The Sea of Empire

Jesus walks to the disciples in the middle of their storm, he walks to us in the middle of our storms, and he is Lord of all, even the winds and the waves and the sea.   Think about it.

If we are going to understand the true significance of Jesus walking on water, we must understand the Jewish view of the sea.  The Jewish people were not a sea-faring people.  The Phoenicians, the Greeks, even the Egyptians were great sea-faring people.  But as for the Israelites, they’re staying at home, they’re not going anywhere.   They don’t really like the sea, even if they may have fishermen who work the Sea of Galilee, which is really just a lake about 12 miles long and 7 miles wide.  But they really generally view the sea with dread.  In Hebrew thought, the sea is emblematic of chaos and the source of evil.  This is why in the book of Revelation, which is a book comprised of nothing but signs, one of the signs is that in the new earth is there is no more sea.   “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.”  Revelation‬ ‭21:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  It’s not that there will literally be no more oceans and we’re not going to able to swim with the the dolphins anymore.  It’s that the sea is the origin of evil and this is symbolic that the capacity to generate evil is going to be eradicated.

Job, in his praise of God, says that God tramples the waves of the sea – “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;”. Job‬ ‭9:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  It’s not God walks on the waves of the sea, but God tramples the waves of the sea.  Because the sea was viewed with dread, and it was generally a symbol of the source of evil, so Job says God tramples the waves of the sea.

More significant is Daniel’s vision of the beasts that come out of the sea.  “Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea…”  Daniel‬ ‭7:2-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Daniel has a dream, it’s at night, yes a dark and stormy night.   He’s looking out upon the sea, the sea is troubled, it’s rough, it’s churning, the winds are blowing and the waves are rising.  Up out of the sea come four monsters, four beasts.  These monstrous beasts that Daniel sees coming out of the sea in his dream are identified later as four empires, or superpowers, who dominate the world. They create oppression among the other people.  The four empires are Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  It’s all there in Daniel 7 for you to discern.  But by the end of the vision in Daniel 7, here is the point – the Son of Man has come up from the earth into the clouds of heaven and has been received before the ancient of days, and unto him is given dominion and authority over all of those empires, all of those beasts, all of those nations.  They are now all serving the Son of Man.  The vision is that the Son of Man will prevail over the empires and peaceably rule the nations.

Let’s back up again to the beginning of this chapter.   “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Remember, Jesus lived on the western side of the Sea of Galilee, but when he fed the 5000 he and his disciples had gone seven miles to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  This body of water is seen over and over in the Old Testament and the New Testament as the Sea of Galilee, you’ve all heard of this before.  But here, John refers to it as the Sea of Tiberias.   This is very significant.  Nothing is in John’s Gospel by accident.  We know the Holy Spirit inspired John, but we also know how the Holy Spirit works.  It isn’t automatic writing, this is John working with the Holy Spirit.  That’s why it sounds like John, Matthew sounds like Matthew, Romans sounds like Paul.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t eradicate our personality, or our thinking, or our style, but works with it.  So, if we asked John “How long did you work on your Gospel?”, would it surprise anyone if he said “I worked on that off and on for twenty years.  I kept working, refining it, getting it just right.”   We can tell, can’t we?   There’s so much in there, it’s just so.  Nothing happens by accident.   There are nuggets we continue to find.   So if John tells us that Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberiasthat’s not just some throwaway line.  He wants you to see that.  His gospel is filled with this kind of thing.

So who is Tiberias?   It’s Tiberias Caesar, who became the Roman emperor in the year AD 14, when Jesus was a teenager, and his reign was through AD 37.  From Jesus‘s teenage to adult years, through his ministry and the first seven years of the church, Tiberias is the Roman emperor.

Tiberias is also a city.  It’s there to this day, right on the Sea of Galilee.  The city was built in AD 20.  This episode in John chapter 6 is probably about AD 28-29.   This city has only been there for 8 or 9 years.  It was built by Herod Antipas, grandson of Herod the Great.  He was the client king of the Jews for the Roman Empire.  He built the city of Tiberias intentionally on the Sea of Galilee to be the capital of the Roman Empire in Galilee.  It housed the Roman army, the Roman officials in Galilee, and lots of Gentiles moved there.   Very few, if any Jews, went to live in Tiberias.
 
This city has only been there for seven or eight years.  Herod names it for the emperor, Tiberias.  This is the way of empire.  Empire is just swallowing up everything.  They even try to rename this sea, which has been known forever as the Sea of Galilee forever, to the Sea of Tiberias.  It’s like when they take some great historic ballpark, and rename them with corporate name and logo.  It is in this way that empire just attempts to swallow up everything.   Maybe this is why Revelation shows them as beastly, because they just swallow up everything in their path, even the sea.   The emperor Tiberias has his mark on everything.   

In Jesus’ day, Tiberias was the face of the empire, his image was everywhere, his name was everywhere, he’s swallowing everything up.  John wants you to notice that the empire tries even to name the historic seas after itself.  The empire was devouring everything, it’s a beast.   Most people either sink or swim in the sea of empire.    You’re either a winner or a loser in the empire, you sink or swim.

But not Jesus!!   Jesus just walks on top of it!  John wants you to see this anti-imperial sign.  That’s why he tells you it’s the Sea of Tiberias.  He hopes that you will know or learn enough about the way Jews typically viewed the sea.  He hopes you know something about what Job says about how God tramples the waves of the sea.  He hopes you remember Daniel’s vision that it’s out of the sea that all these monsters come.   The latest monster out of the sea is the Roman Empire, represented by Tiberias, who wants to swallow up everything, and everybody had to sink or swim in the sea of empire.  But not Jesus, because he’s Lord and he just walks in top of it!!

We don’t have to swim in the sea of empire like a bloodthirsty shark.  We don’t have to sink in the sea of empire like a drowning victim.   We can walk with Jesus and stay above it all, because Jesus is Lord!!

Amen.
 
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”  John‬ ‭6:16-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  
 
John Lewis
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The Horses of History

The Horses of History
And now to finish out what I have to say (finally) about Jesus feeding the multitudes…
 
First…the paragraph I finished with last time.

Jesus says we don’t have to stay down here in the finite sphere worried and fighting.  We can trust in God and connect with the beauty of the infinite.  This is the life where trust replaces fear and faith replaces force.  This is the life that the sign of the feeding of the five thousand points us to.  It’s the life that we want to live.  It’s the life of peace.  But it’s challenging to enter into.  You can do it, but the fear of scarcity, the paradigm of insufficiency, the drive for economic self preservation is the greatest hindrance to entering into the Kingdom of God.

The people that have the hardest time connecting with that connecting point between the infinite heaven and our finite creation are not the poor down here, but the rich.   The rich that have few more of those grains in the hourglass.   I mean, the rich have twelve grains of sand, and after all, the poor only have one.  But, it is just twelve grains… Jesus says it’s hard for the rich to understand that there is the infinite provision of God…”How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  ‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬, because they are so locked into their paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.

We are dominated by our paradigm of scarcity, and we fear there will never be enough.  So we are committed to maintaining economic self preservation by force, and this is the way of Cain.  The force maintaining our economic self preservation is where we place our faith, and it’s idolatrous.  I’ll say it again.  The force maintaining our economic self preservation is where we place our faith, and it’s idolatrous…

What happens is, when we operate within our paradigm of scarcity and we put our faith in force to forcibly preserve ours, this creates competition.  Competition leads to conflict.   Conflict leads to conquest.  Conquest leads to resentment because people tend not to like to be conquered (go figure).  Resentment leads to retaliation and rebellion, and that leads to war.  And the whole thing becomes one big self-fulfilling prophecy that there is not enough because we squander it fighting one another…

Because we are dominated by our paradigm of scarcity, it leads to competition.  Competition leads to conflict, conflict leads to conquest, and people don’t like to be conquered and this leads to resentment, and then rebellion, and then retaliation and war, which leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy of scarcity and lack, also known as the haves and the have-nots.   Now what do we have?  Maybe you can recognize the four horseman of the apocalypse

The white horse of conquest.  Followed by the red horse of war.  Followed by the black horse of scarcity (or famine).  Followed by the pale horse of death.  People ask “Do you think those horses are about to ride?”  They’ve been galloping across human history several times a century since history began!!!!   And Jesus wants to SAVE us from the stupid cycle of the stupid four horseman!   He wants to save us from this cycle where we have conquest, we conquer, but people don’t like to be conquered.  So as soon as they get a little power and some kind of leader they retaliate, and that leads to WAR, which is the worst squandering of human resources, and it turns into that self-fulfilling prophecy of Look there’s not enough!  

Yeah, because you spent it all killing each other.  Of course there’s not enough now.  And in the end it’s always that pale horse that rides across history.  Jesus says, “Let’s do something else, because this isn’t working!   I’ve come to save you.”  Jesus came to save us from the stupid cycle of conquest, war, famine, and death.  Conquest, war, famine, and death. Conquest, war, famine, and death.   That’s human history.

The miracle of the the loaves and fishes is a sign pointing us to Jesus in a new way, but do we have eyes to see it, do we have faith to believe it?   Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.   We call him Lord Jesus Christ.   Christ means Messiah, Messiah means King.  Christ is King.  Jesus is the King.  Yet they come to make him king, and he runs off to hide.  What’s happening here?  The key word here is force.  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force…the crowd wants to take Jesus by force to make him their forceful king to lead their forces.  This is exactly what Jesus will not do.  Jesus will not ride the white horse of forceful conquest, because that leads to the red horse of war, that leads to the black horse of famine, and that leads to the pale horse of death, and that’s what Jesus came to SAVE us from, not ride.
 
The Kingdom of Christ is without force.  It’s persuaded by love, spirit, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be laying down our lives, martyrdom.  Because we love not our lives, even to the point of death.  But never by force.  The kingdom of God does not come by winning the game of force in our finite sphere.  The kingdom of God comes by, in faith, connecting to Jesus Christ, and thus to the beauty of the infinite.

The Word became flesh and blood.  The Word didn’t become an idea, the Word didn’t become a theory, the Word didn’t become a sermon.  The Word became flesh and blood.  The flesh and blood of Jesus is the connecting point of the finite and the infinite.   I’ve used the word infinite, but the Bible uses another word for this, it’s called eternal life.  Instead of infinite, I could have used the words eternal life.  But I want to bring it in a fresh new way.  In the beginning was the infinite, the infinite was with God, the infinite was God, and the infinite became finite flesh and blood, lived among us, and we beheld the beauty of the infinite.

The beauty of the infinite.  It’s a sign.  It’s not just Jesus giving lunch one time.  It’s a sign that we can connect by faith with the word made flesh, and that opens us up to the infinite.

 

“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬
 

 

John Lewis

There’s Just Not Enough

There’s Just Not Enough

Back to the feeding of the five thousand.
 
In John’s poetic prologue to his gospel, which is so important, John tells us something about the beauty of the Infinite entering into the finite.   “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14, 16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  The word became flesh, we are told.   The logos became human, incarnation.  Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…this word could also be understood as beauty.   We have seen his [beauty], the beauty of a Fathers only Son, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.   

From the fullness of Christ we have all received grace upon grace.   But the human condition, as a problem, suffers from a kind of emptiness.   We can ask the question What’s wrong with us?   There are many ways we can answer this question, but one of the ways we can answer this question is to say we suffer from a kind of emptiness.  Not just spiritual emptiness, there’s that too, but we live with a pervasive mentality of scarcity and insufficiency, this is very important.   We are infected in the way we think about life itself.

As human beings, we can only survive in a social structure, our lives are intensely social by necessity.  So here we are, thrust into this social structure that is the human condition, but we come with a problem.  Or at least as young children we are scripted in such a way, unknowingly, that there’s just not enough.  There’s not enough to go around.   There’s not enough for everyone, you know?   This, really, shapes the way we view the world in a very negative way.  There’s just not enough.   So we have a paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.   There’s not enough, because there’s just not.  So I have to make sure there’s enough for me and mine, because there’s just not enough.

So this is our problem.  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Seriously, why did Cain kill Abel?   Was it because he thought there just wasn’t enough?   Was there not enough land?   There’s not enough land for Cain’s crops and Abel’s flocks, at least that’s what Cain thought.  So Cain has to get rid of the competition, even though it’s  his brother.

We are the sons and daughters of Cain.  It is not Abel’s legacy that we have inherited as a human species, but Cain’s legacy.  Certainly we are the sons and daughters of Cain, why else do we covet and why do we fight and why do we exploit?   Because we view the world through Cain’s lens of scarcity and insufficiency.   We don’t see ourselves as blessed with abundance, we perceive ourselves as cursed with scarcity, so we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of the void, we’re afraid of emptiness, we’re afraid of insufficiency, we’re afraid of empty bellies, we’re afraid that there’s just not enough.

We are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and that creation is a closed system.  I don’t think we are formally taught that at any point (although I do work in sales and deal with a company that absolutely believes in the concept of zero-based budgeting…so maybe the world is starting to formally encode this belief).   At some point philosophy may creep into exploring this line of thought, but by the time we are three years old we already know this.   We may not know any of the words at three years old, but we certainly are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and creation is a closed system.  Or, as we might say, that it is finite, that creation is limited.

Now we are getting to it.  The jumping off point I spoke of previously.  This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency lies at the heart of our systemic sins.   Stay with me here.  There are personal sins, and that is what we mostly focus on,  because we feel so hopeless in doing anything about our systemic sins. But the real problems of humanity stem not from our personal sins, but from our sins as a whole, as a human race.   As human beings, as we build our societies, we build them in sinful ways.  No one person or group is responsible, but are are all culpable in it.   We are all implicated.  It’s because of our paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency that we build systems that are in and of themselves sinful.

We fear that there won’t be enough oil.  There won’t be enough land.  There won’t be enough food.  There won’t be enough water.  There won’t be enough money.  There won’t be enough labor to go around, so we build and maintain sinful structure to guarantee that WE have OURS.   We fear that there’s not going to enough for us, however we define US, so we use force against THEM, to guarantee we have enough for US.

Still with me?  Try.  We create an organized, slow motion version of anarchy.  You know anarchy, think of lawlessness, the rule of law thrown out the window, it’s every man for himself, people are smashing windows, just grabbing whatever they can.  Think about times during riots when suddenly when all law and order dissolves, it’s pandemonium,  it’s anarchy, the zombie apacolypse comes upon us…

What we have done in our systemic sins is to create a slow-motion version of anarchy.  We don’t recognize it for what it is because it takes place over decades or centuries.  Native Americans were victims of the slow motion, organized anarchy known as Manifest Destiny.   Just grab what you can and the rest will just have to get by as best they can

This way of viewing the world is absolutely dominant.  We take this to be truth.  If there is a truth we believe in, this is it.  That there is not enough, there is not enough so we have to be committed to our side and we have to grab and clutch and hold on and fight and make sure we have enough for ours.  We view this as truth, as reality, as the way it is.   But it is not…

It is into this sad world dominated by the paradigm of scarcity that the Son of God appears.  And on a grassy hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives us a sign of just how mistaken we are…

Again, that’s enough for now, to be continued.
 
 
“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis

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

In God We Trust

in-god-we-trust1

Looking at Mark 4 today, specifically the story of Jesus calming the storm.

a great windstorm

If you don’t know this story, then here it is.  It is the story of Jesus and his disciples getting into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee when a great storm comes upon them.  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.   They took him just as he was…Jesus had been teaching the people all day from the boat, so they left without returning to shore, heading for the other side where He would heal a demon possessed man who had been living in the graveyards.   They wind up in a great storm, which is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee due to the presence of the mountains and the up and down currents of the winds there.   This storm must have been particularly powerful to have frightened these experienced fisherman.

Jesus storm

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?”    The disciples may have been afraid, but apparently Jesus was not concerned.   He was in the back, sleeping like a baby.   Sleeping like he was unaware they were all about to die!!

do you not care...

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?””    So Jesus wakes up, and calmly commands the storm to stop.  To which, the storm listens, the wind ceased, and all was calm.  And Jesus then does something that, maybe, seems a little strange, maybe even unfair.   It seems as though he rebuked his disciples here –  “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   

little-faith

Is it just me, or does it seem like Jesus is a little irritated or impatient here?   Why does he rebuke them?   Their boat was about to sink, was it not?   I would think that would be the perfect time to cry out to Jesus to save them!   What else were they supposed to do?   Didn’t the fact that they cried out in their panic, in their time of desperate need, show that they DID have faith?

trust-in-God-500x325

So here is my take here.  Mark says they went to Jesus and cried out  Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?   Matthew’s account of this event says “And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.””   Matthew 8:25 ESV. The disciples were terrified.   They were panicked.  This is why Jesus asks them “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   Maybe the correct response for the disciples would have been to, calmly, wake Jesus and just say “Hey, we need you to calm this storm Jesus.”   And just expect that it will be done.   Because, what else were the disciples to do but to go to the Son of God in their time of need and ask for salvation?

north-korea-military-march

They were rebuked because of their fear.  Because if we are trusting in the Lord, we should not have fear.  These disciples are a little like us today.  We are freaking out in the world right now, are we not?  We have issues.  We have North Korea, The Donald, and nuclear weapons all around.  Not a good combination.  We have Russian investigation, hurricanes that keep coming, scientists are telling us the earth is boiling.  We have to do something, don’t we??!!

have-trust-in-God

The question is, do we trust God or not?  If we say we have faith in God, then at some point we have to trust God.  We do all that we can responsibly do, but that still won’t calm the fear in you heart, the anxieties that keep you up at night.

in guns we trust

Think about this – every time a human being kills another human being, whatever good reasons there may be, it comes down to not trusting God.  If you have a gun pointing at me, and I can kill you before you kill me, I can only obey Jesus’ command to love my enemies if I’m trusting in God.  There’s no other way.  Because if I die, I die.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not the end of me.  Do I believe that or do I not?  Our money has the inscription “In God we Trust.”  But, really, should it not say “In guns we trust”?  Because do we not trust FAR more in our guns than in our God?   When we take matters into our own hands because we are not trusting, and we act out of fear, we almost always turn to violence.

In-God-We-Trust-300x226

What exactly are we trusting God for?  We are not trusting Him to get us out of our situation.  That’s not the point.  We are trusting that if this happens, and I die, I’m ok with that.  I’m trusting that God is going to work this out for good, make the best of this situation, and work it out ultimately for good.  Because I believe in life after death, I believe in the resurrection of the dead.  So, if you kill me…then what?  You got nothing else…

hope

The hope of the New Testament is always directed to that ultimate future.  We are not trusting God for a new car, or to pay the bills, or to buy a bigger house.  That is not our hope.  For believing Christians, the worst case scenario is not a bad scenario.  Christian leaders tell us to trust in God, but they don’t tell us what we are trusting for.  So, we think that God is supposed to get us out this our out of that.  But if he does, or if he doesn’t, either way that day is going to come.  It may seem dark, but we will all die eventually.  And if not, scientists tell us the universe is decaying, how are you getting out of that one?  What are you trusting God for?  He may not, he will not, get us out of every bad situation, but we trust that there is a good situation he’s getting us into, no matter what happens.

war zone

The New Testament says the here and now is a war zone.  Bad things can happen.  We might get fed to the lions or be burned at the stake.  But we trust in the character of God, who will ultimately win in the end.

guns

So they can kill us now, but so what???

“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

http://bible.com/59/mrk.4.35-41.esv

John Lewis

The Last Word

The Last Word

The Book of Revelation.  The last book of the canon of scripture.  Chapter 1, verse 1 begins “The revelation of Jesus Christ…“.  “Of” here carries a double meaning.  It is the revelation about Jesus Christ, and it is the revelation from Jesus Christ.   He is the content, the subject, of the revelation, and the agent of the revelation.  As Eugene Peterson puts it, “Jesus Christ is the way in which God reveals himself to us; Jesus Christ is also God himself being revealed to us.”

As such, we need to understand that revelation is not given to be information about the broken world we live in.  It is not a report about the persecution of the church in the first century, and it’s certainly, ABSOLUTELY, not chiming in about all the geopolitical events of the 21st century.  Anything regarding past and future evens in revelation are only given because they are useful in revealing Christ to us.  Because the Revelation is nothing if not focused on Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther disagreed with this statement.  In fact, brother Luther wanted to remove Revelation from the Bible altogether.  Martin considered revelation to be “neither apostolic or prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it…they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one seems to know what that is, to say nothing of keeping it…Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”

All of which did not prevent him from using the revelation to prove the pope was the antichrist.  The same pope who, in turn, used revelation to prove that Martin Luther was the antichrist.  The same antichrist who, by the way, is not mentioned in the book of revelation.  Anywhere.

But I digress.  Like I said, Revelation is nothing if not focused on Jesus Christ (despite the objections of Martin Luther).  It may be hard to maintain this focus through all the symbolism and topics flashing at us (especially for our ADHD, instant gratification minds), but it is the only way to read the Revelation with any degree of sanity.  In fact, the only way to read any scripture rightly is in subjugation to Jesus Christ.  If Christ is not the center of it all, then our Holy Bible is little more than an encyclopedia of religion, with no more plot than a phone book.

Without Christ as the center, all the individual stories and words of the Bible are just out there.   So we have a talking snake, floating axe heads, a snake on a pole, strange rules strangely repeated like the law not to boil a kid in its mothers milk.  We have seemingly pointless genealogies at random points, which we need for what??   We have the thundering “Thus saith the Lord!” moments.  We have some of the favorite sayings of Christ himself –  “you are salt of the earth…and the light of the world“, “Enter by the narrow gate“, or “Do unto others..“.  We have Paul’s paradoxes  – “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”   We have Paul’s stirring conclusions – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” or “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   AMEN!!

So, what does it all mean??  What do we make of the information, all the stories, this mass of material we call our bible??  By this time, we can be completely confused and bewildered.  This is where the revelation steps in.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.    We turn the page and find the magnificent Christ described in such a way that everything is imaginatively subordinated to him.  He was suggested, anticipated, prayed for and promised in the ancient Hebrew scriptures.  He’s been presented in the Gospels, taught and preached in the epistles.  If we are careful and maintain our focus, we could have held true to our awareness throughout of Jesus the Christ.  But we don’t read carefully and maintain our focus.  Instead, we argue about predestination, we theorize about atonement.  We count miracles and worry about grammar and style.  Then we come to Revelation and we are startled out of all our tangential arguments and diversions.  Everything that was said before is brought back into proportion.  Christ himself is the last word.  He was and is the word made flesh, John brings us back on track, brings Him back into focus.  We’ve been climbing the mountain but we’ve lost our way.  We are climbing, seeking after Christ, but we’ve lost sight of the guideposts along the way.  John brings the path back into focus, and clears the brush for us.  A mountain peak determines all the preparations and the path climbers take to reach it, even when it’s still out of sight.  The peak is always the goal toward which everything was aimed.  The Revelation gives us the last word on Christ, and this word is that Christ is the center and at the center.  He is the mountaintop we are seeking throughout the mountain of scripture.

Keeping Christ at the center can be difficult.  We get lost along the way, and other things find their way to the front.  The golden rule, our doctrines of atonement, the Ten Commandments,  justification, diagrams and explanations of the trinity, denouncing the wicked.  We know all along that Christ is one to be reckoned with, but we forget that he at the center of all, filling all things with himself.

So what is Christ, who is he, and how will he be presented to hold onto this centrality?  John is commanded by the trumpet voice and describes him as one like a son of man.  This phrase originates in the vision of Daniel – I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.   Jesus, the Son of Man, is a commanding, all powerful, redeeming, glorious figure! We want to manage him, keep him in his box, but he will not be managed.  We go along with, we believe in, we teach Jesus as a piece of the puzzle for our own private lives, a private decision to be kept out of the public space.  We believe in a secularized, managed-for-our-own-purposes Jesus.  But he will not be managed.  He does not fit nice and tidy into our little shoebox.

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.  The word from the word, coming forth like a sharp two edged sword, searching hearts, judging rebels, and slaying sinners.  BUT, the word tells us Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.   He is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega.  He is the word, slaying sinners with a spoken word like a two edged sword so they can then be resurrected into newness of life with Him.  He died, yet he is alive forevermore, and he holds the keys to death and Hades.   He is “...the firstborn of the dead…” Revelation 1:5 ESV.   Because he went ahead of us we can Fear noteven death, because He has conquered it forever.

He does not live in our acrostics.  He’s not a part of our self help plans, he’s not contained by our 12 step programs.  He migh meet you on a Roman road, but he does not live there.  We can’t keep sinners from his table, because no matter how hard we try he just keeps calling out and inviting them.  He is the one who sits, eats, and drinks with sinners.  He doesn’t care about atonement theories, He just forgives sins and sinners.  He doesn’t argue about justification, He justifies.

He is the Son of Man, to him is given dominion and glory and a kingdom.  He is the beginning and the end, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn of the dead.  He is the first word of creation, and the last word of Revelation.  He made all things, all things were made through Him.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and no, the darkness has not overcome it.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Revelation 1:12-20 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.1.12-20.esv

“”I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/dan.7.13-14.esv

John Lewis

The Price of Admission

The Price of Admission

man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

world of hurt

We inhabit a world of hurt.  Pain is an ever present possibility.  Grief stalks us.  We are haunted by the specter and possibility of sorrow.  We know it can strike at any moment.  This reality is not restricted to third world nations, it is not present only for those living under violent dictatorships and backward regimes.

This IS the human condition.  Pain is no respecter of persons.  It comes to all of us.  Most people know this instinctively.  And most, at least to some degree, accept it.

very powerful

But there are three kinds of people who struggle with the real occurrence of pain in this life.  These are the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious.  There are people in this world, perhaps you are aware, that believe that if you have enough power, enough money, and/or the right religion, you can mostly avoid pain in this life.

very powerful 2

Throughout history, the rulers and citizens of the richest and most powerful nations have been especially susceptible to this particular line of propaganda.  With enough money, enough might, and the right kind of religion, we might be able to get out of this thing alive.  Rich and powerful nations feel as though it is their birthright to live above the pain and sorrow that falls upon the rest.   We just need a big economy, a big army, and a big God on our side.  Get enough gold, guns and God, and you can avoid all pain.

I sit as a queen

This is nothing new.   This is exactly what the rulers and citizens of the Roman Empire thought.  This is what John the revelator mocks in Revelation 18 – ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ Revelation 18:7 ESV.  But of course she sees mourning, it’s all just empty propaganda.  The Romans sat on top of the world, the playground bully, they believed pain and suffering were for the rest of the world, to be doled out by themselves upon others as necessary, but never for them to suffer through.   The problem is, they were still left with their own real world hurts and real world pain, but their own propaganda added the additional burden of keeping up appearances…

big economy

Modern Americans are tempted to believe the same propaganda, and propaganda it is.  We have a big economy, big guns, and a big God on our side, Amen!   Things should be different HERE.  We are, after all, the wealthiest, the most powerful, and one of the most religious nations on earth.  But, unfortunately, that is no guarantee (and we do like our guarantees).  But there is no guarantee that tomorrow we won’t face a terminal diagnosis, financial ruin, crushing bereavement, bitter betrayal, personal rejection, or some other event that can cause us to take up residence in the house of pain.

big god

Understand this – the idea that if you can become rich enough, powerful enough, and religious enough then you can make it through this life without pain is a pernicious lie.  We try to live without pain, do all we can to avoid pain.  But to try to be without pain is to attempt to be superhuman, and when we attempt to be superhuman, we wind up being less than human.  We wind up as less than human because those that use power, wealth and religion to avoid pain only end up inflicting that pain on other people.

Syria

Look at what happened in Syria a couple of years ago.  A powerful man who wanted to avoid all pain, inflicting it en masse on others.  How about the financial crisis of 2008?  Very, very rich people acting very irresponsibly in an attempt to avoid pain.  And we don’t even need to start talking about how much pain religion can and has inflicted upon the world.

Las-Vegas-shooting

Or how about the Vegas gunman?  An extreme example, but the last article I read about him talked about how, for the past two years, he had been on a bad losing streak in the high stakes gambling rooms and had lost much of his wealth.  He was at a point where he was about to feel the pain of the loss of his status with family and in those high stakes gambling rooms.   A pain he was not prepared to bear, and so 59 people had to die and hundreds more severely injured and otherwise scarred.  I know, it makes no sense, but the portrait we have is of a man who couldn’t bear even that pain of losing his image.  That burden of keeping up appearances

The-Passion-of-the-Christ-1

Look at the passion of Jesus Christ.  Here you had the whole gathering of the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious.  Pontius Pilate had the military might of the worlds most powerful army.  King Herod was the wealthiest man on earth.  Then there was Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, at the top of the great religion of the world.  It was these three who were directly involved in the crucifixion of the Christ, it was these three who controlled the money, the guns, and the temple.  And their whole lives , not just in relation to Jesus, were spent dealing out pain to others to insure they never had to experience pain themselves.

superhuman

Attempts to live without pain do not make us superhuman, they make us subhuman.  When we try to be inhuman, we wind up inhumane.   Because pain is the price of admission…

desspised and rejected

In a meditation on the nation of Israel and the expected Messiah, Isaiah wrote He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.   We know this now to be a vision of Jesus.   The word made flesh, God incarnate.  He came and joined us in our humanity, pain and all.   He did not come and take up a partial share in what it means to be human, he took a full share.  He was fully immersed in all that it means to be human, pain and all.   Because pain is the price of admission.

AdmitOne

The price of admission to what??  It is the price of admission to life, to existence, to being.  It’s the price of admission to being real, authentic beings.

Baby being born via Caesarean Section

Have you ever seen a newborn baby?   Not a week old newborn, not even an day old, but two minutes old?   It’s our welcome into this world, but sometimes the poor baby looks like they’ve been in a fight.  Because they have.  We cry tears, but they are tears of joy, because it’s a joyous thing, the birth of a baby.  We want to cry out “Welcome to the world!!”  But the baby just wants to cry out.  Because pain is the price of admission.

pain

It is a traumatic experience, being born.  Maybe that’s why it’s the picture Jesus paints for fellow rabbi Nicodemus in John chapter 3, that you have to be born again to see the kingdom of God, because sometimes rethinking a lifetime of knowing can be a traumatic experience.   But as we say to the newborn baby, welcome to our world!!  The introduction is pain.   Because if there is no possibility of pain, there are no possibilities at all.

Think about this – if you take away all possibilities of pain, then you take away all possibilities.  For God to create beings in his own image involves real risk.  It’s the risk inherent with freedom.  The freedom to be real, authentic beings, the freedom of real choices in life.

let there be

In the beginning, God said “Let there be…”.  And he created the stars and the sky and the light.  He created the seas and the land.  He created the plants and the animals, but something was missing.  There was creation, but it was a creation which, maybe, was missing something.  So then God says “Let us make…man in our own image,”  now He has risked something.   Because God made man, creatures, in His own image and yet distinct from Him.

image of god

He made man, created beings with true freedom, real choices, and now there is the real possibility of sin and death, pain and suffering.  God always knew this was the chance he was taking, but He made us anyway.  Not only did He create man in His own image, making possible for pain and suffering to enter the world, but He comes and meets us in that world right at the intersection of pain and suffering…

every tear

But there is a hope, after all.  As Christians, we do have a great hope for the world, do we not??  “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.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…””  Revelation 21:4-5 ESV.  Christ will come again.  This is our hope.  It is what we confess by faith.  There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more sorrow, and all things will be made new.

all thing made new

So, how will this happen?  How will all things be made new, and now mankind, with all of our freedom and authenticity, be able to live in that freedom and authenticity without pain??   I don’t know.  I don’t know how the plans and purposes of God are being and will be played out.  But this is what I hope and believe will ultimately happen.

risk

But why risk in the first place?   Why do we take risks?  Why did God risk making us in His own image?    What risk is acceptable?  Do we really even want to live in a world without pain and without risk?   Do we want to live in a world where we could all just live as couch potatoes, fingers on the remote, doing nothing but eating potato chips and drinking beer, then step on a plane, fly to Nepal and scale Mt Everest without any problems?   Seriously, is that even worth it?  Again, without the possibility of pain, are there any possibilities at all?

traumatic

We live in a world where the former things have not yet passed away, of that I am sure.  Maybe we are only in the first stage.   Maybe this first stage was always necessary, something mankind had to go through to get to where God wants us to be in our journey.

christ

The great Christian mystic Julian of Norwich once said “First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God…” Sometimes (maybe every time), we have to fall down before we can look up.  But those of us who have fallen, if we can stay the course and not jump off the ship when we feel it sinking, can look back and say “It was good to fall in the first place.

We have hope for our world beyond hurt.  But we are not there yet.  It is pain that remains the price of admission into God’s good creation.   We do cry tears of joy at the birth of an infant even though we know that baby has just been through a traumatic experience – with many more to come.

“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”

Isaiah 53:3 NLT

http://bible.com/116/isa.53.3.nlt

“As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’”

Revelation 18:7 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.18.7.esv

John Lewis