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More on the Prodigal Son…

It’s very easy to reduce the parable of the Prodigal Son to a two act play, but it’s a three act play, and the third act is the most important.  The first two acts, the Prodigal Son and the Compassionate Father, are really just setting up the real point Jesus is making.   So we can’t stop after the second act, we must go on to the third act, the Angry Brother.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

This is a three act play because there are three characters, and there are three characters because in the whole problem that necessitated Jesus telling this story, there were three actors.  There were the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus.  There is Jesus who is receiving them and eating with them.  And there are the Pharisees who were upset, offended and angry about it.

The sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes are the prodigal son.  Jesus is the one enacting the will of the father, he’s playing the role of the father.   It’s the Pharisees who are acting out the role of the angry brother.

In the parable, the elder, angry brother sees the extravagant hospitality of the father as an injustice.  For the elder brother justice must involve punishment or it’s not fair.  In his estimation it’s not fair, he won’t come to the party, and because of this he will not experience the kingdom of god.

The Pharisees talked about the Kingdom of God all the time.  It’s what they were waiting for, they wanted the Kingdom of God to come.  But because they didn’t understand how the Kingdom of God would come, when it actually was coming through what Jesus was announcing and enacting they missed it.  They didn’t enter into it.  This is why Jesus says to them …“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31 ESV

But look at what the story tells.  We have an ungrateful, profligate sinner younger son who insults the father in many ways, squanders his resources, comes back home, and is graciously, extravagantly received as if he’s coming home a hero.  A robe, a ring, shoes,  a fatted calf, a big party.  We look at this, but what is it?  Is it reconciliation to be celebrated? Or is it injustice to be protested?

This story can be told in such a way that you will be sympathetic with the angry older brother.  Some might already be.  Seriously – all he ever did was think about himself.  He brought shame and disgrace upon the family, sold off part of the estate, and wasted it on drink, prostitutes and partying!!   He was just living recklessly, having a good time, then when things get bad he comes crawling back home, and we treat him like he’s a hero??!!

How many, when we read it like that, think “Hey, that older brother has a point!”  That’s the little Pharisee in each one of us. And yes,   “He’s got a point!

The Pharisees thought of justice as punishment instead of reconciliation, and that was their undoing.  The Pharisees missed the Kingdom of God because when it actually arrived it looked like a welcome home party instead of mandatory sentencing.  Their idea of the Kingdom of God is when people get what’s coming to them!!  It’s about time!   Getting their just desserts!!!   That’s what the Pharisees are looking for…

But instead of mandatory sentencing, it’s a welcome home party, and they just could not recognize it as the kingdom of god…

More to come.

John Lewis

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What Have You To Do with Us?

Back in Luke, following Jesus as he has passed through the midst of his hometown of Nazareth and went away from them, forced to escape in order to escape a premature death by being thrown off a cliff.

Jesus had to escape because he did not participate in his hometown’s lust for vengeance.  They wanted vengeance, the vengeance of God, to set all things right.  And for all things to be set right, those Greek Assyrians, those people about 40 miles north of Nazareth, had to pay!!   So when Jesus comes along and reads his job description from Isaiah 61, he leaves out their favorite part.  The part of the vengeance of our God.   Not only did he leave out the part about God’s vengeance, he specifically made the point that not only would God’s vengeance not be brought to bear upon their enemies up north, but the favor of the Lord was just as much for them as for us.  He used two stories of Elijah and Elisha from the Old Testament, helping Gentiles (Greek Assyrian Gentiles to be specific) when there were plenty of good Jews around who could have been helped, to make his point.  A point which was not lost on those listening.  They heard loud and clear that God was not choosing sides, and they immediately tried to kill the messenger, their hometown boy turned Messiah of Israel.

As i wrote before – The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.   The people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth all shared a common enemy and hated, and when Jesus made it clear that their enemies were not his enemies, he was no longer their hometown boy made good.  He became one of them.  After all, if you are not with us, you’re against us, AMEN!!

We want unity, we want to belong.  We seek a togetherness, this is ingrained within us.  We are deeply conditioned to seek togetherness. And the easiest way to produce this unity is to be united against a common enemy.   We can all come together to hate that common enemy.

Our politicians know this, they understand this.  And by politicians, I mean the Republicans AND the Democrats.  (Of course I am writing as a good Old American here.  If you read this in another country, just insert whatever political parties you have!!).  Just stir up enough hatred and hostility in our group against them, and I mean, really stir them up!!  We gotta fire up the base, after all.  If we don’t fire up the base, we can’t win.  So we must manufacture our common enemy, someone we can all hate.  Then, we have to hate everyone who is for them, because if they are for the one we hate, then we hate them too, AMEN!   And we must be right, because there’s more of us than there are of them!!   Just wait until those polls open up, we will show them…

But – it’s demonic.  It doesn’t feel demonic.  It feels good, it’s cathartic.  It might even feel like the Holy Spirit is on your side, we get such a relief when we can align ourselves against a common enemy.   Especially when we win.

You can see it’s demonic, because when it’s challenged by the prophet, the prophet is attacked.  If you don’t believe god is on our side, you must be one of them.

So, Jesus leaves Nazareth, his life and mission still intact.

“And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.” Luke 4:31-35 ESV.    So Jesus leaves the crowd of would be murderers at Nazareth, a crowd of good people, a crowd of people who had known Jesus since he was a young boy.  He leaves and heads south to Capernaum, where he was in the synagogue (imagine that – Jesus, who is supposedly so anti-religion, takes part in every religious service) and is confronted by a man with a demon.  Pay attention to the words of this demon – “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”    Do you see where I’m going?    What have you to do with US???   Have you come to destroy US??   This demon is all about protecting its own US in the US vs. them paradigm of the world.   And for this demon, Jesus is certainly not one of US.

In the unity of us vs them…we, collectively take all our fear, anger, hostility and cast it on them.   It sure makes us feel good, it can even feel like the Holy Spirit is with us, we believe God is on our side.   Well, God is on our side.  But God is also on their side.   “”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”  Matthew 5:43-47 ESV.

Love your enemies.  Love even them.   Because our Father in heaven loves them just like he loves us.  He loves you just the way you are.  He loves them, just the way they are.   If we must destroy our brothers (even those we call enemies) to gain our victory, what have we really won?   Probably a lot more enemies.  Because, trust me on this, you will never be able to kill them all.

John Lewis

A Prophet in His Hometown

prophet in his hometown.jpg

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

JesSynagog

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

scripture fulfilled

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

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

Jesus-in-Synagogue

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

throw jesus from a cliff

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

spirit of the lord is upon me

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

vengeanceof god

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

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

judah macabbee

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd temptation

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

luke_4_21-30_lg

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

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

Elijah

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

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

Naaman the Syrian

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

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

gods-wrath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 4:16-30 ESV

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

John Lewis

Desiring mercy, not sacrifice


In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…

So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.

And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)


So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity? 
 And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?


Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.  
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke‬ ‭18:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?

““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew‬ ‭25:44-46‬ ‭NLT‬‬
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.  
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Amen.

“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.9.12-13.esv

John Lewis

Perfect Theology

Perfect Theology

ikon of god

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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

invisible god
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/col.1.15.esv

right hand of God
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭1:1-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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

good news

Good morning!! In a Good News mode this week. I thought about adding to my message from yesterday, the Good News that people on the fringe can be blessed just by brushing up against Jesus, and I still might come back to that later. But I have even better Good News today. The Good News that Jesus is the exact imprint, or ikon,  of God. The Good News that if we want to know what God the Father is like, all we have to do is look at his only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, because God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. We haven’t always known this, as the apostle John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel writing, “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. This seems to be echoed by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, which I also included above. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV

firstborn of all creation

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Theology can be defined as “how we understand God“. If you’ve ever spent any time thinking or discussing what God is like, then you’ve done theology. But if theology is a quest to understand God, we have to understand that there is no perfect “system” of theology. Perfect theology is not a “system”, it’s a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Perfect theology is not a book, it’s the life of Jesus. As Paul also tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Colossians‬ ‭1:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   Jesus is God’s ultimate act of self-disclosure.  Jesus is the only perfect Word of God.   Jesus is the only perfect theology.

q & a
So, here are some quick, short questions and answers about God based on the revelation which comes through Jesus.

jesus-calming-the-storm
Especially in this crazy, stormy summer, we want to know, does God send the storm? No He does not!! Jesus calms the storm. “And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.” Luke‬ ‭8:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬. It’s not the act of God that brings the storms into our lives. It’s the act of God to calm the storm and lead us out.

miracle-loaves-fishes-james-tissot-82990-print
Does God cause the famine? No!!! He feeds the hungry. When Jesus is present, ain’t nobody going hungry.

Jesus-healing-sick
Does God inflict sickness? No, He heals the sick. “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” Mark‬ ‭6:56‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And so many other places…

tax collectors and sinners
Does God shun sinners? NO!!! He welcomes them. “And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”” Luke‬ ‭5:30‬ ‭ESV

not to condemn

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Does God condemn the guilty? NO!! He saves them. “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.

works of god
Does God blame the afflicted? No, he shows them mercy. “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” John‬ ‭9:2-7‬ ‭ESV

water-to-wine-david-snyder

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Does God resent human pleasure?? No, he’s the one who, for no apparent reason whatsoever, turned the water into wine, just so the party could keep on going. For days….

party goes on
Does God take our side in our hostilities? No, God humanizes (the opposite of demonize…) our enemies. “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”” Luke‬ ‭4:25-27‬ ‭ESV

namaan the syrian

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Does God kill his enemies? No, he forgives them. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭23:34‬ ‭ESV

casting lots

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Does God return in resurrection with vengeance on his mind? No, he comes with words of peace. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”” John‬ ‭20:19‬ ‭ESV

peace be with you

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Talk about good news. What better news could there ever be? Jesus is the is the image of God. Jesus is what God is like. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. 

radiance of the glory
God is not mad at you. God never hated you. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” ‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

God_is_Love
God is like Jesus. Always has been, always will. We didn’t always know that, we still barely comprehend it. But talk about a truth to set you free…

god is like jesus

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭1:1-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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

John Lewis

Repay Evil With Good

Repay Evil With Good

sermon-mount.jpg

The first written record alluding to the sermon on the mount is not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. It is written by Paul in Romans 12 probably 20 years before Matthew was written. So even before the Gospels were written, the earliest Christians were familiar with sermon on the mount. These earliest Christians were familiar with Jesus’ great sermon because it’s not only what he taught in announcing the kingdom of God, it’s what he embodied on the cross, kingdom truths lived out for all to see.

feed him.jpg

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

adolf-pirsch_paul-preaching-before-the-temple-of-diana-at-ephesus
Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome to live out the Christian virtues of humility, mercy and forgiveness. Believe it or not, in ancient times, in ancient Rome in particular, humility and mercy were not considered virtues. This is unthinkable or unimaginable to us, because in western culture, every religion, every worldview, humility and mercy are considered virtuous and desirable, qualities that if we don’t have, we aspire to. This is an accomplishment of Christ in the world we know. The Rome Paul is writing to has a different value system than we “moderns” do. Rome, the empire, values pride, vengeance, retribution and revenge.

crucifixion of Christ
Paul is reminding these early Christians that they have a new, revolutionary value system. Jesus announced the kingdom, taught the kingdom, and then embodied his teaching upon the hard wood of the cross. His teaching and his actions matched.

humility-in-praye-1024x605
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Insult and violence are not made right because it is retaliatory. Evil is still evil, regardless of whether someone else did evil to you first. We have to know and realize that all such evil is always retaliatory to the one doing it. Everyone doing violent evil in the world believes they are simply responding to a wrong done to them. If your kids are fighting, and you sit them down to get to the bottom of why they are fighting, you will never get to the bottom of it. There is no beginning, there is no end. No end, that is, until someone imitates Jesus Christ, absorbs the blow, and forgives the wrong done to them.

vengeance.jpg
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

love your enemies
Paul says never avenge yourselves. We are to be like Jesus, absorb the blow, and instead of recycling that anger into vengeance upon the one who harmed us, recycle it instead into forgiveness, returning the evil done to us as love, mercy and forgiveness.

Wrath-Of-God
The wrath of God. Forgiveness is not exoneration. No one in this life “gets away with it”, regardless of how things appear to us. Let’s just say that you can be sinned against in such a way that it’s not “ok”. But forgiveness says, “I release you from your indebtedness to me” and trusts in God that things will be made right. In forgiving someone we release ourselves from the burden of having to collect that debt, we release ourselves from the burden of making the world right. We trust that God will make all things right if we surrender to his perfect will.

feed him
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Sometimes we can see the progressive revelation of God before our eyes in the Old Testament. In 2 Kings chapter 1, we see the great prophet Elijah calling down fire from heaven to kill his enemies. But Elijah has a successor, Elisha, who asked for a double portion of the blessing of Elijah from God and who, coincidentally, performed twice as many miracles as Elijah. In 2 Kings chapter 6 we see Elisha with a much different response to his enemies than Elijah.

elisha-fiery-army.jpg
“When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings‬ ‭6:15-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into Israel. The Syrians were the enemies of Israel, coming on a raid to kill the prophet (prophets tend to upset great and powerful empires)  and destroy Israel. Instead of reacting to their evil with evil, Elisha told the king of Israel to feed them and give them drink. They had a great feast, broke bread together, and now these enemies were no longer enemies. The repaid evil with good and broke that cycle of war and vengeance with their Syrian brothers.

burning coals
Paul says that in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Paul is not teaching us how to torture our enemies, he’s not teaching us to do a reverse kindness upon our enemies in the hopes that they will be tortured and anguished by our goodness and kindness. But he is making a point. If we sincerely try to love our enemies, the rejection of sincere love offered is it’s own form of torture. It’s not the wrath of God, but how we respond. If we choose to reject sincere love offered to us and choose to keep our enemies as our enemies, we are torturing ourselves and sickening our souls. Sincere love rejected brings its own judgement. Just as Jesus’ crucifixion shined the brightest light on the darkness of our retributive violence. Just as Jesus not picking up a stone shined the bright light into the darkness of collective murder, so evil repaid with good, genuine good, shines the brightest light on the evil itself.

light bulb.jpg

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