The Question of Authority – Luke 20:1-8 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 20:1-8

As Christians, when we read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ disputes with various religious leaders of his day, our natural instinct is to cheer Jesus on and to see his opponents as the bad guys. We rarely stop to consider how peculiar and radical Jesus’ words were to their ears. They were not necessarily bad guys. They were confused and bewildered by this strange, itinerate and unorthodox teacher from Nazareth.

In just a few short years Jesus had risen from a completely unknown carpenter in the tiny village of Nazareth, to be the sensation of the age. With teaching accompanied by signs and wonders, Jesus had people excited about him and the kingdom of God which he proclaimed. Just prior to where our text begins today, Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem amid shouts that he was the king! It was Passover and the crowds were abuzz with talk about this Jesus.

The religious leaders were concerned about the possibility that Jesus might be leading the people astray. Here was Jesus at the zenith of his influence, and the primary issue for the chief priests and the teachers of the law was the authority of Jesus. Think about this for just a moment. I cannot, due to space and time constraints, list every time that Jesus began teachings by saying, “I say to you.” Rabbis and other teachers of the law began their teaching by saying things like, “It is written,” or “the Law of Moses says.” They rarely injected themselves into their teachings. To do so was unthinkable because it elevated oneself to a position of importance that would be on par with sacred texts, the law and the prophets. This presents a “no problem” situation to you and me.

We, who have come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, pass right over the significance of “I say to you,” because we know who Jesus is. The religious leaders confronting Jesus did not. The radical nature of Jesus’ teachings is lost on our ears. It was not on theirs. Jesus acted and spoke with an authority unlike anyone they had ever heard. That is why the crowds lined the streets shouting their Hosannas.

The Chief Priests were on their home turf at the temple in Jerusalem and Jesus apparently thought that he had the authority to just walk right in and start teaching. Standing before them was a man who exercised authority over demonic powers, exercised authority over diseases and who had even exercised authority over death itself. Coupled with his radical and dramatic teaching style, this man Jesus was exercising an authority that was both baffling and frightening to the religious leaders. Jesus had come into their world, into their realm of life, and they had to confront him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” Jesus did not give them a straight answer. He left it for them to figure out on their own.

Today, this dramatic and revolutionary Jesus comes onto our home turf still teaching and still acting with great authority. As we struggle to come to grips with who he might be, everyone eventually has to ask the same authority question,…“By what authority?” Jesus does not answer the question for us. Each of us has to answer it for him or herself. For as with all authority, once it is recognized we are to ask another question: Will we submit to that authority?

If you have about ten minutes, here is a clip from Jesus of Nazareth  (1977)showing Jesus (on a different occasion) teaching and healing in the temple.  Note the authority of his teachings and his references to himself.

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The Tears of Our God – Luke 19:41-48 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 19:41-48

One of the chief dogmas of the Christian faith is that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human and fully divine. It is one of the mysteries of the faith that is impossible for the human mind to comprehend. Jesus is fully human and fully divine one hundred percent of the time; he does not switch back and forth between the two as situations change. As a human being, Jesus possessed the full range of human emotions, which are shown to us only briefly in the gospel accounts of his ministry. Few and far between are the accounts that tell us how Jesus actually felt.

In our brief text today we catch glimpses of both true natures at work within Jesus. We see his heartfelt human emotions. In a moment of extreme sadness, Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem; and in anger he drives the moneychangers from the temple. We see an indication of Jesus’ divine insight, as he describes in accurate detail how the Romans will destroy the city of Jerusalem some 37- 40 years in the future (70 AD).

It is this coming destruction of the Holy City that moves Jesus to tears. However, Jesus is not weeping over the loss of the buildings and the temple though, as a Jew, I am sure that they were important to him. He is weeping over the lost people, who have and will reject his message of salvation. He is weeping for the crowds who will cry out for his crucifixion. He is weeping for the Chief Priests, Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, who are plotting his death even as he weeps for them. And while the heartfelt pain of his weeping is the result of human emotions, the tears are divine and the heart that is broken belongs to God.

One of our favorite themes of human nature is a confluence of emotions called revenge. We love stories and movies where people who have wronged someone finally get what is coming to them. We love the old adage, “Revenge is sweet.” If Jesus had been an action movie hero, there would have been no tears shed for Jerusalem. If the gospel were a story of revenge like Hamlet or The Count of Monte Cristo then Jesus would have sported a crooked grin while he told of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. We, as the audience would have taken delight in knowing what was coming for the bad guys. We love revenge! We love it when people get what they deserve.

I love stories of revenge, so long as they are not directed toward me. Revenge is only sweet if we are the avenger. If I have wronged someone, I do not want them to seek revenge. I want them to reach way down within themselves and do the unnatural thing, forgive me. When I do wrong, I want mercy. Mercy is, of course, the opposite of revenge. When mercy is extended people do not receive what they deserve. That is to say, the wrongs they have committed are not held against them. It almost always flows from love.

In our text today we find that the heart of Jesus is grieved over the sinful nature of human beings. In the story of Jesus’ trial and passion we, as sinners, are all complicit in the plot to kill him. In this story we are all citizens of the Jerusalem that rejected Jesus. We too have broken the heart of our savior and out God. We should know that Jesus has wept over each one of us, just as he did for Jerusalem.

Because of the way the story of the passion of Jesus ends, we receive mercy upon mercy, as our sins are forgiven. If the heart of God can be grieved, it can also be made glad. When we live our lives in response to the grace and mercy we have received, God cannot help but be delighted. When we forgive and show mercy to those who have wronged us, Jesus cannot help but to laugh and smile. After all, that would be a natural human response.

The photo is of the statue titled “And Jesus Wept” which stands a few hundred feet from the National Memorial in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The memorial is for the terrorist bombing of April 19, 1995.

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Feast of St. Andrew – Matthew 4:18-22 [Daily Devotional]

Matthew 4:18-22

Today is the Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr.  It is a special day on the Church Calendar because it marks the first day of the Church Year.  We tend to think of the first Sunday of Advent as marking the New Year for the church.  Advent begins on the Sunday that falls closest to St. Andrew’s feast.  Granted, the Sundays of Advent are the four Sundays prior to Christmas, but the first day belongs to Andrew.  It is fitting that it should be so as traditionally Andrew is regarded as the first disciple of Jesus.

Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist until John pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God.  (John 1:36)” Andrew then began to follow Jesus.   Very little is known about Andrew (See: St. Andrew 11/30/2011), as in the Synoptic Gospels he is only present by name when the disciples are listed.  However, in the Gospel According to John, Andrew is prominent in several events in the ministry of Jesus.

It is Andrew who brings his brother Simon Peter to meet Jesus.  In fact, we are told that it was the very first thing that Andrew did as a disciple.  (John 1:41).  He sought out his brother and said, “We have found the Messiah.  And he brought him to Jesus   (John 1:41-42).”  (Can you imagine Christianity without Peter?)  We are not even out of the first chapter of John and already we see a very excited disciple, who wants to share the good news of his discovery with others.

Andrew makes his next appearance in the story of Jesus’ miraculous feeding the five thousand.  When Jesus looked at the multitude and wondered aloud how they would feed everyone, it is Andrew who brings the boy with the loaves and fish to Jesus.  Andrew said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? (John 6:9)”  I am sure that Andrew had no idea of what Jesus was getting ready to do.  He simply knew that these meager resources needed to be in the hands of Jesus.

Andrew again plays a prominent role in the story of some Greeks seeking to meet Jesus in Jerusalem during the Passover.  These out-of-towners approached Philip; “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus. (John 12:21)” Philip took them to Andrew, who true to form took them to Jesus.

By now, I hope that we are starting to see the pattern of Andrew’s discipleship that can serve as a model to all of us.  He simply takes people to meet Jesus.  He brings people and situations to Jesus.  Andrew should be the patron saint of all evangelism.  There are no recorded theological disputations from his lips, nor the eloquent, winning words of powerful sermons.  (He may well have done both, but they are not recorded for us.)  Also note that while Andrew probably invites people to meet Jesus, he does not send them.  He brings them personally to the place where they can meet Jesus.

Want to enhance your evangelistic outreach?  Follow Andrew’s example and stop inviting people to come to church.  Take them!

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For God and King – Luke 19:11-27 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 19:11-27

Don’t you just hate it when you back a candidate for a position and he or she does not get it.  If you openly backed the losing candidate, it can make things a bit awkward between you and the eventual winner.  Of course, it can be even more than awkward if the position to which the candidate ascended exercises power over you.  It might require some serious “sucking up” to the winner just to create a comfortable “status quo” relationship.  Establishing or reestablishing a working relationship with that person might be difficult.  Especially, if that person is as hard hearted and firm as the nobleman Jesus presents in this parable today.

In our text today Jesus tells a parable that has come to be known as “The Parable of the Minas.”  It is very similar to “The Parable of the Talents” found in Matthew 25:14-30.  Their structures are somewhat parallel, and some of the key points in the parables are the same.  However, there are enough key differences to argue that they are separate parables, as opposed to two versions of the same.  Jesus told many stories and taught almost every day of his earthly ministry.  It would be quite natural to modify stories and parables to fit differing situations and different audiences.  It is not necessary to imply that either Luke or Matthew altered the same parable from the same source to better fit the theological situation of their respective gospels.

One quick cautionary note on interpreting parables is to avoid the temptation to make every parable an allegory.  Many interpreters want this parable to be an allegory of Jesus’ relationship as king with those who reject him as their king.  The problem with this allegory is that it presents Jesus as a harsh and unloving ruler, who in the end takes delight in watching the executions of those who do not want him to be king. If this king is an allegory for Jesus, then we are all in a lot of trouble.  There is one other obvious issue with an allegorical interpretation: Jesus never had to go away to receive or ask for his kingship.  Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was born “King of the Jews,” of the line of David.  That being said, would you really want to worship a king who is as harsh and merciless as the one in the parable?  I wouldn’t. 

If this parable is not an allegory, that how are we to interpret it?  What is its meaning for my life today?  Jesus frequently teaches his listeners and disciples by arguing from the lesser to the greater.  That is to say, if Jesus lays before us a teaching that has truth on a lower level, it is obviously even truer on a higher level.  In this parable Jesus shows us how politically savvy folk are when they are dealing with an obviously ambitious, greedy and merciless nobleman.  How much more should this be true when responding to God, who is viewed in Judaism as the ultimate, good King. 

The parable is ultimately about what each one of us does with what God (the good King) has placed in trust with us.  God has entrusted many things to each one of us.  Our possessions, our time, our lives and even the Gospel message have been placed in our care.  God gives such things to us saying, “Put this (Fill in the blank for yourself.) to work, until I come back.” So, today in light of this teaching from Jesus we have to ask ourselves, “How am I using the things God has given me?  How am I spending my money, my time and my life?  How am I using the Gospel message?”  And the other big question is, “What kind of return is God getting on His investment in me?”

As luck would have it, our Good King is loving and merciful, even in those times of our lives when we live like we do not want him to be our king. 

The photo is of King George Tupou V, Sovereign of Tonga.  Tonga is the only Polynesian kingdom remaining, and King George is one of the few remaining monarchs who actually wields power.  He is by all accounts a good king who in 2010 voluntarily laid aside much of his power in order that his nation might become more democratic.

 

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Jesus as King – Matthew 2:1-6; 27:32-37 [Daily Devotional]

Matthew 2:1-6; 27:32-37

This is taken from a Sermon preached @ The King Street Worship Service, Hendersonville, NC

What a contrast we have in today’s readings from the Gospel of Matthew. We go from wanting to sing, “We Three Kings,” to “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” in a matter of minutes. One moment we are listening to the story of the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem as they ask, “Where is he, who is born King of the Jews?” Then suddenly we are at the foot of the cross looking up at the sign hanging over the head of our crucified Lord Jesus, which reads, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Obviously, the theme that binds these passages together is the kingship of Jesus. The question regarding his kingship (asked by the Magi) is asked in the second chapter of Matthew, and is later answered in the twenty-seventh chapter (by Pilate). The question and the answer are like bookends to Matthew’s Gospel. In-between these two bookends Matthew makes it clear to his readers that Jesus is the anointed kingly messiah, whose coming is foretold in Old Testament prophecies.

More than any of the other evangelist, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy and is in fact the long awaited Messiah of the line of David. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven some forty times. The signs and wonders that accompany his teachings of the kingdom of heaven demonstrate His power as king by rolling back the kingdom of darkness.

Matthew shows us a kingly Jesus! One who is born of the house and lineage of David, who is born in the city of David. Matthew shows us a king who fulfills all of the Messianic prophecies, including the Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah. In his trials before both the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, Jesus was asked point blank “Are you the king of the Jews?” In both cases Jesus answered in the affirmative. If you sit down and read the entire Gospel of Matthew, (something that I highly recommend) there is no way that you can miss the proclamation of Jesus as King.

On the Church Calendar, the last Sunday of the Church year (one week before Advent) is called “Christ the King Sunday.” It is a day set aside to commemorate and celebrate Jesus as our King.

Biblically, it is undeniable that Christ is King. As Christians we proclaim this in various ways throughout the Church Year. I noted as I visited various stores this past week (often against my will), that Christmas music is being played everywhere. After a while I noted that I was singing along with the music. I was surprised to note how many times we sing of the king in Christmas Carols:

The First Noel – “born is the king of Israel”
Joy to the Word – “let earth receive her king”
Hark the Herald Angels Sing – “Glory to the new born king”
O Come All Ye Faithful –“born the King of angels”
O Holy Night – “the King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger”

I’m sure that you can think of others, as there are many more examples – listen for it in the coming weeks, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our king.

But here we are forced to ask, “What does it mean to proclaim Jesus as King?” Is it just churchy talk? It is just sort of an honorary title we give to Jesus, because he is supposed to be important in our lives? I mean really, what experience do we as Americans have with any king that would help us understand how we are to relate to royalty? Now, it is true that Americans are fascinated with royalty; just look at the covers of the tabloids and magazines in the checkout lines.

But in our daily lives our only brush with royalty is if we sleep in a king size bed, or eat at Burger King. The only royalty we have in America are those whom we crown as beauty queens. There is no single person who exercises sovereign power over our lives. We have no king. I ask you (and you do not have to be a history buff to know this answer), what did we do to our last king? – We fired him, right? We revolted against King George III of England in the American Revolutionary War. As Americans we came to the conclusion that we could rule ourselves. Kings and Queens claim to rule by “divine right.” We claimed that God gives “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

We hold these truths to be self-evident – we do not need, nor do we want to be ruled over by a king. As Americans we fight for the rights of each and every individual. The hair on the backs of our necks stand up when we hear stories of the rights of individual’s being taken away or overridden. We hold to the rights of the individual so firmly, that it has become part of our DNA, part of what it means to be an American. And that is great! There are very few people who are more patriotic than I am.

However, as with many aspects of our culture, our burly individualism has found its way into our faith lives. Many of us – at times all of us – live our faith lives for ourselves. If I had a dollar for every time someone described a worships service to me and said, “I didn’t get anything out of it,” I could retire. People church shop, not in search of the truth, but in a search for the message they most want to hear.

What does this have to do with Christ the King? – Everything… Many of us have fired Christ as our King, just as we did King George. We truly do not want Jesus to be sovereign over our lives. We do not want to have Jesus involved in every aspect of our lives. We want Jesus, but in measured amounts that we can control. We want Jesus, but we want to drastically limit His power and influence. Though we would never say this aloud to anyone, we think “If I allow Jesus to be sovereign over my life; if I allow him to reign over my life, things be changed in a most dramatic way!” So we call him king, but we set up a sort of constitutional monarchy for Jesus. We make him our spiritual figurehead, while we run our faith lives the way we want. Like the Queen of England, we grant Him the title, but greatly limit his power.

Why? Because we are afraid of the changes that will come if we truly follow our king and allow him to reign as sovereign. Jesus might want me to do things that the rest of the world thinks are strange. (MOST LIKELY, HE WILL.) Jesus will want me to prioritize things differently. (HE DEFINITELY WILL.) But why would we fear a king who loves us so much? This king is unlike any other.

This is a king who indeed rules by divine right. This is a king who emptied himself – laid aside his glory and being found in our likeness was crucified for us. When he was arrested in the Garden and some of his disciples resisted, Jesus told them that he could simply ask and he would have 12 legions of angels at his disposal. – Yet, he did not resist.

Did you ever play the game, “King of the Mountain?” One child stands and proclaims himself king. It is a very physical game where the other children then attempt to dethrone him by force. They push or pull him down from the mountain so that they might become king in his place. (I can imagine Jesus playing this game and helping others up the hill to stand together on the top.)

There is a story about a king, (I’m sorry; but I do not remember where I read or hear this story.) who truly desired to rule wisely and care for his subjects. Seeing the disparity between his tremendous wealth and their own, he decided to share all of his treasures with his subjects. He had his throne moved from his great hall to his court yard. He then had his treasure rooms and store rooms emptied, and place all of his wealth in his court yard as well. He then sat upon his throne and summoned his subjects to come into the court yard of the castle.

“I want to share my wealth with all of my subjects” he said. “You are free to examine everything here and choose any one thing for yourself.” The people began to mill about examining pieces of gold and silver. They held jewels up to the light, comparing them to one another. It must have looked like the first few moments of a Black Friday sell at Wal-Mart. In the midst of all of the chaos a woman stepped forward and spoke to the king. “Am I right in understanding that I may have any one thing I choose.” You are correct” replied the king. “Then,” said the woman, “I choose you, your majesty.” “In choosing me,” replied the king, “you have gained my entire kingdom.”

Choose the King…

In every one of our hearts there is a throne room.

Only you know who is sitting upon that throne.

Who is sovereign over your life? Who is your king?

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Maintaining the Status Quo – Acts 19: 21-41 [Daily Devotional]

Acts 19: 21-41

One thing that seems to be universal to all human beings is our desire to protect our own turf. Once we have established anything that works, we do not want anything to change. It is simple human nature to seek to maintain the status quo, even if we are promised something that may be even better than what we have. Most people like things just the way they are. Our aversion to change will keep people in miserable jobs, and individuals in abusive relationships. Change, even when it is an improvement, brings stress and the fear of the unknown.

Knowing this, politicians promise to make things better by keeping them the same. They promise to protect jobs even in industries that are outdated. It is natural that individuals would not want to be retrained in other skills. It has always been this way. Think of the great industries and businesses that gave way and fell before new technologies. Not many people are employed manufacturing wooden wagon wheels anymore.

In our text today we see a group of artisans attempting to protect their turf. Think of the craftsmen of old who created the beautiful idols used in the worship of pagan gods. As Christianity spread, these craftsmen had to retool their businesses. Within a few centuries there were no more idol makers. The silversmith, Demetrius of Ephesus, saw this coming when he heard Paul preach. Paul was drawing away many people from the worship of Artemis (to name but one god). In a speech to his fellow artisans he says, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.”

What is at stake for Demetrius is not the truth of the message that Paul is preaching, but rather what it might mean to his livelihood. While he does eventually mention the majesty of Artemis, it is his pocketbook and the unknown changes in his life that are paramount in his address. Demetrius is not really a bad guy; he is a normal guy. He is simply trying to maintain the status quo.

In a way I think Demetrius is the patron saint for many of us who are followers of “the Way” (vs.23). We do not want to have any radical changes in our lives, because we do not know what the outcome will look like. We want to follow Jesus and his teachings so long as they do not really require us to alter our lives and upset the status quo. Many of us like Demetrius set out to protect our turf. We do not go so far as to almost start a riot, but we do refuse to surrender the old and receive the new. We do not want to hear that the gods to which we have devoted much of our lives are not real!

We can maintain the status quo by taking a smorgasbord approach to Christianity (the Way). We pick and choose only those parts that we want to apply to our lives. We choose only enough to make us feel warm and good, without taking so much that we are compelled to action in helping others. We choose only enough to make us feel comfortable around Jesus, without taking enough to push us into a dynamic, life changing, and intimate relationship with him. We want the relationship on our terms, in our own way so that it might fit our lives, just as we are.

Jesus calls us to surrender our turf, abandon our status quo and to get ready for the life that he offers. It is totally new, devoid of the gods of our past and frightfully unknown. However, the new life Jesus offers to those who follow “the Way,” is the only true life there is!

Photo is a replica of the Temple of Artemis from Miniatürk Park, Istanbul, Turkey. The original temple was considered to be one of the Eight Wonders of the World. It was destroyed in A.D 401. Columns from the temple were used in the construction of the Hagia Sophia, which was one of the most spectacular Christian Churches ever constructed.

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Bad Questions? – John 4: 27- 42 [Daily Devotional]

John 4: 27- 42

There is an old saying which goes something like this, “The only bad question is the one that is never asked.” This is usually something that is said by a teacher or a person delivering a lecture. We have all heard it, usually following an uncomfortable moment of silence coming on the heels of someone asking, “Are there any questions.” This bad question quote is always spoken as if it is a fact. It is not true; there are indeed bad questions.

If you need examples of bad questions, you can take a look at Yahoo Answers. It is a site where anyone can post a question, or an answer to those already posted. There you will find questions like, “Where can I purchase organic coconuts?” (Are there some inorganic ones that I do not know about?) Or “Why are the holes in cat’s fur always in the right places for their eyes?” (I really don’t know what to say in response.)

Beyond bad questions that betray our stupidity, there are bad questions that betray our prejudices and judgmental attitudes. Sometimes the questions are indeed not spoken; they are part of our internal monologue. They may be questions at a party like, “Why is she here?” or “Who invited those people?” They may be questions of judgment like, “What does she see in him?” We all ask these bad questions, even if only internally. The disciples were asking such silent questions as our text opens today. By now you would think they would have understood that Jesus hears unspoken questions as readily as he hears the spoken ones.

The disciples had left Jesus alone at the Well of Jacob in Samaria, as he was tired from their journey. A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water and was engaged by Jesus in conversation. The returning disciples saw Jesus and the Samaritan woman talking. There were certainly issues that ran through their head, as reflected in the unasked questions. In Palestinian culture women and men to do speak alone in public. Their own prejudices against Samaritans are also reflected in their questions. “No one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” but Jesus heard their questions anyway.

It is unnerving when you think about it, isn’t it? Jesus hears the unasked questions of our hearts and minds, those bad questions that betray that our hearts are different from the façade we present to the world. Jesus knows us as we really are, and he answers those unspoken questions, just as he did that day with the disciples. And he does it in a loving and gentle way.

Jesus did not turn to the disciple and say, “I can’t believe that you would harbor such resentment in your hearts.” He did not say, “After all that I have taught you about God’s love, how can you still hold prejudices and hatred in your hearts for others?” Rather than chastise them, Jesus began to talk to them about the coming harvest. He let his disciples know that these Samaritans and this woman were just as much a part of the harvest as they were. God’s desire is that everyone be included in the harvest.

“Look around you,” says Jesus “see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” The people who are the subjects of the bad questions of our hearts, they too are part of this harvest. They too are people for whom Jesus died. They too are people with whom we are called to share the gospel message of God’s love. Jesus answers the bad questions within each of our hearts by letting us know that those whom we might exclude from the kingdom, He would include. Those unspoken, bad questions reveal much about the people we were before we became new creations in Christ Jesus. If we think about others as being in the same sheaves of harvest wheat with us, those old questions blow away like chaff on the threshing floor. I find that to be wonderful news, for I am sure that I am the subject of many unasked questions in the hearts of others.

The photo above is from bostonpublicschools.org.

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Bravery, Stupidity and Obedience – Acts 4:13-31 [Daily Devotional]

Acts 4:13-31

When relating the exploits of others (always from a position of safety) people will often say, “There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity.” The quote is attributed to Francisco Escario and the original quote continues with, “If you get away with it, you are brave. If you don’t you are stupid.” Whether or not something constitutes a brave act or an act of stupidity depends a great deal upon the point of view of the observer.

In 1836, during the thirteen day siege of the Alamo, the Mexican soldiers must have thought that the defenders were foolish. The Mexican Army numbered about 3,100, while there were only one hundred eighty two men defending the Alamo. The defenders had opportunities to leave; and yet they stayed to fight a hopeless battle against an enemy whose leader had already promised that there would be no prisoners taken. Today, there are almost no Texans who would consider the actions of those defending the Alamo to be anything less than courageous. Certainly, very few consider their actions to be stupid.

In our text today Peter and John are standing before the Sanhedrin, the very group of men who had engineered the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit they bravely spoke of the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ, and how the miraculous healing performed through them was attributable to the power of the one crucified. Our text opens by noting the courage of Peter and John and the astonishment of those assembled.

Peter and John are standing before an assembly of the most powerful men in Jerusalem, the very men who had crucified their master. They were, however, not the least bit intimidated by the power of the assembly. After conferring among themselves, the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John to stop preaching and teaching “in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John gave an astonishing response. “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” In other words, despite the commands of the Sanhedrin and their threats and warning, the apostles let it be known that they would not comply. They refused the Sanhedrin’s terms of surrender.

Upon their release Peter and John met with the others and prayed. They asked God to consider the threats against them, and to enable them to preach and teach with boldness. If we read beyond our text, we find that this is exactly what happened. They went right back to the ministry for which they had been arrested.

Now comes the question with which we started, were they brave or were they foolish in their refusal to obey the commands of the Sanhedrin? Most Christians would of course say that they were brave, while neutral observers might draw other conclusions. I would like to put forward an idea that is greater than either bravery or stupidity. Peter and John were obedient! Our risen Lord commanded his apostles to take the gospel message out into the world. Empowered by the Holy Spirit they were obedient to this charge even unto death.

Now, obedience does require some measure of courage, but it also requires love. It is the love that Christians hold for Jesus that enables them to overcome the fear of persecution. Love empowers the obedience, which produces the necessary courage for our ministry. All of this is made possible for us by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If there is any boldness in our ministry, let others debate the fine line between bravery and stupidity. We shall simply be obedient in love.

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We Need a Do-Over – Acts 3:12-26 [Daily Devotional]

Acts 3:12-26

Do you remember those times in your childhood, when you messed up in a game? If your playmates were mercifully inclined, they might allow you to have another shot at it. (Even some adults do this in golf, calling it a mulligan.) We sometimes called it a do-over. In our embarrassment, we wanted everyone to pretend that we had not struck out, or dropped the pass, or committed some other heinous infraction. This merciful concept of a do-over is not allowed by the official rules of any game. It is also a concept that is foreign to most areas of our lives.

Many people in the world take the rules of games (and the rules of life) seriously. In the hard, cold world of grown-up life, any type of do-over is rare. Most of us do not expect them. Most of us to not give them. It is not that we do not tolerate some mistakes by others – we most certainly do. However, unlike children playing, we are not going to pretend that it never happened. We will certainly remember their infraction, as well as the mercy we extend. While there are very few second chances, there are even less third and fourth.

In our text today, Peter puts forward a very radical notion of forgiveness. After confronting his audience with the fact that they are implicated in the murder of Jesus, he gives them some unexpected news. Calling them to repentance he says, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out…” (Acts 3:19) Where we would expect to see the word “forgiven,” we see that these sins are “wiped out” (NIV, NRSV while KJV renders it “blotted out”). There are four different Greek words that can be translated as “forgiven.” None of them are used here. Instead the verb used is ἐξαλείφω (ex-al-i’-fo), which means to remove or blot out as in erasing something. The word is primarily used in accounting or in contracts.

In the Jewish theology of Jesus’ day, sins are viewed as debts in a divine ledger. Because of this, most scholars believe that Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer which reads, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is more original. To counter balance the debts on the other side of the ledger there was a credit column. Counted as credits against sinful debts were sacrifices made in the temple, and good works performed by observance of the Law of Moses (Mitzvah). Here, Peter is telling the Jewish crowd assembled that all of their debts can be “wiped out.” The word ἐξαλείφω is a technical accounting term, indicating that the debts are simply erased, or as one commentator put it “obliterated.” More than simply forgiven, they are completely done away with. Better than a do-over, it is a whole new ball game.

How can this be? Well, there is another technical accounting term used in the New Testament that may shed some light on this. As Jesus dies on the cross in John’s Gospel he says, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek work used is τετέλεσται (te-tel-es-tai). It indicates that things have come to a conclusion because everything necessary has been fulfilled or accomplished. When written on a receipt it meant “paid in full.”

Your debts and mine are certainly forgiven. But the truly great news is that they have been erased and blotted out on the divine ledger. Our debt has been paid in full by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. We actually get a do-over and no one has to pretend that the infractions never occurred. They have been obliterated and “wiped out.” Our lives have become a whole new ball game!

Photo is of Columbia, Mo., batter Landon Clapp grimaces after striking out in the sixth … (photo by usatoday.com)

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Nails Will Not Hold – Matt. 27:32-44 [Daily Devotional]

Matt. 27: 32-44

Matthew paints a vivid scene of the activity going on around the cross of Jesus. The actions of the soldiers are given in great detail. In their one act of mercy, they offered Jesus wine drugged with gall, which would ease the pain of the crucifixion. Jesus refused the drink. The soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing. They then sat down to keep watch over the three men who were dying. They placed a sign over his head which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Matthew goes into great detail telling us about the insults and taunts that came from those gathered and from those passing by. The chief priests, scribes and elders derided him. They made fun of the miraculous deeds Jesus had performed, noting that he apparently could not pull off one miracle for himself. They told Jesus that if he would come down from the cross and save himself, then they would believe in him! People taunted him with the words of his teachings. They poked fun at the idea that he could have even considered himself the Son of God. Adding insult to injury, those being crucified with him also joined in with their own verbal abuse.

At this pivotal moment in human history Matthew gives us a vivid snapshot of the events on Golgotha. Yet, the core and the center of the story takes only six words in an introductory clause of one sentence. Matthew sums up the crucifixion of Jesus by saying, “After they had crucified him…” He offers no description of the nails being driven through Jesus’ hands and feet. There is no description of the raising of the cross. There is no physical description of the crucifixion offered for us at all.

In a story filled with such detail, why is such a pivotal moment in the history of humanity’s relationship with God barely mentioned? There are several possible answers, but let us take a look at one that has a lot of bearing on our relationship with Jesus. In the scene that Matthew lays before us, the pain inflicted on Jesus by the scourging and crucifixion is secondary to the pain inflicted by what is going on around him. Far worse than the physical pain of the crucifixion, was the pain of the rejection and denunciation of almost every aspect of Jesus’ ministry.

The crowd and those passing by are not just insulting Jesus. They are rejecting every aspect of his earthly ministry among them. They twist his words and his teachings. They belittle the amazing miracles and signs he performed among them. They utterly reject any claims that Jesus has made of having a unique relationship with God the Father. They are absolutely rejecting the love of God that has been revealed to them in the life, ministry and now death of Jesus. It is not the nails that are holding Jesus to the cross! It is the love that God in Jesus Christ holds in his heart for the unlovable people gathered around his cross!

When we read this passage from Matthew, we are shocked at the actions of everyone involved in the story: the soldiers, the chief priests, scribes elders, the passersby and the thieves. They are all in some way rejecting Jesus, causing him untold anguish and pain. Yet if we read it closely and with honesty, we will see ourselves standing amongst them. While we perhaps have not done it as overtly and openly as those gathered around his cross, we too have belittled and rejected much of the ministry of Jesus in our lives. Yet, the good news today is the same as it was that day on Golgotha. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

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