The Truth Will Set You Free

The Truth Will Set You Free

the-truth-shall-set-you-free

I’ve had this ready for over a day now.  Due to the vagaries of life and my “day” job, I have not been able to take the time to post this, which is too bad because I thing it’s an important subject.  I’m going to start doing things a little different for now, and schedule my posts for 6:30 PM on a regular basis.   Maybe this will be better than just my random post times.  Also, I still have to figure out days of the week and get more regular in my postings.  Not too oversimplify, but myself and my blogging are both a work in progress.  After reading this post, many of you may not want to read my writing anymore regardless of the time or the day.  So, here goes nothing…

the_stoning_of_soraya_m_21.png

Collective murder and the lies we tell ourselves about it. Lies we still need to be set free from…

truth will set you free
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus is speaking here to Jews, probably Judeans, who had believed in Him. They had recently come to believe Jesus was Messiah, that he was indeed Israel’s true king. A “belief” of which Jesus seems more than a little skeptical. He says ok, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. It’s great that you believe in me, and that you want to follow me. But if you stick with my teaching, you’re eyes will be opened up to some things you need to be made free from. These disciples were looking for a Messiah for sure. They were looking for a Messiah to lead them in their war of independence from Rome. Was Jesus the one to pick up the sword and lead them in their war, or not?? These would-be new disciples don’t handle what Jesus says to them about truth and freedom very well. They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

out of the temple
I’m proud to be an Israelite, at least I know I’m free! Something like that, right? Jesus tells them they need to be set free, they declare that they are free!! (So just why were they looking for a Messiah, anyway?). By the time this scene is finished, this crowd would be looking to stone Jesus. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. So much for being new believers in Christ!
The truth Jesus was telling these believers they needed to be set free from was no bumper sticker slogan. The truth Jesus brings in John chapter 8 incites this crowd of would be disciples first to insult their Messiah, then to try to kill him.

pilate
For these Judeans coming to Jesus, the freedom they sought was political. Their truth was the same as Pilate’s truth, the power to kill. “So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”” John‬ ‭19:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Their idea of freedom was that freedom came from power, especially power over their enemies. Freedom for them was a euphemism for lethal power – Pilate’s power to kill. When you have the power and the will to kill your enemies, you will be “free”. But for Jesus, freedom in the form of lethal power is not true freedom. Freedom is the liberation from sin, especially the sin of collective killing.

children of Abraham
Sound like a stretch? Here’s Jesus’ response to their declaration the they are children of Abraham. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. This conversation has gone way off the tracks!! Remember, these are not the scribes or Pharisees that Jesus was continually at odds with. These are Jews who had begun to believe in Jesus. Also remember that they had probably either just witnessed or maybe participated in a public stoning of a woman in adultery which Jesus had stopped by putting the onus back on the individual, cutting through the demonic mob mentality that controls such scenes (Let he who is without sin…). If they were actually listening and hearing what Jesus was teaching them, they would have known killing was incompatible with the way Jesus was leading them. Jesus knows the foundation of the crowds “freedom” was violence and murder. Freedom was another word for the power to kill their enemies. The crowd says “we’re talking about freedom”. Jesus says, “no, you’re talking about killing.” Jesus was revealing a truth about themselves which this crowd is unprepared or unwilling to understand. The truth which will set them free is a truth they don’t want to know. By the end of the chapter, the crowd seeks to stone Jesus. Six months later they would cry out for his execution.
For Jesus, the truth he is showing this nationalistic crowd of Judean disciples is that freedom maintained by killing is another name for slavery. What they think makes them free actually enslaves them. They are slaves to the practice of us vs them collective killing for the sake of power and think this is freedom. For this crowd, freedom is another word for killing. For Jesus, freedom is another word for love. If these would be disciples are truly ever going to follow Jesus, to see the kingdom of God, they are truly going to have be born-again, to rethink everything they think they know. Is freedom the power to kill, or is freedom the choice to love?

i speak what i have heard
Let’s continue with what the Bible tells us here. They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did. Jesus keeps bringing this conversation back around to killing. Does this make us uncomfortable?  This is an unpleasant subject, maybe an unpleasant passage. Do we trust that Jesus knew what he was doing or talking about here? He was trying to set us free! Think about what Jesus is saying here. This crowd repeats their assertion here that they are Abrahams children, Jesus says if they were really Abrahams children they would not be trying to kill him. Jesus says directly This is not what Abraham did. Well, what did Abraham do?

778px-Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_Uffizi
We know the story of Abraham, the call of God, the covenant and the promise. We know the promise fulfilled in his old age through his gathering of a family past the age of 100. But Jesus is talking about killing here, what does Abraham have to do with killing? What did Abraham do specifically that Jesus says these disciples needed to do. Abraham put down the knife. Abraham did not sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt Moriah. He abandoned the sacred violence of human sacrifice (which was normal and expected during Abrahams time).

abraham
We read and understand the story of Abraham and Isaac in a very 21st century way. We can’t get our heads around the fact that the Bible tells us God asked Abraham to sacrifice his first born son. To us, this is grotesque, abhorrent. But Abraham’s contemporaries, especially his Canaanite neighbors (he was living as a foreigner in Canaanite land) would not have seen it this way. The sacrifice of children, especially first born sons, was what the Gods required. It was part of our quid pro quo arrangement with the Gods (we still have these arrangements, don’t we?). The firstborn was offered to God to ensure future fertility. A blood sacrifice to secure future blessing. His Canaanite contemporaries may have seen it as a tragic irony that Abraham was asked in such old age to sacrifice his long awaited son, but they wouldn’t have been scandalized. The gods can be cruel. They were not to be messed with.

Sacrifice-to-Moloch
What Abraham did on Mt Moriah was revolutionary. What he did at what we erroneously call the “sacrifice” of Isaac (erroneous because Isaac was not sacrificed) was to gain the revelation that God, Yahweh, does not want human sacrifice. He put down the knife. If Abraham is the father of monotheism, he also ended human sacrifice, at least for what would become the Hebrew people. When Abraham put down the knife and offered a ram instead of his own son, humankind took a giant leap in the right direction. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. 

knife
Abraham abandoned killing in the name of God. This is what Jesus is talking about. This is what Abraham did. This is why Jesus is telling these would-be Judean disciples that if they were truly his disciples they would do what Abraham did and not seek to kill in the name of God.

lies.png
Jesus and these disciples are at a real impasse. The problem is that Jesus and these Judeans have such differing views of God. They are really talking about two different, competing beings. One is the Abba father of Jesus, the other is the satan. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. The Abba Father of Jesus is a giver and preserver of life, the father of the crowd is a killer. Jesus is pulling out all the stops to shows them that God is not as they had imagined him. God is not a killer demanding blood sacrifices. God does not sanction the slaughter of enemies. The freedom that comes from God is not power to kill, but the choice to love. Freedom is another word for what Abraham did when he put that knife down and chose not to kill his son.
Now Jesus is really about to lay down the hard truth that sets us free. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Jesus understood that he was sent by his Father to liberate humanity from false ideas about God, including the lie that God wants, requires or sanctions killing of any kind. But even would-be disciples of Christ are mostly not willing to engage in a complete reevaluation of God (be born-again) if it undermines the basic foundation of their world. This frustrates our Messiah, desperately trying to get his message across – Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
We, still, really do not want to hear that God wants us to rethink what it means to be free. Jesus in this debate with the Judeans repeatedly juxtaposes love and killing, showing that only one leads to true freedom. We still can not and will not hear that true freedom will never be achieved by killing our enemies. Peace on earth will never be achieved by the next war to end all wars. Because war can never end war. War can only lead to the next war. What Jesus teaches here goes against everything we’ve been taught to cherish. What Jesus is teaching is that killing in the name of freedom is just another word for being a slave to systemic sin, the systemic sin introduced by Cain right from the founding of civilization (our world).

murderer from the beginning
To which this crowd responds by insulting the messenger – We were not born of sexual immorality. In other words – we know the circumstances of your birth, at least we are not illegitimate children, like some around here! These people were just talking about following Jesus, now they are calling him ugly names. Doesn’t take long. But now Jesus speaks the whole truth to them and lets the chips fall where they may. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Jesus is pulling back the curtain on the foundations of the world. Jesus is telling these Judeans (and all who would listen throughout history) that in holding to their false violence-based freedom instead of true love-based freedom, they are of their father the devil. They were neither children of Abraham or God, but children of the devil. Jesus describes the devil as a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. Jesus is referring here to the story of Cain and Abel.

door-blood
Satan was present in the Cain and Abel story. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Sin, the devil, was crouching at Cain’s door. This is where he got the idea, the thought, that he couldn’t be free until he imposed his will upon his brother. Cain, the tiller of the ground, could not share the land with his brother Abel, the tender of flocks. Something had to give. Cain wanted to be set free. Free from having to love his brother, having to care for his brother, having to share land and territory with his brother. His father, the devil, was crouching at his door, and Cain opened it wide and invited him in. Doing the will if his father the devil, Cain saw his brother as other, as enemy, killed him, buried the body, lied you himself and God about it, and with his hands covered with his brothers blood crying from the ground and his head full of lies, Cain founded human civilization.

the-name-of-Jesus-BRINGS-FREEDOM
To this day, this is the pattern of civilization. When problems or competition with our neighbors comes about, we call them enemies, kill them, and lie to ourselves about it. We justify our killing in the name of freedom and hide the bodies behind monuments and myths, anthems and altars. “They are not us, they are them. In the name of our rights, our land, our nation, our security, our honor, our freedom, it had to be done. They had to be killed.” We do it all in the name of freedom.
But Jesus says that kind of freedom is from the father of lies. It is precisely this satanic freedom Jesus wants to set us free from. And – it wasn’t for a bumper sticker slogan these disciples end up ready to hurl stones at the son of God. The crowd wanted to kill Jesus for uncovering the lies they tell themselves, for uncovering their very own deal with the devil.

i came from god
Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.

light-of-the-world
Jesus began this teaching by saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is free from the darkness of Cain’s system of collective murder and the lies we tell ourselves about it. Jesus is the light of the world, shining his light on the dark system of violence that lies at the foundation of the world. (“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬).  Unlike us, Jesus is not implicated in the human system of violence. He is untainted by the legacy of the city Cain built. It is only in the light of Christ that we can begin to recognize our complicity in violence and seek a better way.

i am the light
Jesus is completely innocent of all complicity with systemic sin. This is why he can ask the question Which one of you convicts me of sin? Jesus cannot be charged in our systems of foundational murder and the lies that cover it up. Which in and of itself guaranteed that Jesus would himself become a victim of our system. Violence can not stand in the presence of one who owes it nothing, which is why at a stoning, every one must throw a stone. Don’t participate…you might become the next victim. By not throwing a stone, you become a prophet shining a light on the collective sin. The community as a whole must either repent or stone the prophet. (O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! Matthew‬ ‭23:37‬ ‭ESV‬‬).
In the end, Jesus himself was also killed. But his death shames our whole system of what has been called “redemptive violence”. We can finally see that if we use violence as a means for achieving “justice”, we are capable of killing anyone, even murdering God himself. The killing of Jesus brings the entire evil system into the light and exposes it for what it is. (“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” John‬ ‭12:31‬ ‭ESV‬‬). “Seen in the light of the resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus demands that we once and for all renounce violence as a means for achieving just ends.” – Pastor Brian Zahnd.

jewsamaritan
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” So much for becoming disciples and following Jesus! Now these Judeans are reduced to hurling racial slurs at Jesus, and have no hint of the irony as they accuse Jesus of having a demon. They’ve turned down the wrong path and have arrived on that dead end street of hatred and hostility. They are sprinting back into the darkness they know so well, the darkness Jesus is trying to save them from. Instead of embracing the truth that would set them free, these shoulda been disciples choose the chains of racism and witch hunts. They loved their darkness more than the light.

judgement
Jesus finishes up this friendly conversation by speaking of Abraham, in whom these Jews took much national pride. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Jesus was early in his 30s at the time. I guess being the Messiah will put years on you.

I am

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”

‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-59‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/jhn.8.31-59.esv

John Lewis

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The Prosperity of Christ

The Prosperity of Christ

prosperity

Jesus bringing his prosperity gospel here to win followers with promises to make us all happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, not exactly…

Jesus Being Tried

This, I believe, is the first time Jesus tells his disciples the truth that he is destined to be persecuted, opposed, rejected, and crucified.  And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.  I really like that last statement here, and he said this plainly.   Jesus, apparently, didn’t beat around the bush with his disciples about his expected outcome for his ministry.   He would suffer.  He would be rejected.  He would be killed.   BUT – after three days He would rise again.  All this he said plainly.

son of man must suffer

All this bluntness was more that his disciples could, or would, understand.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.   Seriously, do you blame Peter?  He’s dropped everything in his life, walked away from his fishing business, has a wife at home that he probably never sees.  He believes Jesus to be the Messiah, and had just proclaimed it to be so, even though Jesus told him to shut up about it.  “And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.” Mark 8:29-30 ESV.   Peter has just openly proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, because he believes him to be the Messiah, the savior of Israel.   And being Messiah brings certain hopes and expectations.  And nowhere in that list of expectations will you find rejection and execution.  Victory and triumph, success and glory, the liberation of their people from Roman occupation is what Peter and the boys had in mind, not rejection, torture and crucifixion.

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan by James Tissot

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”   Poor Peter.  One minute, he’s the one proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, to which Jesus proclaims “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 ESV.  The next minute it’s Get behind me, Satan! 

warrior messiah

Peter and the other disciples really believed Jesus was the chosen one to liberate Israel, and they were right in that.  But they just could not comprehend the means by which he would come to his glory.  They expect nothing short of glorious victory in battle, a battle in which they would readily give their lives for their people.  The only one who must not die is Jesus, because he is the Messiah, and a crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah.

resurrection

So when Jesus tells them, plainly, that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again, it hits his disciples like a bomb.  They simply don’t  understand.  He’s Messiah, he’s going to save Israel, he’s going to be crowned king, they know these things, they expect these things.  So when Peter pulls Jesus to the side to rebuke him, he really means well, he thinks he’s doing the right thing.  After all, how is Jesus going to get more followers on his mission to overthrow Rome if he’s running around talking about being crucified??

this will not happen to you

So, why don’t the disciple hear the rest of what Jesus says here, and after three days rise again?  Again, all this he plainly said.  Because, they hear this from Jesus and immediately, being Jews who do know their Torah, they think of what the prophet Hosea had said centuries before.  “”Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” Hosea 6:1-2 ESV.  What they think they hear from Jesus is a reference to Hosea declaring that After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up.  And what this had become, saying after two days on the third day, this had become idiomatic, a saying they had, referring generally to sometime soon.  Hosea 6:1-2 was understood by Jews to be referring to the general resurrection of righteous Jews at the end of the age (similar, I suppose, to our expectation of Christ’s return).   This is what they hear when Jesus speaks if being rejected and killed – they hear Jesus telling them he will go to Jerusalem, be rejected and not accepted, persecuted, executed, then at the general resurrection of the righteous, he would be a part of that.  To which his disciples, Peter included, would have been thinking, “That’s great and all, but a lot if good that’s going to do for us!!”   Thus is the same thing we see just before Jesus raises Lazarus.  “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”” John 11:23-24 ESV.  This is the resurrection Peter thinks Jesus is referring to.

I am the resurrection

But Jesus responds to Mary –  “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”” John 11:25-27 ESV.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life, AMEN!!

Pick_up_your_Cross

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?    Peter, eventually, understood what Jesus was saying.  And take us his cross and follow he did.  Jesus tells his followers to take us their cross and follow, because Rome will crucify them, because that’s what Rome does.  Might as well save them the trouble of getting the trees themselves.  Peter followed right up to his own crucifixion, which he asked to be done upside down because he felt unworthy to die as his Lord had died.   All the apostles, except John, carried their crosses and followed you the point of their own execution.  Because that was, and is, the call – to be willing to follow Jesus to the point of being killed.

not ashamed

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.   Crucifixion was a shameful way to die.  Jesus knew his destiny would include a cross.  “Don’t be ashamed of me.”   Jesus took on the dragon of empire, Rome, in a great battle.  But he did not do battle in the way of the empire.  Instead of a sword, his weapon was a cross.  His own cross.  In crying forgiveness from his own cross he beat the devil, the accuser, once and for all.  As attested to by His father on the third day.

Christ_and_the_heavy_cross

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.    Maybe it will make you healthy, wealthy, and wise, what do I know?   But I do know For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  Nero may have crucified Peter almost 2000 years ago.  But to this day, we name our sons Peter.  We might call our dogs Nero.

nero-sofrep-military-working-dog

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.””

Mark 8:31-38 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.8.31-38.esv

“And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.””

Mark 9:1 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.9.1.esv

John Lewis

Divine Violence

the flood

The flood, that moment in time when God regretted ever having made mankind, the King James says he repented of having made mankind. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. It repented the Lord, and grieved him in his heart, that he had ever made humankind.

heaven

Let’s go back, way back. We know that God said, and everything, including us, became. God said let there be light, let there be seas upon the earth, let there be heaven (“And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” Genesis 1:7-8 ESV. Sorry, I just find that interesting every time I read it.), it all came to being, and God said it was good, good, and very good.

createed from dust

God created a man, Adam, humankind, from the humus. “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””Genesis 2:18 ESV. So God created a woman, Eve, life, from the side of the man. Of course, together they make mess out of things, even paradise is not enough for mankind to live in obedience to the one who created him (and her). So they break the one command God had given and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (after that crafty snake tempted them, of course).

alone

So they have two sons, Cain and Abel, two brothers, and things get really interesting. Cain gets jealous of Abel, or something like that, because God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s grain offering. So out in the fields, Cain murders his brother, buries the body, and lies to God (and himself) about it. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. Cain is grieved that what he has done is known, but God still covers him with grace despite his sin. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.So the Lord protected Cain even after his violence against his brother, in fact put a mark in him that no one would take vengeance upon him. This mark was not a mark of condemnation, Cain had already condemned himself, but a mark of mercy from the Lord. Vengeance was not to be taken against Cain.

cain

About seven generations later, we see Lamech come upon the scene, and Lamech was one tough character. Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” So we’ve seen Cain protected by God with the mark of mercy, but do we repent of our sin of violence against one another? No, we simply progress to multiplied violence. This Lamech is quite boastful in his violence, isn’t he? A young man punched him, so he killed him. And if anyone tries to mess with him, his vengeance will be seventy-seven (this number appears again much later in the Bible story) times whatever is sinned against him.

we-grieve-god-yet-he-loves-us-L-fdrrBt

Which brings us to the flood.The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. So, historically, we read this passage and imagine all kinds of sins that must have been going on. Movies have been made, books have been written, and we see all kinds of sins that we think would grieve God to the point of killing them all. But the only sin actually mentioned leading up to the flood is the sin of violence, and it is mentioned twice. And the Bible tells us as much a couple of verses later – Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. The earth was filled with violence. Whatever sins we think caused God to bring the flood, the Bible tells us the only sin that caused him to destroy humanity and hit the reset button, leaving only 8 souls to walk upon and repopulate the earth, was the sin of violence.

noahs ark watermarked

God’s answer at this point to deal with all of our human violence? His divine violence, the violence of sending the flood to destroy the earth. “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.”He killed them all. God was so grieved, had so repented, at having created mankind, that he destroyed mankind to save it. He left only Noah, his wife, their three sons along with their wives. He used his divine violence to end our violence and start over, hopefully to the objective of humankind living peacefully on the the earth.

Roman peace

Did it work?? NO!! We went right back at it, violence multiplied upon violence multiplied upon violence. Cain’s foundation of calling his brother “other”, killing him, hiding the body, and lying to himself and God is still the pattern we follow in our world. We still believe in Lamech’s example of vengeance multiplied times seventy seven if anyone dares attack us or any of our interests. And – we believe to this day that if we just get violent enough, we can somehow use our violence to end violence. If we carpet bomb, nuke our enemies into oblivion, they will not bother us again. Which is nothing new, as a famous commentator once said of the Roman Empire – “Rome creates a desert and calls it peace.

Calvary-Cross-Pics-0508

Here’s the point – If God himself can’t fix violence in the world and bring peace on earth using divine violence, what in the world makes us think we can? We are constantly telling ourselves that if we kill this guy, obliterate this group, end that uprising, if we can just bring enough shock and awe, somehow the rest of the world will finally submit to our goodness and see the light that we really are the good guys, and they are the bad guys. Yet, for some reason, no matter how violent we get, it just never ends.

shock-and-awe

God relented of ever wanting to destroy the earth and mankind again. “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” God relented from his divine violence, and chose a man, Abram, Abraham, to begin anew the work of saving humankind. He made his covenant with Abraham, used the nation of Israel to begin his redemptive work with the exodus, gave us the law and the prophets, allowed Israel to choose and follow kings instead of himself, then brought about the redemption of the world through his son, Jesus Christ (yes, I know, very simplified).

ikon of God

Jesus, we know, is the “…is the visible image of the invisible God.”Colossians 1:15 NLT. As the apostle John put it, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”John 1:18 NLT. You can argue with the apostle John if you want to. Abraham saw God, Moses saw God, Isaiah saw God, Jacob saw God, we know God was seen many times in the Old Testament. Yet John says no one has ever seen God. Jesus comes as the full image, the ikon of the living God. So for Lamech, his vengeance was seventy times seven. For Jesus, the image of God, how many times do we forgive? “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 ESV. Lamech takes revenge 77 times, God forgives seventy seven times.

seventy times seven

After being persecuted, tried, tested, crucified and buried, God the Father vindicates his son in resurrection (the ultimate vindication). Does Jesus come back, rally the troops, and take action against all those Pharisees, all those Romans, all those Samaritans?? NO!! He comes back speaking not if vengeance, but of peace. “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.””John 20:26 ESV

peace be with you

Forgiveness seventy times seven, not vengeance. Vengeance does not work. God himself tried it, and if He couldn’t make it work, what in the world makes us think we can??

PEACE BE WITH YOU…

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.6.5-8.esv

John Lewis

Prince of Peace

prince of peace

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV

foal of a donkey

The prophecy Jesus very intentionally fulfilled upon his arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” Matthew 21:2-3 ESV.  Jesus had come to Jerusalem to be crowned king.  The crowd shouting their hosannas as as he came into Jerusalem that day had that much right.  Jesus had come to be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Yet he wept over Jerusalem as he came into the city to those Hosannas, because he knew that behind it was a toxic strain of nationalism and certitude.  He knew that the crowd, though right about their hosannas, was completely wrong about the manner in which he would be enthroned.  “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:42 ESV.  They did not know the things that make for peace.  They did not understand their Messiah was to be the Prince of Peace.

Sunday, Jesus enters the city triumphant, and weeps over it.  Monday, Jesus prophetically protests the temple in a manner following Jeremiah, in a way predicting the downfall of the temple was near.  This results in the temple elite beginning to plot a way to murder Jesus, which never would have happened during the festival if Judas had not lead them to him at a quiet place, at night, away from the crowds.  But as the temple establishment was plotting the end of Jesus, Jesus is everywhere predicting the end of the temple.

flee to the mountains

On Tuesday, Jesus gives his disciples his Olivet discourse with all the signs of the End.  But the End Jesus is predicting all along us not the end of the works but the end of the temple.  Jesus predicts a time of great unrest leading up to the end of the temple.  He says there will be earthquakes, rebellions, famines, uprisings, wars and rumors of wars.  His great sign that the end was near was that Jerusalem would be surrounded by Roman armies – “”But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Luke 21:20 ESV.  His warning to his disciples when they saw this was talking not be like everyone else.  Don’t think those city walls would protect you and keep you safe.  Don’t run into the city, run out of the city, go into the wilderness, just GET OUT!!  “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”  Luke 21:21-22 ESV.   And when these prophecies were fulfilled, all those Jews in and around Jerusalem who believed Jesus was Messiah remembered his warnings, and when most were flooding into the city, they got out.  History tells us they left Jerusalem and went to the city of Pella in northern Jordan.

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On Wednesday, Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus to become king (and for his burial).  On Thursday, he had his Last Supper with his disciples, beginning the transition of the center of the kingdom of God from the temple to the table.

jesus-king-of-the-jews

And on Friday – Jesus was crowned king.  His coronation was a crucifixion, but Pilate told the truth on that sign he had placed on the cross – “Here is the King of the Jews“.   Even though he meant it in mocking, that was a true statement.

peace be with you

BUT ON SUNDAY – God raised him from the dead.  The second psalm comes to pass.   “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalms 2:7-8 ESV.  The words spoken by Jesus upon his resurrection, the first words of the new world  are not words of vengeance, not rallying the troops to go take down Pilate and destroy Herod, not giving those who had stood against him their just due, but words of peace – Peace be with you.   

pentecost

Then on the day of Pentecost, “…there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” Acts 2:5 ESV.  Peter preached his great sermon and the gospel was preached to men from every nation under heaven.  3000 souls were saved that day.  The Gospel spread rapidly over the next few decades throughout the Roman Empire, until in AD 64 Nero had both Peter and Paul executed.

jerusalem on fire

The end of the temple would mark the full inauguration of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus had repeatedly given a specific timetable.  This generation will not pass away…August 10, AD 70, the attack started.  Rome destroys Jerusalem, at least 600,000 killed, 97,000 taken as slaves.

not one stone

Jesus predictions that not one stone will be left upon another are fulfilled.  The city was leveled.  So, to put it clearly, the second coming of Christ does not have to be preceded by wars and rumors of wars.  Because that already happened.

Peace-sign

Do what do we look for??  Well, Jesus is king, right?  Jesus us the king that Zachariah prophecies about.  Jesus certainly thought so, that’s why he so intentionally fulfilled the prophecy by riding the peace donkey on Palm Sunday instead of a war horse.  So, what does our king command?  …He shall speak peace to the nations.   He commands peace, the Hebrew word Shalom, not war!!

shalom1.jpg

The second coming should be preceded by people attempting to live here and now under the reign of Christ.  We might want to call them Christians.  Our morbid fascination with biblically sanctioned end times hyper violence needs to end.  We want Christ to come, but for some reason believe we need multiple wars to bring that into fruition.  We say things like “There will never be peace in the Middle East until Jesus comes again“, thereby condemning that region to perpetual war just by the expectation.   But we need to understand that war is not necessary for Christ to return.

peace in the middle east

Warmongering is anti-Christ.  Christ is the King who commands peace to the nations.  He does not tell us to go have a bunch of wars so He can come back!!  If we get a secret thrill at every rumor or talk of war, that makes us a warmonger.   Jesus does not say “blessed are the warmongers, because they have a good eschatology”.   No, he says Blessed are the peacemakers.

KoreanWar.jpg

There is always another Armageddon on the horizon.  Always another war to come.  It is the foundation of our civilization.  But we confess that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.  If we confess Jesus as the Christ, we look for rumors of Shalom, rumors of peace.  Our task is to spread and live these rumors of shalom.  We are to live into the reality of Christ here and now.

casualties_of_war-warmongering

After all, he is the Prince of Peace, is he not?

John Lewis

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/zec.9.9-10.esv

Deliverance

Deliverance

deliverance

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

riot 2

Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians from the city of Ephesus.  Paul had founded the church in the city of Corinth, and  spent about 18 months there before moving on to Ephesus.   1 Corinthians was a letter written to his fledging church there to deal with issues the church was having (imagine that, a church that had issues) and to answer some questions they had.  But while in Ephesus, Paul himself ran into some real trouble.   For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

riot

Sounds like quite a trial, doesn’t it?  Like I said, Paul went from the city of Corinth to the city of Ephesus.  Paul was always going to cities.  Christianity itself began as a mostly urban movement, it took a few centuries for it to filter out to the more rural areas.  In fact, the word “pagan” literally means rural, because those were the areas that held out for centuries against the Christian movement.

artemis

The city of Ephesus was most famous at this time, in fact was known around the world for the temple of Artemis, known to the Romans as Diana.  This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and people came from around the world to see it.   As such, it was very important to the local economy.  There existed in Ephesus a huge silversmith industry devoted to the making idols of the goddess.   So when these characters calling themselves Christians showed up, declaring Jesus as the one true God, lord and savior, king of kings, and that gods made with the hands of men are no god’s at all, some of the locals took offense.  Now, Paul was messing with their money, and we know how people can get when you mess with their money, don’t we?  Demetrius, we can call the head of the silversmiths guild, especially was offended, and was quite forceful in getting the rest of his union worked up as well.  In fact, an entire riot broke out in the city over these Christians, and if they could have they would have ripped Paul limb from limb (read the story in Acts 19).  Long story short, Paul had to leave.  It is this peril that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians.

parting the red sea

Has God ever helped you?  Has God ever healed you?  Has God ever saved you?   Has he ever rescued you, delivered you?  Then don’t ever forget, he will do it again.   We don’t have a quota, we won’t use up our lifeline, we won’t burn up our phone-a-friend.  When we go through trials after our come-to-Jesus salvation moment, we sometimes think God has somehow forgotten how to save us again.  He hasn’t.   Faith says God has delivered me, he will deliver me again.

fieryfurnace

One way to describe the Bible is the salvation history of the people of God.  It is literally story after story of God delivering his people from one peril after another.  Even Adam and Eve God did not forsake, but clothed them.  The story of Joseph being delivered by God through his trials of rejection and accusation for the purpose of saving those who had rejected and betrayed him.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – how many times did he deliver them?   The Exodus, deliverance from bondage through the Red Sea.  40 years in the wilderness, with a cloud by day and fire in the night, and all that manna, manna, manna.  All the times David was delivered, starting with Goliath.  The exile of the people, Daniel delivered from the lions den, Shadrach, Meeshak, and Abednego delivered from the fiery furnace.  The return from exile and the plots still coming against them after that deliverance.  All culminating in Jesus Christ, savior of the world.

david vs goliath.png

Whether it’s a flood, a famine, or a pharaoh, God will deliver.  Whether your facing a Goliath or in a lions den, God will deliver.  When the wine runs out, the boat begins to sink, or Lazarus starts to stink, God will deliver.   Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of Christ.  Christ delivers us, heals us, rescues us, provides for us.

isaiah sawn asunder

But this does not mean things will always turn out the way we want.  From Hebrews 11, our faith “hall of fame” – “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Hebrews 11:35-38 ESV.

beheading-of-paul

Should we say God failed to deliver these heroic martyrs?  Of course we wouldn’t say that.  God delivers us through our testing, not always from our testing.  Isaiah sawn in 2 was no less delivered by God that Shadrach, Meeshak, and Abednego from the fiery furnace.

holy-spirit-02

But we have to know what to ask.  Jesus in Luke 11 promises we will always receive the Holy Spirit if we ask.  “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”” Luke 11:11-13 ESV.

In technical terms, we know that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity, right there with God the Father and his son Jesus Christ.  And Jesus promises that our Father will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask Him.  But what, exactly, does that mean for us?

A-peace-that-surpasses-all-understanding2

Spirit can also be a synonym for attitude.  The word attitude almost never appears in any translation of the Bible, the the word spirit does.  To say someone had a bad spirit is to say they have a bad attitude.   When we are going through trials in our life, sometimes what we need more than anything is the Holy “attitude” with us and in us to get through it.

Crown Of Thorns Represents Jesus Crucifixion on Good Friday

One thing that happens very often when something bad happens to us is we begin to ask ourselves “What did I do to deserve this?”    Then, we very often will come with an answer.  “I always do this“, or “I should have done that.”    We become our own worst accuser during our time of testing.  But we ask Jesus for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy, not self accusation.  Then we can remember “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37 ESV.  We do love that verse, but we forget that the context is that is even though we are lambs led to the slaughter, we are more than conquerors in Christ who loved us.

present with the lord

In Ephesus, Paul was delivered from Demetrius and death.  In Rome, Nero beheaded Paul.  Do we say that God delivered Paul from Ephesus, but Nero was just too strong for God to overcome? NO!!  Did God fail to deliver Paul in Rome?  NO!!

Written by Paul on death row in Rome.  “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV.  The time of my departure has come – like he’s an airline passenger just waiting for liftoff!

coptics

Were the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by Isis not delivered by God?  Did God fail to deliver the 9 Christians shot to death in their own church in Charleston, South Carolina a few years ago?

all we see is jesus

Here’s the hope we have – for the Christian, for the believer in Christ, death is nothing.  As in, death is really no thing.  We believe Jesus has conquered death.  For we who belong to Messiah, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

When death arrives, suddenly as one of our murdered martyrs, or slowly as when we suffer some terminal disease, we see death coming, coming, coming, but when it arrives, all we see is Jesus.  Even in death, Jesus delivers us from death.  Even in death, Jesus delivers us.

pilate-2

The only real power the principalities and powers have over us is the fear of death, the power to kill. This was Pilates truth, remember when Pilate famously asks Jesus what is truth?  Then a few verses later he answers his own question.  “So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”” John 19:10 ESV.  Pilate’s truth, the power to kill.

Without the fear of death, principalities and powers are powerless.  “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT.   When we die we are told we will be absent from the body present with the Lord in a place Jesus calls paradise, but Paul’s calls sleep.  Asleep, that is, until Jesus returns and raises us from the dead, the grand culmination of all things.

Though-I-Walk-Through-The-Valley

God will deliver, even in death. This is true in other forms of death we encounter in life, those moments of pain and loss.  Those times of loss, pain, sorrow, rejection, disappointment.  Sometimes we are Shadrach, Meeshak, and Abednego.  Sometimes we are Daniel in the lions den.  Sometimes the Red Sea is just parted for us and we can walk right through.  But other times we have to go through real pain and suffering.  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Romans 8-28

And we remember Romans 8:28.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28 ESV.   God does not cause all things to happen, but he does work them together for the good of those who love Him!!   Our life story is made up of many threads, many stories.  God weaves it into a tapestry of grace, arranging things around the events in our lives until ultimately all that is left is grace and beauty.

God will deliver.  Again.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2co.1.8-10.esv

John Lewis

Reading Out Loud

Reading Out Loud

3_Read-out-loud

I’m doing something a little different today.  I’m going to try to make a point about reading words on a page versus having a spoken conversation.   I’ve begun reading a book by Eugene Peterson (he of “The Message” Bible translation) called “Reversed Thunder – The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination“, and many of the points I am making here mirror points he makes in this book.

god speaks

A major point of the second chapter of this book revolves around the spoken word as opposed to words written on a page.  As Christians, we believe that God speaks, do we not?   God speaks, and all things are brought into being.  God speaks, and a creation comes into existence that is still expanding at the speed if light 13 billion years later.  God speaks, and a covenant is made.  God speaks, and eventually we have the holy scriptures to record the Word of God.

jesus speaks

So here is the point – the word of God was, is and will be spoken long before it was ever written down.  John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ was the word made flesh.  If you read that gospel, it is unmistakable that the coming of Christ was not just ink on paper or some philosophical thought, but an historical occurrence, a moment in time.  In John’s letters, we see the physical, historical nature of what had happened.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV.  Jesus was not reduced to words on paper.  They walked with him, talked with him, ate with him, prayed with him, touched him, probable slept with him (in the purely sleeping sense of that word!).  The word of God was always spoken before it was written.  Jesus was seen, touched, heard, before he was ever written about.

conversation with god

Spoken words are personal in a way written words can never be.  I try my hardest to write every day as though I am speaking to you. I attempt to write as though we are actually having a conversation.  Sometimes I might break the “rules” of written grammar, that is because very often I am writing, deliberately, as though I were speaking.  I want you to be able to hear my voice as you read.  Because there is a huge difference between hearing and reading.

writing in dust

Jesus Himself never wrote anything down, except that which he wrote in the dust to blow in the breeze a few minutes later.  We still wonder aloud what it might have been he was writing 2000 years later.  But Jesus did not communicate with his disciples by writing, he spoke his message to his disciples.

bible-revelation-1

Which, I believe, is the point of this verse from the opening stanza of the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.   The Revelation of John demands that it be read aloud, and heard.   Why?  What is the significance?

tissot-jesus-teaches-the-people-by-the-sea-756x541x72

I believe it is for the same reason I attempt to write as though I’m having a conversation.  The writer of revelation wants to be heard, not read.  Because to be read is impersonal, to be heard affirms and confirms a personal relationship between two parties, an interactive conversation between two people.

hearing

Peterson says that the scriptures, as God’s word, “are a great, but mixed, blessing.”  They are a blessing because it is preserved from generation to generation that God speaks, what he speaks, how he speaks, and what happens when he speaks.  “The scriptures are a mixed blessing because the moment the words are written they are in danger of losing the living resonance of the spoken word and reduced to something that is looked at, studied, interpreted, but not heard personally.”   Words, “word”, is personal.  But the moment they are written, they begin to be cold and impersonal.  They are separated from the voice which spoke them and depersonalized.  If all we do is read the word of God, the words on that paper no longer do what they were designed to do – “create and maintain personal relationships of intelligence and love.”

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When a word is spoken and heard, it brings the speaker and hearer into a relationship with one another.  Written and read – it has to rely on the imagination of the reader to do its work.  The senses of seeing and hearing are no longer involved.  Without these senses actuated, the written word becomes abstract.  Words on paper, separated from their speaker, can be beautiful, interesting, they can be studied.  But if we are not listening and responding, those words are not functioning according to the intent of the speaker.   In the case of Revelation, the intent of the speaker, St. John, is not to inform us about God, but to involve us in God.

the way

Peterson makes the point that very often, words after being written are analyzed, admired, parsed, discussed, but not not listened to, nor heard, not put into action.  Jesus’ sharpest disagreements were with the scribes and the Pharisees, people of his own day who knew their scriptures very well, knew the stories, could recite them backwards and forwards.   But they did not hear the voice of God.   They knew their Torah.  They loved the Torah.  They memorized it.  They used their Bible to regulate every part of their life.  Yet Jesus was at odds with them at almost every turn, every chapter of his gospels, because for them, the Torah was studied and known, but not heard.  The scriptures had become a book to use, not a way of hearing from God.   They separated the book and the knowledge from the divine act of God’s speaking.  They separated the book, and themselves, from the human act of hearing which would become believing, following and loving.

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So, if you ever do actually open the book if Revelation, do as it’s author commands and read it aloud.  In fact, read aloud all the books of the Bible, especially those red letters in the Gospels.  Hear what the book is telling you, don’t just read.   Hear Jesus telling you, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV.    Listen as He says “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” Luke 22:19 ESV.   Can you hear Him?  Then do as He is saying.  “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44-45 ESV

Read out loud the words of your bible.  Pray out loud.  Speak the words, don’t just think them.  Hear Him speak, don’t just read ink on a paper.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.1.1-3.esv

John Lewis

Written in the Dust

Written in the Dust

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600 years BC, before Christ, Jeremiah was a preacher and prophet in the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  Jeremiah was specifically prophesying, through his prophetic poetry, to the backslidden people of Judah.  It is from this poetry that we get these two prophetic verses – ““For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

“LORD, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” Jeremiah 17:13 NIV

living-water

Jeremiah uses the picture of living water to depict Yahweh.  To be connected to God is to be connected to a stream of living water.   But instead of trusting in God, being connected to the fountain of living water that is Yahweh, the people of Judah were trusting in the things of man, in what they could do for themselves, especially their political alliance with Egypt.  They had abandoned God, rejected his living water, trusting instead in their own cracked cisterns which would not hold water at all.   Later, Jeremiah prophecies Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.   His people of Judah have turned away from the Lord, of and they will wind up written in the dust…

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Six centuries later, Jesus, like Jeremiah, is preaching to wayward people in Jerusalem.  This is during the festival of Sukkot, also known as the feast of Tabernacles.   Jesus doesn’t live in Jerusalem, but is in there for the festival.  This would have been approximately 6 months before the Passover, so it would have been about 6 months before his crucifixion.

living water

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”” John 7:37-38 ESV.

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Jesus is extending an audacious invitation – the invitation to festival goers to come Him for living water.  The invitation to believe in Him.  Jesus and Jeremiah are the only 2 figures of the Bible to talk about living water.  Those who heard him give this invitation would have known exactly what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus is connecting himself to Yahweh, the God of Israel.  Some might even think he was claiming to be the God of Israel…”come to me, believe in me.

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The crowd there was divided about Jesus.  “So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.” John 7:43-44 ESV.  In fact, the chief priests and Pharisees had sent the temple police to arrest Jesus, but when they heard him speak, they seem to have forgotten what they came for.    “The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!””John 7:45-46 ESV.   Many were beginning to believe in Jesus.  They might not have been able to connect all the dots, but after all, look at his miracles.  He was able to cast out demons, heal the sick, even raise the dead!!  Now he was openly associating himself with Yahweh, the God of Israel.  No wonder the Sanhedrin wanted him arrested.

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“[[They went each to his own house,” John 7:53 ESV. but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.    Do you notice here how chapter 7 doesn’t actually end, but rolls straight into chapter 8?   Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 

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Jesus is getting quite a following at this festival.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”   The Pharisees have found a woman here whom they can condemn using the Torah, as we know it the Bible.  They have found a woman caught in the act of adultery (somehow the man got away.  Maybe he was a Pharisee). This is what Pharisees use the Bible for (then and now).  They claim all the promises, all the salvation for themselves, and then use it to condemn everyone else they don’t like.   Notice I said “use the Bible”.   That is what these Pharisees do, use the Bible for their own purposes.  They use the Bible to condemn others.  They are not using the Bible to be transformed by God’s truth…

stone such women

They are attempting to use the Bible here for manipulation and intimidation.  They are using it as a device for their own control and power.  They know Jesus is not going to preside over the stoning of a sinner.  They have remarked many times that he is a friend of sinners (amen!), that he sits and eats and drinks with sinners.

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They are using the Bible to trap Jesus.  They are setting him up.  They want to be able to accuse Jesus of not believing the Bible.  The Bible says, in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that such women (and the men they are caught with) are to be stoned to death.  These Pharisees are right, the Bible is on their side!!  But they are not submitted themselves to the scriptures, they simply want to use it as a weapon against Jesus.   And Jesus can quote scripture to, and he had already twice quoted Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” Hosea 6:6 NIV.   Jesus was not going to sacrifice this sinner to the Torah.

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Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.   Jesus sees this for exactly what it is – another rejection of the God of Israel.  Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.   Written in the dust…Yesterday –  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”   Today,  Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.  Jesus is completing Jeremiah’s prophecy, and this would not be lost on those Pharisees.  These guys knew their Torah, could quote from it forwards and backwards.  They knew what Jesus was doing.

DustWriting

What was he writing?  Who knows??!!   Maybe “Jerusalem“.  Maybe he was writing some of the names of those men standing there.  If he was particularly feisty that day, maybe he wrote the high priest “Joseph Caiaphas“.   Whatever he wrote, his point was clear.  These Pharisees, the scribes, Jerusalem, Caiaphas, they had all turned away from God, rejected the living water, were more interested in using the Bible to trap, control and intimidate than being transformed themselves by the truth of God’s word found inside.  So even though they get what Jesus is doing, they keep pressing the issue – “Well. What are you going to do Jesus? Do you believe the Torah, are you going to follow the Bible or not??”   And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

salvation

These Pharisees thought they were trapping Jesus, but they’d been had.   They wound up trapped themselves.  BUT THAT WASN’T IN THEIR BIBLES!!!   Let him who is without sin wasn’t in the Torah.  Here’s the thing – Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, was the word made flesh.  Everything he ever did, everything Jesus ever said, was and is the Word of God.  Jesus is what God has to say…

But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”   Here’s a question – was anyone here without sin??  Jesus was!!  Jesus was without sin.  He was qualified to throw those stones.  All those Pharisees, those accusers, they knew they’d been had.   One by one, they put down those stones.  There was a nice little pile sitting there for Jesus.  If Jesus had wanted to “do the Bible“, then he could have picked up those stones and given that woman what she deserved.  She was guilty.  It would have just been too bad for her.

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But Jesus doesn’t pick up those stones.  Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”    Go and sin no more!!    That’s what salvation looks like!!  This woman is guilty, the man she was sleeping with is guilty, I am guilty, you are guilty!!   Jesus has the right to throw those stones, the power to condemn.  But does he??   No!!!   Go, and from now on sin no more.  Guess what – that’s in your Bible!!   Amen and hallelujah, I like that one a lot more than stoning adulterers.

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Go and sin no more is what salvation looks like in a single moment.   Jesus could condemn that woman, but instead offers grace and mercy.  Because, after all, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 ESV.  Jesus doesn’t condemn us, he’s the one who saves us!!  Jesus is greater than the law.  He is the word made flesh.

Fountain

These Pharisees had rejected the living waters of God and were written in the dust.  Within a generation, the whole city of Jerusalem would be written in the dust.  If we choose to use our bibles as weapons to condemn sinners, we will wind up written in the dust.

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Leviticus and Deuteronomy both condemned this woman to die.  Jesus, the word made flesh, says go and sin no more.  Christ does not condemn, Jesus Saves, amen!!   “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17 ESV.

no-condemnation

Yet we who call ourselves Christians, “little Christs“, spend so much time and energy condemning people.  The more we do, the more we ourselves wind up written in the dust.

“but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ]]”

John 8:1-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.8.1-11.esv

John Lewis