show them who he was.  But he’s already overcome that  second temptation, the temptation to spectacle.

Jesus didn’t want to do tricks or perform miracles on demand in his hometown.  He does want to speak as a prophet.  But he knows it’s almost impossible to be a prophet to his hometown.  Why?   Because the prophet always challenges us versus them thinking.  So when the hometown hears one of their own challenging the idea that god is on our side, they will turn.  Watch how Jesus speaks to them…

Elijah

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus rehashes and repeats two stories from the Old Testament, one from Elijah and one from Elisha.  These are two miracles by God from two of the most beloved prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Two miracles, not for Jews but for Gentiles.  Even a miracle for the general of Syrian army, the leader of those who had brought great harm upon the Jewish people.

Naaman the Syrian

Specifically, these two Gentiles were from the same people the great national hero Judah Maccabaeus had brought the hammer down upon, the Greek Syrians.   They are waiting for Jesus to do the same.  But in reading his job description this day in the synagogue, Jesus leaves out the vengeance

In their lust for revenge Jesus refuses to cooperate.  Jesus is revealing that God is not vengeful.  We think God is vengeful against people we want to be vengeful against.  But God doesn’t want to take the hammer to or take vengeance upon our enemies, he wants to bless them, he wants to heal them, he wants to show them favor…

gods-wrath

This is like telling crusaders, God is on the side of Muslims too.  Or telling 1950’s Americans that God on side of those Russians too.  Or telling Israeli’s that God on side of Palestinians, too.  Or telling 2018 Americans that God is in the side of all those immigrants, refugees, maybe even on the side of ISIS…

This is very radical, even dangerous.  How dangerous?  All are filled with wrath

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

After this episode, Jesus speaks in parables for the rest of his ministry.  Until, of course, he speaks openly again in the last week of his ministry and gets himself killed.

The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.

Why was Jesus attacked by his hometown?  Because he broke with solidarity of “us versus them”.  Their solidarity was that we are the people who hate those people up north.  We celebrate  holidays of the man who brought the hammer down.   We can’t wait for God to bring the hammer down again.  They believed in a just God, a God who would make all things right.   They believed that part of making things right had to include bringing the hammer down on those Gentiles up north.  They believed in a payback Messiah.  They believed in the vengeance of their God.

And any Messiah not interested in their bringing their vengeance was no Messiah at all.  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

Luke 4:16-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.16-30.esv

John Lewis

What about Grace?

What about Grace?

grace.jpg

I was just kind of ruminating while writing this, not sure I actually had a specific point to make.   I thought maybe I would figure that out as I was writing.   Hopefully I found a message worth sharing.

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This verse seems a fan favorite among followers of Jesus – For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17 ESV.  This is an interesting verse for us, because as Christians, no matter the denomination or background, you can bet that one thing we are all interested is our truth claims.  We know that Jesus was, is, and will be “….the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6 ESV.   Jesus in himself is the truth of God the Father, this we vigorously proclaim to the world around us, and rightly so.  In fact, the last thing Jesus said to his disciples was “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:18-19 ESV.   So, yes, we are commanded to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ into the world and make disciples of all the nations, and this does make it a worthwhile effort to be able to know and speak truth to those around us.

truth claims

But then we all have our own various, in house truth claims.  By in house, I am referring to those particular truth claims that might make one a Roman Catholic, a Southern Baptist, an Eastern Orthodox, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, an evangelical, a Protestant.  Through the centuries we Christians have spent enormous time and energy debating and decreeing our truths into the world and to one another, every church and every denomination defending its particular brand.

what about grace

But what about the “other” part of this particular favorite verse.   For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  We will spend untold hours and even invest our own treasure to defend particular versions of the truth of Jesus Christ.  But what about grace?

grace is enough

Yes, what about grace?   I suppose I have a point today after all.  What about grace?   Churches will argue amongst themselves that they have the best, most true version of the truth of Jesus Christ.  But why aren’t we competing with one another to see who can pour the most grace into this world we all agree is broken and in need of that grace?   Seems to me that the grace of Jesus Christ is a large part of his truth as well…

AmazingGrace

In the words of author Philip Yancey, “Grace is Christianity’s best gift to the world.”   In the words of our most favorite hymn,  “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.”   In a world dominated by the 24 hour news cycle, if it bleeds it leads journalism, in a world built on merit and earning your way, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and self made men, what do Christians have to offer that is more significant than the unearned, undeserved, unending grace of Jesus Christ?

un grace

Where else are we to turn for grace?   The world is full of un-grace, so much so that we just don’t even notice, we just accept that this is the way it has to be.  Our culture tells us we must look good, do good, and be good.  We have all sorts of rules for what can and can not even be said.  We try to earn favor with one group of people, only to lose favor with another.

standardied test

We start early setting up systems of acceptance for our own children. We test our children in preschool and slot them as “advanced”, “normal”, or “slow”.   Then we set up grading systems, test every skill, measure their performance in math, reading, writing, even their social skills and outlook.  We highlight and spotlight every wrong answer given, not the correct answers given.  All this we do in order to prepare our children for the graceless “real world”, the world we have set up, the world we have created.  The world as we would have it, a world of relentless ranking, a world where we fight as hard as we can to climb higher on the ladder, never mind those lost souls we knock down in our mad scramble to the top.

us-army-marching

The military has practices un-grace in its purest form.  Assigned a title, uniform, salary, and code of conduct, every soldier knows precisely where they stand in relation to every other soldier.  You salute and obey those who outrank you; you bark orders to those you outrank.

Corner-Office-Rendering

Corporations do the same, if just more subtly.  Corner offices or cubicles, private bathrooms or not so private stalls, special parking or commuter lots, it all depends on where you rank in the organization.  And we are always waiting for someone above us to fall so we might have the chance at what they have.  Meanwhile, someone else awaits our fall.

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Our world runs gracelessly, insisting we must earn our way.  Fortune magazine even runs its annual list of the 500 richest people in the world, and this we are fascinated by.  It usually even makes the evening news.  And what are the names of the 500 poorest?   I mean, who cares, right?

anorexia mirror

Think about the disease of anorexia.  This is a direct product of the graceless world we have created for ourselves.  We hold up our image of the beautiful, skinny models, and wonder why our teenage girls will starve themselves trying to fit into that image.  This is a phenomenon unique to our western civilization, it is a disease with no known history, which is almost non existent in places which have not taken to our western materialism and consumerism.

All these things take place right here in the USA, a supposedly enlightened, egalitarian society.  We all have our rights, and don’t mind standing up for those rights.  Even if it means stepping on someone else’s rights in the process.

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Unfortunately, the church itself has become known as a haven for un-grace.  The very sinners who once came running to Jesus now run away from his church just as fast as they can go.   If they have any interest in the church at all, they may feel they need to get their act together before they walk through those church doors.  After all, that holy water might just melt them if it were to land upon them.  And if anyone in that building actually knew our stories, we’d be the talk of the town.

The-Prodigal-Son-a

Gordon MacDonald once said “The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church.  You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”   So, yes, what about grace.  What about the grace of a father who upon seeing his long lost prodigal son trudging home in the distance, could not wait but with glee sprinted out to meet him, clothed him again with his finest, killed the fattest calf, and had a party we still talk about two thousand years later?  What about the grace of a man shown to a woman by a well who was so ashamed of herself that she would only come to the well in midday when she was sure no one else would be around?   What about the grace of a good shepherd who, though he has ninety-nine other sheep, will leave them in the open country to go and search for the one who is lost?  Search, yes, and not stop searching until he has found it that one lost sheep…

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Yes church, what about grace?

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John 1:16-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.1.16-17.esv

John Lewis

Means and Ends

Means and Ends

Temptations-of-Jesus-2.jpgOoops, thought I had published this days ago…

After Jesus was baptized, he then was led by the spirit into the wilderness of prayer and fasting.  Jesus about to begin his ministry of announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  During this forty days, Jesus is contemplating the nature of both his ministry and the nature of the Kingdom of God he’d be establishing.    While contemplating his ministry which would soon begin, Jesus faces three temptations.  In these temptations, Jesus was tempted to go about his ministry in the wrong way, to establish the kingdom of god on the wrong foundation.  Remember what he taught about foundations – “”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

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The first temptation Jesus faced was the temptation to base the kingdom on bread.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”   You might say this is the liberal temptation, to merely address the material needs of mankind.  It’s a temptation to reduce the faith to a socioeconomic agenda.  These things need to be addressed, but Jesus saw it as a temptation to simply address the material needs of man.  Bread is good, bread is necessary.  But people will sell their very souls for a piece of bread.  But this still leaves that God shaped hole in the middle of our soul.  With the word of god he resisted that temptation.  And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'”

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The second temptation was the temptation to spectacle.   And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”   Just do a sign, prove who you are!!   This is the empiricist temptation, to persuade by empirical proof, to do away with faith by simply proving everything.  Jesus resisted that because he realized that was to put God to the test, And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   He resisted that and left room for faith.

Jesus would later tell of the sign he would give – “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  Luke 11:29 ESV.  But in the end, even the resurrection would not be enough if a man does not want to see.  “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”” Luke 16:31 ESV

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The third temptation was to base the kingdom upon force, to compromise with the devil that he might become the world’s new emperor the way all the old emperors become emperors.  And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  This is the conservative temptation, to rule the world by violence.  To continue to do it the same way Caesar was doing it.  But Jesus resists this temptation as well.  “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”   Jesus could have been the conquering Messiah the people were waiting for.  They couldn’t wait to join his army and really strike back at those Romans.  Jesus would have used his power for good, he would have been a more righteous king.  He could have bypassed being the suffering servant and grabbed the throne through the will to power, the power to kill.  But he still would have just another king in the line of kings of the world.

End-Never-Justifies-the-Means

Notice all these temptations were based on a desire for a good end.  Jesus was not tempted with evil but he was tempted for good.  Jesus was tempted to have this as his end – to eliminate poverty, engender faith, and unite the world.  But it was  the means that were wrong.

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Does the end justify the means?  Never.  In fact, the means are the end in the process of becoming.  Becoming more forgiving, or becoming more vengeful.   Me coming more merciful, becoming more merciless.   Becoming more Christlike, or becoming un-like Christ.  Becoming more an instrument of Christ’s love and mercy, or becoming an instrument of the Satan’s anger and vengeance.   Compromised means always results in a compromised end.  Jesus overcame the temptation to base the kingdom on bread, spectacle and force and instead set forth to proclaim the kingdom on faith hope, and love.  Instead of the conquering Messiah, he chose the route of the suffering servant.  Instead of bread, circus, and force, he chose the route of the cross for his coronation.

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Jesus is king.  Jesus was king.  Jesus came to be king.  But when the people tried to make him king by force after his feeding the five thousand, he declined.  “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” John 6:15 ESV.   When they came the next day looking for more bread, he cryptically offers instead his own flesh and blood.  “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:53-56 ESV.   Most who hear him call him crazy, and all but the most devoted followers turn away.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”” John 6:66-69 ESV.

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Ultimately, Jesus would be crowned king.  His means were love and forgiveness, not bullets and bombs.   His ends were love and forgiveness, not bullets and bombs.  These are hard things to understand.   Will we turn back, or continue on our walk?  Do we want to go away as well?  Or, like Peter, is our answer Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God??

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“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

Luke 4:1-13 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.1-13.esv

John Lewis

Into the Waters

Into the Waters

into the water.jpg

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””  We come this morning to the baptism of Jesus.  You could also say this is the formal anointing of Jesus as Messiah.  The messiah is the anointed one.  The Messiah, in the scriptures, is anointed with oil instead of a crown.  Here, though, Jesus is anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit.   He comes out of the waters of baptism, he’s praying, and a dove lands upon him.   God the Father announces from the heavens You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

jesusmessiah

Luke is screaming out,  LOOK! LOOK!  We finally have the messiah.  We’ve waited so long, but it’s finally happening.  The king is on the scene, He, Jesus, in the waters being baptized by John, is the true king of Israel.  What follows next is Jesus going out into wilderness to be tested, tempted, and tried before actually launching his ministry and announcing kingdom of God.

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Meantime, let’s think about something here –  John the Baptist is announcing to Israel, you need to repent, change your lives, change your ways, you need to come be baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins!!  The people come, Jesus comes with them and he gets baptized by John.  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins.  So, question is, is Jesus repenting of sin??  Why else would he need to be baptized by John??  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance…is Jesus repenting of sin??

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The answer, i would say, is yes and no.  Jesus is without sin, therefore Jesus can not repent for personal sin.   But here’s the key – Jesus has joined us, he belongs to a sinful people,  he can say, to us and with us,  we need to repent, let me lead the way.   Jesus is God with us, he is Emmanuel.   He is not God separate from us, he is one of us.  He could never say father forgive me of my sin, but can teach us and lead us to pray, with him leading us, saying, Father “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

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This is hard to get for we modern people.  Repenting for sins for which we are not individually responsible for is foreign to us.  But the hyper individualism of the modern era is foreign to biblical thought.  It is a very modern, liberal creation to think like this –  I’m an individual responsible only for myself…it’s as if we believe in the ways of Cain, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?””   To which we say all too often, no, I’m an individual responsible for no one else, just myself.  That’s foreign to the thought of the Bible, and it’s not how Jesus thought.

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Jesus did not stand aloof from us, as a holy individual, saying look at all those sinners are getting baptized, but I am without sin so I will not join them.  Instead Jesus says I belong to a sinful people, a sinful race, I am one if you, I am with you, I will lead the way, together we need to repent.  Even though he wasn’t individually responsible he’s willing to say we together need to come back to God.

baptism

Jesus leads us into the waters of baptism and calls us to follow.  Baptism remains formal introduction into the Jesus Way.  There is no excuse for not being baptized.  Jesus was baptized.  Then he tells us to be baptized. If you’re not baptized, there is only one thing to do.  Go, and be baptized.

Jesus doesn’t come up with some reason not to be baptized.  John tried to stop him.  “John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?””  Matthew 3:14 ESV.   But Jesus says no, we must fulfill all covenant faithfulness, all righteousness, I’m part of this so baptized me as well.  “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”  Matthew 3:15 ESV

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Jesus leads the way and calls us into baptism, he institutes communion, these are both formal religious practices.   Jesus followed a sacred calendar, He gave us a prayer to pray, He founded a church and calls us into it.

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Don’t accept modern liberal idea that Jesus was opposed to formal religious practices.  Noting could be farther from the truth.  Again, Jesus is baptized and calls us to be baptized.  Jesus instituted communion, observed a sacred calendar, Jesus gives us a prayer to pray, he founds a church calls us to be part of it.   We don’t get to make Christianity up.  It’s a received faith.  We can’t have an a la carte Christianity.  I like to sing the songs in worship, say Amen!  But i don’t need to be baptized, really.  It’s cold outside, it might mess my hair up.  And we really don’t need communion, besides, i have places to be and that takes time….

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Ok, you might be able to pull off following Jesus as an individual, but then what are you going to pass to your kinds and grandkids?    What about the generations to come?   If we are interested in passing our faith to the next generation, we need to be interested in the things that make Christianity multi-generational.   Things like churches, communion, calendar, and prayers that are passed on from generation to generation.  This is how the faith gets passed on through generations instead of just a lone, boutique experience.

Christianity is impossible as a solo project.  In the beginning of his ministry, the first thing Jesus did was to be baptized with us, showing us we are all in this together.  We don’t all have to  figure out how to be saved by ourselves.  One way of understanding Salvation might be as a kind of belonging where we, corporately,  belong to the People of God.

christianity

I’ve heard it said that a lone Christian is a paralyzed Christian.  I would say a lone Christian is no Christian.   We are called follow Jesus into the waters of baptism, we are called into church, we are called to worship, we are called to communion, we are called to prayer.   If you’re not following Jesus into these things, then what are you following him into?

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””

Luke 3:21-22 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.21-22.esv

John Lewis

What Shall We Do??

What Shall We Do??

by James Tissot

The year is AD 28. Jerusalem is a powder keg.  It’s about to blow.   Jewish resentment and anger over their political situation is overflowing.  It’s time to stop bitching and start a revolution.  They’re fed up.  Fed up with Rome, fed up with their priests.  Rome had invaded one hundred  years earlier, but they had only recently begun to directly rule Judea.  Instead of allowing Jewish governors, they began to send their own people, men like Pontus Pilate, and the Jews are fed up.  They’re fed up with King Herod and his corruption, he’s only half Jewish anyway.  They’re fed up with the corrupt Hasmonean dynasty of the high priestly order of Annas and Caiaphas, priests who buy their position, with bribes, from Caesar.  They’re fed up with priests more interested in their positions of power than the Kingdom of God.

tiberius caesar

Luke sets the scene very dramatically, tells us who’s in charge politically, In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.   He tells us who’s in the religious positions of power, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.  But – the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.   The word of god comes not to the king or Rome or to the high priestly order, but to John, this prophetic, ascetic man in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey.  When the word of the Lord comes upon him, he stays in wilderness but relocates himself about 15 miles outside Jerusalem by Jericho at the Jordan River.

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Here John begins to preach.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   The Lord is about to come, He’s about to send Messiah, the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, you need to get ready, come get baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  By the way – Jews weren’t waiting for messiah to come so they could be forgiven. They already knew how to be forgiven.  They knew about the temple, they knew about temple sacrifices, they knew the prayers, even John is baptizing with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They’re not waiting for  messiah to forgive them, they are waiting for messiah to come rescue Israel, rebuild the temple,  restore righteousness, rule the nations, and reveal god to the Gentiles.

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But John says you guys aren’t ready!!   He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  So John engages in prophetic theater with his baptism.  Jews had their ritual mikvahs in the temple for their ritual cleansings and purification.  It was very formal, very official, carried on at the temple.  But John says they need a full baptism just like Gentiles who are being converted.  Basically John is telling the Jews that they are not really Jews, they’re not being faithful to the covenant.  They need to be reconverted to become Jews again.  That’s the point John is making baptizing in the Jordan River.  He is not converting Gentiles to follow Yahweh, he’s reinitiating practicing, life long Jews into their own faith.

promnised land

He’s baptizing in the Jordan out by Jericho at the same spot the Jews had come into promised land under Joshua thirteen centuries earlier.  They needed to be reconverted, they needed have a new Exodus, a new entry into promised land.  They were going out into the wilderness to really become the people of God, to get serious, to reenact their entry into the promised land.  What John is doing is very creative, very dangerous, it’s going to upset the powers that be.  This is why he wound up in prison and finally executed, because he’s challenging the powers that be.

justice and righteousnesss

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?   And if you fill out this little card i can email you, make you feel welcome, show you how nice I am…John knows Jerusalem is a powder keg and it’s about to blow up.  That’s what he calls the wrath to come.  He knows the only hope they have is for Israel to receive their messiah.  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  I don’t want to hear about your national identity or your religious identity, I don’t care about your pedigree.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Like the rest of the prophets, John is not interested in identity, but fruit.  The fruit of justice and righteousness, covenant faithfulness and treating your neighbor as yourself.  That’s what John is interested in, that’s how they will prepare to receive their Messiah.  They will repent, rethink their lives, and begin to bear the fruits of righteousness and justice.  If not they will end up in the explosive powder keg of revolution, war and destruction to come.

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So all those coming out to John ask him what do we do?   We are serious, we want to repent to be the real people of God, but what do we do?  And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.   John is calling Israel to repent and rethink everything.  So, what do we do?   It’s very interesting here, every response John gives those who ask him is economic in nature.  If you have two tunics, give to one who has none.  If you have leftovers from dinner, share with one who had no dinner.  If you’re a tax collector, collect no more than you are authorized to do.  Tax collectors are Jews who are collaborating with Romans who are viewed as traitors, moral outcasts.  They are hated by the rest of Jewish society because they are collecting taxes for the Romans and almost always did it dishonestly, overcharging and padding their own pockets.   But it’s also very interesting here – John does NOT tell them not to be tax collectors.  Just collect no more than you are authorized to do.  And soldiers  – do not use the power of your weaponry or rank to extort money.  Don’t justify it by saying Herod doesn’t pay us enough.  Be content with your wages.  

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In every example John gives, he stresses economic repentance.  Everything  has to do with money.  Why does John stress economic repentance?  There are plenty of other sins but John doesn’t mention any of them.   I’m sure if you’re an adulterer, a drunkard, a sabbath breaker, a thief, a cheat,  John wants you to repent, but he doesn’t mention any other sin.  The only thing he mentions is personal economics.  Why?

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John wants to prepare a people who will receive a new Kingdom, a new government, a new king.  The greatest obstacle to entering the kingdom of god is the tyranny of economic self interest.  John taught this, Jesus would pick it up and say exactly the same thing in his own way over and over.  The greatest obstacle to entering the kingdom of god, the government of god, the reign of Christ in our life, the alternative society of the kingdom of heaven, is the tyranny of our own economic self interest.  “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:25 ESV

woe to the rich

I’m writing to myself right now.  That’s how it was then, the way it is now, it’s how it is for me, probably how it is for you.  Unless, of course, you’re very poor.  Then it’s not as hard, cause you have nothing.  When you have  nothing there is nothing to lose.  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   To be clear, if you are reading this, then you are not poor. “”But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Luke 6:24 ESV

sell all that you have

And yes, it was the tyranny of economic self interest led to the fiery wrath of war foretold by John and Jesus in AD 70.   So many just could not give up all that they had.   “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” Luke 18:22-23 ESV

“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.””

Luke 3:7-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.7-14.esv

John Lewis

Change is Coming

Change is Coming.jpg

Been looking at the first couple chapters of Luke during advent and epiphany, today really just setting the stage for what comes next.

messiah

Beginning with the psalms, especially psalm 2 but others as well, then carried on by the prophets, there began to develop a picture of what Messiah would be.  Messiah in this case means “Mashiach”, the anointed one.  Anointed as in “to christen”, it’s actually where we get the word “Christ” from.   “Anointed one” means “Messiah” or “Mashiach” in the Hebrew, “Christ” in Greek.  Same word, two different languages.

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In ancient times of Israel, kings were not crowned, they were anointed.  It was not a crown that signified royalty, but oil.  The prophet Samuel took a horn of oil and anointed Saul the first king of Israel.  Later, he would anoint David king.  Very specifically, Messiah means “anointed one”, as in anointed to be king.

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In the psalms and prophets, there developed a five-fold expectation of what the Jewish king, the Messiah, would accomplish.  Yes, there were kings, but Israel was waiting for a special king who was going to come.  He would be like the Son of God.  He would be the coming king that would accomplish great things that would change the world.

raised on a cross

There were five overarching expectations of messiah.  However, none of these expectations went anything like this – “We are waiting for Messiah to come so he can die on a cross, be raised on the third day, so we can be saved and go to heaven when we die.”  No one thought anything close to this.  This is no where any  part of the expectation for Messiah.  The Jews, rather, derived their anticipation of messiah from the psalms and prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament.

Here is the fold job description of Messiah.

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1).  Messiah would rescue Israel from the tyranny of wicked, evil empires and dictators.  Through Israel’s long history they’d often been threatened and dominated by a succession of empires and dictators.  The Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, the Romans had all joined in on the succession of empires and dictators dominating God’s chosen people.  The expectation was that Messiah would rescue Israel from that.

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2). Messiah would rebuild the temple.   The idea is that the king is closely connected with the structuring or rebuilding of the temple.  This is why Herod was so interested in greatly enlarging the temple.  Though he was king, Herod was only half Jewish.  In other words, Herod was in no way qualified to be king of Israel, but the occupying force appointed him anyway.  However, Herod was a great builder.  He was a master architect.  Maybe as an attempt to establish himself as a true king of Israel to ingratiate himself with the Jews, Herod spent 46 years rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.  Not because he was a godly or pious man interested in religious things, but because he wanted to ingratiate himself with the Jews, and establish that maybe, just maybe, he was, after all, the true Messiah.

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3). Messiah would  restore righteousness.  Righteousness in the Bible can be understood as faithfulness to the covenant.  Israel had a long history of being unfaithful to covenant they had with Yahweh, this is why prophets would often refer to Israel as an unfaithful wife, an adulterous woman.  Israel was unrighteous in the sense of being unfaithful to the covenant.  One of visions of messiah is that he is an Israelite who would act righteously and lead the rest of Israel back into covenant faithfulness with Yahweh.

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4).   Messiah would rule over the nations. The vision is not just that Messiah would be the king of Israel, but Messiah would have a kingdom to dominate  all the other kingdoms.  Every knee would bow and every tongue confess Israel’s true king as Messiah.  His would be the one world government to overcome all the other governments.

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5).  Messiah would reveal God to the Gentiles.  Not just any God, the the God of Israel, Yahweh, the one true God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Only Israel worships Yahweh.  The rest of the nations had a myriad of gods.  Messiah would make the God of Israel famous.  Gentiles would turn away from Zeus, Baal, Mars, Apollion.  Knowledge of Yahweh would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

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So we see that Messiah had a big job description.  He was to rescue Israel, restore righteousness, rebuild the temple, rule over the nations, and reveal God to the Gentiles.

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Luke opens his gospel with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. We also see many signs, Zechariah’s prophecy, Mary’s Magnificat, the angelic announcement to the shepherds, the temple prophecies of Simeon and Anna, all these things indicating the long awaiting king is about to appear.

They’ve been waiting for a thousand years for this very special king to come.   Now we have a great rush of activity.   The birth of the two babies, all the signs, the flight to Egypt recorded in Matthew.   Then all goes quiet again for about thirty years.  John and Jesus have to grow up.

St_John_the_Baptist_in_the_Wilderness_Museum_Lazaro_Galdano_Madrid

When we next see John, he is living out in wilderness.  This is in itself is significant.  John is the son of Zechariah.  His father is a Levite, a priest.  The way things work, John is supposed to be a priest, he’s supposed to follow his father in his priestly calling.  Yet John lives his lone, ascetic lifestyle.  There is a form of protest in this.  There is much we don’t get to see in the story as it is given to us.  Is his father Zechariah disappointed in John for not living into the family tradition?   Is John protesting the temple and priesthood?  Is he declaring in his minimalist lifestyle out in the wilderness that the temple is corrupt and he just won’t be a part of it??   I think this is exactly what he is doing…

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Jesus is living in Nazareth as the son of a carpenter. Everything is waiting.  Israel’s waited a thousand years, so much happened, then it grew quiet again, all is now waiting, waiting.  Then Luke Chapter three comes, and as we might say in the twenty first century, it’s on!!  Beginning Luke chapter three, things are happening.  What happens next is most important stuff to ever happen in the history of the world.   After a thousand years of waiting, thirty years after these two babies are born, the world is about to be changed forever.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'””

Luke 3:1-6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.1-6.esv

John Lewis