The Rules



Back to the story at hand.   Let’s not miss that after the healing narrative in this story of healing the man at the pool of Bethesda, the story says Now that day was the Sabbath.   It was the Sabbath.   “So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.””  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:10-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  In this story, it says So the Jews said to the man who had been healed…  We need to recognize that when John says Jews here, everyone in the story was Jewish.   But when John uses the Jew, he almost always means the Judeans, or Jerusalem-ites.    These were a bit more austere and rigid in their various religious observations, and they were constantly clashing with Jesus.  This is who John is referring to when he says “the Jews”, because, again, everybody in the story is Jewish.  But he is referring here to those who were a little more religious, fanatical, and austere in their Judaism.  

The Pharisees had 39 activities considered as work and therefore prohibited on the sabbath.  The Torah has instructed the Jewish people that they were not to labor in the sabbath.  But what does that mean?   They came up with a list of 39 activities that were prohibited.  Among these was moving from one domain to another.   Changing addresses is prohibited on the sabbath.  We can’t move from Main Street to Park Avenue on the sabbath.  That is work for sure, isn’t it?  And that’s exactly what this man whom Jesus has healed is doing.   He has rolled up his mat and is moving on up!   He’s moving from one domain to another.  So the Pharisees see this man walking down the road carrying his mat, and all of a sudden it’s “ Citizens arrest!  It’s against the law!  You can’t do that!”   But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’   And go figure, he thought it was a good idea…

Isn’t this reaction from the Pharisees strange?   Shouldn’t they be struck by the miracle, by the healing that was done in this man?   Shouldn’t they be looking for the man who could simply by his word heal a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years?    But that is not the reaction we see.

Instead, in the face of a great healing miracle, all the Pharisees could hear was that some guy on the sabbath had told someone else to take up his bed and move.  “We need to find out who this guy is.”    They weren’t looking for a miracle worker, they were looking for a sabbath breaker.   And so they missed the sign that something big was going on.  Something big was happening here, but there was nothing bigger to these Judeans than the rules.  Nothing was more important that keeping the rules.   So they missed the sign that God was at work healing the sick in marvelous ways.  All they knew was somebody out there is breaking the sabbath.  Somebody ain’t keeping the rules.  We need to find this man and prosecute him.  Which should show us just how crazy religion can be.

Maybe the lesson to be learned is something like this – if we are focused on the rules, we will likely miss what the spirit is doing.   Now, yes, we need rules.  I do understand rules are important to our lives.  We need rules in a family, in school, in civil society, you need rules in church.  But I will stand by the statement that if we are focused on the rules, if we think that what the Christian life is about is keeping the Christian rules (now you’re a Christian, here are the rules.  We don’t do this, we don’t do that, we don’t, we don’t we don’t…), if that is your focus, then you are mostly going to miss what the spirit is doing.  That’s what these Judeans missed.  They couldn’t see Jesus as a miracle worker, and that would be a sign, they could only see him as a sabbath breaker.   

The Spirit of God is a little bit wild.  We can’t tame the Sprit of God.   We can’t corral the spirit of God.  The Spirit of God seems to have little regard for petty rules.  The Spirit of God blows where the spirit of God wills.  Think about how the wind blows across borders.  Our national borders, political borders.  If we try to cross borders, there are LOTS of rules.  We stand in lines, have proper documentation, have your passport, your visa, stand behind the line until you are called, wait as they look at your documents, pass them through a scanner, finally out come the rubber stamps and you can pass through.  

But the wind, it starts up in Canada, blows down into the United States, down to Mexico, into Guatemala.  Or it’s up in Siberia, Russia, goes down into China, then down into India.  It never obtained a passport, got a visa, stood behind the yellow line or waited to talk to an immigration officer.  The wind just blows where it wills.  That’s very much like the Spirit of God.

Someone says it’s against the rules, you can’t heal on the sabbath!  The spirit of God says I just do what I want!   I blow where I want to go.  I don’t check with the men with the boots and the badges.  I just blow right by.   Don’t be so caught up in the rules that you miss the Spirit of God as it just blows right by you.   Or you just may be the one being left behind…

 

John Lewis
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What’s That For Us?

Back in John’s telling of the first recorded miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine…

So yes, On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   The third day as in Tuesday, as in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…also as in the doubly blessed third day from Genesis, a doubly blessed day that must be the day the Jews in Israel would have to be married on.   But never forget…and John will not let you forget, the third day is also the day Christ himself rose from the dead…

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   Cana of Galilee.   Funny thing about Cana of Galilee is, we know exactly where this is.  You can still visit Cana today.   It’s only 5 miles from Nazareth.  Which probably tells us exactly why Jesus was invited to this wedding.  Because he was known in the community, he was local.  Yes, let’s invite Yeshua, the carpenter, remember him, he fixed our steps and built the gazebo a couple years ago.  Let’s invite him.    Jesus was invited, his mom was invited, his disciples were invited.   Not because they were Jesus’s disciples but also because they, too, were known.

But Jesus only has six disciples at this point.   This is the very beginning of his ministry.   He’s got Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael.  Nathanael specifically has just joined the day before.   He has just become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus had told him You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” John 1:50 NIV.   Better hold onto your hat, you’re going to see some awesome things.   And sure enough, the next day they are at the wedding in Cana, and Nathanael will something truly amazing.

It’s a Jewish wedding of the first century.  And we need to understand about Jewish weddings, or we might be confused.    When we think of a wedding, we think of a quick ceremony followed by a wedding reception.   But this is not a reception with mints and nuts and cake and punch in a plastic cup.  This is a feast that will go for days.  This is not a 20 minute ceremony followed by an hour long reception.    You would have the ceremony, the bride and groom would disappear for a short time (not for pictures), the happy, blushing couple would return and the feast would begin!

It sounds crazy, but that’s how it was done.  Jesus is at one of these first century weddings.   They’ve had the vows, the happy couple has disappeared into the tent, now they’ve come back, and now it’s time to start several days of feasting.  But no sooner had they got started, a real catastrophe happened.  In a shame and honor based culture, which is typical of the east, including first century Israel, things like weddings have to come off right or it brings great shame upon the family.   What happened here was, they ran out of wine.   If you run out of wine, it is a catastrophe.  Because when you have a feast that’s supposed to run for three days, if you run out of wine, people go home.   Well, that’s that!!  People begin to drift away, and what’s supposed to be a several day feast is over by the afternoon.   It’s very embarrassing, the shame could linger within the family for generations – “That’s that family that tried to have a wedding!   That didn’t work out, they ran out of wine and everybody left!!  LOL

So they ran out of wine and are the verge of a social catastrophe.  Jesus’s mother is there with Jesus, her eldest son, and simply observes They have no wine.   Notice that she’s not requesting for Jesus to do anything.  This is not a request.  Mary is not saying “Jesus fix this.”   She’s simply making a whispered observation laden with pity.  “Oh my goodness. They’ve ran out of wine, I feel so sorry for them.  How embarrassing.  How did they let this happen?  They have no wine.”   In our English translations Jesus’ response is rendered like this – Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.   What is actually said here in the Greek is apparently at least a little enigmatic, obscure, and difficult to understand.  This comes across in our translations as a rebuff, but I don’t think that’s what happening at all.  It doesn’t fit, Mary has not asked Jesus to do anything, she has just observed that they were, in fact, out of wine.  NT Wright says we would benefit greatly from a simple punctuation change –  Woman? What! Has this to do with me?   Or how about this.  Jesus response is really, if we could understand, more like this – “What’s that for us?  I’ve got time.  I can take care of that.

Jesus says  My hour has not yet come.  Jesus knows that an hour will come when he can not work.  The hour of darkness.  The hour that he’s betrayed and turned over to the Romans.   The hour that he’s crucified.  But Jesus knows that’s a ways off.  So Mary says oh no They have no wineJesus responds and says “What’s that for us?   We can take care of that.  I’ve got the tine.  I’m not in a rush.  I can handle this.

Here’s an example so we can better understand.  Imagine you’re in the grocery store, heading home after church to get your true worship on and watch some football, and at the front of the line is a young mother buying groceries, formula and diapers for her baby.  Except she is coming up a couple of dollars short of being able to pay for what she has.  And now she’s embarrassed, because there is a line of people in line behind her.   She’s slowing the line down, and I mean, kickoff is in fifteen minutes!   The back of her neck is white hot from the glowering stares behind her.  This young mother is both embarrassed and a little desperate, because she needs those groceries.  At which point your spouse whispers “She has no money.”  So you  grab a couple of bucks out of your wallet, discreetly head to the front of the line and give it to the cashier.  “Here’s the rest of the money.  I’ve got this covered.”   Because, after all, what’s a couple of dollars?  What’s that for us?   We can take care of it.

That’s what’s happening here.  That’s exactly what Jesus is doing.  Mary says They have no wine.  Jesus says No big deal.  What’s that for us?   He’s not saying “That’s not my problem.”   What Jesus is saying here is “That’s no problem.”   It’s all in how you hear the idiom, and there’s all the difference in the world.

How many times do we see others in certain situations and walk away without helping, telling ourselves “That’s not my problem.  What’s that got to do with me?”   But really, “Whats that for us?”   It’s so easy for us to turn our backs and walk away.  I do it everyday.   But, again, “What’s that for us?  We can handle that.”    Can’t we?

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

John Lewis

Bright Eyes

We read and pray Psalm 88 and we find that “my eye grows [dark] through sorrow…”  Psalms 88:9 ESV.   Some people have dark eyes from the sorrows they have seen in life.   They say the eyes are a window to the soul.    You can look in some peoples eyes and they tell a story, oftentimes a story that is sad.  Some people have dark eyes because of the sorrows they have seen in life, we understand that.

But some people have dark eyes because of the way they look at life.   Jesus talks about that in the sermon on the mount.  “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.  Jesus talks about the eye, how we look at life, being the lamp of our entire being.  He says this in the sermon on the mount in the context of where he is talking about money.  The text is bracketed by Jesus speaking about those who would be his disciples and how we view money.  Right before this text, he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 ESV.   At the end of this passage he says “.…You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 ESV.

So this dark eye that causes our being to be filled with darkness has something to do with a wrong approach to money.   We could say it like this : there are those who go through life with the squinty eyes of greed.  The squinty-eyed have dark eyes that darken their own soul because they have learned to look at life in the wrong way.  We can look at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation, and cynicism.   There is a way of looking at life through little slits, sizing people up, looking for an advantage, calculating, cynical, jaded, greedy.  If you look at life that way, the light pouring into your soul is in fact darkness.  We can look at life with the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, but we end up with dark eyes and a dark soul.

Or we can look at life with wide-eyed wonder, love and acceptance.  With our eyes wide open, wide-eyed wonder of love and acceptance, we have bright eyes and a bright soul.  Some have dark eyes because of how much sorrow they have seen in life.  But some have dark eyes because of how they shut out the light by how they look at life.

But the gospel message is this – Jesus can save us from both the dark eyes of sorrow and the dark eyes of cynicism.  So that if you have seen so much sorrow and pain and suffering in your life, and you feel like your soul has been darkened, I want to tell you the good news that Jesus can come to you and heal you from your sorrows.  He can give you bright eyes and a bright soul.

And if you’ve been looking at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, Jesus wants to teach you a brand new way of looking at life through the wide eyed wonder of love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul…

John Lewis

Peter’s Accusation

So what did that discussion about the satan being the Accuser have to do with Jesus rebuking Peter with Get behind me, Satan!??

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” Mark 8:31-33 ESV.   So what is going on here??   Let’s expand the text, get the rest of the story.  Peter has just made the seminal confession that Jesus is the Messiah.   “And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.“”  Mark 8:27-29 ESV.   Is Peter right??   Of course he is!   You are the one who is sent by God to be the true king of Israel to restore Israel!   Jesus says so immediately, as recorded by Matthew.   “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”   Matthew 16:17 ESV.   But there is a problem.  Whereas Peter is correct in identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the true anointed king of Israel who will restore the fortunes of Israel, he has many wrong conceptions about what it means to be Messiah.  He has many wrong ideas about who and what Christ is.

His controlling paradigm are the great delivering kings that have come before Jesus.  Peter, along with everyone else st this time, thinks of Messiah in terms  of Joshua, David, and Judah Maccabaeus.  These were the three icons, the three pictures of what messiah was to be like in the Jewish mind.  Joshua, who led them into the promised land and drove out the Canaanites.  David, who conquered the Philistines and led Israel into its greatest glory.  And 200 years earlier, Judah Maccabaeus, who is a kind of national hero, a kind of George Washington, who had led the war of independence against the Greeks.  Now, they were waiting for the Messiah who would do like Joshua, who killed the Canaanites.  Like David, who killed the Philistines.  And like Judah Maccabaeus who killed the Greeks, now they were waiting for the Messiah who would kill the Romans and bring about the glory of Israel.

So Peter is right when he says Jesus is the messiah, the true king of Israel who will redeem the nation.  But he’s controlled by a paradigm that says this means that he must mount an army, win a war, and kill the enemies.  Peter is controlled by a nationalistic vision.  So when Jesus in this exact same context at Caesarea Phillipi says the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise againPeter and the rest couldn’t hear the part about being raised again.   For about 200-300 years the idea of a general resurrection and being raised from the dead at the end of the age had come into the Jewish mind, and they might’ve heard “yeah, ok, we’re all going to be raised from the dead….someday.”

So instead, all Peter could hear was “I’m going to go to Jerusalem, and instead of sitting upon a throne, and conquering the Romans, the Herodiams, and the Hasmoneans, I’m going to be killed..,”.  This is seriously messing with Peters vision of Christ.  He can not accept that, he is in fact threatened by this.  Peter did not  leave his fishing nets to go to Jerusalem and lose.   But Jesus is saying he’s going to fail, he’s going to die.  He’s going to lose.  He’s got to win!!!

So read what it says.  He takes Jesus aside, not to be counseled by Jesus, not to ask for clarification, for a better understanding of what Jesus was saying.  No, it says  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.   He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him, to accuse him.  He began to say “Jesus, you have misunderstood what it means to be Messiah!  You are wrong about the idea of what Messiah is supposed to do.  I rebuke you!”   Can you picture this conversation??   And Jesus whirls around and says Get behind me, Satan!   Back off Accuser!!  Get back in line Accuser!!

Let’s play the scene again.  Who do people say that I am??…Elijah, John the Baptist raised again, others…Who do you say that I am?…The Messiah, the christ, the one who will redeem israel…you’re blessed, Simon son of Jonah, God has shown this to you…. But know this.  I’m going to go to Jerusalem, I’m going to suffer many things, I’ll be killed, but then, yes I’ll be raised….Jesus, this will never happen to you, you are wrong.  I rebuke that!  You have a wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah, I rebuke that Jesus!!…Get behind me Satan!  Get in line Accuser!   Back off Accuser.  Satan, back off!!!!

Why did Jesus respond  so strongly to Peters accusation??   Because he had to.  Not so much for Peters sake, or for our sake, but for his own sake.   When Peter accused Jesus of being wrong about the mission of Messiah (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what Peter was doing, accusing Jesus of being wrong about what messiah was to be and do), it fed right into what was always Jesus’ greatest temptation.  Jesus’s greatest recurring temptation was to go about being messiah the old way.  The way of Joshua, the way of David, the way of Judah Maccabaeus, the way that everybody wanted and expected him to do.  They wanted the second coming of David, just like David had done it.  Or Joshua, or Judah Maccabaeus.

That was a real temptation for Jesus.  We see it crop up in the wilderness when he is fasting and praying before he began his ministry.   He’s praying and contemplating how he’s going to begin his ministry.  He says, you know, I could be like those Pharaohs, I could be like those Caesars, and I could gather all the nations under my….but that’s a Satanic idea.  He has to say get behind me Satan.  He recognizes it as bowing down and worshipping the Satan.  “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'””  Matthew 4:10 ESV.

This temptation comes through the mouth of Peter, and Jesus has to react harshly to Peter because Jesus himself was tempted to go that way.  When Peter says ….“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  Matthew 16:22 ESV, part of Jesus, part of the humanity of Jesus, says Ohhh, I want that!  I don’t want this to happen to me!   Jesus has to react because he too is tempted to go the old way.  

Finally It shows up again in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He’s praying God I don’t  want to go this way!  Father Not this way!  Take the cup from me!   Not this way!   ….“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”” Luke 22:42 ESV.  But he wins.   Not my will, but yours, be done.

Peter’s accusation – You’ve made a mistake about what Messiah is like and is supposed to do –  had the possibility of getting into Jesus’s head and filling him with self doubt.  (??????).   How can that be?   Jesus was fully human, AMEN??!!   And tempted in all things as we are!!   Amen again.    Anybody reading this ever been tempted by self doubt??   Well so was Jesus.

And Jesus was doubted by everybody.  And I do mean everybody.   More on this next time.

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.””

Mark 8:31-33 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.8.31-33.esv

John Lewis

All-Inclusive

All-Inclusive

Did some reading aver my vacation, including Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace?    In a world full of ungrace, grace is the one thing Christians have to offer that is found nowhere else.   As George MacDonald once said, “You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”

At one point in the book, Yancey takes an interesting look at Peter’s encounter with God in Acts Chapter 10.  It is in Acts chapter 10 that the diet of the new church was greatly expanded.  As far as we are concerned, that is the point and the end of the story.  Before, Jews were not allowed to eat many foods, many things were just not “kosher” for them.  Know that “kosher” may best be translated into English, if we would, as “fit”.   So we would say that if something were not “kosher”, that means it is “unfit” for us to eat.   Or that dreaded term in the Old Testament, “unclean”.

So we see in Acts 10 Peter’s vision on a rooftop.   Peter has gone up onto the roof to pray in privacy, but he begins to get hungry.   His mind begins to wander, and he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”    This is not very specific about what the animals on the sheet were, but if we read Leviticus 11 we can get an idea.  Pigs, camels, rabbits, vultures, ravens, horned owls, screech owls, storks, bats, ants, beetles, bears, lizards, skinks, weasels, rats, snakes, all would have been on the do not eat list.   Being raised a Jew is Palestine, Peter would have been raised from his earliest memories that these foods were not just off the diet – they were an abomination to be detested.

If during the course of the day Peter had so much as touched the carcass of a dead insect, he would wash himself and his clothes and be unclean until evening, not allowed in the temple until he was clean of such errors.   If a lizard or a spider had fallen into one of the clay cooking pots, whatever was in the pot would have been thrown out, and the pot smashed along with it.

So now, all these unclean animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are all crawling around on a sheet falling from heaven with the instruction  “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”.   To which Peter reminded God of his own rules – “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  To which Peter is told “What God has made clean, do not call common.”   This is repeated a total of three times, followed by Peter immediately descending from the rooftop back downstairs to be confronted with a group of “unclean” Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus.

While this incident may have greatly expanded our diets (hurray for shrimp and bacon!!), why were all these foods banned in the first place?   What did God have against shrimp, lobster, bacon, sausage?   This is how God himself explains the ban – “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…” Leviticus 11:44 ESV.  Lots of room for interpretation here, and it’s been interpreted lots of different ways.

First, there were certain health benefits that could be cited as a reason.  The ban on pork would have protected the Israelites from trichinosis, the ban on shellfish kept them safe from viruses sometimes found in oysters and mussels.

Some of the banned animals were scavengers who would have fed on carrion.   Other portions would have insulated God’s people from participating in the customs of their pagan neighbors.   Specifically, the seemingly strange ban against boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk would have kept the Israelites from imitating a magic spell ritual of the Canaanites.

So, if we think about it many of these animals we can understand why it makes sense to declare them “unclean”.   But others just don’t.  What’s wrong with lobsters or shrimp?   Or rabbits, which have no health risk and eat grass, not carrion?   Or camels and donkeys?

Remember, maybe the best English translation for “kosher” would be “fit”.  The Levitical law judges some animals to be “fit”, or proper for the Jews to eat, others to be unfit.   If we look a little bit closer though, we can see that all of the animals on the “unfit” have done anomaly, maybe they are just aren’t all the way “normal”.   Fish are supposed to have fins and scales, shellfish are just a little bit weird.   Birds are supposed to fly, ostriches and emus don’t fit in.  Animals on the land are supposed to walk on four legs, not crawl on the ground.   The domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and goats all eat grass (chew the cud) and have cloven hooves, shouldn’t therefore all edible animals be like that?   As Rabbi Jacob Neusner says, “If I had to say in a few words what makes something unclean, it is something that, for one reason or another, is abnormal.”

And as the author Phillip Yancey sums up in his book, you might say there is one phrase, one principle, that can sum up all the Old Testament laws on uncleanness – No Oddballs Allowed.  No oddball animals on the menu, and the same could be said about “clean” animals used in worship or for sacrifice in the temple.  No worshipper could bring a defective, injured or otherwise imperfect lamb into the temple, because God only wanted the unblemished lamb from the flock.  From the time of Cain forward, people followed precise instructions or risked having their offering rejected.  God demanded perfection, God deserved only the best, no oddballs allowed.

And so this applies to people as well.  In the very temple of God, there were rules that applied as to whom, exactly, was “fit” to go into the ever constrictive circles.  There were the outer courts, where even the Gentiles were allowed.  A little farther in, and Jewish women were no longer allowed.   Beyond that, only the priests were fit to enter, all the way to the inner most holy-of-holies, where only the high priest was allowed once a year.  And when he went in, he had a rope tied to his ankle just in case he screwed it up somehow and got struck down by God, they could pull him out without having to enter.  Because, after all, they were unfit to enter the most holy meeting place of the most high God.

And now to what really is the whole point of writing this.   It’s one thing to label certain animals unfit to eat, unclean.  But the Old Testament does not stop there.   How can we forget the long list of people who were rendered “unclean”, unworthy, less than, unfit?  “”Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.”  Leviticus 21:17-20 ESV.   If you had a damaged body, or damaged family lines (bastard child), you don’t qualify, you’re not worthy.  Menstruating women, men who had just had a nocturnal emission, women who had recently given birth, people with any skin disease or open sores (lepers), anyone who had touched a corpse, all these people were unclean, unfit to be touched or associated with.   No wonder the religious leaders in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan ran to the other side of the street!!   They would be made unclean just by the potential  contact with that poor sap on the road.

To us, we don’t understand this blatant ranking of people based on gender, race, and bodily health, but this the exact system that defined Judaism.  Jewish men would begin each day with a prayer thanking God, “who has not made me a Gentile…has not made me a slave…and has not made me a woman…”

Acts 10 shows us the result of this attitude.  Peter, introducing himself upon visiting the house of a Roman centurion, says it well – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.””  Acts 10:28-29 ESV.  God called Peter to go to the Gentiles.  Peter argued.  God won the argument.   The revolution of grace was underway, whether Peter understood or not.

The customs and traditions of Judaism ran deep in Peters blood.  Yet Peter had been there all along with Jesus as Jesus would systematically break down those barriers which separated Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean.  It seems in fact, if you read the Gospels, that Jesus always was much closer to the sinners than the saints, doesn’t it?   (Of course, our true saints never lost sight of the fact that they, too, were really just sinners who needed a savior). Jesus never avoided all those branded “unclean” or unfit by the law.   Yet, somehow, Jesus was never made “unclean” by his unsavory contacts.  Somehow, by meeting and coming into contact with Jesus, all those who were once unclean became  clean, the unfit became fit once and for all for the kingdom of God.

Today, we have a new holy-of-holies.  We have a meeting place with God where all are invited, no one is considered unclean.  In fact, the only way we can make ourselves unfit for this meeting place is by putting up barriers or otherwise making it hard for someone else to come to the meeting place of God.   Isn’t this what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 11 (message translation being used.  I hear a lot of people don’t like this translation.  I think a lot of people also don’t much care for the Bible once they actually understand what it says!).    “And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.”   1 Corinthians 11:20-28 MSG.

So we come to the holy-of-holies.  No one is excluded.  All are invited.  Many of you like a good “altar call”, a call for all those who don’t know Jesus to come to the altar and meet him.  Isn’t every time we take communion the best and truest “altar call” there is??!!   Come to the table, meet Jesus Christ in his glory, all the glory of his shed blood and broken body!!  As he himself told us, Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.   And just like those Emmaus Road disciples, we can know him best in the breaking of the bread.

Misfits and Oddballs are always welcome at the table of grace…

  “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”   Acts 10:9-16 ESV.     

“Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”

Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/lev.11.4-8,10-19.esv

John Lewis

Getting Jesus Wrong

In celebrating Jesus as a warrior king who would lead Israel into battle against their enemies, the Palm Sunday crowd got Jesus wrong.   That’s why he’s riding the foal of a donkey.   It’s a triumphal entry, he’s supposed to be riding a war horse, but he won’t do it.  Here’s the ancient prophecy – “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV.   He’s a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a ‘72 Pinto.   Because God says I’ve had it with war, no more chariotsno more tanks, in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears and bows and arrows.  He, this king, this messiah, this prince of peace, will offer peace to the nations, but will the nations accept it?   A peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas.

The prince of peace has come.  But, does Jerusalem want a prince of peace?  They do not.  They want a warrior king.  Jerusalem turned the triumphal entry into triumphalism, that arrogant, boastful, attitude that says we’re number one!!   Triumphalism is a boastful arrogance, a crystallization of us vs them.  When you receive Jesus not simply saying He is Lord, but he is Lord for US and against them, that’s triumphalism.  When the triumphal entry turned into triumphalism, Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

In the triumphalism of Palm Sunday, Jesus knew Jerusalem had rejected peace, and rejected the Prince of Peace.   Jerusalem didn’t want Zachariah’s peaceful king, they wanted a Jewish warlord.  40 years later they got what they wanted, and there was hell to pay.  Beginning in the year 66, a generation after the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, false messiahs came, just as Jesus had predicted.  He said within a generation this will happen, there will be signs, one of the signs will be that there will be many false messiahs.    “And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” Luke 21:8 ESV.  Many rose up and said We are the true king, true anointed one, we’re the true messiah, we will deliver israel from their Roman oppressors.

The revolution really began.  Their bunker Hill was Caesarea in AD 66.  And the Romans had had it.  They sent the 10th Roman legion and marched on Jerusalem in AD 70.   Their standards were held high, their banners flying in the wind, their eagles perched atop their standards.   Jesus had prophecied Where the carcass is, there the eagles will gather…Jerusalem had become a bloated carcass of arrogance, pride, and triumphalism, and they had rejected Messiah.   And the Roman 10th legion came marching, Jesus had predicted these evens, all in Luke 21.  “”But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Luke 21:20-24 ESV.

Jesus warned them to flee, to get out of the city.   But they didn’t listen.  Instead, just the opposite happened.  People rushed into the city.  They thought we are the people of God, we will go to the holy city, God will fight for us!!   But God had already said in the ancient prophecy I’m done with war.   More than a million people packed into the city.  The Romans set siege and for seven months they waited them out.  Starvation broke out, disease, fighting among the Jews within the city.  Cannibalization, plague, disease came.   People began to try to escape, but the Romans said Too late!  Everyone that tried to escape was crucified until the city was encircled by thousands of rotting corpses upon crosses.  In August, the offensive came.  They broke down the city walls, some say 600,000, Josephus says over a million Jews were killed.   The rest, 100,000 or so, the survivors, were carried off as slaves to Rome to build the coliseum.

Jesus foresaw it all.  Still on Palm Sunday he wept over Jerusalem.  “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.””   Luke 19:41-44 ESV.  And Jesus wept.  It’s the climax of the covenant.   It’s the fulfillment of all the Hebrew prophecies.  Everything is reaching the pinnacle and now God has acted.  The true king that will preach  peace and bring the government and the reign and rule of God has arrived in Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem is rejecting him.  Yes they are confessing that he is the king, but they have it in their mind that he will be a violent war waging king.  He’s not the kind of Jesus they want.  Five days later, Jesus will be on trial.   The prince of peace has come, but they don’t want a prince of peace, they want a hero.

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.37-40.esv

John Lewis

Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come

Going back to the Gospel of Luke one more time.  Looking at the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.   It’s a day full of contradictions.  It’s confusing.  It’s hard for us to fully understand.  It’s rejoicing that leads the rejection.   It’s joy that turns into sorrow.  Celebration that turns to suffering.   It’s a triumphal entry that turns into carrying the cross to Calvary.   Palm Sunday is full of contradictions.

The crowd was right to celebrate the coming of Jesus because this was the true coming of the true King.   The crowd was right to celebrate the coming of Jesus, but they celebrated the coming of Jesus in a wrong way.  They misunderstood its meaning, and that’s how they got it wrong.  Sometimes we can get Jesus right, sometimes we can get Jesus wrong.

We’ve been allowing Luke, the physician, who addresses us as “Dear Theophilus”, dear lover of God, to reintroduce us to Jesus.  We’ve been allowing Luke to show us Jesus, and hopefully we are seeing Jesus in new ways.

Ever since Luke chapter 9, we’ve been following Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem.  We now are in chapter 19, last time I was in Luke we were in Jericho, where Jesus healed Blind Bartimaeus and saved Zacchaeus.   There is only one more leg on the journey, and today we arrive in Jerusalem.

So Jesus leaves Jericho, and it’s up, up up to Jerusalem.  Jericho is the lowest city of the world, right on the shores of the Dead Sea, 1200 feet below sea level.  It’s only 15 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but it’s uphill all the way.   From Jericho to Jerusalem, it’s 15 miles, but 3800 feet of an uphill climb.  When you arrive at Jerusalem from Jericho, coming from the east, you crest the Mount of Olives, today just as then, and it is quite the view with the whole city of Jerusalem stretched out before you.  So Jesus crests the Mount of Olives, and there is special excitement with his followers from Galilee this trip to Jerusalem.  They are there for the Passover, but they all believe something momentous is going to occur this year, that finally Israel’s true King is coming.  The excitement at this point is palpable.

They are reaching their destination, and finally the city is before them.  Jesus is on top of the Mount of Olives, but then he pauses.  He’s going to stage a prophetic enactment.  He must fulfill the prophecy.  Jesus knows the scriptures.  He has something very specific in mind, he must enter the city a certain way.   Because what Jesus is doing all through his ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.   In his preaching, in his parables, in healing the sick, in casting out demons, in raising the dead, in who he receives at his table, Jesus is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.   So now, one more time, he wants to announce and enact the kingdom of God in a very powerful, prophetic way.  So he pauses at the top of the Mount of Olives.   “When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.'”” Luke 19:29-31 ESV.

They bring this foal of a donkey to Jesus.   Jesus sits on it.  It’s too small for him, it looks funny.  His feet are dragging on the ground.   And yet, this is how Jesus is going to enter Jerusalem.

Why??   Because it’s a parody of the military triumphs of Babylon, Rome, and Egypt.  Instead of riding a war horse (because that’s how the King enters the city, on a war house), here’s a man being hailed as king riding not only a donkey, but the colt of a donkey.  It would be like reducing the presidential motorcade to a 1972 Pinto.   It’s a parody, but it’s also a prophecy.  Jesus is deliberately and intentionally fulfilling a prophecy he knows shows what the true king will look like when he comes into his kingdom.  The prophecy is this – ““Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey. I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. He will offer peace to the nations, a peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas.”  Zechariah 9:9-10 MSG.   In other words, everything that the prophets have foretold about God establishing his kingdom through his own Son, the seed of Abraham, The son of David, it’s all coming to pass right now.

The true King of Kings, the true Prince of Peace, the true seed of Abraham, the true son of David, the true Messiah, the true Christ has come!   He doesn’t come as a war waging conqueror like Caesar or Pharaoh, he comes in the way of God.  Because God says I’m done with war.   I’m going to, through my Son, preach peace to the nations….

So he comes humble and lowly, his feet dragging the ground on a colt too small for him.  He’s driving a ‘72 Pinto…

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.37-40.esv

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