All-Inclusive

All-Inclusive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-19 ESV

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

John Lewis

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Sometimes We Cry

Sometimes We Cry

My first message in about a week and a half, went on family vacation, and I unplugged and recharged.  Actually started this last Friday, I’m finally ready to share it with you…

“Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.””

Jeremiah 10:19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jer.10.19.esv

Pain in the great equalizer in life.  Pain comes to us all, unwanted and uninvited.  It puts us on an even playing field.   It comes to us all.  It comes to the rich and the poor.  Black and white.  Educated and uneducated.  Powerful and weak.  Religious and irreligious.  In a broken world, pain is inevitable.

Jeremiah’s pain, Woe is me because of my hurt!was the pain of watching his country be invaded and fall to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom called Judah.  At the time they were being ransacked by the Babylonians.  His pain was the pain of watching his countrymen captured and carried off to Babylon.  The pain of watching his city, the holy city of Jerusalem, being burned and ransacked, with the holy temple of Jewish worship being destroyed by a pagan army.

Jeremiah was able to put to words the pain we have all felt.  We’ve all felt pain, but sometimes in those painful moments we just can’t find the words to express the hurt you feel.  Maybe the wound is more than you can bear.

Jeremiah’s pain was the pain of a nation falling.  Maybe your pain is the physical pain from some disease or malady.  Maybe you feel the emotional pain of someone you have loved who has hurt you.  Maybe it’s the hidden pain of abuse.  Maybe it’s the stinging pain of loss through death.  Maybe you know the shameful pain of personal failure.

For many of us, it’s the pain and regret and sorrow of lifelong struggles with with addictions that cause us to hurt other people.  How many examples have we seen of the saying hurt people hurt people.  We who have been wounded and have been hurt, end up hurting others.  How many deep wounds have we seen and felt that we have tried to self medicate with sex, alcohol, gambling, drugs, but we just can’t.  We end up, out of our hurt and wounded-ness, hurting the people we love.  We tell our stories, we tell of our lies, we tell of stealing from those we love, we abandon them, we break our relationships apart.   Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.   

Jeremiah, living in a time when the southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself were being laid bare, had in mind the words of Isaiah.  Jeremiah became the weeping prophet, carrying the wound of the fallen Jerusalem.    But one hundred years before Jeremiah, God had sent to Israel the prophet Isaiah both with a warning and a message of hope.   Isaiah opens the second half his book of prophecy with these words –  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord ‘s hand double for all her sins.”  Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV.  One hundred years before Jeremiah and his wounds and his hurt, Isaiah prophesied that a day of new creation was coming to Israel.  There would come a day when Israel would flourish, where they would build houses and plant vineyards, and have babies and lots of babies and grand-babies and have big kosher BBQs and the family would all be together.  One hundred years before Jeremiah’s pain there was this great prophecy that there would be a time of flourishing and this time of new creation when God would come and dwell with his people again.

Then there was this promise that Isaiah gave – “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 65:25 ESV.  The hurt Jeremiah felt compelled to hold onto (ever been there?), he would not have to hold onto any longer.  There was coming a time of new creation where in God’s rule and reign they would not hurt or destroy anymore.  Isaiah prophecies this yet one hundred years later there was the fall of Jerusalem and the people watched as the wolves and lions from Babylon came devouring…

Yet a promise remained from Isaiah.  Even at this point in Israel’s history, God had not forsaken them, he had not given up.  There was coming one called the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  There was one coming who would come to bring God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign, to the earth.   Remember, when we speak of the kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place but a power.   The church is not the kingdom of God, but rather the witness to the kingdom of God.  We are the servants of the kingdom of God.   But the Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign on the earth.  So there was this prophecy that even through the destruction of the temple there would be a day of new creation and that Messiah would come.

Isaiah tells us that when Messiah would come he would be a suffering King, that he would take all the hurt, pain and sorrow of Israel away.   In Isaiah 53 it tells us “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  Isaiah 53:4 ESV. Jeremiah is carrying this wound, this hurt, this pain, yet he has the promise that Messiah would come and be a suffering king.

Five hundred years (God does move slowly, doesn’t he?) after Isaiah’s prophecy a virgin girl gives birth to her first born son, and they would call his name Jesus, for he would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, his rule and reign, to bring God’s holy mountain to the earth.   Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God and show us what God is like.

So what do we see in the gospels that Jesus was doing?   He was proclaiming and preaching that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom.  There’s not going to be eye for an eye, tooth for tooth anymore (even though sometimes we argue with him over this!).   No more hating, destroying and killing of your enemies, that’s done away with.  We see Jesus proclaiming a kingdom of peace and we see Jesus healing the sick.  And as he was healing the sick, he was demonstrating what God is like, what life lived in the kingdom of God is like.

What do we see about God through the preaching and ministry of Jesus?  We see that God is good, full of compassion and mercy, that he’s a God who wants to mend what is broken and heal what is diseased.  We see in the ministry of Jesus the promise of Isaiah coming to pass, that there will be a time when people will come under the rule and reign of God.  In that place, They shall not hurt or destroy.

So Jesus has come.  He has proclaimed the kingdom.   And you know how the story ends.   At the end of his life, Jesus dies.  He goes to the cross, gets executed, and dies.  One of his closest followers, Peter, says this about Jesus in his death.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24 ESV.  Amen.

Jesus came not just to demonstrate what life looks like in the kingdom of God, but Jesus came and he collected, he carried our griefs and sorrows, he carried all sorts of human pain into himself, took it into death, and overcame it in his resurrection that he might offer healing to all.  (Amen!)  So in his suffering, Jesus was suffering for us, but also with us.  Jesus experienced all sorts of human pain.  He experienced your pain.   He experienced it for you so that he can take it in himself, overcome it, then rise again to offer healing for your wounds.  He took your pain and your brokenness so that you don’t have to carry it anymore.  So that if you choose to live under the rule and reign of god, then you shall not hurt or destroy anymore.

Have you experienced the pain of rejection?   Jesus was abandoned and rejected by all of his disciples at his arrest and execution.  Experienced the pain of injustice?  Jesus was unjustly tried and sentenced to death.  Experienced the pain of bondage and addiction?  Jesus was bound and held against his will at his arrest.  Experienced the pain of physical abuse?   Jesus was slapped, spat upon and beaten before his death.  Experienced the emotional pain of harsh words spoken to you in anger?  Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at and scolded as he died.  Experienced the shame of sexual abuse?   Jesus at the cross was stripped naked, exposed for all to see.  Experienced physical pain from disease or malady or sickness?   Jesus experienced real human physical pain at his crucifixion.  Experienced profound disappointment with God?  Jesus at the cross cried out…“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Mark 15:34 ESV. Experienced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one?  Jesus experienced real human death.  Jesus cried out at the end from the cross “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”   Luke 23:46 ESV.  He breathed his last and went into death.

Jesus took into death with him all amounts human suffering and pain, and he overcame it in his resurrection to offer healing and solace.  So when people ask, and they will, why suffering??   Or for those who make it really personal, and when they are hurting or in that moment of pain, ask where is God, why am I hurting??   God thunders back from heaven, saying I entered into that kind of pain, I took it for you, I overcame, so that you may be healed.  Jesus Christ became a co-sufferer with humanity.

Where does all this come from?  God does not give us the answer, scripture does not give us the answer of why suffering?   But God does give us the remedy.  He becomes human, suffers with us, and takes all of our suffering within himself so that our wounds may be healed.

Healing for you can begin today.  Offer your brokenness to the one who was broken for you.  Exchange your empire of dirt for life in the kingdom of God.  Enter into the kingdom of God, that place where Isaiah promises that we will not hurt or destroy anymore.  Let healing begin…

Something Good is Coming

There’s something good coming.  We all go through hard times.  We all have struggles.  But we don’t give up hope.  Even in the midst of our trouble and hard times, we hang onto our hope.  We hope that something good is coming, for you and for me. There has to be something good coming.

Because we believe life to be good.   I know I believe life is good.  I mean, life, in its essence, is good.    Despite the fact that trouble comes and is present and is real, no matter how frequent and no matter how at times it may be horrible, we still believe this because trouble, no matter how frequent or horrible, is an anomaly.  Because life is created to be good.

Think about looking upon the face of a newborn child.  We might say “welcome to God’s good world”.   There will be trouble, there will be hard times, but it’s good…

Why do we believe this?   Why do we believe life is good?   We believe this because it’s what is told us in scripture about this God whom we worship and build our life around.   That in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   He’s working the first day, he said it’s good.  The second day it’s good.  The third day he said it’s good twice.   Then the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, he says it’s good.  Then at the very end he says ahhh….it’s very good.

So the even though we have trouble and hard times, we believe that somehow that is an anomaly, and that is not how life is ultimately meant to be.  And what we really believe is that God is going to be true to his declaration and God is going to intervene and break into our lives, and where it’s wrong he’s going to make it right, so we can say the something good is coming.

When God does this, when God breaks through and intervenes in the world to set what is wrong right, we call that the kingdom of God.  It’s the reign and rule of God, the government and policy of God, it’s the intervention of God.   It’s God coming among us to make things good again because that’s what he intends.

God accomplishes this chiefly and primarily through Christ.   The firstborn of all creation, the center of the cosmos creation and salvation.  “…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.  When the human heart is aching for something better, when we have that hope, Jesus responds and says yes, that’s right!

So I want to say to everyone reading this today…something good is coming.   I want to say to myself, something good is coming.   It’s an announcement.  If you think it’s for you, it is.  If you don’t think that’s for you, it’s not.  But if you don’t think it’s for you, I want to say something to you – something good is coming!   Repent, rethink your life, and believe this good news that something good is coming.

For you.

John Lewis

Jesus is Sleeping

The lectionary gospel reading from a couple of weeks ago was Mark 4:35-41, or as the ESV so simply captions it, “Jesus Calms A Storm”.    It’s the culmination of a day on which Jesus has given many parables and much teaching, and occurs as Jesus and his disciples are on the way to the region of Gerasenes, where Jesus will heal a demon possessed man.

As I read and prayed through this last week, it occurred to me that I was in the boat on the lake.   Not literally of course, but I might as well be.   I know that, right now, just like Moses wandering the wilderness for forty years, Joshua looking into his promised land, A young shepherd named David fighting to keep the lions and the bears away from his flock,  just as in all these stories, where I am is not where I’m going.  Just as Jesus and his disciples, in the boat crossing from one side to the other, where they are is not where they are going.

But just as Jesus disciples feared as water filled their boat, sometimes I just get the feeling that my boat is about to sink.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  They are on their journey across the lake, Jesus is with them, but somehow that boat is filling up quicker that they can get the water out of there.  And their boat will sink, without some divine intervention.   But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

And I think that is where I am in this journey right now.   I’m in the boat, Jesus is there with me, but the boat is sinking.  And Jesus is sleeping.   From the outside, all is well.  Got the “cool job”, great family, wife, and kids.

But the boat is sinking.   And Jesus is sleeping.  Ever feel like you’re surrounded by people all the time, but still all alone.  The water is crashing over the sides, I’m scooping as fast as I can.  But the pump ain’t working, and I just can’t keep up.  And Jesus is sleeping.

Does he not care that I’m perishing?   Is he just going to let this boat sink?   He might be able to walk on water, but I’m not able yet.  Guess I don’t have enough faith…

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?   Why am I so afraid?   Where I am is not where I’m going, but it sure is rough out on this lake.  I’m on a journey somewhere, but I don’t know where.   I’m out on the lake, I have a boat, even have Jesus in the boat.  But Jesus is sleeping.

But, Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?   I know who he is.   I know he has the power to calm this little storm that I’m in.   But it sure would be nice if he would wake up already.   Maybe, like a certain father of a demon possessed boy, he could help me believe even through my unbelief.   “So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth. “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!””  Mark 9:20-24 NLT.

Does it ever feel like the boat is sinking?   Or am I the only one?   Lord Jesus, I’m in a storm.   The boat is filling up, and I just can’t keep up.   I’m asking you to wake up.  I know you can calm the wind and the seas.  In you I do believe.

But, Lord Jesus, I need you to wake up, and help me to overcome my unbelief.

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

Overcoming Death

The religions of the ancient world had one thing in common.  They all developed around an elaborate afterlife theology.  One of the primary religious impulses of the ancient religions is the ideas of some kind of theory about the afterlife.   Greeks, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, native Americans, Hindus, eastern Indians, all have their own elaborate afterlife theologies.  Whether it’s joining the world of the forms, going off to the stars, a happy hunting ground, or reincarnation…

All the religions of the ancient world had developed elaborate afterlife theologies with one notable exception – the religion of the Hebrews.  The worshippers of Yahweh, the God of Israel, not only did they not have an elaborate theology, they barely had any afterlife theology at all.  It’s almost as if God, in leading his people through the Old Testament, did not let them develop a lot of theories about the afterlife.

As we read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, we tend to try to read more into the Old Testament than what is actually there.  The fact is, there is very little emphasis on an afterlife in the faith of the ancient Hebrews as they became the worshippers of Yahweh.  The psalmist would say things like “God deliver me, who is going to praise you in sheol (the land of the dead)?   If I die, whose going to praise you when I’m dead?  I can praise you when I’m alive You better save me now before I go down into the pit, into Sheol.    No ones going to praise you in Sheol.”   That kind of language is common among the prophets.

The religion of the Jews of the Old Testament was a religion that was centered on being formed through the Torah into a just and worshipping society here and now.  Unlike the pagan religions, the religions of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Hebrew religion was not founded or based upon an afterlife expectation.  It was based upon being the people of God formed into people of justice and worship here and now according to the Torah.

But late in Jewish life there began to be a few hints of afterlife theology, notably in the books of Isaiah and Daniel.  “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.””  Isaiah 25:6-9 ESV.  Here’s the image.   God is setting up a banquet table, a sumptuous feast for us to come and enjoy.  But if you’re going to enjoy a sumptuous feast, what good is it if you’re dead?   What good is the finest New York Strip if you don’t have any teeth?   You’ve got to be raised from the dead to enjoy this feast.  If you’re lying in the grave with all your teeth falling out, that steaks not gong to do you any good.  You’re going to have to be resurrected to eat that steak.

The picture the poet gives is this – And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nationsHe’s talking about this shroud covering the nations, the veil covering the people.   You know how when someone dies, we will pull a sheet over them to cover their face.  What Isaiah sees is that this shroud of death is being pulled over all humanity, because all humanity is subject to death.   Every human being will have that experience of the veil, the shroud, the burial cloth being pulled over their face.   But Isaiah imagines a day when God takes that burial shroud, that sheet being pulled over the dead, and he takes it off, turns it into a tablecloth and spreads his banquet and calls people out of their graves to a feast, to experience once again the richness of life.

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   What is it we need to be saved from?    Death.   This resurrection becomes the hope of the Jewish people.   It happens late in their history.  It’s not during the time of Abraham, not during Moses, not during David, but late, as we get into the prophets, especially after the exile.   Resurrection begins to become the hope, especially when we get to Daniel.  It becomes the hope that what God is going to do is raise the dead.  This is unique, none of the Gentiles think like this.   The Gentiles think “what we’ve got to do is go to a better place.”   You hear that kind of language, “he’s  gone to go to a better place.”   That is the dominant pagan, gentile way of thinking.   This place is subject to death, ultimately it’s no good, what we’ve got to do is go to a better place.

That is not the Jewish hope or the Christian hope.   The Jewish, and Christian, hope is this – this is good.   God’s creation is good.  Yet it’s been defiled by death because of sin.  But God has not given up on it, he’s not kicking it to the garbage can.  God is going to conquer death.  There is going to be a resurrection.  Death will be defeated.  Death will be no more.  We don’t have to go to a better place, this place is just fine if we can overcome death, if we can conquer death, if we can get rid of death.   If we can overcome sickness and disease,  this place is just fine.  That’s the Jewish hope, that’s the Christian hope.

That’s the hope that’s been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because on the third day he was raised from the dead.  Now we have come to believe in Him.

John Lewis

Practice Resurrection

Why does Jesus do this thing that he does, bringing back the dead??   Why did he go to the house of Jairus and bring his daughter back from the dead?  Because that’s the work of the Father.  What does the Father do?  He gives life to the dead!   Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…

A son, a young man, dead for a whole day, is about to be buried.  He is heading to the cemetery.  Jesus comes across the funeral procession.   He touches the coffin, they stop.  The body, the corpse in the coffin, comes alive, sits up, and begins to speak to them.   “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Luke 7:13-15 ESV.  Jesus gives a widow back her only son.

The greatest, most spectacular  of all Jesus’ miracles is the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  Lazarus is four days dead.  He’s  buried in a tomb.  But if you believe you will see the glory of the father revealed in the son“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”” John 11:39-40 ESV.   Roll away the stone.  Lazarus come forth!!   That is the glory of the father revealed in son.  “”Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  John 5:25 ESV

To believe in Christ and be baptized in Christ, to be born of spirit and water, is to receive the promise (since we all like promises so much) that as Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we be raised from the dead.

Think about it.  On Good Friday Jesus is nailed to the cross and he dies.  He breathes his last,  he commits his spirit to god.  He’d already told the thief today you’ll be with me in paradise.   So Jesus breathes his last, commends his spirit to the father, and is with the father in paradise.   But he’s also dead.

His body is taken down from the cross, lifeless, and laid away in a tomb.  We do not celebrate Good Friday independent of Easter Sunday.  We commemorate Good Friday and recognize what was done there.  But what we celebrate is the victory of Jesus Christ over the grave when on Sunday morning he was physically raised to life again.  (Amen and amen)

The promise is that the we who have been baptized into Christ and believed  on Christ shall join Christ in a similar resurrection.  So no matter what we experience in the interim state, where we die and are absent from the body and present with the lord, the great promise is the resurrection that Jesus Christ accomplishes when he comes again.    The Bible tells us very little about the interim state, where we die and we are absent from the body and present with the lord.  Paul refers  to those in that state as those who are asleep, but apparently not unconscious.   It’s blissful, it’s peaceful, it’s paradise, it’s with the lord, but it’s not the great promise.  The great promise is the resurrection that Jesus Christ accomplishes when he comes again.

But – we who believe in Christ are to live by faith according to the realities of the age to come.   For when Christ returns and the the dead are raised and Jesus reigns over the nations, things are going to change.  Some things will be abolished and done away with.  Other things will be inaugurated and will continue.  We who live by faith in Christ now are to as much as possible live out those resurrection realities now.

In the words of Eugene Peterson and Wendell Barry, we are to “practice resurrection”.   We are to practice resurrection by trying to imagine and understand, in the age to come, what will be abolished and what will be continued and inaugurated.  If it will be abolished, let’s abolish it now.  If it will continue, let’s continue it now.  If it will be inaugurated, let’s inaugurate it now.

Let’s be a preview of the age to come.  Let’s practice resurrection.

John Lewis

That Death Be Not Final

One of the absolute deepest longings of human beings is that death would not be the end.   That somehow love might overcome death, and loved ones we have lost, or even loved ones we’ve never met, we would somehow be able to meet again.   One of the deepest religious longings that human beings have is that death be not final.  That death can be overcome.

One of the most basic things that Christians believe is that life is good.   We believe that when God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them, he looked upon it and said it’s good.  He said it’s good, it’s good, it’s good, and finally He said it’s very good.   And we have come to believe that.  We believe that even though life can be hard and difficult and challenging and sometimes filled with pain, nevertheless life is worth living, because in its essence life is good.

We are surrounded by beauty.  But we can become numb to it.  We sometimes need to be reminded to wake up to it and be aware of it.  But just think of waking up in the morning.  You open your eyes, the sun is shining.  That’s good.  You might hear something, the birds are singing.  That’s good too.  Maybe you’re like me and set the timer on the coffee pot, because that smell when I’m waking up in the morning is very good.   Maybe you have have a nice breakfast, and it tastes good.  Maybe you share a touch with your husband or your wife or even a pet.  So you get all the senses involved, and it’s barely daylight outside, and we are reminded once more that life is good.  It’s worth living.  It has capacity for mystery and wonder and exploration and discovery, that leads to more mystery and wonder and exploration, that leads to more discovery, and it really is a beautiful thing, and life is worth living.

But then we run into a problem.  Life is so good that death threatens to make life absurd, and in the end rob it of its inherent meaning.  Life is so good that in one sense we are tasting and seeing that God is good.  We are having some encounter with the divine, and 100 years is not enough.  I would say that if you lived 120 years and then died, you died too young.  Of course, the way it works out is that death begins to draw near, and the body begins to fade away and fall apart, and there is a sense in which, in that case, death can be a kind of a rest, a release, or escape.

But that’s not what was intended.   That’s not what God had in mind.  When God breathed upon man and man had the capacity to be God-aware and self-conscious and be able to contemplate the goodness of life, God did not intend for that to ever be lost.  But the effect of sin has been death…

So we run into the problem of having tasted enough of life to know it’s good, but we want it to go on forever.  We don’t want the ride to be over.  We don’t want it to end.  We don’t want it to stop.  But we know it does…

And thus, the problem.  The problem of mankind being subject to futility and death.   That though we find out that life can be good, and there are moments so precious and so wonderful and so good, yet we know that death constantly stalks us.  So the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily addresses itself fundamentally to that problem.

The primary problem that the gospel addresses is not the problem of personal sin, though that is included.   But the problem problem the gospel addresses is death.   The wages paid by sin to the human race is death…forgiveness is included, but the primary emphasis of the gospel is that we are saved from the tyranny and dominion of death.

“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. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” John 5:19-21 ESV

Here are two fundamental, most basic truths of Christian theology.   Theology is simply how we think and what we say about God.  Theology is important because how we think and what we say about God matters.  1).  God is immutable.  God does not change, is not subject to change, never will change.  If God himself is subject to change then we’re all in trouble because then we’ve lost our constant, we’ve lost our rock, our foundation.  We’ve lost that which doesn’t change when everything else changes.   This is undeniable,  I haven’t heard of anyone who really disputes it.  One of the bedrock foundations of Christian theology is that God is immutable, He does not change.

2). God is fully and perfectly revealed in Christ.  It is as we look at Jesus Christ that we discover what this unchanging God is like and has always been like.   “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1:18 NRSV. Jesus says in the earlier passage in John 5 that When I’m doing these things that I do, all I’m doing is I am looking at the father, and seeing what the father does, and I am doing them so you can see it, what the works of the Father are.  So if we want to know what God is all about, what God is interested in, what God does, what the work of God is like, we look in Matthew,  Mark, Luke and John, we see what Jesus is doing, because he always does the works of the Father.  He reveals to us the works of the Father.  Then He says “…and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” John 5:20 NASB.

Of course, the greatest sign that Jesus gives us in his ministry are the raising of the dead.  When Jesus raised the dead….

In Capernaum, the ruler of the synagogue there is a man named Jairus.  He has a little daughter, she’s been deathly ill, now she’s died.  Jesus comes to the home, the mourners are already there.   She’s died not long ago, but have no doubt, the girl is dead.  Jesus said she is not dead, she is only asleep.  “And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.”” Luke 8:52 ESV.   The people began to mock him, Jesus put them out.   He took the father and the mother, went into the room, took the child by the hand and said “Child, arise.”  And the girl woke up, and he gave her back to her parents.    “And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.”  Luke 8:53-56 ESV

Why did Jesus do this??   Because that’s the work of the Father.  What does the Father do?  He gives life to the dead!   Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…

More to come…

John Lewis