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 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.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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The Living Word

The Living Word
So what do we mean when we say that Jesus is the word of life, the wisdom of life, the logos of life, God’s divine logic of life?  We mean that Jesus is the translation of God’s love logic, his divine logic, into human form so that we can understand him.  This is what the second sign in John’s gospel points to.      That this divine logic, this love logic, this eternal word made flesh, has become a person in Jesus Christ.   And that to believe in Jesus is to believe that Jesus is the revelation of what God is like.   
 
So the sign is not just that Jesus can do miracles.  The sign is going “Right there!  Right there!  Right there!  Right there he is!  Jesus!  That is the word of life!”  That is the word that God has spoken into a sin-sick world to make everyone that believes in him well.   God has sent his word to heal us, and that word is Jesus, because Jesus is what God has to say.  Learn that, that Jesus is what God has to say.

This helps us to understand what the Bible really is.  The Bible is the spirit inspired, ultimate true sign that points us true to the true word of God who is Jesus.  The Bible is not an end in itself.    There is a sense in which you don’t put your faith in the Bible, you put your faith in what the Bible points yout to.  You put your faith in Jesus.  

Is there a difference?  Yes.  A huge difference.   Isn’t it six in one, half dozen in the other?  No.  It’s twelve in one, zero in the other.   Because the Bible can’t save you.   The eternal word of God that saves us is not a theory.  It’s not an idea.  It’s not even a book.  It’s a flesh and blood person named Jesus Christ. What the Bible does, it’s the ultimate spirit inspired sign pointing to Jesus.  If you’ve missed that, you’ve missed  a whole lot.  Kind of like everything…

Let’s look at what Jesus himself says about this, talking to people who know their bibles quite well.  They have bible studies, study aids, everything.   “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:39-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   I’m about to get some people upset here.  But get this – the Bible can actually be the cleverest way for us to avoid the Word of God.   You’ve got the book, you read the book, your nose is in the book, studying the book, memorizing the book, the book, the book, the book, and you haven’t figured out  the book is a sign pointing to me.   Imagine Jesus, he can stand right in front of me, and I can keep my nose buried in my Bible, and I can avoid Jesus.   

The Bible is a true witness pointing to Jesus.   But here’s the problem with the Bible – it’s still a book.  And you can make the Bible say whatever you want to say.  You can make the Bible stand on its hind legs and dance a jig.   Go back 150 years, when of the Bible believing Christians of America,  most of them believed that God endorsed slavery.  Because if you’re just going to use your Bible, it’s “There is it is right there!  In the Old Testament and the New Testament too!  Slaves obey your masters!  Uh-huh!!   The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!”

So, how many of you believe that the living God, the living Christ, has something to say about slavery other than Slaves obey your masters?   Hello!!??   If we want, we can just use the Bible, make it stand on its hind legs and dance a jig.   We can do that with the Bible, but we can’t do that with the living Christ.   You stand before the living Christ and tell him to roll over and dance a jig for you, he just looks at you with His eyes of fire and says no!

This is what writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”   ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   In talking about  the word of God that is living and active and able to judge and reach down and penetrate into the deepest parts of us, and the word to whom we must give an account, the writer of Hebrews is not talking about the Bible.  It’s in the Bible, these words are in the Bible.  But it’s not talking about the Bible, it’s talking about Jesus.

This may be new stuff to you.  It’s new stuff you need.  Again go back 150 years.  The majority of the devout, religious, bible believing, amen, hallelujah, my sins are forgiven, church going, love Jesus, dying and going to heaven, people of the time supported, aggressively, slavery and defended it with the Bible.  They were willing to go to war defending slavery, believing God was on their side, because they had been able to use the Bible.  If they had been engaging with the living Christ they would have known better.  What they did was use the Bible to hide from Jesus.

That’s history, but here’s a modern example.   An extensive Gallup survey from a few years ago was done.  Should the United States government use torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.  Of course, torture is against the law of our land.  So now we call it “enhanced interrogation?”   Exactly how are we enhancing it???

So the question is, should the United States break its own laws and torture suspected terrorists.  A majority of Americans said.  A majority of Catholics said no.  A majority of Lutherans said no.  A majority of mainline Protestants said no.  Majorly of Jews said no.  Majority of non religious said no.  Majority of atheists said no.

A majority of evangelicals said “yes”.    There’s a problem here.  The people who most self identify as being all about the Bible, bible, bible, “What does the Bible say about the use of torture?”   Nothing.   So it must be ok, praise God!   “So it’s ok with me!”   The Bible says nothing about the use of torture.  But the living Christ has much to say, if you have ears to hear.   Even the agnostic, or the “non”, may not spend time studying the Bible, but they   have heard enough of Jesus that they have an idea of what Jesus is like.  The word of God has been spoken into the world, and they can not imagine Jesus standing in a room torturing somebody say “Talk, you filthy scum, talk!  Or I’ll waterboard you again!”    Maybe that’s not what we ought to do either.  But if we hide behind the Bible, we can imagine this is right…

Don’t be a modern version of a confederate Christian from 150 years ago, using the Bible to prevent yourself from hearing what God has to say.  What would Jesus do?   You can’t always know what Jesus would do, but sometimes it’s clear what Jesus wouldn’t do, isn’t it?   The Bible can’t say everything, or it would be bigger than this house I’m sitting in right now.  But the living Christ can speak constantly into our lives and world, if we will engage with him.  He is the living word, sharper than a two edged sword.  He is the one with eyes like fire.  He is the one to whom we have to give an account.   

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the living word breathes out.   Sometimes we just have to work that out…

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”
‭‭John‬ ‭4:46-54‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis

Please Come.

One last thought on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine.  Short and sweet, I promise.

Jesus doesn’t just turn any old water into wine.   Jesus turned water for ritual purification into wedding wine, and this too is a sign.  The sign is that there is about to be a huge shift in how we understand our relationship with God.   Instead of always washing, washing, washing, mikvah, mikvah, mikvah, ceremonial cleansing, over and over, repeatedly, several times a week, instead of always washing and never really feeling clean, now the Kingdom of God is going to be more like eating and drinking with close friends with nothing to prove.  Because you know you belong and you know you are welcome there.

To be involved with God, Jesus says is not going to be like always bathing but never getting clean. It’s going to be like sitting at a table with your best friends, enjoying good food and drink, with nothing to prove.  Things are about to shift from purity rites to shared table delights.

Instead of are you clean enough, are you pure enough, are you holy enough, are you kosher enough, the question is now going to be will you come to the table?   Want to come to God?   The question has changed.  It used to be that the question was are Holy enough, pure enough, kosher enough, clean enough???   But Jesus says that’s not the question any more. The question isn’t are you holy, clean, or pure enough, the question is will you come to the table??

That’s the standing invitation Jesus gives to you.  He invites you to his table. And he says I’m not asking you if you’re clean enough.  I’m not asking you if you Holy enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re good enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re pure enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re religious enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re kosher enough.  I’m just asking, will you  come?

That’s all Jesus asks of you, is that you come.  Just come.   Just come to the table and then things will happen.   But know that you are welcome here.  You are loved here.  You are accepted here.   Just come as you are.

Amen.

John Lewis

The Wine will Flow

The Wine will Flow

Still turning water into wine here…

Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something.   So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”   So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots.   These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs.  They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs.  If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around.  Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him.  What they are is baptistries.   They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs.  They are used for ritual purification.  Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi.  Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.

So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah.  They are empty.   Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity.  If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here.  So Jesus tells says to the servants Fill the jars with water.”    To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes.  “Oh brother.  Another super religious guy.  Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.”   But they do it.  It’s going to take a while.  Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up.  This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of 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.”   Ok Jesus.  Sounds a little strange.  But they do it anyway.  They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification.  They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens.  The water has turned to wine.

The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on.  He just knows the wine has run out.  But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” 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.”    Think about the baffled bridegroom.  He has no idea what the steward is talking about.  All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it.   The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us!   You kept the very best wine until now!”   To which the bridegroom said what?   “Praise the Lord!!??

But Jesus has done it!!  The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.  And Jesus gives a wink to his mom.   “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:11 NLT.  And John says Jesus revealed his glory.  Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty.    Imagine being one his 6 disciples there.   Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.

And Jesus revealed his beauty.   This is a beautiful story.  There is something fun, something whimsical about this story.  Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario.  A leper, his life ebbing away.  Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm.   Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died.  There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles.  But this one, there’s none of that.  Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything.  This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign.  It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.

What’s the sign pointing to?   In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing.  Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God.  So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this  – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV.  It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…

That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision.  So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived.   Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now.   John’s gospel is very sophisticated.  It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it.  So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not?   Jesus is the bridegroom…

So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine.  In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine.  In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine.  But then, the exile.  For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine.  The wine has run out.  The good days are gone, they have no wine.

But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!!   Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!!   We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!!   AMEN!

When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen.  Why was Jesus at this wedding?  Because he was invited!   Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth?  He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy.  What’s his name?   Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth.   And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle.  So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus.  JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing?   I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come?   And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him.  Because you never know what Jesus is going to do.  Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine.  Nobody would have ever dreamed that up.  Only Jesus.  So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing.  Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen.  But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.

So invite him.

John Lewis

On the Third Day

Starting to look at “signs” in the Gospel of John, seven signs that John has chosen and arranged in such a way to point us to Jesus as Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, that we might believe on him in a right way and have the life to the fullest which He promises.   And, so we will start with the first sign along the way, which appears at a wedding in Cana.

This is the first sign in John, but it’s even the first miracle.  Of all of Jesus’s miracles, the first one is turning water into wine.   It’s not raising the dead, not healing the blind, walking on water, or casting out a demon.   The first miracle Jesus does is turning the water to wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.   So yes, it’s a wedding party, but we can also say it’s Jesus’s coming out party.   Jesus is going public now.  He’s going to start doing the stuff here in Cana of Galilee, and the way he starts is very intriguing.   I hope you like this story as much as I do, because I might be here for a while…

“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

What a great story!!   It begins like this – On the third dayit’s the third day. What does it mean that it’s the third day?   It means it’s Tuesday.  Sunday’s the first day, Monday’s the second day, Tuesday is the third day.   In ancient Israel, Tuesday was the day to get married.  It’s wedding day.  In modern America, Saturday is the day to get married.   But in ancient Israel, as well as Israel to this day, Tuesday is the day to get married.

Why do they get married on Tuesday?  This is scriptural.  In the ancient creation account in Genesis 1, we go through the six days of creation, God goes through each day and declares it good.   We see the phrase and God saw that it was good repeated over and over again.  He blesses every day and calls it good.   But on the third day, God calls it good twice.  Twice during the creation episode of the third day, God pronounces it good.  He says good twice about the third day, “Aah, that’s an auspicious day, it’s doubly blessed from God, we might as well get married on a Tuesday.”   That’s how that got started.

So on the third day, there was a wedding.   Because of course that’s when you do the weddings, on the third day.   On the other hand, John knows very well that his readers, reading a gospel of Jesus Christ, won’t associate the phrase on the third day with the Jewish wedding day.   No, John knows his readers, and he knows that his readers will associate the phrase on the third day with something else altogether.    When you read a gospel of Jesus Christ and see the phrase on the third day, you’re not thinking “Hey, that’s the day the Jews get married.”   That’s not what you’re thinking.  When you (we) read that phrase, on the third day, we are thinking that’s the day Jesus rose from the dead!!   And that’s exactly what John wants you to think.  He is an artist.  He’s not just a theologian, but he’s an artist.  He’s an artistic theologian, and he wants you to get that.  He wants you to connect what’s about to happen at this wedding in Cana with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Five paragraphs in, I’m not out of the first phrase yet.  Told you I would be here for a while…

John Lewis

He Left a Trail

Question for you.   What does it mean to be a Christian?   Does it mean to believe something about Jesus?  Yes it does, but only as a starting point.   Because we believe something about Jesus, we begin to follow him.    But ultimately, to be a Christian means to embark on a life of imitating Jesus.  But I’m afraid that we have defined being a Christian as only something we believe about Jesus.   We believe something about Jesus, this alters our afterlife expectation so that now we are going to heaven and not hell when we die, and therefore we are a Christian.  Right?

NO!!!  To be a Christian means you have intentionally embarked upon a life of imitating Jesus.   He has become your mentor, your teacher, your rabbi, your professor, you master.  You are the disciple.  You are the student, the learner, you are the pupil, you are the one who is following his way of life.  That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Anything short of that is short of being a Christian.  Just saying I believe something about Jesus that changes my afterlife, this does not make you a Christian.   What makes you a Christian is deliberately, intentionally embarking upon a life of imitating the way Jesus lived his life.  This makes you a Christ-like one, a Christ-ian, a disciple of Jesus.

Human beings have lost our way.  I am serious.  We don’t know how to be human.  Cats know how to be cats, dogs know how to be dogs, but humans have lost the way of being human.  We think that the way to be human is to fight, kill, keep score, get even, and paybacks.  This is what Cain did when he refused to see his brother as his brother.  He kills his brother, lies to himself and God about it, and goes off and starts civilization.  That’s the beginning of Genesis chapter 4.   At the end of Genesis 4, seven generations later, we come to Lamech, who says “…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.””  Genesis 4:23-24 ESV.   What does this do?   It puts the world on a completely destructive course leading to the deadly days of Noah and the flood that nearly destroys humanity.   What happens is that Christ has to come much later and give us a whole new meaning of seventy times seven.

Cain says “If my brother is in my way I’m going to kill him.  My vengeance will be seven-fold.”  Lamech says “it’s going to be seventy times seven for me.”   And the world is out of control, baptized in violence, under the flood of judgement nearly destroying the human race.   

When Jesus comes, he comes as the word, the logos, the logic of God made human flesh.  You want to know what God thinks?   Want to know what God’s opinion is?  Want to know how God looks at things?  Up until Christ we have hints, we have prophets, we have guesses, ideas, psalms, we have stories, but when we get to Christ we have the logic of God made flesh so that we can actually look at him and say “that’s what God is like.”    The apostle Paul tells us Christ is the visible image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1:15 NLT.  He is the image, greek word icon, of the invisible God. God is invisible so that we are guessing, we are wondering, we are speculating what God is like.  Some get it right, some get it kinda right, some get it wrong, some get it a lot wrong.

But when Jesus comes the mystery begins to be solved.   We can look at the icon of Christ, who is the flesh and blood manifestation of the logic of God.  We begin to know what God is like when we look at Jesus.

But Jesus is not just the icon of God, but also the icon of what the apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 2:15 the new humanity.  Things go wrong with Adam and Eve.  Things go wrong with Cain and Abel.  Things go very wrong with Lamech.  We’ve lost our way.  We don’t know how to be human.  Jesus comes not only as the icon of the invisible God, but also the icon of what human beings are to be like.   Jesus gives us a new way to be human.

Jesus doesn’t just do things for us that requires only a response of passive faith.  Jesus blazes a trail for us to follow.   Too often we think “Jesus came, did all this for us, and I just believe, so everything is good.”  No.  Jesus came, blazed a trail, then said come on, follow me!   When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John on the Sea of Galilee, follow me, it’s a call to all of humanity.  It’s a call to you, too.  Jesus is not just doing something for us so that we can sit by passively.  “Yes I believe Jesus did that.  Hallelujah.  It’s going to be a great afterlife.  Let’s sing a hymn and go home.”

No.  Jesus comes, blazes a trail, and calls to the human race, this way!   Follow me.  Do it the way I do.  I’m going to show you how to live life right.   You have forgotten how to be human.  You have forgotten how to bear the image of God.  You have forgotten to be what you were supposed to be.  I’m going to show you again.  Follow me.

Jesus did not live and die and rise again just to save us from afterlife consequences.  Jesus lived his life to show us as human beings how to live our lives.  He did not just die on the cross for you, he calls out pick up your cross and follow me!!

What Jesus did on the cross is the defining moment of his life.  It was inevitable and right that the Roman cross would become the symbol of the Christian faith.  If we want to pick a single moment, from his birth, his miracles, his life, his teaching, and message, if we want to pick a defining moment from the life of Jesus Christ, you will find none better than Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in offered embrace, saying father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

In that moment, we find the clearest picture of what God is like.   We also find the new picture of who we are to be like.  We see our model.  We find the cruciform standard for true beauty.  Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the truest revelation of who God is.

Another question.  Does the dominant expression of public Christianity in America look like Christ on the cross loving and forgiving his enemies.  What if we surveyed the “man on the street”, asking them if the dominant form of Christianity in America, expressed as modern evangelicalism,  publicly expressed in this land, does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?    How is the dominant form of public Christianity in America identified?  Does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?

If the answer is no, then we should be alarmed.    We should be deeply troubled.  We should be seeking to repent and change things.   But enough of the small talk.  I’ll get to the point.  If we have to express public contempt and thinly veiled hate for liberals, gays and Muslims in order to prove what good Christians we are, we have invented a false religion that takes the name of Christ in vain.   I understand it feels right, but it’s wrong.  It looks nothing like Jesus.

I don’t want those dark eyes anymore.  I don’t want a dark soul.  I don’t want a soul made dark because I spend my life looking at others through the squinty eyes of judgement.  I want to look at others with the wide eyes of love and wonder knowing that they, too, are loved by God.  I will not play the us vs them game.

We have a public expression of Christian faith that has been almost entirely defined by a quest for power.  As Dr Russell Moore, a leading theologian among the southern baptists, said a few years ago “For far too long, American Christianity has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”   What a disaster.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,”. Colossians 1:15 NLT

by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” Ephesians 2:15 NIV

John Lewis

Darkened Lamps

light_in_dark

“They tell me to be discreet, for all intended purposes,  they tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand I’m sure it is.  But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized.   All I feel are heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.”   Bob Dylan.

Jesus wants to teach us a brand new way of looking at life with eyes of wonder, love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul.   I’ve used this quote before, but here it is again – “Christianity is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all” – Pastor and author Brian Zahnd.  The problem is that the people who are most explicit in our culture in identifying themselves as Christian are not famous for forgiveness.  If we are identifying ourselves with Christianity, which is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all, but we are not famous for our forgiveness, something has gone very wrong.  We say we care about Christianity in America.  We say we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live as Christians.   But we have a problem.

The dominant, most visible public expression of public Christianity in America, evangelicalism, is in deep trouble.   The us vs. them thing is killing us.  We have adopted a paradigm of self-identifying ourselves as we are the righteous and they (pick your group) are the unrighteous, and we are going to react toward them by protest, by clenched fist, by furrowed brow, and this attitude and paradigm is killing authentic Christianity in America.

I can’t paraphrase or otherwise say this any better, so this is directly from Pastor Zahnd’s 2010 book Unconditional?  The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.  So I’ll just quote from it.

“When we choose to forgive those who intentionally and maliciously harm us instead of perpetuating the cycle of revenge, we become a living imitation of Jesus Christ.  And as we do this, we flood a world hell-bent on paybacks with a forgiveness that washes away sin.  The world is all too full of the lust for vengeance.  This lust is ultimately demonic in nature and is what fuels all our wars – from petty personal conflicts to deadly world wars.  Christians are called to opt out of the game of getting even.  The saying is that “vengeance is sweet,” but vengeance is sweet only to the sick soul.  To those who have tasted the grace of God in Christ, vengeance is bitter as gall.  Bob Dylan talks about the perversity of calling revenge ‘sweet’ in his under-appreciated song ‘Dark Eyes.’

‘They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,

They tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.

But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,

All I feel are heat and flame and all I feel are dark eyes.’

Revenge is not sweet.  It’s the heat and flame of hell and leads to the dark eyes of a lost soul.  Those who would aspire to imitate Christ must feel nothing for the game of paybacks.  The saying ‘paybacks are hell’ is true in more than one sense.  Paybacks are not only hell for the recipient of revenge; paybacks are also hell for the executioner of revenge.  It’s the lust for revenge that destroys our souls and keeps us chained in a devil’s  hell of exponential hatred and endless retribution.  The only way out is the imitation of Christ.”

Who are we imitating?   Are we imitating Christ?   Or are we dancing with the devil?   Just what kind of light is the lamp of your soul beaming?

 “”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.

John Lewis