There’s Just Not Enough

There’s Just Not Enough

Back to the feeding of the five thousand.
 
In John’s poetic prologue to his gospel, which is so important, John tells us something about the beauty of the Infinite entering into the finite.   “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….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14, 16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  The word became flesh, we are told.   The logos became human, incarnation.  Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…this word could also be understood as beauty.   We have seen his [beauty], the beauty of a Fathers only Son, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.   

From the fullness of Christ we have all received grace upon grace.   But the human condition, as a problem, suffers from a kind of emptiness.   We can ask the question What’s wrong with us?   There are many ways we can answer this question, but one of the ways we can answer this question is to say we suffer from a kind of emptiness.  Not just spiritual emptiness, there’s that too, but we live with a pervasive mentality of scarcity and insufficiency, this is very important.   We are infected in the way we think about life itself.

As human beings, we can only survive in a social structure, our lives are intensely social by necessity.  So here we are, thrust into this social structure that is the human condition, but we come with a problem.  Or at least as young children we are scripted in such a way, unknowingly, that there’s just not enough.  There’s not enough to go around.   There’s not enough for everyone, you know?   This, really, shapes the way we view the world in a very negative way.  There’s just not enough.   So we have a paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.   There’s not enough, because there’s just not.  So I have to make sure there’s enough for me and mine, because there’s just not enough.

So this is our problem.  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Seriously, why did Cain kill Abel?   Was it because he thought there just wasn’t enough?   Was there not enough land?   There’s not enough land for Cain’s crops and Abel’s flocks, at least that’s what Cain thought.  So Cain has to get rid of the competition, even though it’s  his brother.

We are the sons and daughters of Cain.  It is not Abel’s legacy that we have inherited as a human species, but Cain’s legacy.  Certainly we are the sons and daughters of Cain, why else do we covet and why do we fight and why do we exploit?   Because we view the world through Cain’s lens of scarcity and insufficiency.   We don’t see ourselves as blessed with abundance, we perceive ourselves as cursed with scarcity, so we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of the void, we’re afraid of emptiness, we’re afraid of insufficiency, we’re afraid of empty bellies, we’re afraid that there’s just not enough.

We are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and that creation is a closed system.  I don’t think we are formally taught that at any point (although I do work in sales and deal with a company that absolutely believes in the concept of zero-based budgeting…so maybe the world is starting to formally encode this belief).   At some point philosophy may creep into exploring this line of thought, but by the time we are three years old we already know this.   We may not know any of the words at three years old, but we certainly are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and creation is a closed system.  Or, as we might say, that it is finite, that creation is limited.

Now we are getting to it.  The jumping off point I spoke of previously.  This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency lies at the heart of our systemic sins.   Stay with me here.  There are personal sins, and that is what we mostly focus on,  because we feel so hopeless in doing anything about our systemic sins. But the real problems of humanity stem not from our personal sins, but from our sins as a whole, as a human race.   As human beings, as we build our societies, we build them in sinful ways.  No one person or group is responsible, but are are all culpable in it.   We are all implicated.  It’s because of our paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency that we build systems that are in and of themselves sinful.

We fear that there won’t be enough oil.  There won’t be enough land.  There won’t be enough food.  There won’t be enough water.  There won’t be enough money.  There won’t be enough labor to go around, so we build and maintain sinful structure to guarantee that WE have OURS.   We fear that there’s not going to enough for us, however we define US, so we use force against THEM, to guarantee we have enough for US.

Still with me?  Try.  We create an organized, slow motion version of anarchy.  You know anarchy, think of lawlessness, the rule of law thrown out the window, it’s every man for himself, people are smashing windows, just grabbing whatever they can.  Think about times during riots when suddenly when all law and order dissolves, it’s pandemonium,  it’s anarchy, the zombie apacolypse comes upon us…

What we have done in our systemic sins is to create a slow-motion version of anarchy.  We don’t recognize it for what it is because it takes place over decades or centuries.  Native Americans were victims of the slow motion, organized anarchy known as Manifest Destiny.   Just grab what you can and the rest will just have to get by as best they can

This way of viewing the world is absolutely dominant.  We take this to be truth.  If there is a truth we believe in, this is it.  That there is not enough, there is not enough so we have to be committed to our side and we have to grab and clutch and hold on and fight and make sure we have enough for ours.  We view this as truth, as reality, as the way it is.   But it is not…

It is into this sad world dominated by the paradigm of scarcity that the Son of God appears.  And on a grassy hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives us a sign of just how mistaken we are…

Again, that’s enough for now, to be continued.
 
 
“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis
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The Wine will Flow

The Wine will Flow

Still turning water into wine here…

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

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

“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”   Ok Jesus.  Sounds a little strange.  But they do it anyway.  They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification.  They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens.  The water has turned to wine.

The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on.  He just knows the wine has run out.  But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”    Think about the baffled bridegroom.  He has no idea what the steward is talking about.  All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it.   The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us!   You kept the very best wine until now!”   To which the bridegroom said what?   “Praise the Lord!!??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So invite him.

John Lewis

Little Rich Man

I’ve been working my way through the gospel of Luke, now we are into chapter 19. Ever since chapter 9, Luke has been retracing the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. From right after the transfiguration in chapter 9 to the triumphal entry at the end of chapter 19, Jesus is on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The story becomes more and more ominous as we go. There is a dark ominous cloud lingering over Jesus as he’s on his way ultimately to be crucified. He talks more and more about what is to happen once they get to Jerusalem…saying things like “”You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.””Matthew 26:2 ESV. And…“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””

Luke 9:22 ESV

But today we have the final event before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. What Luke is doing today is once more showing us that salvation and the kingdom of god are expressed as radical hospitality.

Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus as moving from table to table, meal to meal, announcing and enacting the kingdom of god. He wants to show us one more time, with the story of Zacchaeus, what that kingdom looks like. They are nearing Jerusalem, arriving at Jericho. They are one days journey from Jerusalem. The very next day Jesus will arrive in Jerusalem. This is the final event recorded before we move into the actual passion week, the Holy Week of Jesus.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

By now we are encountering what should be a familiar theme. Once again we have a tax collector, not just a regular tax collector but a chief tax collector. He is rich and he is despised. The Pharisees thought that land based wealth based on production of the land was a sign of being blessed by God. We saw before that Jesus didn’t agree with that. He didn’t agree with the assesment that you can determine God’s favor and blessing based upon wealth and riches. Nevertheless, the Pharisees thought that great wealth accrued through the production of the land was a sign of Gods favor, but wealth accrued by collecting taxes for the hated occupying gentile force of the Romans was seen as a great evil. Tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the consummate moral outcasts, excluded from the synagogue and temple life. A chief tax collector would be seen as completely excluded from the covenant of Abraham. You might as well think of Zachaeaus as the chief of sinners.

Zacchaeus is banished from the synagogue, he can not participate from synagogue life. Being banished from the synagogue, he’s also banished from the Kingdom of God. There was a great sense of anticipation at this time. There was a great Jewish anticipation something big was about to happen. The Kingdom of God really was going to come. They believed that God was about to act decisively and definitively very soon, and would establish his reign, rule, and government among men. They were equally convinced that people like Zacchaeus would be excluded from it. They would not be a part of what God was doing. They would be left out.

But – by this time I hope you have learned that we must not be so quick to dismiss those who appear to be outside of the kingdom of God just because they don’t presently participate in accepted forms of religious life.

This is Zacchaeus’ situation. He is an outsider, an outcast. He is banned from the synagogue. Everybody views him as a despised sinner, and he will not be a part of what God is doing.

But Zacchaeus has something going for him. He is fascinated by Jesus. He has heard that Jesus is coming. Word of Jesus had spread, this prophet from Galilee who works miracles, heals the sick, helps the lame walk, the blind see. I’m sure that had gotten Zacchaeus attention.

No doubt he’d also heard about his table practice. He’d heard how this miracle worker from Galilee would also share his table with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and the outcasts, those who’d been banned from the synagogue. This is very fascinating to Zacchaeus.

We are told that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but not just as a celebrity. He wanted to see who Jesus is. He was fascinated by Jesus. I want to see who this guy is. What is he about? What’s he really like?

That kind of sinner is far more common than you think. Our world is filled with people who have zero interest in going to a church, but they are fascinated by Jesus. And if they see some means by which they really might actually know what Jesus is actually about and like, the are interested in that. That’s Zacchaeus…

Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. All those people that we think are on the wrong side of God, that don’t do things just as we do, Jesus wants to sit down and share a meal with them. And they are far more willing to sit down with Jesus than we, or even they, might think. Trouble is, the body of Christ in the world is far too often putting up barriers, putting conditions in coming to the table. Instead of putting up barriers, maybe we just need to wash the dishes, set the table, prepare the meal, and have a seat.

Yes, these people are messed up. But do we trust Jesus enough to simply allow him to sit down those whom we think are lost? Of course there is more to say on this, I will be back…

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

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

Into the Waters

Into the Waters

into the water.jpg

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””  We come this morning to the baptism of Jesus.  You could also say this is the formal anointing of Jesus as Messiah.  The messiah is the anointed one.  The Messiah, in the scriptures, is anointed with oil instead of a crown.  Here, though, Jesus is anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit.   He comes out of the waters of baptism, he’s praying, and a dove lands upon him.   God the Father announces from the heavens You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

jesusmessiah

Luke is screaming out,  LOOK! LOOK!  We finally have the messiah.  We’ve waited so long, but it’s finally happening.  The king is on the scene, He, Jesus, in the waters being baptized by John, is the true king of Israel.  What follows next is Jesus going out into wilderness to be tested, tempted, and tried before actually launching his ministry and announcing kingdom of God.

baptism-image-only1

Meantime, let’s think about something here –  John the Baptist is announcing to Israel, you need to repent, change your lives, change your ways, you need to come be baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins!!  The people come, Jesus comes with them and he gets baptized by John.  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins.  So, question is, is Jesus repenting of sin??  Why else would he need to be baptized by John??  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance…is Jesus repenting of sin??

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The answer, i would say, is yes and no.  Jesus is without sin, therefore Jesus can not repent for personal sin.   But here’s the key – Jesus has joined us, he belongs to a sinful people,  he can say, to us and with us,  we need to repent, let me lead the way.   Jesus is God with us, he is Emmanuel.   He is not God separate from us, he is one of us.  He could never say father forgive me of my sin, but can teach us and lead us to pray, with him leading us, saying, Father “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

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This is hard to get for we modern people.  Repenting for sins for which we are not individually responsible for is foreign to us.  But the hyper individualism of the modern era is foreign to biblical thought.  It is a very modern, liberal creation to think like this –  I’m an individual responsible only for myself…it’s as if we believe in the ways of Cain, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?””   To which we say all too often, no, I’m an individual responsible for no one else, just myself.  That’s foreign to the thought of the Bible, and it’s not how Jesus thought.

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Jesus did not stand aloof from us, as a holy individual, saying look at all those sinners are getting baptized, but I am without sin so I will not join them.  Instead Jesus says I belong to a sinful people, a sinful race, I am one if you, I am with you, I will lead the way, together we need to repent.  Even though he wasn’t individually responsible he’s willing to say we together need to come back to God.

baptism

Jesus leads us into the waters of baptism and calls us to follow.  Baptism remains formal introduction into the Jesus Way.  There is no excuse for not being baptized.  Jesus was baptized.  Then he tells us to be baptized. If you’re not baptized, there is only one thing to do.  Go, and be baptized.

Jesus doesn’t come up with some reason not to be baptized.  John tried to stop him.  “John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?””  Matthew 3:14 ESV.   But Jesus says no, we must fulfill all covenant faithfulness, all righteousness, I’m part of this so baptized me as well.  “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”  Matthew 3:15 ESV

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Jesus leads the way and calls us into baptism, he institutes communion, these are both formal religious practices.   Jesus followed a sacred calendar, He gave us a prayer to pray, He founded a church and calls us into it.

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Don’t accept modern liberal idea that Jesus was opposed to formal religious practices.  Noting could be farther from the truth.  Again, Jesus is baptized and calls us to be baptized.  Jesus instituted communion, observed a sacred calendar, Jesus gives us a prayer to pray, he founds a church calls us to be part of it.   We don’t get to make Christianity up.  It’s a received faith.  We can’t have an a la carte Christianity.  I like to sing the songs in worship, say Amen!  But i don’t need to be baptized, really.  It’s cold outside, it might mess my hair up.  And we really don’t need communion, besides, i have places to be and that takes time….

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Ok, you might be able to pull off following Jesus as an individual, but then what are you going to pass to your kinds and grandkids?    What about the generations to come?   If we are interested in passing our faith to the next generation, we need to be interested in the things that make Christianity multi-generational.   Things like churches, communion, calendar, and prayers that are passed on from generation to generation.  This is how the faith gets passed on through generations instead of just a lone, boutique experience.

Christianity is impossible as a solo project.  In the beginning of his ministry, the first thing Jesus did was to be baptized with us, showing us we are all in this together.  We don’t all have to  figure out how to be saved by ourselves.  One way of understanding Salvation might be as a kind of belonging where we, corporately,  belong to the People of God.

christianity

I’ve heard it said that a lone Christian is a paralyzed Christian.  I would say a lone Christian is no Christian.   We are called follow Jesus into the waters of baptism, we are called into church, we are called to worship, we are called to communion, we are called to prayer.   If you’re not following Jesus into these things, then what are you following him into?

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””

Luke 3:21-22 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.21-22.esv

John Lewis

What Shall We Do??

What Shall We Do??

by James Tissot

The year is AD 28. Jerusalem is a powder keg.  It’s about to blow.   Jewish resentment and anger over their political situation is overflowing.  It’s time to stop bitching and start a revolution.  They’re fed up.  Fed up with Rome, fed up with their priests.  Rome had invaded one hundred  years earlier, but they had only recently begun to directly rule Judea.  Instead of allowing Jewish governors, they began to send their own people, men like Pontus Pilate, and the Jews are fed up.  They’re fed up with King Herod and his corruption, he’s only half Jewish anyway.  They’re fed up with the corrupt Hasmonean dynasty of the high priestly order of Annas and Caiaphas, priests who buy their position, with bribes, from Caesar.  They’re fed up with priests more interested in their positions of power than the Kingdom of God.

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Luke sets the scene very dramatically, tells us who’s in charge politically, In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.   He tells us who’s in the religious positions of power, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.  But – the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.   The word of god comes not to the king or Rome or to the high priestly order, but to John, this prophetic, ascetic man in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey.  When the word of the Lord comes upon him, he stays in wilderness but relocates himself about 15 miles outside Jerusalem by Jericho at the Jordan River.

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Here John begins to preach.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   The Lord is about to come, He’s about to send Messiah, the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, you need to get ready, come get baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  By the way – Jews weren’t waiting for messiah to come so they could be forgiven. They already knew how to be forgiven.  They knew about the temple, they knew about temple sacrifices, they knew the prayers, even John is baptizing with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They’re not waiting for  messiah to forgive them, they are waiting for messiah to come rescue Israel, rebuild the temple,  restore righteousness, rule the nations, and reveal god to the Gentiles.

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But John says you guys aren’t ready!!   He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  So John engages in prophetic theater with his baptism.  Jews had their ritual mikvahs in the temple for their ritual cleansings and purification.  It was very formal, very official, carried on at the temple.  But John says they need a full baptism just like Gentiles who are being converted.  Basically John is telling the Jews that they are not really Jews, they’re not being faithful to the covenant.  They need to be reconverted to become Jews again.  That’s the point John is making baptizing in the Jordan River.  He is not converting Gentiles to follow Yahweh, he’s reinitiating practicing, life long Jews into their own faith.

promnised land

He’s baptizing in the Jordan out by Jericho at the same spot the Jews had come into promised land under Joshua thirteen centuries earlier.  They needed to be reconverted, they needed have a new Exodus, a new entry into promised land.  They were going out into the wilderness to really become the people of God, to get serious, to reenact their entry into the promised land.  What John is doing is very creative, very dangerous, it’s going to upset the powers that be.  This is why he wound up in prison and finally executed, because he’s challenging the powers that be.

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He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?   And if you fill out this little card i can email you, make you feel welcome, show you how nice I am…John knows Jerusalem is a powder keg and it’s about to blow up.  That’s what he calls the wrath to come.  He knows the only hope they have is for Israel to receive their messiah.  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  I don’t want to hear about your national identity or your religious identity, I don’t care about your pedigree.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Like the rest of the prophets, John is not interested in identity, but fruit.  The fruit of justice and righteousness, covenant faithfulness and treating your neighbor as yourself.  That’s what John is interested in, that’s how they will prepare to receive their Messiah.  They will repent, rethink their lives, and begin to bear the fruits of righteousness and justice.  If not they will end up in the explosive powder keg of revolution, war and destruction to come.

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So all those coming out to John ask him what do we do?   We are serious, we want to repent to be the real people of God, but what do we do?  And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.   John is calling Israel to repent and rethink everything.  So, what do we do?   It’s very interesting here, every response John gives those who ask him is economic in nature.  If you have two tunics, give to one who has none.  If you have leftovers from dinner, share with one who had no dinner.  If you’re a tax collector, collect no more than you are authorized to do.  Tax collectors are Jews who are collaborating with Romans who are viewed as traitors, moral outcasts.  They are hated by the rest of Jewish society because they are collecting taxes for the Romans and almost always did it dishonestly, overcharging and padding their own pockets.   But it’s also very interesting here – John does NOT tell them not to be tax collectors.  Just collect no more than you are authorized to do.  And soldiers  – do not use the power of your weaponry or rank to extort money.  Don’t justify it by saying Herod doesn’t pay us enough.  Be content with your wages.  

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In every example John gives, he stresses economic repentance.  Everything  has to do with money.  Why does John stress economic repentance?  There are plenty of other sins but John doesn’t mention any of them.   I’m sure if you’re an adulterer, a drunkard, a sabbath breaker, a thief, a cheat,  John wants you to repent, but he doesn’t mention any other sin.  The only thing he mentions is personal economics.  Why?

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John wants to prepare a people who will receive a new Kingdom, a new government, a new king.  The greatest obstacle to entering the kingdom of god is the tyranny of economic self interest.  John taught this, Jesus would pick it up and say exactly the same thing in his own way over and over.  The greatest obstacle to entering the kingdom of god, the government of god, the reign of Christ in our life, the alternative society of the kingdom of heaven, is the tyranny of our own economic self interest.  “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:25 ESV

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I’m writing to myself right now.  That’s how it was then, the way it is now, it’s how it is for me, probably how it is for you.  Unless, of course, you’re very poor.  Then it’s not as hard, cause you have nothing.  When you have  nothing there is nothing to lose.  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   To be clear, if you are reading this, then you are not poor. “”But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Luke 6:24 ESV

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And yes, it was the tyranny of economic self interest led to the fiery wrath of war foretold by John and Jesus in AD 70.   So many just could not give up all that they had.   “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” Luke 18:22-23 ESV

“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.””

Luke 3:7-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.7-14.esv

John Lewis

Change is Coming

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Been looking at the first couple chapters of Luke during advent and epiphany, today really just setting the stage for what comes next.

messiah

Beginning with the psalms, especially psalm 2 but others as well, then carried on by the prophets, there began to develop a picture of what Messiah would be.  Messiah in this case means “Mashiach”, the anointed one.  Anointed as in “to christen”, it’s actually where we get the word “Christ” from.   “Anointed one” means “Messiah” or “Mashiach” in the Hebrew, “Christ” in Greek.  Same word, two different languages.

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In ancient times of Israel, kings were not crowned, they were anointed.  It was not a crown that signified royalty, but oil.  The prophet Samuel took a horn of oil and anointed Saul the first king of Israel.  Later, he would anoint David king.  Very specifically, Messiah means “anointed one”, as in anointed to be king.

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In the psalms and prophets, there developed a five-fold expectation of what the Jewish king, the Messiah, would accomplish.  Yes, there were kings, but Israel was waiting for a special king who was going to come.  He would be like the Son of God.  He would be the coming king that would accomplish great things that would change the world.

raised on a cross

There were five overarching expectations of messiah.  However, none of these expectations went anything like this – “We are waiting for Messiah to come so he can die on a cross, be raised on the third day, so we can be saved and go to heaven when we die.”  No one thought anything close to this.  This is no where any  part of the expectation for Messiah.  The Jews, rather, derived their anticipation of messiah from the psalms and prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament.

Here is the fold job description of Messiah.

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1).  Messiah would rescue Israel from the tyranny of wicked, evil empires and dictators.  Through Israel’s long history they’d often been threatened and dominated by a succession of empires and dictators.  The Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, the Romans had all joined in on the succession of empires and dictators dominating God’s chosen people.  The expectation was that Messiah would rescue Israel from that.

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2). Messiah would rebuild the temple.   The idea is that the king is closely connected with the structuring or rebuilding of the temple.  This is why Herod was so interested in greatly enlarging the temple.  Though he was king, Herod was only half Jewish.  In other words, Herod was in no way qualified to be king of Israel, but the occupying force appointed him anyway.  However, Herod was a great builder.  He was a master architect.  Maybe as an attempt to establish himself as a true king of Israel to ingratiate himself with the Jews, Herod spent 46 years rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.  Not because he was a godly or pious man interested in religious things, but because he wanted to ingratiate himself with the Jews, and establish that maybe, just maybe, he was, after all, the true Messiah.

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3). Messiah would  restore righteousness.  Righteousness in the Bible can be understood as faithfulness to the covenant.  Israel had a long history of being unfaithful to covenant they had with Yahweh, this is why prophets would often refer to Israel as an unfaithful wife, an adulterous woman.  Israel was unrighteous in the sense of being unfaithful to the covenant.  One of visions of messiah is that he is an Israelite who would act righteously and lead the rest of Israel back into covenant faithfulness with Yahweh.

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4).   Messiah would rule over the nations. The vision is not just that Messiah would be the king of Israel, but Messiah would have a kingdom to dominate  all the other kingdoms.  Every knee would bow and every tongue confess Israel’s true king as Messiah.  His would be the one world government to overcome all the other governments.

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5).  Messiah would reveal God to the Gentiles.  Not just any God, the the God of Israel, Yahweh, the one true God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Only Israel worships Yahweh.  The rest of the nations had a myriad of gods.  Messiah would make the God of Israel famous.  Gentiles would turn away from Zeus, Baal, Mars, Apollion.  Knowledge of Yahweh would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

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So we see that Messiah had a big job description.  He was to rescue Israel, restore righteousness, rebuild the temple, rule over the nations, and reveal God to the Gentiles.

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Luke opens his gospel with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. We also see many signs, Zechariah’s prophecy, Mary’s Magnificat, the angelic announcement to the shepherds, the temple prophecies of Simeon and Anna, all these things indicating the long awaiting king is about to appear.

They’ve been waiting for a thousand years for this very special king to come.   Now we have a great rush of activity.   The birth of the two babies, all the signs, the flight to Egypt recorded in Matthew.   Then all goes quiet again for about thirty years.  John and Jesus have to grow up.

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When we next see John, he is living out in wilderness.  This is in itself is significant.  John is the son of Zechariah.  His father is a Levite, a priest.  The way things work, John is supposed to be a priest, he’s supposed to follow his father in his priestly calling.  Yet John lives his lone, ascetic lifestyle.  There is a form of protest in this.  There is much we don’t get to see in the story as it is given to us.  Is his father Zechariah disappointed in John for not living into the family tradition?   Is John protesting the temple and priesthood?  Is he declaring in his minimalist lifestyle out in the wilderness that the temple is corrupt and he just won’t be a part of it??   I think this is exactly what he is doing…

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Jesus is living in Nazareth as the son of a carpenter. Everything is waiting.  Israel’s waited a thousand years, so much happened, then it grew quiet again, all is now waiting, waiting.  Then Luke Chapter three comes, and as we might say in the twenty first century, it’s on!!  Beginning Luke chapter three, things are happening.  What happens next is most important stuff to ever happen in the history of the world.   After a thousand years of waiting, thirty years after these two babies are born, the world is about to be changed forever.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'””

Luke 3:1-6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.1-6.esv

John Lewis