What We Need


So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.

What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.  


I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.

Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.


But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.


And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.  


And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.


“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:30-44‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.6.30-44.esv

“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

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Desiring mercy, not sacrifice


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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

John Lewis

Hail Caesar!

Cäsar

Looking at Romans 13, which is really a continuation of Romans chapter 12 with a very unfortunate chapter break thrown in. Very unfortunate because it leaves Romans 13 on an island by itself, with no context, when clearly the context for chapter 13 is chapter 12, which we looked at the other day, Paul distilling for us Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the mount.

MLK-Love-enemies
Paul goes directly from giving us Jesus teachings in his great sermon, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”, into what we know as chapter 13, but is really a continuation of Paul’s take on the sermon on the mount.

love of enemy

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

caesars sword
Paul here in Romans 13 is writing about Caesar, and this passage is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied passages in all of scripture, very often with tragic consequences. Beginning a little after the Emperor Constantine, all the way through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, and even, unfortunately, to this very day, Christians have been using (misusing) this passage, which in the writing of Paul is an extension of the Sermon in the Mount.  Many have used this not as an extension of the sermon but instead as a rebuttal to the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever we want to disagree and rebut someone using the teachings Sermon on the Mount to argue for peace and love of enemies, we turn to this writing of Paul for our rebuttal, claiming our New Testament sanction for the war and violence we so firmly believe in. But the question is, who are we rebutting when we do this? Are we rebutting the one using Jesus’ teaching, or are we rebutting Jesus?

st paul.jpg
Why do we interpret Jesus in light of what Paul has written? If we are Christians, who believe in Christ, should we not then be interpreting the writings of Paul through the lens of Jesus? After all, isn’t Jesus the one who was resurrected and vindicated by God on the third day? I am reminded here of what God himself had to say at the transfiguration of Christ. “And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬. To which God the Father had something to say. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And when the disciples could open their eyes, the only one before them was Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus, not Paul, is the beloved son with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him. Paul does not get a tent.

PP-JesusTransfiguration_JS_0037
So when we think we see Paul overruling something we know Jesus taught us, we need to try to figure out where it is we are getting it wrong with Paul. In other words, we need to default to Jesus until we understand how and why are we misinterpreting Paul.
First of all, notice the pronoun change from chapter 12 into 13. Chapter 12 is all about “you”, chapter 13 Paul is writing about “he”. Put simply, chapter 12 is written for “you”, it’s an admonition for you. Chapter 13 is an observation upon “he”, Caesar. It is not an admonition to you as a follower of Christ. Followers of Jesus are called renounce vengeance and love their enemies ALWAYS, as taught by Jesus in his great sermon and explained by Paul in Romans 12.
Paul is, I believe, doing two things here in Romans 13. Number 1, he is endorsing the police function of the pagan empire of Rome to maintain a civil society. Make no mistake, Rome was a pagan empire, but even a pagan empire in rebellion to Christ can arrest bank robbers and keep the streets safe.

violent revolution
Number 2, more importantly, Paul is calling these Christians in Rome away from violent revolution. Violence is off the table. Violent revolution against the empire had long been a temptation of the Jewish people, don’t forget that this the time between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Paul here is giving the new Christians in Rome basically the same warning Jesus gave to his disciples in his Olivet discourse. The very warning against violent insurrection most of the Jews in Jerusalem did not take heed of, which resulted in the destruction of the temple and deaths of 600,000+.

nazi-germany
As Paul said, But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Caesar does not carry that sword in vain. If we embrace violence because we feel our cause is right and “just”, Caesar just may use that sword and you will suffer. Then you will be talking about the wrath of God which comes upon us, inevitably, for not following the Jesus way and instead seeking vengeance on those who have harmed us. The wrath of God which is the divine consent to our own choice to follow or not follow the path laid out for us, and the consequences thereof. Sin always carries its own punishment.

moses-and-rameses-were-raised-as-brothers-but-took-different-paths-to-become-great-leaders
Why do we hold up Romans 13 as the only place in the Bible that talks about the government? The Bible talks about the principalities and powers all the time, and it’s almost always in a dark light. Pharaoh during the Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah. The parade of beastly empires in Daniel. Most clearly, Babylon, aka the Roman Empire, in the book of Revelation. These governments and empires are most often depicted as agents of the satan, not agents of God.

beheading-of-paul
And we need a little context here for what Paul is writing to these Roman Christians. Never, ever forget that Paul, the man who wrote Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God to the Romans, was himself executed by the government, in Rome, for not submitting to Roman authorities out of fidelity to Jesus Christ.

Kingdom-Not-World-AD
Jesus himself was subject to the governing authority of Pontius Pilate, but that does not mean Pilate acted justly. On Good Friday the Roman government was not acting as a servant of God but a servant of Satan. Jesus even explains to Pilate – “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”” John‬ ‭18:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus was subject to the governing authorities in that he did not violently resist them, which is exactly what Peter and the other disciples wanted him to do. BUT – in being subject to the governing authorities Jesus shamed these principalities and powers in his crucifixion and was vindicated by God in his resurrection. This is the posture towards evil that followers of Christ are called to imitate.

easterwallpaper1
To pit Paul against Jesus, and Romans 13 against the sermon on the mount, is bad interpretation and worse Christianity. We are followers of the slaughtered and victorious lamb called (by Jesus AND Paul) to overcome evil with good.

 

John Lewis

 

Repay Evil With Good

Repay Evil With Good

sermon-mount.jpg

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

feed him.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

light bulb.jpg

John Lewis

The Truth Will Set You Free

The Truth Will Set You Free

the-truth-shall-set-you-free

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

the_stoning_of_soraya_m_21.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am

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

‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-59‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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

John Lewis

The Prosperity of Christ

The Prosperity of Christ

prosperity

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

Jesus Being Tried

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

son of man must suffer

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

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan by James Tissot

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

warrior messiah

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

resurrection

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

this will not happen to you

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

I am the resurrection

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

Pick_up_your_Cross

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

not ashamed

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

Christ_and_the_heavy_cross

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

nero-sofrep-military-working-dog

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

Mark 8:31-38 ESV

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

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

Mark 9:1 ESV

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

John Lewis

Divine Violence

the flood

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

heaven

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

createed from dust

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

alone

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

cain

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

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

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

noahs ark watermarked

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

Roman peace

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

Calvary-Cross-Pics-0508

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

shock-and-awe

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

ikon of God

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

seventy times seven

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

peace be with you

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

PEACE BE WITH YOU…

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

Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

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

John Lewis