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Monday, March 26, 2012

Trust and Obey

Trust and Obey

"And someone came and told them, - Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people. - Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, - We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. - But Peter and the apostles answered, - We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." Acts 5:25-32 (ESV)

The Jewish leaders were greatly perplexed (thoroughly nonplussed, completely at a loss) regarding Peter and the apostles. A mysterious, miraculous prison break and the support of the community made these preachers a genuine threat to the powerful and wealthy foundation enjoyed by the religious rules. What could they do? They felt they had to walk a thin tightrope between quashing the rebellious preaching and angering the sympathetic mob.

The high priest's security force politely escorted the apostles back to the council and charged them with violating their ruling ("Do not preach about Jesus") and slander ("You accuse us of wrongfully executing Jesus.")

Peter's response reveals the very core, the foundation, of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

  • Jesus was killed at the hands of Jewish leaders.
  • God raised Jesus back to life.
  • God exalted Jesus as Leader and Savior.
  • God gives repentance and forgiveness of sins.
  • God gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.

For Peter, this gospel formed the foundation of his obedience to God. Peter obeyed the urging of the Holy Spirit when he spoke truth and exalted Christ, despite the threat of death.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What issues divide Christians from other groups? Do you consider some issues to be centered on the gospel and some not? What issues are deal-breakers for you? What issues seem to be regretfully ignored by Christians?

OBEY: peitharcheo (to be persuaded by a ruler, to submit to authority, to conform to advice); from peitho (to convince, pacify or conciliate; to assent to, or rely upon) and archo (to be first in political rank or power)

Obedience is not blind. Peter's reference to obey is from a word that implies confidence and trust in God's power and goodness.

Paul used the same word to encourage believers to trust earthly rulers:

"Be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." Titus 3:1-2 (ESV)

Paul urged obedience to rulers and customs which encourage good works.

It was at this point that the Jewish leaders and the apostles fell into conflict. In the minds of the rulers, it would be good for Jesus to be ignored and forgotten. It would allow Jerusalem to have a measure of peace, untroubled by devisive religious differences. Leaving Jesus buried in a tomb would allow Jerusalem to forget that Jewish leaders had killed him.

For the apostles, ignoring Jesus would be bad: the ultimate, damning disobedience toward God.

The Jewish leaders were enraged by Peter's last words. Peter claim of being an eyewitness of the murder of Jesus, God's exaltation of Jesus as Leader and Savior, and the power and authority given to Jesus to give repentance and forgiveness of sins...the words were a serious threat to the leaders. Peter further declared that he and the apostles possessed the very Spirit of God, given only to those who obey God (fully persuaded, submitted, convinced and dependent upon), implying that the religious leaders did not possess the Spirit of God.

This accusation enraged the leaders to murderous anger.

Why were they angry? They believed Jesus to be a mere man. They believed the apostles to be rebellious idiots. What power did the apostles hold over the Jewish leaders that threatened them?

Public support for the apostles probably was the earthly power the apostles held over the Jewish leaders. The community would likely riot if the apostles were publicly punished.

However, public opinion is easily influenced. Jesus was wildly popular as He entered Jerusalem. Less than a week later crowds of people cheered His murder.

The apostles held a power greater than that of popular support: spiritual influence. The Jewish leaders recognized a spiritual force in Peter and the apostles, a force that moved them to speak boldly despite threats of violence against them. The apostles declared that their focus was on God as Most Supreme.

This spiritual dependence and trust in God threatened the Jewish leaders even more than the fickle popularity from people. If allegience to God trumped obedience to human power and wisdom, the Jewish leaders feared loss of wealth and control over others.

This fear drove them to protect themselves with violent anger.

The only Jew in the group who kept his temper and allowed his mind to keep pace with his faith was Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the council, a teacher and well-known elder of Israel:

"Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" Acts 5:35-39 (ESV)

OPPOSING GOD: theomachos (an opponent of deity); from theos (a deity or magistrate) and machomai (to war, to quarrel or dispute)

Gamaliel was not convinced that Peter and the apostles were rebels. His doubt moved him to urge the council toward restraint.

In Gamaliel's mind, death and oppression were indications that God has acted to squash rebellion against proper human authority. He felt confident that the Jewish leaders were established by God, and any attempt to usurp that authority would be crushed by God. Gamaliel expected God to bring about the death and dispersion of rebels without involving direct action on the part of the "proper" Jewish leadership.

The essential core of Gamaliel's argument reveals his faith:

God exists and his sovereign over humans. God is more powerful and wiser than humans. Humans ought not think they should or can usurp His authority. God is able to work out His plans through the actions of humans.

Gamaliel's faith tempers his mind, allowing him to maintain self-control, and he does not consider the apostles to be an immediate threat, either to the council or to the honor of God.

Gamaliel trusts God to work this out, and his trust controls his mind and emotions.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What issues are you facing with a feeling of doubt, dread or anger? How could basic trust in God give comfort and peace in those issues? Can you imagine an argument similar to that of Gamaliel's that you could offer that would temper your fear and anger?

Image provided by Quinn Dombrowski, www.quinndombrowski.com, Creative Commons License.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Safe!

Safe!

I sometimes have a hard day at work.

No big surprise in that, right? We all have hard days at work, at home, at church.

When I have a hard day at work, and I can't let go of the stress when I return home, despite the encouragement and care of my wife, I often will crawl into bed and have only one word of prayer that I can offer up to God:

"Safe!"

The warmth of the bed, the protection of my blanket, the quietness of the darkness, the security of my home create an image in my mind of safety. With one word, safe, I thank God for His oversight of my life, His guidance and direction and providence, despite the difficulty I've experienced in getting through the day.

But my bed and blanket are only an image. Little force is required to violate the security and quiet of my home. My blanket provides small protection from the storms and raging violence of this world. It fails to protect me from even the smallest irritations and upsets.

We are surprised at sudden violence or disaster...the closer to home that it occurs, the more surprise and concern we feel.

But we should feel greater surprise that violence and disaster does not strike us daily, even continually.

At rare times God rescues people in surprising, shocking, stupendous ways. Often He acts quietly, mildly...in ordinary ways.

And sometimes it seems to us that He does not act at all.

"But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, - Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life. - And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, - We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside. - Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to." Acts 5:17-24

This passage begins with the word "but", indicating the contrast between the joy of healing and the ugliness of sin. More than ever believers were gathering together in Jerusalem, and the religious rulers were filled with jealousy.

SADDUCEES: Saddoukaios (followers of Zadok); from sadaq (to be right, or to make right)

The Sadducees taught that there was no resurrection, no angels, no spirit. (Matthew 22:23, Acts 23:8). They denied the legitimacy of oral law, the Mishna, a digest of Jewish traditions and rituals, as a revelation of God. The Sadducees maintained that the written law alone had divine authority. They believed in the freedom of the will, even to the point of almost excluding God from the government of the world. It is supposed that the religion evolved from the family of Zadok the High Priest during the reign of King David. Arisocratic Jews, such as the families of the high priest, or judges and other officials, attached themselves to the Sadducees. (Smith's Bible Dictionary)

For the Sadducees, God did not act, at least not in daily governance of human affairs. For them, God provided a book of rules and acted as Judge when humans failed to follow the rules. As strict followers of the rule book, the Sadducees felt assured of God's blessings: power, wealth and comfort.

Jesus threatened to destroy this world of the Sadducees.

JEALOUSY: zelos (heat or "zeal", ardor, jealousy or malice); from zeo (to be hot, to boil or glow, to be fervid or earnest)

The hot, zealous Sadducee Jewish rulers threw themselves upon the apostles, grabbing them off the street and locked them in a "public prison".

PUBLIC PRISON: demosios teresis (public watching); from demos (the public, as bound together in a city) and tereo (a watch or guard)

"Public prison" seems to describe a small, community jail. Luke's description mentions no Roman guards. Most likely the guards were Jewish, and the arrest occurred early in the day, after a night of secret cussing and discussing by the High Priest and his cohorts. The imprisonment was undoubtedly meant to be a public show of power, a warning to the Jewish community to abandon support for this new religion of the Christians.

The warning failed.

Sometime during the night the locked doors of the cage opened. Luke attributes the prison break to an angel.

"During the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out." Acts 5:19 (ESV)

ANGEL: angelos (a messenger, an "angel" or a pastor); from aggello (to bring tidings)

There was no explosion, no earthquake, no fearful falling to the ground in awesome, stunning surprise. Luke describes the scene simply, without any indication that the apostles were surprised or afraid. This instance of angelic intervention is much different than other times:

"There appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him." Luke 1:11-12 (ESV)

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." Luke 2:9 (ESV)

"An angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, - Get up quickly. - And the chains fell off his hands." Acts 12:7 (ESV)

"On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, - The voice of a god, and not of a man! - Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last." Acts 12:21-23 (ESV)

"And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men." Matthew 28:2-4 (ESV)

Many, but not all, references to angelic intervention describe something fearful and often violently powerful. In this instance the angel was quiet and unremarkable.

Stephen described an angel appearing to Moses:

"An angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord." Acts 7:30-31 (ESV)

The Old Testament account of this event leads us to the Hebrew word for angel:

"Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." Exodus 3:1-2 (ESV)

ANGEL: malak (a messenger, an angel, ambassador); from a word meaning to despatch as a deputy

The Old Testament "malak" 214 times, and in the New Testament "angelos" appears 186 times. The words can refer to human messengers as well as divine. There are instances in which the divine angel appears as an ordinary man, and other instances in which the angel is frightening in appearance and power.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How should we regard angels? Should we esteem and depend upon angels in the same way we are encouraged to esteem and depend upon human ministers and leaders?

The apostles were imprisoned and Luke records no evidence that they prayed, yet the Lord sent help. An angel quietly opened the doors, led them out, and gave them some instructions:

"Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." Acts 5:20 (ESV)

SPEAK: laleo (to talk or utter words)

WORDS: rhema (an utterance, a matter or topic); from rheo (to utter, speak or say); from rheo (to flow, or "run" as water)

It is revealing that the root of "words" (rhema) is a word that means to run as water. Jesus used the same word to describe the Holy Spirit. The ESV translates rheo as "flow":

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, - Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. - Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive..." John 7:37-39 (ESV)

The gospel message, the good news of Christ, is communicated by the Holy Spirit, through words that are clean and lifegiving.

LIFE: zoe (life, vitality of plant, animal or human); from zao (to live)

This word for life means both the ordinary earthly life of all creatures, including human, as well as the supernatural, eternal life given by God to those in Christ.

How can this be? How can one word represent both earthly and heavenly life? Using this word for both earthly and heavenly life implies that the life we have on earth is the same life that Christians will have in heaven.

The same, yet different.

All creatures on earth enjoy life:

"The God who made the world and everything in it...He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything...In him we live and move and have our being." Acts 17:24, 25, 28 (ESV)

Earthly life, however, is temporary:

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." James 4:14 (ESV)

The Christian faith depends upon life that will last forever. If there is no possibility of eternal life, all religion is worthless:

"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." 1 Corinthians 15:19 (ESV)

The tragic element of earthly life is that it has an end. First, our bodies die, and then our spirits die. However, Christ brings life, eternal life, to those who are in Him:

"We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life." 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (ESV)

The essential difference between earthly and heavenly life is Christ:

We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:11 (ESV)

Earthly life is temporary and filled with trouble. All creatures are given earthly life, and all creatures, including Christian creatures, will experience trouble, even physical death. But heavenly, spiritual, Christian life continues beyond the grave.

Because earthly life is filled with trouble and ends in death, in comparison to the rich abundance found in heavenly life, earthly life is often described as "death", and heavenly life is often described as "eternal" or "glory":

"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Colossians 3:2-4 (ESV)

"This is the promise that he made to us — eternal life." 1 John 2:25 (ESV)

That which distinguishes the two types of life, earthly and heavenly, depends upon the source. For a Christian, the source of heavenly life is Jesus Christ:

"God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:11-12 (ESV)

The apostles were set free from prison and given directions to tell others about Life, the life that is found in Christ alone.

Jesus once encountered a woman who knew only one definition of the word life. For her, life was a constant thirst, having nothing of any lasting satisfaction or joy. From simple hunger and thirst of the body, to disappointing friendships and marriages, life seemed to consist only of transient rules and relationships.

Jesus watched the woman drawing a bucket of water from a well and he compared Himself to a spring of water that forever satisfies:

"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? With Christ as the source of a Christian's eternal life, what earthly troubles are likely to disappear in heaven? What blessings do we enjoy on earth that will change when we are in heaven? What influence do heavenly blessings have upon your daily walk of faith on earth?

"And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, - We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside. - Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to." Acts 5:21-24 (ESV)

This scene is difficult to imagine. How could the guards be oblivious to the prison break? Other instances of angelic intervention described guards cast into sleep or shocked into stunned unconsciousness, earth-shaking quakes and bright stars. None of these seemed to have occurred this time.

During the night, the angel opened the prison doors, led the apostles out, spoke to them and watched them walk away free...all without the guards noticing! At daybreak the prison was found securely locked, and the guards remained standing at duty as if nothing had happened.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? When have you faced an impossibly difficult situation, one in which all reason and logic predicted that you would experience pain and loss? In what way could this story of an unbelievable prison break encourage you? What is your response when God does NOT provide an easy, quiet, comfortable deliverance from trouble?

Image provided by stallio, www.animalswithinanimals.com, Creative Commons License.

Monday, March 12, 2012

When Glory Becomes Dim

When Glory Becomes Dim

Listen: When Glory Becomes Dim (mp3)

Watch: When Glory Becomes Dim (Powerpoint)

"When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all." Luke 4:13-15 (ESV)

ENDED: synteleo (to complete entirely, to execute); from syn (with or together) and teleo (to end, complete, execute, conclude, discharge); from telos (the point aimed at as a limit, the conclusion or termination, result, purpose, impost or levy); from tello (to set out for a definite point, goal)

Luke says that the devil ended every temptation of Christ. "Ended" is a word of finality...a word for successful completion.

In what did the devil succeed?

Jesus, after enduring without sinning the temptations of the devil, was empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach, and the hearts and minds of all glorified Jesus as Christ and Lord.

I don't think that's what the devil intended.

Glory: The End of Endurance

GLORIFIED: doxazo (to render or esteem glorious); from doxa (glory, as very apparent); from dokeo (to think or seem)

The result of Christ's endurance of temptation, and the immediate effect of His ministry, was glorification.

Glory is a difficult concept to imagine. Is it bright light? Is it powerful intelligence or beauty?

Our English word, "glory", means praise or honor, or that which causes praise or honor.

The Bible describes many different examples of glory, and frequently it is in the context of brilliance and beauty:

Solomon's clothing was glorious (Matthew 6:29). Long hair is described as a woman's glory (1 Corinthians 11:15). Celestial bodies, the sun, moon, stars and planets shine with glory (1 Corinthians 15:41). The face of Moses glowed with glory after experiencing God (2 Corinthians 3:7). The glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds (Luke 2:9). Salvation is "a light for revelation...and for glory" (Luke 2:32). Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and "they saw his glory" (Luke 9:32). Jesus will return as triumphant King, coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:27). The apostle Paul was blinded by the brilliant glory of the light of Jesus (Acts 22:11).

The church, the Bride of Christ, the family of saints made holy by Jesus, is compared to a bright, shining city:

"Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. - And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." Revelation 21:9-11, 23-26 (ESV)

"God, who said, - Let light shine out of darkness, - has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV)

"[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)

The Effect of Glory: Physical and Spiritual

The overwhelming physical effect of glory is a bright, shining appearance. The spiritual, figurative effect of glory is that of power, intelligence, beauty and love.

When Jesus began His ministry, filled with the Holy Spirit, His teaching resulted in glory. All those who heard Him recognized His power, His intelligence, His beauty and His love. More than only recognizing or acknowledging His attributes, they esteemed them as greater than those of any other.

Our praise and honor of Jesus does not add to His glory. Jesus does not need us to praise Him and honor Him in order to have glory. We see His glory and it moves us to praise and honor Him. This is our part in glorifying Christ. In nothing can we add to His glory, but we glorify Him by esteeming Him glorious.

God is glorious, whether we recognize it or not. Our praise, or our lack of praise, does not increase or diminish God's glory. When God chooses, He can make His glory appear. He can knock us flat to the ground with His brightness and power. He can blind us with His light.

When He chooses.

In this world, God's blinding, astounding, brilliant glory is often very dim.

When Glory Becomes Dim

"If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (ESV)

The night sky filled with stars is a good picture of our earthly condition regarding God's glory. Our view of the stars is so limited. Stars appear as just pinpoints of light, easily ignored, easily forgotten.

But sometimes we remember the truth, that stars are huge orbs of flame, as large and many much larger than our own sun. Stars have unimaginable forces of gravity, heat and light. If we remember the truth about stars, our hearts can be filled to bursting with the glory of the night sky.

Another way to illustrate our earthly condition is that of a cave. It's as if we each live in a cave, lit only by a small candle or lamp. All we know of the world is what we see by the light of our own making. The sun could be shining brightly, the wind blowing fresh air, yet we would know little of the real world. All we would have would be the small space illuminated by our small candle.

"We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (ESV)

Jesus began His ministry in power, with people singing His praise and applauding His excellence. Reports of His glory went out through all the surrounding country. Everyone recognized and cheered His greatness. All spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that came from His mouth.

Until He spoke in His hometown.

And then His glory became dim.

The missionary message of Jesus was this:

  • God's Spirit is upon me
  • I bring good news of God's favor
  • You are poor, blind, oppressed captives
  • God promises you liberty, healing and freedom (Luke 4:18)

The people in his hometown blinked and waited for thunder. Or perhaps they waited for stirring orchestral music, a cloud of glory, a snap of the fingers and miraculous transformations.

Nothing.

Jesus rolled up the scroll and sat down.

The people frowned. That's all?

Then the people got angry.

"They said, - Is not this Joseph’s son? - And he said to them, - Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, - Physician, heal yourself. - What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well. - And he said, - Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. - When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath." Luke 4:22-28 (ESV)

The point of this stinging response from Jesus was unbelief. Jesus rebuked the unbelief found in the people of His hometown by comparing them to other towns and other times. It was not to a Jewish woman that God sent Elijah, and it was not a Jewish leper that Elisha healed. The Jews listening to Jesus felt His rebuke immediately.

I'm not sure that I can blame the people. I mean, if I do criticize their unbelief, I must include myself with them.

Without lights and sirens...without fireworks and fanfare, I tend to live as if Jesus is a myth, or at best, He's the mascot of an exclusive club in which I think I belong.

Without a physical manifestation of His bright, shining, glorious greatness, I forget about it.

Without looking at the night sky with the knowledge of the real power behind each small pinpoint of star light, I forget about it.

Without leaving my snug cave and seeing the sunlight and feeling the wind, I forget about it.

God's glory gets hidden by affliction. It gets squashed by perplexing problems. It gets chased away by persecution and violence.

I can't see the glory because all I feel is the dim grayness of everyday life.

Am I lost? Am I one of the "perishing"?

"If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (ESV)

There is a wonderful progression in Paul's words to the Christians in Corinth:

  • Light
  • Gospel
  • Glory
  • Christ
  • God

In this list, the first item is the last! Light is the end result of a chain of grace that begins with God.

From God came Christ, the Son of God, the God-Man sent to live for a time among us. Christ was glorious, most excellent in mind and body, in power and intelligence. The gospel was the good news of Christ's glory made available to us. Christ promised His life to those who believed, and this brought light to a darkened world.

How often I forget this. How often does my life seem gray and worthless.

A Reason to Hope

Yet, even in darkness there is hope.

The fact that I feel sad and ashamed of my inability to rejoice in God's glory is a strong reminder that I do belong to Jesus, despite my grayness and weakness.

Listen again to Paul:

"We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (ESV)

Jesus began His ministry with a fantastic fanfare of praise and celebration, with reports of His glory echoing all over. But it quickly became dark and dangerous. Paul's experience was no different.

Neither will be ours.

Rejoice in the light of God's glorious Son, Jesus Christ.

And when you feel beat down, saddened by your lack of enthusiasm and joy, depressed by the darkness that seems to conceal God's glory in your life, rejoice that your spirit longs to regain that sight of His glory.

Rejoice that God has not left you without some sense of what you lack.

Without God's Holy Spirit indwelling you, you would be truly blind to His glory. You would be completely without any sense of desire to see His glory. You would be indifferent to your spiritual blindness.

Jesus began His ministry in you, and He will always be with you.

"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you...I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. ...I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word...I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them...Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one...I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world...I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world...I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." John 17:1,4,6, 9-11, 15-16, 20-24,26 (ESV)

Image of stars provided by robin24, Creative Commons License.

Image of supernova by the author, using GIMP, Creative Commons License.

Image of cave provided by Ian Armstrong, Creative Commons License.

Image of clay jars provided by pictureclara, Creative Commons License.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Kingdom in Search of a People

A Kingdom in Search of a People

"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed." Acts 5:12-16 (ESV)

PEOPLE: laos (a people)

Many signs and wonders were done among "a people". "A people" held the apostles in high esteem. "A people" brought their sick and demen-oppressed ones to the apostles for healing.

"A people" in the Greek is in the genitive form, meaning possession. "A people" means more than the population of a city. It means a kind or class of people, a people belonging to some group or kind.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? To what group of people do each of us belong? In what group do we best fit if "people" means more than part of the population of a certain town or region?

To what kind of people did God first come? The major events described in the New Testament, and the overwhelming balance of references made in the Gospel books, indicate that "a people" referred to the Jews.

Peter preached to the men of Israel gathered around the crippled man healed through faith in Christ, and Luke described the men of Israel as "the people" (Acts 3:12). The Jewish religious rulers were grieved that Peter preached Jesus to "the people". Jewish leaders would care little what non-Jews did or did not believe.

"The people" meant the Jews.

The first great Christian revival was experienced by Jews. The initial ministry of Jesus and the apostles was to the Jews.

Jesus was described by prophets as "the king of the Jews" (Matthew 2:1). Jesus was predicted to be "a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel" (Matthew 2:5).

Jesus sent His twelve disciples out to preach to the Jews:

"Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, - The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 10:5-7 (ESV)

Confronted by a Canaanite woman who begged for help, Jesus at first ignored her:

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Matthew 15:24 (ESV)

Jesus accepted the title of King of the Jews:

"Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, - Are you the King of the Jews? - Jesus said, - You have said so." Matthew 27:11 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Share aloud what you know about the origin of the Jews. What defined the Jewish people? What major historical events support the notion that the Jews were God's people?

Yet, even with direct prophecy pointing to the Jewish people as "God's people", there were foreshadowing hints of a far greater plan, a redemption that would extend beyond the Jews.

Two direct ancestors of King David, and Jesus Christ, were Rahab and Ruth, Gentile women, born of people not related to the Jews. (Matthew 1:5).

The Pharisees and Sadducees prided themselves with being in the genetic line of Abraham. But John the Baptist rebuked them:

"Do not presume 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." Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

John knew that God did not place bloodline as the foremost criteria for deciding who belonged to Him.

Early in His ministry Jesus lived for a time in Capernaum, a city in the heart of a region that the prophet Isaiah described as darkened:

"Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: - The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned." Matthew 4:13-16 (ESV)

Jesus called His disciples "salt and light" of the world, implying ministry for the sake of all nations and people groups (Matthew 5:13-14).

Jesus commanded His disciples to love their enemies, reminding them that God Himself loves His enemies, giving sunlight and rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45).

A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal a servant. Matthew's description of the man gives no indication that he was a Jew, and Jesus responded to him in a way that implies he was not:

"Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness." Matthew 8:10-12 (ESV)

Matthew connected Jesus with several prophecies that point to a ministry to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people:

"This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:-Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope." Matthew 12:17-21 (ESV)

Although Jesus made it plain that His first priority was to help the Jewish people, He did respond to the faith expressed by a Canaanite woman:

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. - But she came and knelt before him, saying, - Lord, help me. - And he answered, - It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. - She said, - Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. - Then Jesus answered her, - O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. - And her daughter was healed instantly." Matthew 15:24-28 (ESV)

Jesus described Himself as a "cornerstone", the foundational Person in the kingdom of God. He predicted His rejection by the Jews and the granting of citizenship in God's kingdom to non-Jews:

"Jesus said to them, - Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits." Matthew 21:42-43 (ESV)

The parable of the wedding feast describes two groups of people: one, the Jews, the people invited to the feast, the ones who refused the invitation; the other group, the Gentiles, were the ones not officially invited, the ones outside the kingdom, the ones who lived "out into the roads" (Matthew 22)

Jesus prophesied the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world:

"This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations." Matthew 24:14 (ESV)

Jesus warned His disciples against trusting false Messiahs. He described His ministry as universal, not limited to a certain earthly place. He described His work in the hearts of people as "lightning", implying sudden and piercing knowledge of the truth, no matter where someone may be:

"If anyone says to you, - Look, here is the Christ!- or - There he is! - do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, - Look, he is in the wilderness,- do not go out. If they say, - Look, he is in the inner rooms, - do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." Matthew 24:23-27 (ESV)

In that same passage, Jesus used a more gruesome comparison to communicate the universality of salvation in Christ:

"Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." Matthew 24:28 (ESV)

The redeeming salvation work of Christ is unlimited by time and space, or by race or nationality, in the same way that a vulture will find a dead animal, whether in the desert or in the jungle, whether beast or bird.

In the final Judgement, when Jesus Christ the Son of Man is on His throne, all the nations will be gathered before Him. Jesus will separate people one from another, based not upon birth or nationality, but upon ownership:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, - Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Matthew 25:31-34 (ESV)

Citizenship in the Kingdom of God depends upon ownership: who bears the mark of God's blessed ownership? Jesus says that this ownership was prepared from the foundation of the world, before any one or any thing was created. The mark of blessing is made apparent through acts of love:

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Matthew 25:35-36 (ESV)

The New Testament abounds in references to a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, a relationship that is open to Jews and Gentiles alike. Go around the table and read aloud a few of these references:

  • John 10:14-16
  • Acts 10:42-47
  • Acts 11:2-9
  • Acts 13:44-48
  • Acts 15:7-9
  • Acts 15:14-19
  • Romans 15:8-12
  • Galatians 2:15
  • Galatians 3:13-14
  • Ephesians 2:11-18
  • Colossians 3:11
  • Revelation 15:4

The Jews were the first to condemn and crucify God's Messiah, Christ Jesus. But the Jews were also the first to follow Him. Jesus was Jewish by birth, and His first priority was to preach the good news of the Kingdom to His own people. But God planned from the foundation of time that "a people of God" would have no limits. Salvation would cross all boundaries: racial, national, language, gender, age, health, economic and religious.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what sense have you ever felt ostracized, minimized, or a part of a rejected minority? What new arrangements or ideas might God be moving us toward that could help other groups of people?