Saturday, March 28, 2015

Easter Together, Day 9 - "Bethany, Worship and Home'

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 
John 11: 55-12: 2
Our tracking of Jesus’ route back to Jerusalem since the raising of Lazarus returns to the gospel of John. Of the past few days we have been following this journey through the Synoptic gospels, for John’s narrative mentions simply this, ‘Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.’ (Jn. 11:54) so that the content for our trail since Jesus left Ephraim has come only Mark, Matthew and Luke. But today, we return to John, where in chapter 11 at verses 55 we read, now the Passover of the Jews was at hand" and may commence along with John once again.  

Now we may surmise from our previous texts that sometime on Thursday or perhaps Friday morning, one week before the Passover, Jesus left Jericho and traveled to Bethany. Bethany sat on the eastern slope of Mount Oilivet, less than a mile from its peak and approximately 10 - 14 miles from Jericho when traveled by road. A walk from Bethany up to the mountain peak would place one in the village or 'suburb' of Jerusalem known as Bethpage. From there there you may gaze west over the Garden of Gethsemane, and across the Kidron Valley toward Jerusalem and the Eastern Gate of the temple.  In Bethany, Jesus was less than four miles from the temple and He came there this night to dine in the home of people whom he loved.  It was one week before he would die for the sins of the world, and – there – in this place and by sharing a meal, an extravagance of worship occurred.  

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?
John 12: 3-5

Today I participated in the funeral of my cousins wife.  She lived her entire life, from cradle to grave, in one town - Celina, TX. She grew up there, and was a loyal member of the First Baptist Church. Though a loyal Celina Bobcat who never missed a game, more than this  - she loved Christ and her church – never missing worship there either.  Her pastor talked about how unique her life was.  He opined that in our world of transience, she was the exception because she never left this one town - 'it was her home' - he said, then added, 'and for Ruthie, home was everything’. 

Thinking of this,  I am reminded that Jesus values home. Also that God’s word values the home, too.  God was the one who instituted the home and, in Egypt, it was to each home that He brought the feast we know as Passover. Following this, He instructed His people to teach His precepts to their children - day, night, sitting, eating, standing, and even when going to bed - in their homes!  Our very fist churches were in homes, with our first pastors being those ‘ruling their households well.’ So that we must know that what happened in this home that evening, extravagant worship of Jesus, which thickened the air with a fragrance worth one years wage, was a most wonderful and natural thing to do. 

Right now I am readying myself for Sunday’s service.  Following in  our story, Jesus likely left Bethany on this same morning, which was after the Sabbath and our Sunday- 'Palm Sunday'. He sent His disciples ahead to the village of Bethpage where they retrieved for Him a colt - one upon which he was soon to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem. It was tied in from of the home of a friend, and just up the mountain from the home of these three with whom he'd dined.  YesJesus was comfortable with people in their homes.  And In the home of these on that night long ago, He was worshipped – ever so extravagantly! Which cause me to wonder?... ... Is he worshipped like this in mine?  And, may I ask you.... is He worshipped like this in yours?  

I pray so,

Pastor Sam

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Together, Day 10 - 'Jericho, Presumption & Prejudice'

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Mark 10: 46ff (CF Matthew 20:29-34; Luke 18: 35-43)

The next two events on Jesus' journey to Jerusalem are among my favorite stories from Christ's life. They formed the text's of my earliest sermons.  And, as I read them again this morning, they speak concerning the essence, compassion and life-changing power of Christ.

Still traveling south along the Jordan Valley, the distance Jesus would have made in crossing the Jordan and into Jericho was not far.  As travelers moved south along the valley, turning southwest, crossing the river, and passing through Jericho on the way up to Jerusalem was the common route – though not for the faint of heart.  Jericho sat in Wadi Qelt (a stream bed) that ran down the mountain from Jerusalem towards the Jordan Valley where it terminated.  Being just north of the Dead Sea, Jericho was 850 feet below sea level - less than a mile in actual distance from Jerusalem but on a road 18 miles long due to a 2,700-foot drop in elevation.  The person Jesus encountered on this road was Bartimaeus - known to us by this miracle, but in Jesus’ day as a ‘beggar’ who was "blind.'    

There are many things about this story that speak to me. There is desperation – the fact that Bartimaeus, with no fear of reprisal, cried so loud for help, and that even when being rebuked by others only cried all the more.  There is presumption – the fact that many of the crowd, perhaps even some of Jesus’ very own disciples (they that went before him) rebuked Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet – causing me to wonder at their presumption over Christ’s thoughts based upon prejudices and worries of their own.  And, finally, there is elation – as Jesus rewards this man for his faith, saying – ‘receive your sight, your faith has made you well.’  

When someone lived with a physical infirmity in the first century, the presumption was this was caused from sins committed by them or their parents.  When Jesus had come upon another born blind before, He was asked by His disciples, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" (John 9:2)  Indeed, though the heart of man is quick to blame the heart of God is quick to love. 

I will never forget the day I first walked into church with my guitar. The people were unusually still, and some of the congregation got up to leave as I played the first chord.  But as I continued, and the strum from my guitar issued naught but praise, the congregation relaxed - and even the old deacons, who sat obtrusively on the front row, smiled and began to nod their heads with understanding.  Presumption was exposed – presumption that a guitar might only be used to play rock and roll. And prejudice was destroyed – prejudice against a young teen with long hair and a guitar daring to praise God.   

Jesus will meet one person more before leaving Jericho – his name is Zacchaeus, one of the more despised, even hated of all.  But calling him down from a tree, Jesus will break down the barrier yet again - showing that faith in Him is the lone requisite, not respect from mankind.  For mankind, as we are often prone, can miss elation through the mistake of presumption and the sadness of the prejudice we own.

Pastor Sam

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Easter Together, Day 11 - 'The Cup of Christ'

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom. Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking.” Matthew 20: 20-22a
(CF. Matt. 20:2-2-7; Mark 10: 35-45)

Be careful what you ask for! Not because you may get it, but because… - as Jesus points out - you may have no idea what you’re asking Him for.

Now when this mother came to Jesus to gain position for her sons she was not alone – her sons were there too.  In Mark’s gospel the mother is not even mentioned, showing their culpability is shared. These two men, James and John, made up two of Jesus’ closest disciples – Peter, James and John.  Fishermen by trade, the three had worked in a family fishing business in Galilee when Jesus had first called them.  They were energetic and enthusiastic followers of Christ – but now, in this moment, two of them came and knelt before Jesus in worship – albeit with self-centered cause. 

I suppose the purpose of their coming was not solely to ask Christ this question – but it was certainly a part, as they did.  Too, I can allow that their thoughts were many, and that as they got wrapped up into this wonderful moment of worship, pondering and dreaming, perhaps then their ‘faux pas’ slipped.  After all, hadn’t they seen Jesus perform miracle after miracle?  Hadn’t they been faithful, among His closest?  Didn’t they love him, and weren’t they assured of His love in return?  So that - in the midst of this moment and self-centered assurance they got caught - caught with microphone in hand, the spotlight turned on, and thinking less of Him and more of themselves than they should.

But going on - when the other ten became indignant (you know, the one’s who weren’t on stage, who sat watching and wanting as others often do), Jesus turned this slip into a moment to teach. He told these and their Mom they didn’t know what they were asking for -  and, that no matter what He might say, they could not understand. Then Jesus turned to the others and taught what they could understand. He taught them His marvelous way – His way of servant leadership.

So as we ready ourselves for Christ’s final turn toward Jerusalem – for His crossing the Jordan into Jericho, Bethany and beyond, what do we find ourselves wanting from Him? Do we want to sit at His throne and be recognized? Or, are we ready to drink from His cup and die? The first represents who we are in the flesh – and the second is something we can never do as did he – for He died for the sins of the world. But a third choice can be ours. Just as He taught His disciples, He teaches us all to serve – to become a servant of Christ both to Christ’s family and our fellow man. This is a cup we can drink from! And this cup, given to us by Him, is our call.

Pastor Sam

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easter Together, Day 12 - 'Amazed and Afraid'

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem[1], and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise. Mark 10:32-34 (see also, Matt. 20:17-19, Luke 18:31-34)

Love does strange things to us. On one hand it brings us joy but on the other it can also grip us with fear.  As Jesus continues traveling south along the Jordan, He is ‘going up’ to Jerusalem (whether south, north, east or west, the Jew’s always ‘go up’ to Jerusalem, which is on a hill). As He travels He invokes two, quite varied responses – ‘amazed’ and ‘afraid’.  We are not privy as to who gives these - whether the whole of them give both or whether they were divided by group – but my suspicion is the crowd was amazed and the disciples were afraid.  

Now I really believe the disciples loved Jesus.  But when we love someone we can also be gripped by fear.  We can be afraid we might lose them or that something might happen to them - or fear that something might happen to us because of them. This is what I think is going on. The disciples knew the ‘Jews’ were conspiring to trip Jesus up – even kill him. This had been their plan since the raising of Lazarus.  Their loyalty and love kept the disciples with Christ but their fear over what might happen made them cautious. In response Jesus tells them plainly - “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him" - which is opposite of what we think He should say were He wanting to comfort them.  Then adds - "And after three days he will rise" - and we can only wonder whether they understood Him, or what they even thought at all of this.  Indeed, the crowds were amazed but the disciples afraid.

Do you ever find yourself afraid in following after Christ?  Has He asked you to follow Him into places and though circumstances that you fear? He has me. Many times!  As humans we may fear, but in Christ we can be assured that ‘perfect love cast’s out fear.' (John 4:18)  And though we are not perfect this side of glory – Christ is, and His perfect love wins. Always 

Pastor Sam

[1] A T Robertson footnotes in his A HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS FOR STUDENTS OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST, that Jesus had left Galilee in § 122, crossing the Jordan into Perea, probably in company with many Jews from Galilee (who regularly went this way to Jerusalem), and will now soon cross the river again and reach Jericho (§ 126).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Easter Together, Day 13 - "Mission Impossible"

Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
 Luke 18: 24-30 (see also Mark 10:23-31; Matthew 19: 23-30)

Still in Perea, Luke chapter 18 parallels Matthew and Mark from verse 15 on.  Prior to this Luke records Jesus’ parables on prayer - the persistent woman and the penitent sinner (my blog from 3.19.2015), which are not in Matthew and Mark – demonstrating how strongly Luke wants to show that Jesus absolutely regards the heart of any person coming to him. There are three examples Luke gives – the first is through prayer (the persistent woman and the penitent sinner contrasting the Pharisee’s prayer), a second is through children and child-like trust, and a third is through the rich young ruler, who in sorrow walked away refusing to let his riches go. Looking at each of these we see the larger theme – that how one sees themselves and responds in their relationship with God matters a great deal. Persistence, a penitent heart, child-like faith and trust, and making Christ Lord above all are what God wants. 

There is an additional point that Luke makes in these three examples. One we especially see in the last. After the young ruler walks away ‘sad,’ Jesus says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 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 18:24b &25) Those around Jesus who heard him responded – “who then can be saved?” to which Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Vv. 26-27) The point being that right standing before God is not something that is man-made, it is God-given. The Pharisee did not have right standing because of his loud public prayer, nor did the young ruler have it because he was rich.  Instead, Jesus says, the one who will have right standing with me is the one to whom God gives it.  God is the author and finisher of salvation. If we are to be saved it will come from Him, for... “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

If this seems to burst your bubble, it likely needed bursting. Jesus teaches that God is the One who accomplishes ‘mission impossible.’ He changes our hearts and priorities. People cannot save themselves; God does this - by His power, which is why the Apostle writes that the gospel is the ‘power of God’ (Romans 1:16-17)

As we move along this final journey to Jerusalem with Christ, let us reflect on these examples of Luke 18 and give thanks that our salvation comes from Him – for with God nothing is impossible.    

Pastor Sam

Monday, March 23, 2015

Easter Together, Day 14 - "Eternal Life and the Heart"

   And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
 Mark 10: 17-22 (also Matt. 19:16ff, Luke 18: 18ff)

Still in Perea, and continuing His journey south along the eastern border of the Jordan, Jesus encounters a man who ‘runs’ up to him, then ‘kneels’ before Him and asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  We know this man as the ‘Rich Young Ruler,’ but Jesus knew him as someone he ‘loved.’

In Jesus’ time, the understanding of eternal life was not only as we think of it today. When we hear the words we trace immediately to heaven – as we commonly associate having ‘eternal life’ with going to or being in heaven when we die. In the Synoptic Gospels and Pauline Letters, eternal life is not only regarded as a future experience, it also refers to the day of Final Judgment. In this sense, eternal life is the reward itself, not just the place. The Gospel of John differs from the Synoptic’s in emphasizing eternal life as a "present possession" (compare Mark 10:30, Matthew 18:8-9, and John 5:24), rather than a future reward.  Either way, the question from this wealthy young ruler was meant to be understood as this – 'how might I be assured of favor in your Kingdom, LORD?'  Or, simpler put, 'how might I win?'  And, Jesus, loving him - and looking through him and into his heart - taught a lesson we must learn.   

Yes, this interchange teaches us truth’s that are immediately important.  It teaches that Jesus cares that we live according to His commands, that he knows what's in our heart, and that He loves us.  When the young man responded to Jesus’ reiteration of the commands he said - ‘all these have I kept from my youth up’ - yet... Jesus looked, and knowing him better than he knew himself, loved him anyway. His love was not contingent upon the young man's affirmative response - nor is it on ours.  Jesus knows us better than that.  He knows that even among we who think we’ve kept all the law, that we've broken it in ‘spirit’ time after time. Jesus loved this man.  He didn't love him because he kept the law, nor even because he'd tried. And, certainly, He didn't love him just because he asked about eternal life.  He loved him because he was someone God had placed on this earth and for whom He, Jesus, was soon going to die. (cf. John 3:16)

Of course this begs the question - does Jesus require that we give away our possessions in order to gain eternal life? Our answer is both yes and no. The Bible teaches that ‘belief’- faith in Christ - is the only requirement of us, as we are not saved by works but by His grace.  Still, belief is something formed and found in our individual heart, and Christ wants us to give to Him all our our heart.  Looking into the heart (or soul) of this man, Jesus saw his hypocrisy.  His kneeling at Jesus feet wasn’t to ask him a question, it was him simply saying, ‘look at me.’  Well… Jesus did – and He loved him anyway. 

As Jesus looks into our hearts I wonder what He sees.  Does he see a desire for Him that is larger than possessions, fame or this present day?  Do we really desire eternal life with Him, or simply to be noticed?  It has been said that the Kingdom of God is as near as the heart - and that our hearts never lie.  This young man went away in sorrow because ‘he had great possessions.’   His stuff kept the ‘real’ treasure hid from his view. In his heart he was sorry - much more than he knew.  

What’s in your heart?   

Pastor Sam

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Easter Together, Day 16 - 'Children and God's Kingdom'

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:15-17 (also Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16)

In the case of both Mark and Matthew there is no indication that Jesus leaves the area being described as “into the borders of Judea and beyond Jordan” (Mark 10:1 and Matthew 19:1), which we have surmised as across the Jordan and along the edge of Perea – a common route for sojourners to Jerusalem.  As well, as Luke picks up to record this event we find that from here each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) will more often be parallel than even in Jesus’ Galilean ministry (early chapters).  Having this account recorded by each of these, then, speaks to its impact on Jesus’ disciples and the early church – I suspect for two reasons, because of what the disciples did and their embarrassment over it, and what Jesus then said and the profound and realized truth it brought to them. 

In our day and time children hold the focus of our attention – the center of our familial world. With most families whom I pastor the family schedule is set by the activities of their children. And rare is the time I do not see a kind of ‘front and center’ response from adults as their children and/or grandchildren enter into the conversation or room.

Now though I could write for a while on the impact of this and why I think so many times is not really our children whom we are worshipping but parents worshipping themselves through children, suffice it to say this proclivity was not so in Christ’s time. Children were to seen not heard. They were raised to become productive adults and successful members of community by participating in household roles and duties under the oversight of parents and receiving teaching under the instruction of their father in the Law of Moses and God. 

Still, in Jewish society the practice of ‘blessing’ was a factor.  The patriarchs of Israel passed blessings to their offspring, and there are many cases in the Bible where we read accounts of a father or grandfather speaking a significant blessing over one of his family members.  So that a spoken blessing from a father or mother held great worth in the family, as it was viewed as holding power and privilege, and this concept played a role in the actions and habits of parents, especially with their infants, as they began life together with a new child (cf. Jesus being carried into the temple by his parents and blessed by Simeon) 

Now as this occurred Jesus was experiencing incredible popularity.  Great crowds were following him along his route and as He was healing and teaching throngs of people were about Him. For these, then, to bring their children to Him that they might receive a touch, a kiss, or even perhaps a word of blessing form Him was not unexpected.  Still, the disciples - likely assuming the role of protecting the ‘time’ of their Master - saw this as excessive and ‘rebuked’ them.  And this is when Jesus called them to himself, and taught them a lesson they would never forget. And though I don’t believe Jesus was mad at His disciples, I do think He saw this as an opportunity to teach them an important truth. Jesus was not reminding them that His Kingdom is made only of children, but that a child-like personage (meaning faith, simplicity, trust and even care) is the gist of what His Kingdom is all about a and how it is acquired. 

So this is not complicated when you think about it. Children, especially infants, hold a capacity of trust and reliance, which we as adults have long lost. Our sufficiency – the commodity that makes for successful adulthood – is often a roadblock when it comes to things of God – and our self-reliance can keep us from not only knowing him, but from following Him, too. 

As we ready ourselves for Easter, let’s be reminded of Christ and little children – the 'infants,' as our translation shows.  For without this kind of response to the King, we cannot enter into His Kingdom.  How might we become more like they are in our response to Christ – not just at the first, but continually, all the day long?  For we to must never forget that 'of such is the Kingdom of God.'  

Pastor Sam