Chills

Just had a random thought enter my mind during my prayer time this morning. I’ve never thought about this before, and this thought line may be totally undeveloped for now, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Just had a thought about this particular verse of scripture – Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. This same verse appears slightly differently in the gospel of Luke as well – “”And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Luke 12:8-10 ESV

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Ok, so here’s the thought I had this morning, and it’s a very serious thought. The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…if we are Christians, who claim to have been “saved”, who claim to have communion with the holy, risen Christ, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who claim to have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit, yet we walk in the world as the same angry, selfish, obnoxious person/people we were before…is that not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is not the worst blasphemy we could possibly make the blasphemy of an unholy life lived in the name of the Holy Spirit?

This gives me chills. People know who I am. They know that I am a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ, who believes he is the way, the truth, and the life. But – is what they see from me in my life and the way I carry myself on a daily basis blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Do they see me loving my neighbor, am I one who prays for those who would be my enemies? Do I even love my own wife and children, brothers and sisters as myself?

Chills.

How about the church as a whole?? Does the church blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in our day to day interactions with the “world” around us? Do we, as a church, walk in a spirit of protest and confrontation, or in the spirit of love and reconciliation?? Which of these spirits is of the Holy Spirit? Is one of these spirits a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

We think we know what “sin” is. But these are words straight from the mouth of the sinless one. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus, the one we claim to follow yet ignore his teaching. All those “unwashed masses”, Jesus says all their sins will be forgiven them, but those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Again, am I guilty, in my own life on a daily basis, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Sometimes we think we have all the answers, we know every sin known to man, and we can tell the “world” all the things they are getting wrong. But, as Jesus also said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 ESV. How many of us point out every speck of dust in the world’s eye, when we can’t even see past the redwood tree in our own eyes? After all, it may be we who are guilty of the only sin Jesus says is unforgivable.

Chills.

“”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.””

Mark 3:28-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.3.28-30.esv

John Lewis

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What Happened To You???

What Happened To You???

My first message this week, and it is still Easter week, so…

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

Psalms 16:9-10 ESV

Psalm 16 is one of the Old Testament texts Peter drew upon for his Pentecost Sunday sermon as he preached upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The events central to Pentecost occurred in the upper room.  Very near to the upper room was the tomb of David.  So as Peter preaches this sermon, he could quote from psalm 16, and then he could point to the tomb of David which was right there.  “”Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Acts 2:29 ESV.  And he could point at the tomb of David as he preached.  “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” Acts 2:30-31 ESV.  And since his tomb is right there, apparently he was not talking about himself but messiah, who would not be abandoned to the grave, who would not see corruption, who would be raised in resurrection.

At His death, Christ descended to the dead, as we confess in the apostles creed.   You (hopefully) are familiar with the creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord.  He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended to the dead….”.  This is a very mysterious aspect of apostles creed.  Some traditions have simply taken it out, because they don’t want to deal with it, don’t understand what it means to say Jesus descended to the dead.

Peter says he preached to captive souls.  Paul in Ephesians says he liberated captive souls.  But they kind of whet out appetites but don’t tell us all we want to know.  But they do make hints and allusions to it.

Greek Orthodox Anastasis (resurrection) icons always picture Jesus in resurrection not alone, but bringing others with him.  The idea that Jesus went into death and rose again by himself is kind of a happy ending to the story,  but leaves death unchanged.  Greek Orthodox icons have it right.  They always depict Christ with others, specifically pulling Adam and Eve, representing all humanity, out of their graves.  It is the iconography of Jesus actually conquering death.

By death, Christ entered into death to fill death with himself, so that now to enter into death is to encounter nothing but Christ.  This is scripturally sound, theologically sound, and worth meditating on.

Today we are going to focus on this scripture – you will not abandon my soul to Sheol.  The gospel, very simply, is the story of Jesus Christ.  It’s the story of Jesus, not a formula, not an equation, not four laws and a sinners prayer.

The gospel in its fullest form encompasses the whole story of Israel, including the Old Testament, finding its fulfillment in Christ.  Christ, the true Israelite, the seed of Abraham, the Son of David who sees the whole project into completion.

The gospel in its most succinct form is death, burial, and resurrection. The gospel in its clearest form is Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  It’s death, descent, and resurrection.

Salvation comes by believing and enfolding our story into the gospel story, so that our story and the gospel story mix together, becoming one new glorious story.  That’s why formal entrance into the Christian faith involves the sacrament of baptism, which is many things but certainly a witness to the reality that we have died in christ, we are buried in Christ, and raised in newness of life in Christ.  That which is the central story of Jesus, death, burial and resurrection, now because we are in Christ by faith, that becomes our story too.  We too have died (to something), entered all the way into death, and been raised to newness of life.  In other words, you have your own Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  But not just once, but many times throughout your journey, as you do it in Christ, there will be many occasions where the gospel pattern gets repeated in your life.  Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday.

You will experience deaths.  This is not bad news, it’s just news which you know already, that you will experience deaths.   That is the pain of loss, relationships lost, stations and situations in life lost, sometimes even certain beliefs might be lost.

You will experience burial, that sense (not reality) of being abandoned by God.  My god, my god, why have you forasaken me?   We know Jesus prayed that from the cross.  Every one of us has felt that very thing.  In theology that’s called the cry of dereliction, where Jesus experiences the sense of abandonment upon the cross, you have experienced that same thing.

But you will also experience resurrection, being lifted up from death and Sheol into newness of life.  You will be raised, but remember, you will not be the same.  When you go through that pattern of life, because your story is enfolded into the story of Jesus, and you go through a period of death, burial and resurrection, when you are raised you are not just escaping by the skin of your teeth, you are coming through the whole process and now you are different.

Remember Lazarus?  Lazarus was raised, but he was the same.  Lazarus being raised after four days is not what happened to Jesus.  It was a mere resuscitation. It was very dramatic, but it was simply resuscitation.  Jesus was not resuscitated.   Jesus’s resurrection was not merely Jesus coming back from the dead, “I got out, I escaped!”   No, that’s why in those Orthodox icons it’s not just Jesus escaping by himself, but it’s Jesus destroying death itself from the inside.  Lazarus just escapes, then returns.  Jesus destroyed death, went through death.  The resurrection of Jesus was a whole different order. If the resurrection of Jesus and the  raising of Lazarus were of the same order, then Lazarus was even more impressive because he was four days dead, Jesus only three.  But that’s not what’s going on.

Easter is Jesus Christ going all the way into death, not escaping death, but breaking through to the other side, breaking into a new world, a new age, a holy realm beyond the reach of death.  Then he beckons us to follow.

When Jesus is raised, it’s very important to understand that he was changed.  He is still Jesus. But he’s not the same.  He’s still fundamentally the same person, but he is changed.  We see this borne out in the fact that Jesus was almost always difficult to recognize.  Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener.  The Emmaus Road disciples mistake him for a stranger.  When Jesus appeared to the eleven on the mountain in Galilee, some of them doubted.   It was possible to wonder “is this Jesus?”   When the disciples had breakfast with him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we are told they didn’t dare ask “who are you?”   “Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” John 21:12 ESV

The point is, it was hard to recognize Jesus after the resurrection.  They identified him by his actions and certain things he did, but it was not as simple as instant facial recognition.  They didn’t recognize him at first.  “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” John 21:4-7 ESV.   They recognized because of the miracle they had seen…

In our own lives, as the gospel pattern of death, burial, and resurrection is played out over time, people may sometimes have a hard time recognizing you.  They might even ask “who are you?”   They didn’t ask Jesus, but they might ask you.  They might say, you’re not really you anymore.  “You’re not the real ___________!!   What did you do with that guy i knew?”  But isn’t that the point?   Isn’t the point to become a new person in Christ?  The point is not just to escape a certain situation but only come back the same, but to become a new person in Christ.  We are buried as one kind of person, but be raised as another.  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol.

There will be times on your journey, if you stay on the journey (not everyone stays on the journey), all kinds of things will happen.  There will be times when your soul will descend to Sheol.  You might be able to avoid Sheol, if you don’t stay on the journey, and you get lucky and events in life work out to you favor, you may avoid the experience of Sheol.  But you will never change, and that may be the greatest tragedy of all.

There will be times in your journey, if you stay on the journey, when your soul will descend into Sheol.  Holy Saturday is part of the gospel.  We like to go straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, but there is a whole day in between.  That day may seem bleak.  But Easter does come, amen and hallelujah.

There will be times when your soul will descend to Sheol.  What is Sheol?   It’s the same thing as the Greek Hades.  It’s the place of the dead.  It might best be best communicated by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey, where it’s this dark, dismal, subterranean abode of the dead, filled with shades and ghosts.  They are listless spirits, everything is dull and grey.  They wispy, listless spirits with no purpose or meaning, they just wander around forlorn and lost.  That’s the biblical concept of Sheol, it’s this place where nothing makes sense, there seems to be no point to it, all the spirits are grey, listless, without any meaning.

There will be seasons where your soul will descend to Sheol, that’s what we generally call depression.  Things are grey, they don’t make much sense.  We get this feeling like what’s the point, your life doesn’t seem to have a clear defined meaning that makes sense to you.

There will be times when you feel like you’ve lost everything, it may feel like you’ve lost your faith, your hope, maybe your love.  You may feel dead.  You may feel dead to the things that once gave you comfort and provided meaning.

In Sheol, your soul will feel abandoned by god, but you will not be abandoned to Sheol.  Yes, Sheol is a thing that happens to us.  To you who believe, the promise is that god will not abandon your soul there.  You’re not going to be stuck there forever.  God will not abandon your soul to Sheol.

But Sheol does a work. You don’t do anything.  What did Jesus do on holy Saturday?  Nothing.  He was there in a tomb.  But Sheol for us may have a purpose.  In Sheol death is doing its work if decomposing what ought not be, but, again, God will not abandon your soul to Sheol.

In the ambiguous third day (when we go through these things we can’t just look at the calendar and count three days), God will raise your soul from Sheol.  Holy Saturday is not the end, Easter Sunday is the end, but it’s not so much an end as a new beginning.  Yes, your soul will from time to time go down to Sheol, but God will not abandon your soul there.  Just wait, your soul will be raised from Sheol to newness of life.  But it will be a new you that is raised from Sheol.  You might be hard to recognize.  People might ask what happened to you??!!  That’s the outsiders testimony of someone who’s gone down to Sheol, but God has not abandoned them, he has raised them them up to newness if life, and people are going to have say, “What’s happened to you, you’re not like you used to be!

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

Psalms 16:9-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/psa.16.9-10.esv

John Lewis

Fire From Heaven

Going to finish what I started in the last couple of messages..  I had made the statement that What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.  I made this statement but never actually got to this point, so today I will get to the point.   (And all God’s people said Amen!)

Yesterday we finished up at the point in Luke Chapter 9 where Jesus, having detected the spirit of competition and power among his disciples as they argued about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God,  set down a little child among them and said to them “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.

Jesus is completely challenging their whole systems of comparing and competing, us vs them, and the disciples resist this, maybe they even resent it.   They, like us, were very committed to their us vs them framework of seeing the world.  Jesus subverts their system, their way of competing and contrasting and picking winners and losers, and the disciples don’t like it.

In my previous message, I had looked more specifically at verse 49 which comes next after Jesus shows them that greatness is not to be defined as they had thought.  “John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”” Luke 9:49-50 ESV.   Still showing his commitment to his us vs them way of seeing the world, John doubles down and tells how, despite their own failures in casting out demons earlier, they had come upon a man who was having no trouble casting out those demons in the name of Jesus Christ.  He had no trouble accomplishing what the disciples could not, but since he does not follow with us, the disciples stopped him.  And of course Jesus rebukes them and tells them “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

I’ll reiterate again, then get to the point.  You’ll never cast out many demons by sticking to us vs them because that’s the game demons play.  

Now, back to verse 51, that demarcation point from which Jesus has entered the last two weeks of his earthly ministry.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. ” And they went to another village.”

Jesus has steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, he is determined to stay faithful in announcing the Kingdom of God even though it means going through his own crucifixion to do it.  Notice that they do not go around Samaria as most Jews of the time would have, so hated were the Samaritans that they would add days to their journey just to avoid all contact with them.  But, again, Jesus refuses to recognize boundaries constructed in hostility toward others.  He does not have the spirit of Satan with him.   He goes straight through Samaria in his journey up to Jerusalem.

Now, he sent messengers ahead of him to go into Samaria to find somewhere to stay.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.   The Samaritans hated the Jews right back, anyone who was set upon going up to Jerusalem to worship, who thought that they only had the one true God and said the Samaritans had no part in that God, even though the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all worshipped God upon their great mountain, Mt Gerazene.  The Samaritans resisted and resented this and would not receive Jews into their territory any more that the Jews wished to pass through.

And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. ”.  James and John are having a tough time in Luke Chapter 9.

Samaria at the time was the same area as the Palestinian West Bank.  The geography and relationships and hostilities remain about the same to this day.  Most Jews took the long route around Samaria, Jesus goes straight through.  But the Samaritans won’t receive them, and it is an insult.

In response to this insult, James and John, the Sons of Thunder, wanted to burn them up with the fire of God.  In their desire to burn the Samaritan them, James and John cite the Bible.  Like the Bible says Jesus, you want us to burn them up like Elijah did?   Immediately James and John cite the story in 2Kings chapter 1.  You can read it for yourself, but here’s the point – when the king of Samaria, centuries earlier, sent troops to arrest the prophet Elijah, Elijah twice called down fire from heaven and burned them up, thus killing 100 Samaritan soldiers.  This is immediately what James and a John gravitate to.  We remember when Elijah let them have it.  Let’s go shock and awe on them, let’s drop the nukes, call down fire from heaven and burn them up!!!   Jesus let’s do that!!

This is what Elijah did when the Samaritans opposed him.  But guess what??!!   JESUS IS NOT ELIJAH.  The disciples clearly thought violence was on the table for Jesus. They’d been with him, walked with him, learned from him.  They knew his ways, but ultimately they still thought when it all hit the fan, Jesus would grab the sword and go to war.  They thought Jesus would resort to violence to usher in the kingdom of God, just like Joshua, like David, like Elijah.  They are wrong,  flat wrong.

Jesus tells them they are wrong with a very strong rebuke.  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”  It was the spirit of Satan they had within them.   While fantasizing about the vengeance of God falling upon your enemies, make sure your not just fantasizing about your own vengeance and thus giving yourself over to the spirit of Satan.  This is what James, John and the disciples did.

James and John could have gone to another bible story.  Elijah had a protégée, Elisha, who had the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.  On one occasion, Elisha found his house surrounded by Syrian soldiers coming to arrest him.  When Elijah had this situation, he called down fire from heaven.  Elisha is capable of this, but does not do it.  He asks God to render them temporarily blind.  He takes them to the king of Israel.  “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 6:18-23 ESV.  What to make of this?  Elisha had progressed beyond Elijah.  It’s a journey.  We have to stay on the journey, both individually and together in community.  Elijah’s way of dealing with enemies was to burn them and kill them.  Elisha’s way of dealing with enemies is to bless them, share a table with them and have a feast, then send them home with bellies full.  And the Syrians never again invaded.

Elijah’s way is to burn his enemies and kill them.  Elisha’s way is to bless his enemies and share a table with them.  Which one is the Jesus Way?  But the disciples had a hard time with that…

Jesus’s way of changing the world is not on a battlefield but at a shared table.  This is why we see Jesus enacting the kingdom of god from table to table.  Jesus disciples kept thinking Jesus would resort to violence, which is what Peter said in the garden of Gethsemane.   “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”” Luke 22:49 ESV.  To which Jesus says, as he always had through his entire life and ministry, NO.  Yet to this day many Christians believe, that ultimately, in the end of things, Jesus is still going to resort to violence to fully advance his kingdom.  He’s going to come down like Elijah, breathing that fire from heaven, burning all of those sinners up!!  We wait, we expect wars to come, and we think these are good because it must mean Jesus is coming.   Man, we have so missed the point, and the message, of the Gospel.  Gospel means Good News, does it not?   Why would we think Jesus bringing fire from heaven to burn up all the sinners would be Good News???

We are still infected with the spirit of Satan.

Jesus will go to Jerusalem.  He will confront the principalities and powers, and he will never resort to violence.  Jesus will allow his body to be broken.  He will allow his blood to be shed.  He will respond with forgiveness.  And forgiveness only.

Thank you Jesus.

John Lewis

Fishing for Men

fishing for men

Getting back into Luke, continuing to follow and attempting to understand Jesus more fully, to be more fully aware of who he was and the purposes for which he saw his own life and ministry. We are coming to the point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is launching his movement. We’ve dealt with his birth and infancy narratives. We’ve seen Jesus baptized by John and tempted by the devil. We’ve seen Jesus beginning to preach, and the sometimes hostile reactions that might come about when you challenge people’s assumptions that those mostly like themselves are “good” and that those not like themselves are mostly “bad”.

Good n Bad

Now we get to see Jesus launch his movement. We get to read and respond to Jesus announcing and enacting the new government, the new social order from God. We get to see up close the new way God wants to arrange human living. It’s called the kingdom of heaven. But don’t get this twisted. The Kingdom of Heaven proclaimed by Jesus Christ is not a kingdom in heaven, but a Kingdom from heaven right here on earth. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heavenIt is this kingdom Jesus is announcing and enacting.

on earth as it is in heaven

As he’s doing this, announcing by preaching, enacting by miracle, he’s inviting people to join his movement. And it is a movement. It is a movement of people who will live their lives under the Kingdom of God. But it’s scandalous how he’s doing this, who he’s inviting into his movement. Jesus invites into his movement not the insiders but the outsiders. He calls not the righteous but sinners.I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

sinners to repentance

Rewind just a bit. In his hometown, Jesus had been well received until he began to challenge their paradigm of us vs them, the nucleus of their unity, the very glue which held them together, and they become willing to throw him off a cliff.

off the cliff

Having been rejected in his hometown Jesus relocates 40 miles away to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He is enacting the Kingdom of God, preaching and healing. Because of his powers of healing, people were often anxious to touch him. Hoping to be able to teach without being rushed by people trying to touch him, he asks Simon to use his boat. On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

Miracle-of-the-Fish

Simon (Peter) had been fishing all night, caught nothing, and is just trying to clean his nets so he can go home a get some rest. Jesus commandeers his boat for the purposes of preaching without getting bum rushed by crowds just wanting to touch him so that they might receive healing from whatever it was they needed healing from. When he’s finished teaching, he tells Simon to put his boats out and his nets down. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”I don’t know if this is a sign of great faith on Simon’s part or not, but he does do as Jesus tells him. Maybe he’s just worn out from a long nights work. Maybe, like the crowds onshore, he’s heard of Jesus’s miracles already. Clearly Jesus has caused quite a stir and gained some notoriety. Either way, he does as Jesus tells him and let’s down his nets one more time, if only to humor this nascent rabbi, even if the guy doesn’t know a thing about fishing!

24_catching-many-fish

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.Apparently this Jesus fellow does know something about fishing! Simon knows enough about fishing to know that he’s just witnessed a miracle from God. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”Simon immediately sees himself as unworthy of the presence of the man who had nearly sank two boats with the haul of fish. He falls to his knees and tells Jesus, “You don’t want to hang around me, I’m a bad guy…”

depart from me

In calling his followers, Jesus didn’t pay much attention to the categories of good and bad. We pay much attention to this, but Jesus, not so much. We consider ourselves very good at categorizing some people as good and other people as bad. Usually the way it works is that people who are like ourselves we call good, people not like ourselves we call bad. But as we look at Jesus, he’s not much interested in our categories. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. Simon tells Jesus that he’s a bad dude, Jesus just says Do not be afraid. Yeah, don’t worry about that Simon…from now on you will be catching men.

The categories Jesus is worried about are proud and humble. Peter humbled himself and saw himself, not all those other people (remember something about a log in your own eye?), as being sinful. Jesus tells him, don’t you worry about that,from now on you will be catching men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

All four, Simon, Andrew, James and John, gave up their fishing trade and became followers of Jesus. At the moment, maybe it doesn’t seem so important, but as it turned out, this is a BIG DEAL. This is the beginning of the world being changed. This little movement, begun with a miraculous haul of fish after a failed night of fishing for four young fisherman, would continue to grow. We continue to honor these first four disciples by all the things we name after them – churches, schools, hospitals, towns, cities. St. Andrews, St Peter’s, St. John, St. James. How many different things can we think of which bear these names. How many sons have born these names? How about San Diego (Spanish for James), St. Petersburg, Johannesburg.

Four simple fishermen, just trying to make a living. Not the right group of people to start a movement with. Just a bunch of sinners who couldn’t even catch fish on their own. Seems they turned out to be much better at catching men than fish…

John Lewis

Freely Given

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard, straight outta Matthew.  Jesus tells a story of a farmer who hired laborers in his vineyard.  Some he hired first thing in the morning, some he hired  about the third hourthen Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hourhe hired more laborers.   Finally, about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 

Everything was a-ok until quitting time, when it came time to pay all these laborers their wages.  The owner starts with those who had just arrived in the last hour, and each of them received a denarius.   Then those who had been there six hours, those who’d been there 9 hours, also received the same denarius.  Finally, those who had started first thing in the morning come, and they believe (as do we) they should receive more.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  To which Jesus’ farmer replies But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Jesus’ farmer just broke every economic rule, every rule of motivation,  every rule of fair compensation.  Yes, the union boss would have been running an investigation of these labor practices!

Think about it.  This last group of laborers had been standing lazily around all day – Why do you stand here idle all day?  It’s harvest season, if these guys had wanted to work, they could have found work.  The text doesn’t give them credit for doing any exceptional job in the hour they were there.  Yet the boss gives them the same pay as he gives those who’ve been sweating under the hot sun.

It makes no sense.  Seriously, it makes no sense.  Why would any employer give the same pay no matter the quantity, or the quality, of work done?  It makes no sense because Jesus is not teaching us about economics, but grace.  The grace of God.  Grace can not be calculated like a day’s wages.  Again, grace is not about finishing last or first; it’s about not counting.

This story Jesus tells is not about fairness.  In fact, the story is completely and patently unfair, and that is the whole point.  Grace is not fair.   By definition, it is unfair and undeserved.  It is, after all, grace.  You can’t earn or deserve grace.  I’ve heard it said of forgiveness that if you have earned it or deserve it, then it’s not forgiveness at all.  Forgiveness is freely given or it’s not forgiveness, it’s simply right justice.  You’ve paid back your debt, you’ve done your time, you did not receive grace or forgiveness, just that which you paid for.

I would say the same thing about grace.  If you’ve earned it or deserve it, if you’ve worked so hard for it that in receiving it you are simply getting what is owed to you, where is the grace in that?  Grace is either freely given or not given at all.

And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   It is not fair.  We earned our pay.   Which of you reading this does not fall on the side of these 12 hour workers?  This is the way our world works, and believe me, sometimes you can be a 12 hour worker and it’s still not good enough.   No matter how hard you work to earn favor in this world, by the rules of this world, there will be someone there to tell you you’re still not good enough.

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”   Not so in the Kingdom of God.   The Kingdom of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, runs on grace.  Two thousand years after Jesus, we still haven’t wrapped our heads around this yet.  We’ve got all kinds of rules, regulations, and lines in the sand.   But in Bible, even through the Old Testament but most glaringly in the “…Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” John 1:14 ESV, all we see is the grace of God.  Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God, never once turned away a sinner who came to him.  His only rule is grace and forgiveness.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 ESV.  Ouch.  Didn’t see that on the Romans Road.

I may try to earn it.  You may try to earn it.  But the more we try to earn the grace and favor of God, the farther we move away from Him.  It is our world that runs on merit.  It is the spirit of this world that pits us against one another, makes us climb over one another on that ladder of success.  It is the spirit of this world that says if we would only do more, we might get more.  It is the spirit of this world that says that getting more is the goal.

In the kingdom of God, we can not do more to get more.  Twelve hour workers get no more than those who showed up just in time for dinner.  There is no more to get.  He’s already given it all.  All we can do is accept free gift of the grace of God, freely given.

“”For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.””

Matthew 20:1-16 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.20.1-16.esv

John Lewis

Ninety-nine Sheep

ninety nine sheep

Looking at the grace of God, a grace which surpasses all human understanding and comprehension.  A grace which just makes no sense to us, because the only ways we can understand are the ways of our world, the ways we have learned and lived our whole lives.  Consider this story of a shepherd and a particular lost sheep.

Lost-Sheep

“”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7 ESV

open country

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting this one.  It seems simple enough, but when I really consider it, what about those other ninety-nine sheep?   Jesus tells us this man (God the Father) would leave ninety-nine sheep in the open country to chase after this one fool sheep who wanders away.   In the open countryunprotected, there would be thieves, wolves, and any number of other threats.  More could simply wander off.  What if he comes back with this one lost sheep, celebrating and thanking God, and twenty more are missing?  Then what?

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It makes no sense to us (at least me) because I am too busy counting. I like to know I’m doing the right thing, making the right decision.  So why would I leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep vulnerable to attack, unprotected, to go chasing after one scoundrel who never should have wandered off in the first place?   In trying to win back this one little sheep, I’m not going to risk losing any of my good sheep.

Name in 3D coloured lights

But here’s the thing about God and his grace – if you’re busy counting, doing the math, you’ve missed the whole point.  In the words of Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing About Grace?, “Grace is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting.”   God’s grace is a free gift, not something we can ever earn.

healthy people

God’s not doing the math.  God is not about making sure we have done ten more good things that bad things in our life so we can then somehow be found worthy of his love.  God is not even about distinguishing “bad” from “good”.  (What was that tree Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from in the garden?)  If he were, he had ninety-nine perfectly “good” little sheep and would never have left them to chase after that one “bad” sheep.   But, as Jesus also says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”” Luke 5:32 ESV.  That one lost sheep is the whole reason Jesus ever came…

grace2

God did not come to us in the form of Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, because of how righteous we are.  He came to chase us down because we are all his lost sheep.  He comes out of heaven, walks with us on earth, joins us in our mess which we have made, and guides us back.   He is gathering his flock.  If we have been brought back into the fold, now we get to join Jesus in chasing down the rest of those lost sheep.  We are out in the open country, there are wolves watching and waiting.  If we are just standing still, how easy will it be for the wolves to pick us off?

jesus searching

So we don’t stand still.  We join Jesus in his search.  In our search, we draw closer to Him, we become more like Him.  As we become more like Him, we too begin to stop counting.  We too begin to see the value of one lost sheep.  We too will leave ninety-nine in open country to chase the one who has strayed.

harvest is plenty

There are so many lost sheep.  So many that, as Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2 ESV.   If you are that lost sheep, Jesus will not rest until he has tracked you down.  He’s come all the way from heaven to find you.  If you’re one of those ninety-nine in the open country, the wolves are watching and waiting for their chance to strike.   Quit standing still, go with Jesus, and find that lost sheep He is looking for.

John Lewis

Means and Ends

Means and Ends

Temptations-of-Jesus-2.jpgOoops, thought I had published this days ago…

After Jesus was baptized, he then was led by the spirit into the wilderness of prayer and fasting.  Jesus about to begin his ministry of announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  During this forty days, Jesus is contemplating the nature of both his ministry and the nature of the Kingdom of God he’d be establishing.    While contemplating his ministry which would soon begin, Jesus faces three temptations.  In these temptations, Jesus was tempted to go about his ministry in the wrong way, to establish the kingdom of god on the wrong foundation.  Remember what he taught about foundations – “”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

matthew7-25

The first temptation Jesus faced was the temptation to base the kingdom on bread.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”   You might say this is the liberal temptation, to merely address the material needs of mankind.  It’s a temptation to reduce the faith to a socioeconomic agenda.  These things need to be addressed, but Jesus saw it as a temptation to simply address the material needs of man.  Bread is good, bread is necessary.  But people will sell their very souls for a piece of bread.  But this still leaves that God shaped hole in the middle of our soul.  With the word of god he resisted that temptation.  And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'”

man_shall_not_live_by_bread

The second temptation was the temptation to spectacle.   And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”   Just do a sign, prove who you are!!   This is the empiricist temptation, to persuade by empirical proof, to do away with faith by simply proving everything.  Jesus resisted that because he realized that was to put God to the test, And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   He resisted that and left room for faith.

Jesus would later tell of the sign he would give – “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  Luke 11:29 ESV.  But in the end, even the resurrection would not be enough if a man does not want to see.  “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”” Luke 16:31 ESV

temptation-of-christ

The third temptation was to base the kingdom upon force, to compromise with the devil that he might become the world’s new emperor the way all the old emperors become emperors.  And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  This is the conservative temptation, to rule the world by violence.  To continue to do it the same way Caesar was doing it.  But Jesus resists this temptation as well.  “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”   Jesus could have been the conquering Messiah the people were waiting for.  They couldn’t wait to join his army and really strike back at those Romans.  Jesus would have used his power for good, he would have been a more righteous king.  He could have bypassed being the suffering servant and grabbed the throne through the will to power, the power to kill.  But he still would have just another king in the line of kings of the world.

End-Never-Justifies-the-Means

Notice all these temptations were based on a desire for a good end.  Jesus was not tempted with evil but he was tempted for good.  Jesus was tempted to have this as his end – to eliminate poverty, engender faith, and unite the world.  But it was  the means that were wrong.

quote-the-end-cannot-justify-the-means-for-the-simple-and-obvious-reason-that-the-means-employed-aldous-huxley-306973

Does the end justify the means?  Never.  In fact, the means are the end in the process of becoming.  Becoming more forgiving, or becoming more vengeful.   Me coming more merciful, becoming more merciless.   Becoming more Christlike, or becoming un-like Christ.  Becoming more an instrument of Christ’s love and mercy, or becoming an instrument of the Satan’s anger and vengeance.   Compromised means always results in a compromised end.  Jesus overcame the temptation to base the kingdom on bread, spectacle and force and instead set forth to proclaim the kingdom on faith hope, and love.  Instead of the conquering Messiah, he chose the route of the suffering servant.  Instead of bread, circus, and force, he chose the route of the cross for his coronation.

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Jesus is king.  Jesus was king.  Jesus came to be king.  But when the people tried to make him king by force after his feeding the five thousand, he declined.  “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” John 6:15 ESV.   When they came the next day looking for more bread, he cryptically offers instead his own flesh and blood.  “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:53-56 ESV.   Most who hear him call him crazy, and all but the most devoted followers turn away.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”” John 6:66-69 ESV.

Sign-Of-Jonah-300x166

Ultimately, Jesus would be crowned king.  His means were love and forgiveness, not bullets and bombs.   His ends were love and forgiveness, not bullets and bombs.  These are hard things to understand.   Will we turn back, or continue on our walk?  Do we want to go away as well?  Or, like Peter, is our answer Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God??

withdraw1

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

Luke 4:1-13 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.1-13.esv

John Lewis