Right in our Own Eyes

In reading the Old Testament book of Judges, there is a phrase that appears, Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  This is during the period when Israel had no government as we currently understand it.   In fact, in both these verses from Judges 17:6 and 21:25, it says precisely the same thing – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   There was no king in Israel.

We think in America that we are the first to institute such a limited government, but we have nothing on Israel in the days of the judges.  In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro gave him a system for local, direct governance, which Moses put into place in Deuteronomy chapter 1.  The system of Judges.  Moses had been trying to do too much, as can be the case sometimes in any form of government.  He was trying to guide, counsel, and help people in all matters where they had need.  But, then as in now, there is a limit to what one person can do for the entire social order and individuals need, no matter how close to God that person may be.

So Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised him to look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  These able, God-fearing and trustworthy men were to “judge” the people in all matters as needed, bringing only the most challenging cases to Moses.

Here is Moses’ own description for what he told them to do – And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” Deuteronomy 1:16-18 ESV.  So, this system of Judges was in force as the “government” of Israel, most visibly in the form of the “elders” who sat regularly in public places to take care of any matter that required such attention.  And in times of need or emergency, a “judge” would become a “natural” national leader, as seen in the book of Judges.

Which brings me to my point.   We read in the book of Judges and find it said In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   And we think in our own 21st century secular minds all the terrible things that must have been going on as Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   Probably because we think of the things that might be right in our own eyes.   And yes, the people of this time went wrong in many ways.  But isn’t doing as one pleases really the ideal condition of humanity?   Isn’t that what we would call “freedom”?    Why do we think this implies wrongdoing?   In fact, it implies no wrongdoing at all.   In Judges, doing what was right in ones own eyes was not opposed to doing what was right in God’s eyes, but it was opposed to doing as some government official saw as right.  It was always God’s intention, all the way back to the garden, that we walk with him on a personal basis, be pleased by and come to love all the right things, and then do what is right in our own eyes.   This is why we were made and what makes up our individuality.

So what did God say when the time of the Judges, this time when Everyone did what was right in his own eyescame to an end ?   What did He say when his people Israel demanded to have a king and a traditional, power and force based government to replace their condition of freedom under God?   Was He pleased by this.   Did He say his people were moving onto some better way of being by giving up their natural born position of walking with God and doing what was right in their own eyes?   This is what he told Samuel, the last of the judges in the original, full sense – And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV.   We have rejected God as our true king and demanded a king to rule over us.  Instead of doing what is right in our own eyes, we now must bow down to whatever government official might claim jurisdiction over a certain place or action.  Is this a better way of being than walking directly with god as our one true king?   As Samuel told the people when he presented Saul as King, But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’…” 1 Samuel 10:19 ESV.

As the people had earlier refused to speak directly with God and had Moses do it for them (Deut 5:24-27), to this day we refuse to let God (or his Son Jesus Christ) directly govern us by his law and empowering individuals for tasks as occasions might demand.  We prefer to have an ever more powerful and omnipresent standing government running on its own power, and running our lives.  And we assume that a time when God most directly his people and Everyone did what was right in his own eyes must have been a time filled with sin and evil, more so than even our world today.   Really??

But as Jesus told us in his great announcement, Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” Matthew 4:17 NLT.  All of humanity is invited into a family, we are all called to recline at the table in the kingdom of heaven.   When this Gospel, this good news, has been adequately presented in the lives of Christ’s people, it will mark the end of human history as we know it.   “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14 ESV.  Humanity will once again fall under the leadership of those who stand upon the earth as judges. As Paul tells us “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ESV

Then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to walk once again directly in the government of God, and everyone will once again do what is right in his own eyes

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 17:6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jdg.17.6.esv

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 21:25 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jdg.21.25.esv

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”

Exodus 18:21 ESV

http://bible.com/59/exo.18.21.esv

John Lewis

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At the Door

At the Door

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” Revelation 21:1-4 ESV.   Our great eschatological (end times) hope.   The great Christian hope.   As I’ve said many times before, it’s not that we are going, but that He is coming, coming down out of heaven from God.   God will, finally, come and dwell with us, walk with us, and forever be with His people.  And we with Him.   And there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain.  A wondrous and beautiful end to the story, not so much an end but a final beginning, with all things made new, right and beautiful.  More beautiful than our minds can even imagine…

This is the end we wait for, the end we hope for, the end, in fact, that we actually believe all things are headed for.   For all the pain, violence, anger, hatred, ugliness of the world in which we live, we live with the hope of an ultimate beauty in our hearts.  The hope that for all the ugliness with which we live, the beauty for which we strive will ultimately be our dwelling place.  As Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, ‘tis beauty that will save the world.

Oh, we do catch glimpses now.   We do can find beauty in the ugliness around us.   We find the beauty in God’s good creation.  Maybe that’s why our Millennials are all about the experiences of life, all about the destination, the next destination they can snap or tweet their presence to the world from.   The next beautiful place they can take their selfie and prove to the world that such beauty exists, and I was there.

This is ultimately what we hope for.  But how?  How do we get there from here.   By what means will the world come to such a beautiful ends?   How will this peace on earth, with God reigning, finally, as our one true king, with every knee bowed and every mouth declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord come about?

We know that it will be God’s presence and power that ultimately brings this about, but does that mean we have no part??   Are we mere spectators to what God is doing?   The answer is, no we are not.  There is a human instrumentality involved.   This is why God waits for the fullness of time determined by our abilities and capacities to receive what he would give.   We are called to be part of his efforts.  We have a participation in the making of all things right and new.  God works with humankind, and we with him, to extend his Kingdom into all our affairs, and the works around us.

Look at Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20 ESV.  This is part of Christ’s message to the church in Laodicea, which wraps up his direct message to the seven churches in Revelation.  Christ stands and knocks on the door, that is for sure.  But it is not the door of the individual human heart, as we are so often told and so quickly assume.   Rather, Christ is knocking on the door of the church.   It will help us greatly to understand the gospel, the church, and indeed our own lives today if we can understand from this that Christ is outside the church as know and identify it.

Yes, we know that “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.””  Matthew 18:20 ESV.  And yes, Christ is with us always.  But he is also on the outside,  calling in to us.  Remember Him, he’s out there, in that big bad world, chasing down that lost sheep.   He left the ninety nine to chase me down, he still leaves the ninety nine to chase that one.  He still eats with the sinners.  The prodigals.  The lepers.  The outcast.  Those who don’t go to church, ain’t going to church, and don’t wanna hear about no d**n church…

Yes, Christ is with us always, but he calls us further up and further in to a. deeper fellowship than we’ve  ever known.   He’s out there, in the world, where we don’t have the courage to follow him fully.  Our little church, no matter how big your church may be, will always be too small, too cramped for Him.   Inside is just not big enough, only outside is great enough for the creator of the universe.  He’s out there, building his kingdom.  One sinner at a time.

Meanwhile, the church cries out.  We struggle with hating the sin but loving the sinner.   Jesus doesn’t worry about all that.  He just loves.  The loves the sinners and the saints.   All the same.   We still struggle to accept and understand this.  We hold onto our stones, ready to throw them at any time.

Yet he knocks on our door.  He invites us to invite Him in.  We are, after all, the ones most prepared to fully receive Him, and fully cooperate and participate in what he is doing.  We are the ones waiting and praying for his return.   We are the ones most longing for all things to be made new.

He stands at the door, knocking.  Will we ever let Him in??   Or, would we crucify him all over again?

John Lewis

Getting Lucky

“…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.

Rethink your life and believe something good is coming for you.  Believe that.   I know, some are more stubborn, some just have to know all the answers.   Some might be wondering, when I say something good is coming, well, why would something good be coming to me?    To which, I might just say “You’re just lucky I guess.”   Which is, in fact, a real theological response to the question.  If I tell you something good is coming, and you ask why and I say “because you’re lucky I guess,” that is a perfectly good theological response.

Eugene Peterson, the pastor, scholar, and theologian best known as the translator of the  Message bible, has said that he wanted to translate the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are are those who mourn,” instead of “blessed”, he had wanted to translate that word “lucky.”   He says that “lucky” captures what Jesus is saying in his beatitudes and completely fair to the word.  It captures, especially for the modern mind, exactly what Jesus is saying here.  “Hey, all you that are poor in being spiritual, WOO-HOO, lucky for you the kingdom of heaven is for people just like you!”   “Lucky are you who mourn, you’re going be comforted.”   “Lucky are you who are meek, you’re going to inherit the earth.”   This is how Eugene Peterson wanted to translate that Bible.  This is not my idea, but Eugene Peterson is the scholar and expert in biblical languages.

Let’s define lucky like this – “The mysterious experience of an unexplained grace.”   So when I say something good is is coming, and you say why?, and I say “you’re just lucky I guess”, I’m also saying “I don’t know!  It’s just the mysterious experience of an unexplained grace….

“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”  Luke 6:20-21 ESV.  So Eugene Peterson says it would help the modern mind to understand the radical nature of what Jesus is saying in this sermon on the plain if we hear it like this – [Lucky] are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “[Lucky] are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “[Lucky] are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed has come to mean something very spiritual, very religious, very stained glass and closed in.  Maybe this is part why we like the word “blessed”, because after all, God blesses those who fear him and walk in his ways and curses those who don’t, right?   So, if we want to be blessed, we hold onto some kind of illusion that we can to something to somehow earn our blessedness, right?   And we’re all about our salvation by grace, except we all want to know the five steps we can take to earn it…

So why?   Why should this be?   Why would should it be that the hungry all the sudden be happy because something good is coming?  Why should the sad be happy because something good is coming.    You say I’m hungry and I’m sad and I’m poor, I’m just not very lucky.    Yet Jesus says you are.    Because something good is coming.   Why?   Because you’re just lucky enough to hear Jesus make his announcement.  And as our favorite apostle Paul tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Romans 10:17 ESV.

Jesus says something good is coming.  If you think that’s for you, that’s also called faith, and it is.  Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. and Christ speaks.   He says to you, you that are poor, you that are discontent, you that are dissatisfied, you that are mourning and sorrowful, you are lucky because something good is coming to you.

John Lewis

Something Good is Coming

There’s something good coming.  We all go through hard times.  We all have struggles.  But we don’t give up hope.  Even in the midst of our trouble and hard times, we hang onto our hope.  We hope that something good is coming, for you and for me. There has to be something good coming.

Because we believe life to be good.   I know I believe life is good.  I mean, life, in its essence, is good.    Despite the fact that trouble comes and is present and is real, no matter how frequent and no matter how at times it may be horrible, we still believe this because trouble, no matter how frequent or horrible, is an anomaly.  Because life is created to be good.

Think about looking upon the face of a newborn child.  We might say “welcome to God’s good world”.   There will be trouble, there will be hard times, but it’s good…

Why do we believe this?   Why do we believe life is good?   We believe this because it’s what is told us in scripture about this God whom we worship and build our life around.   That in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   He’s working the first day, he said it’s good.  The second day it’s good.  The third day he said it’s good twice.   Then the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, he says it’s good.  Then at the very end he says ahhh….it’s very good.

So the even though we have trouble and hard times, we believe that somehow that is an anomaly, and that is not how life is ultimately meant to be.  And what we really believe is that God is going to be true to his declaration and God is going to intervene and break into our lives, and where it’s wrong he’s going to make it right, so we can say the something good is coming.

When God does this, when God breaks through and intervenes in the world to set what is wrong right, we call that the kingdom of God.  It’s the reign and rule of God, the government and policy of God, it’s the intervention of God.   It’s God coming among us to make things good again because that’s what he intends.

God accomplishes this chiefly and primarily through Christ.   The firstborn of all creation, the center of the cosmos creation and salvation.  “…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.  When the human heart is aching for something better, when we have that hope, Jesus responds and says yes, that’s right!

So I want to say to everyone reading this today…something good is coming.   I want to say to myself, something good is coming.   It’s an announcement.  If you think it’s for you, it is.  If you don’t think that’s for you, it’s not.  But if you don’t think it’s for you, I want to say something to you – something good is coming!   Repent, rethink your life, and believe this good news that something good is coming.

For you.

John Lewis

Coming to the Table

If you pay attention, you may have noticed the frequency of these messages becoming less…frequent.   Sometimes we all go through certain struggles and challenges in doing things we think are important,  and i am going through some of those struggles in my spiritual life right now.  You might say I’m in a “dry spell”, a rut.   Not much is getting my attention these days.  It doesn’t mean it’s not still a priority to me, I am still spending my same time devoted to prayer and study every day.  It just means I need to get through it somehow, get to the other side, have an epiphany of sorts, maybe a Eureka! moment.   Whatever it is, I’m convinced the way through does not involve foregoing my prayer and meditation time.

That being said, I did have a moment in my church a week ago.  Our pastor shared in his message something regarding Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, son of King Saul and friend of King David, so now I’m going to share this with you.

Just a quick backstory, David and Jonathan were kind of like best fiends, as much of best friends as you can be when Jonathan’s father wanted nothing more than to see David dead.   In fact, the Bible tells us that you could say Jonathan loved David as he loved himself – “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 1 Samuel 18:3 ESV.  Ultimately, King Saul and Jonathan both perish in the same battle (read about that in 1 Samual 31), and David is then anointed King of Judah (2 Samuel 2), then all of Israel (2 Samuel 5).

Fast forward again, David has won many battles and is having great success as King.   But he never forgets his friend Jonathan.   And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?    Ultimately this question is answered by Ziba, a former servant of King Saul.   Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”   So David sends for Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan.   And you might imagine what’s going through the mind of Mephibosheth as the kings servants come calling.  In these days, it was normal for an incoming king to eliminate all potential threats to his crown.  As an heir in the line of King Saul, Mephibosheth may have been seen as such a threat.  So he probably thought it was curtains for him when King David sent for him.   Why else would the king be calling?

And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 

Do not fear David tells Mephibosheth.   Sounds like the angel of the Lord, or Jesus himself, all those time we are told Don’t be afraid.   So Do not fear.  Not only am I not going to kill you,  but I’m going to restore all the land that belonged to your grandfather.  I’m going to give all that you once had and thought you would have.  All that was lost when you lost your father and grandfather that day.   All that you could not acquire for yourself because of the accident that left you crippled.   Just because i loved your father Jonathan, I will show kindness to you, and you shall eat at my table always.

And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?   I am hearing echoes of the psalms of David where it says to us “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalms 8:4 ESV.  Who is Mephibosheth, but a crippled man hiding from the king out of fear.   What is man but a crippled spirit, hiding from the King out of fear of not being good enough, trying to convince ourselves that we are equal with Him?   Who is Mephibosheth that the King would seek him out for such extravagant treatment, that he might have all he would have had.  Who are we that God would seek us out while we are lost, while we are rebellious, and so extravagantly give of Himself that we might be restored to Himself?   That we might have all and be all that we were meant to?

And here’s the point my pastor made with this story – that we are all Mephibosheth.  We all are called by the king, yet when we come before him we come in fear and trembling, because we know what we deserve, yet we are told Don’t be afraid.   We limp before the king, crippled, battered and bruised by life.  We come before him and know that we are poor in spirit.   We limp before the king, expecting an angry God who wants to strike us down in the lightning cloud, and instead he invites to his table.

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.   And we sit at the table.   We sit at the King’s table, and we share a meal with him.  We bring our pain, our shame, our limp, our hurts, our habits, our hang ups.

We are called to the Kings table, but we can barely walk to get to it, can barely bring ourselves to approach.   We’ve heard the judgement, we’ve been told we don’t belong, we thought there was a gate around the table, and no way were we getting a key.   But the King calls, and we just focus on that.

We don’t know what to expect when we get there.   But not only does the King invite us go the table, always, to share a meal, but we get there and find that our King has become the meal.   “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Luke 22:19-20 ESV.

So the invitation stands, the meal is always available.  We thought he would strike us down for all that was in our hearts, but instead of taking our lives, as we so expected and continue to expect, he gave up his own.  He gave up his own flesh and his own blood, gave us a new covenant.   And just as King David remembered his covenant with Jonathan and looked for anyone from the house of Saul to show kindness to,  so we remember God’s covenant with Abraham, and Jesus’ blood of the covenant, and we can know that he will always remember to show us kindness to his children.   We are always welcome at our King’s table.

And so I will remember.  Even though it’s been a struggle, I, like Mephibosheth, will always eat at the Kings table.   Doesn’t matter how I feel at the moment, doesn’t matter what someone says about me, doesn’t matter what you think about me.   It only matter what King Jesus says, and he says come to his table, and do this in remembrance of me.   I may be crippled, I might barely be able to get myself to the table, but my seat is saved.   I have my seat, and I will eat at the king’s table forever.  And i will keep coming to the table, spending time with the King in his word.   And maybe if I listen closely I will hear him say don’t be afraidyou shall eat at my table always.

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.”

2 Samuel 9:1-13 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2sa.9.1-13.esv

“Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.”

2 Samuel 4:4 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2sa.4.4.esv

“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

1 Samuel 18:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1sa.18.3.esv

John Lewis

Jesus is Sleeping

The lectionary gospel reading from a couple of weeks ago was Mark 4:35-41, or as the ESV so simply captions it, “Jesus Calms A Storm”.    It’s the culmination of a day on which Jesus has given many parables and much teaching, and occurs as Jesus and his disciples are on the way to the region of Gerasenes, where Jesus will heal a demon possessed man.

As I read and prayed through this last week, it occurred to me that I was in the boat on the lake.   Not literally of course, but I might as well be.   I know that, right now, just like Moses wandering the wilderness for forty years, Joshua looking into his promised land, A young shepherd named David fighting to keep the lions and the bears away from his flock,  just as in all these stories, where I am is not where I’m going.  Just as Jesus and his disciples, in the boat crossing from one side to the other, where they are is not where they are going.

But just as Jesus disciples feared as water filled their boat, sometimes I just get the feeling that my boat is about to sink.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  They are on their journey across the lake, Jesus is with them, but somehow that boat is filling up quicker that they can get the water out of there.  And their boat will sink, without some divine intervention.   But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

And I think that is where I am in this journey right now.   I’m in the boat, Jesus is there with me, but the boat is sinking.  And Jesus is sleeping.   From the outside, all is well.  Got the “cool job”, great family, wife, and kids.

But the boat is sinking.   And Jesus is sleeping.  Ever feel like you’re surrounded by people all the time, but still all alone.  The water is crashing over the sides, I’m scooping as fast as I can.  But the pump ain’t working, and I just can’t keep up.  And Jesus is sleeping.

Does he not care that I’m perishing?   Is he just going to let this boat sink?   He might be able to walk on water, but I’m not able yet.  Guess I don’t have enough faith…

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?   Why am I so afraid?   Where I am is not where I’m going, but it sure is rough out on this lake.  I’m on a journey somewhere, but I don’t know where.   I’m out on the lake, I have a boat, even have Jesus in the boat.  But Jesus is sleeping.

But, Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?   I know who he is.   I know he has the power to calm this little storm that I’m in.   But it sure would be nice if he would wake up already.   Maybe, like a certain father of a demon possessed boy, he could help me believe even through my unbelief.   “So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth. “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!””  Mark 9:20-24 NLT.

Does it ever feel like the boat is sinking?   Or am I the only one?   Lord Jesus, I’m in a storm.   The boat is filling up, and I just can’t keep up.   I’m asking you to wake up.  I know you can calm the wind and the seas.  In you I do believe.

But, Lord Jesus, I need you to wake up, and help me to overcome my unbelief.

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

Hope. Or no Hope?

1 Thessalonians.  The first Christian scripture.  Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels, and the first of Paul’s letters wasn’t  Romans, it was 1 Thessalonians.  Paul had been preaching the good news in the Greek city of Thessalonica.    These Gentiles, non-Jews, were coming to believe in the Jewish Messiah.  That was the announcement, that God was reframing or reforming his own people.  There was going to be a New Jerusalem, a new Israel, a new kingdom, a new redeemed people.  It was no longer going to be defined by Jewish ethnicity, or Jewish circumcision, or Jewish Torah.   But rather, it was being expanded, and was now being defined by faith, baptism, and obedience to Messiah.   Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who believed that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead and made to be Lord, they would be incorporated.  It doesn’t matter whether they are Jew or Gentiles, male or female, slave or bond, Scythian or free.  They are going to be incorporated into this new body of Messiah, the new israel, the new society of the redeemed.   “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Colossians 3:11 ESV

Paul has been preaching this in Thessalonica and some of these Greeks have believed have been baptized.  They’ve become members of this new community, and are waiting for Jesus to come.  They are waiting for the king to come.  As Paul says to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”   Philippians 3:20-21 ESV.  Our citizenship is in heaven…our citizenship is in heaven, but we are colonizing earth.  From heaven, We are waiting for the king to come, and when he comes he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.   We are waiting for the king to come.   When he comes, he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious, risen body.   Paul is preaching this to the Thessalonians, to which they say “Sounds great. Can’t wait!”   And they are anticipating the imminent return of Christ.  Whether that week, that month, but certainly that year.

But now a couple of years have gone by, and Jesus has not appeared.  Worse yet, during this time, some in their community have died.  Some of the church people have died.  So some of the Thessalonians are having a crisis.  They want to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen to those who have passed?  What’s going to happen to them?  They thought Jesus was coming and was going to transform them.  But now their friends and loved ones have died, what’s going to happen to them?

So Paul writes to the Thessalonians to comfort them, to instruct them, and teach them more accurately the way of the Christian faith.  “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV.  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep...notice Paul’s word for those who have died in the Lord is “asleep”.   This is how Paul describes those Christians who have died and are dead.  But he does not want us to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   

And this is very interesting.   The pagan world had plenty of theories about what happens when someone dies.   They did not believe the dead ceased to exist.   They fully believed they went to a better place, they went somewhere else, on and on.  But they had no hope of resurrection, no hope of coming alive in this body again.  Paul, quite simply, calls that no hope, and says that’s why we grieve so severely.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  Amen.

Paul says that when the Lord comes, those that have already fallen asleep, that have died and been buried, will not be left out, in fact they will be raised first.  Then all of us will go forth to welcome the coming of the Lord, will meet him in the air, and henceforth will always be with the Lord.

But keep in mind, don’t get our thinking wrong, Jesus is not coming to take us away to a better place.  This place is just fine.  He’s coming to reign and to rule and to raise the dead.   He’s coming to finally fully establish his kingdom.

We will go forth to meet him, because that’s the proper thing to do when the king comes.  You don’t just sit in our house watching television when the king comes, you go forth and meet him.  We’ll go forth and meet our king as he comes from the heavens, but he’s not taking us off anywhere.  He’s going to be with us, because he’s coming here.  He’s not coming to whisk us off somewhere else, he’s coming to to reign and to rule and to raise the dead, and that is the hope that we have.   Paul says Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is our hope.  Paul later will call it the blessed hope.  The Christian hope, the Easter hope, the hope of resurrection.  The hope is that unknown brothers, unknown sisters, mothers, fathers, relatives we have met, relatives we have never met.  Friends and relatives we’ve known well and have buried, that we will meet them again someday.  Hallelujah

Then there’s this mystery.  The mystery that in one sense the whole body of Christ, the whole company of the redeemed, is to each of us unknown brothers and sisters.  We need to get to know one another.  Might take a while, but we have time.

What has happened is death.   The problem is not time, the problem is death.  Death has separated us from one another.  Maybe you’d like to meet the apostle Paul, maybe you’d like to meet Peter, how about meeting Mary, the mother of Jesus?   I mention them because they are famous.   But there are others out there who lived who knows when and who knows where.  But they are my unknown brother, my unknown sister.  But it’s death that has separated us. But Christ has conquered death…

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 ESV.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s the victory over the grave.  Therefore, because death is defeated and we’re going to have an ongoing life in the resurrection,  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   Because it will find continuation in the age to come.  Have that hope.

John Lewis