They Wanted a Hero

Five days after the crowds waved their palms and cried their hosannas as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was on trial.  The Prince of Peace had come, but they didn’t want a prince of peace, they wanted a hero.

They wanted a hero.  Like Barrabas.  Mel Gibson misrepresented Barrabas.  He got Barrabas all wrong.  Barrabas was not just a bloodthirsty cutthroat criminal.  He was a national hero.  He was a freedom fighter.  He had led an insurrection against the Roman occupation.  Some Roman soldiers had been killed.  He had been arrested.  He was a political prisoner set to be executed.  And he was a hero among the Jews.

He had a first name.  Jesus.  Jesus Bar-Abbas.  Jesus, son of the father.  He was a false messiah.  Jesus Barabbas?   Or Jesus of Nazareth?  Pilate says which one do you want?   Do you want the violent freedom fighter hero??   Or do you want the peaceful, riding on a donkey too small for him messiah from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth?   Give us Barabbas.  As for Jesus, crucify him.

The Palm Sunday crowd said all the right things, but they said them in the wrong way.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus as king, we have to know what kind of king he is.   If we think that Jesus is a king after the model of the conquering pharaohs and Caesar’s, we actually are rejecting Jesus.   And refusing the Price of Peace always has terrible consequences.  That’s why Jesus says a generation from now Jerusalem will become a fiery Gehenna where the worm  never dies as it eats those corpses, and the fires are never quenched.

That’s what Jerusalem did to itself in rejecting Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace.  Jerusalem did not want the new Kingdom of God, they just wanted to win at the old game of payback, get even, and vengeance.  The old game is power enforced by violence.  They didn’t want God’s new kingdom, they just wanted God to help them win at the old game.  But God had already said through the prophet Zachariah that he was done playing the old game.  That when the messiah comes, god is done with the old game.   No more old game, behold I do a new thing.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 ESV.   And I send my son, the Prince of Peace to teach peace to the nations.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10 ESV

But Jerusalem did not want the new kingdom, they wanted to win the old game.  Their desire to play the old game led to their destruction.  The Prince of Peace had just ridden into town offering a new way of being Israel and they had missed it.   Their desire to beat their enemies at the old game had blinded them.   They got Jesus wrong, and it set them on a wrong path that ended in their destruction.

If you had asked the chief priests if they believed Zachariah’s prophecy will ever be fulfilled, if they believed that someday the son of David, the true king of Israel, would ever really come humble and lowly, riding on a foal of a donkey, that he will come and teach peace among the nations, do you believe that will ever happen??   They would have said yes, but not now.  Now is not the time for peace.  Now is the time to fight.  Now is the time for war.

This is not a history lesson.  This is a warning for every follower of Jesus.  Do we want Jesus and his new way of peace, or do we want Jesus to help us win the old game?   Are we making the same mistake?  Do we say that someday the prince of peace will come, we believe he will come someday, but not now!!   If we do, we play the same game the chief priests played when they led Jerusalem to hell.

But the Prince of Peace has come!!   The prince of peace HAS COME!   Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday HAVE HAPPENED.  The Prince of Peace has come.  But do we want the Prince of Peace?  Or do we want our heroes?    When we play the game of saying we believe the Bible, believing it’s all going to happen, but NOT NOW, that’s how we play the game of rejecting Christ but still believing the Bible…

The chief priests would have told you they believed in Christ.   They would have said they accept Christ, they believed in Messiah, they believed Messiah was coming, but NOT NOW.   NOT NOW.  Yes, we believe the Bible, but it’s not for NOW.  We believe all those verses, but they’re not for now.  Someday, but not now.  Now we fight.

And Jesus said there’ll be hell to pay, and he weeps over Jerusalem.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus.  We can do that and still get Jesus wrong.  We get Jesus right when we confess Jesus as Christ and King.  We get Jesus wrong when we see him as for us and against them.  We get Jesus right when wave the palms as if to welcome the worlds true king.  We get Jesus wrong when we wave the palms as national flags.  We get Jesus right when we acclaim him with the word Hosanna!!   Save now!   We get Jesus wrong when we say it’s hurray for our side

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

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

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

John Lewis

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Standing Firm

Looking at a central scripture for those of us in recovery, especially if you’re like me and participate in the Celebrate Recovery ministry.  It’s a verse that reminds us all how close we are to relapse at any and all times.

That verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   This is part of a larger section which includes verses 11-13 – “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV.   Israel had a long history of rebelling against God and chasing after idols.   Paul points out several of these instances leading up to this passage, as well as the consequences suffered because of their idolatry.  Consequences such as being scattered across the wilderness, kept from entering the promised land until most of a generation had passed away.  Consequences like 23,000 dead in one day.   Dying by snakes.  It even recalls that some were killed by the destroying angel.  1 Corinthians 10:10.

As Paul says, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  The consequences of sin, idolatry, our addictions, is real.  Sometimes, we forget this.  We get a little bit of sober time.  We get a lot of sober time.  We get clean, we stay clean.  We claim the victory over whatever ails us.  But we forget.  We forget that those consequences are still out there.  We forget that the wrath of God, aka the consequences of our sin, our wrong decisions and choices, await us.

We forget.  We forget Paul’s warning – So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We forget how close we are to falling.   In recovery, we call this relapse.   For me, it’s just one drink, one bet, one click away.  That’s all it took, was just one look.  That’s all it takes.

People ask me, how do I keep from drinking??   I don’t get asked about my other issues so much, maybe because they don’t relate or it’s just taboo.   But, I do get asked about the drinking.   Y answer is always the same.  It’s not a matter of never drinking again, or how do you deal with not drinking in a world where drinking is just normal.  I’m not not drinking 12 or 24 or 30 drinks.  I’m just not drinking one.   The first one.

Whatever your temptation (whether you’re “in recovery” or not),  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.   You are not the first, or the last, to struggle with that.   It may seem that way, that no one could possibly know what it feels like to be in your shoes.   And in a way, that’s true.  None of us walks the same walk.  Each of us has a unique story.   But our struggles, this is what we have in common.  We all struggle with something in our lives.   And very often, it is in this struggle that our greatest victories might come.     For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV.  But that, I suppose, is a discussion for another day.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.   We all struggle, we all have some form of temptation in our lives.   But God is faithful, we are not tempted beyond what we can bear.   Paul makes this clear, so does the apostle John is his first letter –  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV.   Paul says he will provide a way out of temptation and failure so that we may be able to endure it.  John tells us what that way is.    “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17 ESV.  Our way out of temptation, our way out of sin, is to confess our sins If we take the way out God has provided, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   

Want freedom from your temptation, from that sin that is overcoming you?   Confess it.  To somebody.   On this point, those of us in recovery  have the advantage, we have the support of others that we might be able to share with, whether it’s an accountability partner, or better yet a sponsor.  So quickly we forget that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We think we have our time, we have the chips, now we have it all together.  Until we don’t.

Those consequences, remember them?   They are still waiting.  You might forget them, they will not forget you.  Relapse, a fall, is one drink, one hit, one click away.  Think you are standing firm?   Be careful that you don’t fall.  Find someone you trust, and talk about it.  Don’t hide.  “”Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18 ESV.  It’s those things we keep hidden that run scarlet.

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV

http://bible.com/111/1co.10.11-13.niv

John Lewis

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,  but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable.  In other words,  I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus.  We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different.  The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people.  As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.

So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   Did you hear that?   I hope so.  Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point.   You can not serve both God and money.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it[or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’  I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”   

This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.  He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like.   This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.

Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest.   When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard.   In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.

He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God.  But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation).   The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it.  Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.

So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money,  what happens?   The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed himThe Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money.   They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.”    They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking.   Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce.   You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed.    If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).

The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing.  On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.

Jesus disagreed.  Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing.  Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil.   Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man.  So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil.  In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing.  But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.

This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.   That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man.  He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.

The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment.  Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system?   Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!

Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees.  Again, Jesus disagrees.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV.  Who are we going to blame here?   The man or his parents?   Jesus says “neither”.  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.   So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…

So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Luke 16:13-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.13-17.esv

John Lewis

Come to the Party. Please.

So, we’ve been looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son for the past few messages.   I have a question to ask, not just about this parable but Jesus ministry in general.  That question is this – What is Jesus doing?   What’s he doing in his table practice, excessive hospitality,  his parables, his life, his ministry, just what IS Jesus doing?   JESUS, IN ALL HE DOES, IS SHOWING US WHAT GOD IS LIKE.

This is so important, do not miss this.  Please don’t miss this.  This question has haunted humanity for millennia.   We are here, we try to figure things out, we discover fire, invent the wheel, indoor plumbing, then we’re going to the moon.  But through it all, one question remains, it hangs over us.  Is there really a God, what’s he like, what about God?   All kinds of theories spring up, all kinds of religions, some come close, some not so close.   But, FINALLY, the question gets answered – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.  Can I get an Amen??!!   The logos, the logic of God becomes flesh, and in flesh and blood we can SEE what God is like.  Jesus is NOT saving us from God, that is bad theology.  Jesus is not saving us from God, He is revealing God.  Jesus is not saving us from the Father, he is revealing the Father.  Jesus never does anything but that which is an expression of the will of the Father.   Jesus and the father always act in concert with one another, never pitted against one another.  Jesus is showing us definitively what god is like.  Jesus is the true and ultimate word of God.

What is God like?  He is like Jesus. What does God do?  He does what Jesus does.   “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19 ESV.    Everything I do, everything I say, every time I heal, every time I forgive, I do that because that’s what God does.  I’m only showing you what the Father is like.  You haven’t known, but now you do, I’m showing it to you.  On his last day he has this exchange with Philip – Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:8-10 ESV.  Phillip says show us the father, Jesus says what do you think I’ve been doing for three years??!!   If you’ve seen me in what I am doing, you have seen the father.  That’s the message.  Jesus unconditionally receives the sinner who comes to him because that is what God is like.

Let’s try this again – Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God, not to change the mind of God about humanity.  Don’t get this twisted.  Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us – “well I guess they’re ok after all, if you say so Jesus.”   No, Jesus came to change our mind about God.  As we look at Jesus and learn from Jesus and listen to Jesus, we finally begin to know what God is really like.

In the parable, the father requires no payment (no blood) and issues no punishment.  The Prodigal has already been punished.  His punishment is, he’s in the pig pen.  Sin has a way of punishing us, we are punished by our sins.  Sin is taking its toll.  He doesn’t like it.  The wages of sin is death, and he’s dying in that pig pen.  So he decides he is going to go back to his fathers house.

The Prodigal goes home, arrives at the fathers house, and there is no punishment and no payment.  He’s just pardoned by a kiss.  That’s all that is going on.  The Prodigal, if he will come home, will be welcomed and pardoned with a kiss.

The elder son, the angry brother, wants there to be punishment and payment.  But – you can’t pay it.  It’s gone.  He sold the land and livestock for cash, wasted it on prostitutes, wine, women, and song.  Sex drugs, rock n roll, some of you will shout Amen to that.  He did a bunch of coke, had a bunch of hookers, lost it all in Vegas, that’s it, it’s gone.  You can’t pay it back.  It’s gone.

But – what can be recovered is the relationship!!!   So the older brother is fussing about “all the stuff is gone, the moneys gone, what about the stuff!  All the land, all the livestock”…the Father says “Shut up about the stuff!!  It’s the relationship that can be recovered!!  That’s what we are going to recover, the relationship,  because that’s what matters.

There’s no payment, no punishment, there’s only reconciliation and an extravagant celebration.   Meanwhile, the elder brother cries out “He broke the rules, he broke the rules Father!!!”   The Father says “Yes, I know.  He broke the rules.  But I pardoned him with a kiss.  NOW COME TO THE PARTY!!!”   He broke the rules, disrespected the father, lost all the stuff, but the father pardons him with a kiss.  He is forgiven.  He’s pardoned.

Come to the party.  But the older brother refuses.  What, exactly, is the older brother doing here?  He is consigning himself to hell, the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…

They’ve both been in hell.  The Prodigal Son has been in the pig pen.  “This is hell.  I’m going back to my fathers house.  Even though I’m not worthy.”  He goes back, the Father says “I don’t care about worthy.  Worthy, not worthy, you’re  my son!   Robe, ring, shoes, fatted calf, let’s have a party!”

The older brothers been sweating in the field all day.  They’ve been laboring st home as well, they’ve got a BBQ going (beef not pork).  There’s a band, the sun has set, it’s dark, they’ve moved all the furniture, and everyone is dancing.  It’s a party!   The brother comes home, says “What’s going on?”   He’s told by one of the servants tells him “Your brother came home, your father pardoned him by a kiss, killed the fatted calf, he’s so happy to have him home safe and sound, we’re having a party.

The older brother is angry, he won’t go in.  He argues with his father when his father comes out to him.  So what do we have?   We have the older brother, outside, in the outer darkness gnashing his teeth (can you picture it?).   “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!!”    So, who’s suffering? The elder brother is suffering.

If you want to, you can call this the wrath of god.  What’s really going on is simply that God refuses to act in a manner inconsistent with his mercy.  If the older son refuses to forgive, he will be excluded from the party (the kingdom of god).  Not because the father excludes him, but because he excludes himself.  You can call it the wrath of god if you want to, but what really going on is the father says “If you’re asking me will I act inconsistent with my mercy and punish my son, I will not.  We are going to celebrate his reconciliation and you are invited.  I urge you, I beg you, I plead with you, come to the party.  But I will not be manipulated to act inconsistent with my nature which is mercy.

Either the elder brother is good with that and says “yes Father, you are merciful and that’s a good thing, I come to the party.”   Or he will stay out in hell, in the outer darkness.  You see how this works?   That’s why we are taught if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven.  “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. It’s not because god is petty and says “if you won’t forgive, I’m not forgiving you!”   It’s simply because when we will not cooperate with the nature of god, which is extravagant mercy, we exclude ourselves from God himself, and consign ourselves hell.

We must always position ourselves on such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes across to us as good news.  The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing and said ‘this is not good.”   The sinners and tax collectors said “this is the best thing I ever heard!

How do you position yourself in such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes to you as good news?   You stay poor in spirit and need of mercy.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.    Who’s more poor in being spiritual than the prostitutes, the sinners and tax collectors?   The get F – minuses at being spiritual.  Jesus says “Come to the table anyway!  This is for you too!”  REALLY?  “Yes, really.”   Sinners – “that’s the best thing I ever heard of!”  Pharisees – “that’s terrible, he’s compromising, he’s maligning the integrity of our faith.”  All those things Pharisees say.

We must always position ourselves in such a way that what Jesus announces in his beatitudes and enacts in his ministry strikes us as good news.  Be poor of spirit and in need of mercy, and it will always seem like good news to you.  But the moment you feel like a gatekeeper of the mercy of god, as though you are the immigration officer determining who gets in and who’s left out, who deserves it and who doesn’t, the moment you take up that position you’re about to miss the party and be left out in the darkness gnashing your teeth.

There are two kinds of Christianity in America.  There is compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  Both of the these have great energy.  Both can build churches, have movements, write books, have websites, podcasts, television programs, both have all of this.  Angry Christianity probably has even more energy, because it is easier to attract a crowd around anger than co-suffering love.

You find both kinds in this story.  The father and the angry brother in the story of the Prodigal son both have their sources of energy compelling them to act according to their own way.  The father in verse 20 saw his son from far off and was moved by compassion, co-suffering love, and he sprang into action, ran out to meet him, pardoned him with a kiss and threw a party.

In verse 28 the older brother heard this, became angry and refused to go in.  “I will point be a part of that!  That’s not fair, that’s not justice.  That’s not right, I won’t go.”

Two kinds of Christianity.  Compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  One says let’s kiss the leper, the outcast, the excluded, those who’ve been marginalized and told they don’t belong.  Let’s kiss the leper,  forgive the sinner, and walk the world as the pardon of a God.  Let’s have a party.

The other says let’s get mad about something and make sure the sinners know how mad God is at them.  Let’s have a protest, let’s protest something.

One says let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of god, and try to be a party of reconciliation.  The other says let’s get mad about something, tell sinners how mad God is at them, and have a protest.  Both can use the Bible.  Both have their bible verses.

There are a lot of energy in both kinds.  But only one gets endorsed by Jesus, only one reflects the Father, and only one gets to go to the party that is the Kingdom of God.  So, let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of God and make what we do feel like a welcome home party and not mandatory sentencing.

Amen

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

Welcome Home

More on the Prodigal Son…

It’s very easy to reduce the parable of the Prodigal Son to a two act play, but it’s a three act play, and the third act is the most important.  The first two acts, the Prodigal Son and the Compassionate Father, are really just setting up the real point Jesus is making.   So we can’t stop after the second act, we must go on to the third act, the Angry Brother.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

This is a three act play because there are three characters, and there are three characters because in the whole problem that necessitated Jesus telling this story, there were three actors.  There were the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus.  There is Jesus who is receiving them and eating with them.  And there are the Pharisees who were upset, offended and angry about it.

The sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes are the prodigal son.  Jesus is the one enacting the will of the father, he’s playing the role of the father.   It’s the Pharisees who are acting out the role of the angry brother.

In the parable, the elder, angry brother sees the extravagant hospitality of the father as an injustice.  For the elder brother justice must involve punishment or it’s not fair.  In his estimation it’s not fair, he won’t come to the party, and because of this he will not experience the kingdom of god.

The Pharisees talked about the Kingdom of God all the time.  It’s what they were waiting for, they wanted the Kingdom of God to come.  But because they didn’t understand how the Kingdom of God would come, when it actually was coming through what Jesus was announcing and enacting they missed it.  They didn’t enter into it.  This is why Jesus says to them …“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31 ESV

But look at what the story tells.  We have an ungrateful, profligate sinner younger son who insults the father in many ways, squanders his resources, comes back home, and is graciously, extravagantly received as if he’s coming home a hero.  A robe, a ring, shoes,  a fatted calf, a big party.  We look at this, but what is it?  Is it reconciliation to be celebrated? Or is it injustice to be protested?

This story can be told in such a way that you will be sympathetic with the angry older brother.  Some might already be.  Seriously – all he ever did was think about himself.  He brought shame and disgrace upon the family, sold off part of the estate, and wasted it on drink, prostitutes and partying!!   He was just living recklessly, having a good time, then when things get bad he comes crawling back home, and we treat him like he’s a hero??!!

How many, when we read it like that, think “Hey, that older brother has a point!”  That’s the little Pharisee in each one of us. And yes,   “He’s got a point!

The Pharisees thought of justice as punishment instead of reconciliation, and that was their undoing.  The Pharisees missed the Kingdom of God because when it actually arrived it looked like a welcome home party instead of mandatory sentencing.  Their idea of the Kingdom of God is when people get what’s coming to them!!  It’s about time!   Getting their just desserts!!!   That’s what the Pharisees are looking for…

But instead of mandatory sentencing, it’s a welcome home party, and they just could not recognize it as the kingdom of god…

More to come.

John Lewis

Indiscriminate and Irresponsible

The parable of the Prodigal Son.   The greatest, most famous parable Jesus ever told.  It’s the gospel within the gospel.  This is going to take a while, so I will probably be in the story for at least a week.  At least it’s a story we all seem to like, amen!

This story still captures our imagination.  Shakespeare refers to this parable more than anything else in the gospels because Shakespeare knew a thing or two about telling a good story.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon chose the prodigal son to be the text for his much anticipated 1000th sermon.  Some of our greatest artwork has been inspired by this story, including Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story where we see the kingdom of God being announced and enacted.  That’s what is happening in the parable.  Jesus gives the parable to those who are angry with how he’s announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  The actions of the father in the parable are what Jesus is doing in real life.  Jesus is saying “what the father in my story does is what I’m doing because that’s what my father in Heaven is like.

Don’t forget context of the story.   “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1-2 ESV.  This should be a familiar plot line by now.  This is a recurring plot that is what drives the drama.  First – in Luke Jesus is constantly going from meal to meal and table to table.  This is how Jesus primarily announces and enacts the kingdom of god – by healing people, casting out demons, and especially by sharing meals with all the wrong people.  Jesus is enacting the kingdom of God in this manner, and the Pharisees are constantly resisting it.  They don’t like it, they are uncomfortable with it.  They feel Jesus is acting inappropriately.  They see Jesus as offering an indiscriminate and irresponsible hospitality.  This is what created the drama and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.  He just eats with anyone.  (Amen to that!   Even me…) Even those who’ve been formally exiled, excluded from the synagogue because they are sinners.  Jesus is completely bypassing the prohibition against eating with those types of people and is welcoming them at his table.

Now, there were arrangements made in the law for restoring these people.  But they needed to go about things in the proper manner.  Go to the chief priests, go the temple, offer their sacrifices and go through the rites of purification.  But Jesus just ignored all this.  He lets anyone come to him, he eats with them, and then he even dares to proclaim them as forgiven.  He’s dangerous, he’s endangering our purity.  He’s compromising the integrity of our faith.  This is the argument of the Pharisees.

To which Jesus responds says once upon a time…and gives them three stories.   One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, both of these are pretty good stories.  But then he gets to the story about a lost son, and it’s way more than pretty good…

It’s the gospel in the gospel.  It’s the finest story Jesus ever told.  It’s a three act play, each act focused one of the three primary characters in the story.  The Prodigal Son, the compassionate father, and the angry brother.

With this, I will stop for today, you can read the entire parable below if you like.  I will look at act 1 of this three act play, about the prodigal himself, next time.

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

An Easy Yoke?

I’ve been working on this since Monday, guess I’m slowing down in my old age.  This may be something of a counterpoint to the point I made last time, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   Or, at least part of a solution, a cure,  to the unholy lives we lead while claiming to have the Holy Spirit within us.  This, as always, comes from Jesus, the one who died, was buried, and was raised in resurrection on the third day.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV.    So the same Jesus who tells us “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14 ESV, also tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light.   The same savior who tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do unto others, and don’t be angry, tells us that his is the easy yoke and the light burden.

But it doesn’t seem or feel so easy to us, does it?   As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”   Even those of us who profess faith in the risen Christ find his commands and teaching exceedingly difficult, difficult to the point that we just throw up our hands and declare ourselves to be “only human”.   And, being “only human”, Jesus couldn’t possibly have expected us to live as he showed and taught us, could He?   And so, we have our excuse and our reason for throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves “only human”, and not even trying.   And so we choose our heavy burdens, anxieties, and fear over his easy yoke and light burdens…

We lament the “cost of discipleship”, the high price we must pay as followers of the lamb.  But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, there is a far greater cost of non-discipleship, is there not?  As Soren Kierkegaard told us, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!

It is in choosing non-discipleship, in choosing unrighteousness, that we choose a life of burdens, failures, and disappointments.  A life filled with toil, a life filled with endless problems which never get solved.  We choose to live this way.   We call it normal human life.   As Willard says, “The “cost of discipleship,” though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be part of his company in The Way of life.”   As Christ said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV.

Jesus gives us an alternative to this hard, burdensome life apart from God.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   As the apostle John tells us in 1 John For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  But do we take these statements seriously?  Do we believe them?   Do we believe that Jesus has the easy yoke and the light burden?   I mean, it may have been easy and light for Him, even all the way through the cross, but we are, after all, only human.  These things seem anything but easy and light to us.

We all know, no one denies, that the world would be a better place if we could all just start following the teachings of Jesus.   And just because we don’t understand, it doesn’t cancel his offer of an easy yoke and light burdens.  The offer still stands for our souls to find rest (here and now, not off into into the heaven we are just dying to get into).

Maybe the problem is, we try to carry out Jesus commandments, to live as Jesus did, on a case by case basis.  We read his word, we hear the sermons, we know we are called to love and pray for our enemies, and turn the other cheek, but then, when the time arises and someone offends us or sins against us or otherwise harms us, the phrase “what would jesus do” goes right out the window, and now I’m standing up for my rights, looking out for number one, and defending myself.  I turned the other cheek once, now it’s time to start knocking heads!!  Hurt me once, shame on you.  Hurt me twice, shame on me.   We get pushed around a little, and the real spirit at work within us shows it’s ugly head.  But it’s ok…all of our sins are forgiven, right…

We are saved by grace, amen!!??   Of course…but that does not mean the power to live as we now want to live is automatically infused into us.  We don’t say a sinners prayer and are instantly transformed into christlikeness.   Our salvation moment is just a beginning, not an end, amen!

Think about it like this – it’s like an athlete who wants to become better at his sport, whatever it is.  Michael Phelps did not decide he wanted to be a gold medal swimmer, then based on that decision show up in Sydney, hop in the pool, and win 8 gold medals.  No, he decided he wanted to be the best swimmer he could be, a gold medal swimmer, and hopped in the pool over and over again in training, with his whole life focused around that point, to every day get a little bit better.   And he kept training, he kept training.   And so every four years, we watch the culmination of the life led with that goal in mind, a life led with the point of becoming a great swimmer.

This is true for everything we do in life, is it not?   A teacher, an engineer, a public speaker, a musician, a surgeon.  If we want to get closer to that which we aspire to, we must adopt lifestyle practices which will allow us to get better at that which we want to do.  We must read, study, practice, submit to menial tasks which, at the time, don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the goal we have in mind (wax on, wax off!).

The same is true of the Christian life.  A baseball player or football player who expects to decide today to play without any practice or exercise in preparation for that game, who expects to excel at that game, is no more ridiculous than a Christian who expects to be able to imitate Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise and preparation for godly living.

If you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus himself had spent his whole life in preparation for his ministry.  Despite an audacious birth narrative, he grew up secluded in a lower class family in a backwater town.  Yet, at the age of twelve in the temple, “…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”,Luke 2:47 ESV.   There were so amazed that he immediately returned to Nazareth for eighteen more years of preparation, being subject to all the demands of life and family.

After he was baptized, he spent the first month in solitude and fasting.  During his ministry He alone much of the time, in solitude and prayer,  often all night, preparing to serve his disciples and the masses.

It was out of great preparation that Jesus was able to lead his public life of teaching and healing.  He loved his closest companions, his disciples, to the end even though they often disappointed him and at times seemed incapable of entering into the life he was calling them for.   It was out of great preparation that Jesus was then able to die his death unsurpassed for its great intrinsic beauty and historical effect.

So, what’s my point?  This is the key to the “easy yoke” Jesus talks about.  We can’t just try to live as Jesus did by the seat of our pants and call upon his power “in the moment,” or on the spot.  We will surely fail.  If we want to live as Christ did, we must live as Christ lived all of his life.   Like with any human endeavor (though this would not be an entirely human endeavor), if we want to become anything more than we are, we must undertake the disciplines and the lifestyle that will make us into what we aspire to be.   If we want to be better at baseball or basketball or any other sport, we must undertake the discipline of practice (we’re talking about practice!) and lifestyle to become a better athlete.  If we want to become successful in business, we must devote ourselves to the discipline and lifestyle associated with that goal.  If we want to be the type of people who become more full, devoted disciples of Christ, who react as he did in the moment, under pressure, then we too must give ourselves over to the discipline and lifestyle shown to us by our Teacher.

We can’t expect to become people who go the second mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, or suffer patiently and hopefully if we are living our lives just like everyone around us.  This is just as silly as thinking I can go straight from Pizza Hut to the swimming pool and swim like Michael Phelps.  If we try this, we are bound to fail and leave the way of Christ “difficult and left untried.”

Jesus never expected us to simply wake up one day and be the type of people who turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, go the second mile, or bless those who persecute us.  But Jesus does expect us to follow Him.  These responses are characteristics of Christlikeness which Jesus gave us as an example of the new kind of people we will become as we seek first the kingdom of god.

Jesus invites us to a life where loving enemies and turning the other cheek will seem like the only response we should make.  It will seem the only sensible thing to do.  For someone living as Jesus shows, the more difficult thing would be to hate the enemy, to turn away the one who asks, to curse those who curse us, to be un-Christlike.  True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is difficult not to react as he did.

Im going to finish here.  We must remember that the way to run a marathon is NOT to simply go out and run 26.2 miles.  You will never make it.  The way to become a great violinist in NOT to go out, buy a violin, and break into symphony #5.   No, to do these things we must enter into certain disciplines and lifestyles where we can become the kind of people capable of running 26 miles, hitting a baseball, or playing the great compositions.

Or, for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Becoming the kind of person who is moving from being only human to fully human.   I will be coming back to this periodically, to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, and celebration (some of which are activities I myself are have not yet tried) are an essential to our salvation journey and deliverance from the power of sin over our lives.  There is a way to the easy yoke Jesus is describing, but it will take some practice and discipline to get there…

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 ESV

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.5.3.esv

John Lewis