Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Day 339: Galatians 1-3; The Only Gospel is Jesus Chirst

The book of Galatians addresses some of the most pressing questions that the early church had in its infancy.  As the Gospel spread and churches were founded throughout Asia Minor, what was really the heart of the Roman Empire, issues started to crop up and people started to ask questions.  Along with this, there were disputes about salvation and even false teachers that began to preach other ways of salvation, and even skewed versions of the Christian Gospel.  One of these groups, the Gnostics, was a group that the Apostle John directly addresses in his Gospel and in the letters that he writes to the church later in the New Testament.

Paul’s writing to the church in Galatia, which was really a region that had within it over half a dozen major churches like Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch, contains within it a great deal of material from which we draw our understanding of salvation by grace through faith.  Also addressed by Paul are some of the issues that the church leaders are dealing with, questions about circumcision and the inclusion of the Gentiles, and Christian freedom.  While this may not seem like a big deal to us today, we need to understand that the Church today is formed by the many issues and decisions that took place in the first couple hundred years of the church.  At stake here, in all honesty, was the proper understanding of salvation, which would have led to people feeling the need to do all sorts of works to earn their salvation.  Also at stake could possibly have been the church’s understanding Gentile inclusion in the promise of God, something that would have had ramifications far beyond a church or two in a Roman province 2000 years ago.

This is really the essence of what Paul is addressing here in the his writing though.  It doesn’t just have to do with the proper understanding of some obscure Christian doctrine, it has everything to do with the salvation of people’s souls.  Right from the get go Paul is speaking against those who would proclaim another Gospel.  He condemns those who would preach it and is astonished that people in the church would so quickly go away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  At the beginning of this letter he really doesn’t go into much detail about the nature of who and what is actually going on, but the fact is these people are trying to pervert the Gospel.

To be honest, this isn’t simply something that happened back then.  It is happening right now, in our churches today.  Across the nation and the world, ‘churches’ are growing by leaps and bounds preaching the health and wealth ‘gospel.’  These places preach of God’s desire to bless you, but only based on the amount you give.  This happens a great deal in the tele-evangelist circles too, sending you trinkets that are ‘blessed’ if you send them money.  Paul says that these preachers ought be ‘accursed’ because of their preaching.  Anyone who preaching a Gospel other than that of Jesus Christ crucified and salvation by grace is absolutely wrong.

Sadly, I think that sometimes stumble into issues like this as well, and it doesn’t just happen to your everyday, average-joe Christian either.  In chapter two of today’s reading we see that Paul has to address, of all people, Peter (the rock on which Jesus is building his church).  Apparently, due to fear, Paul is being sort of hypocritical in his actions with Jews and Gentiles.  There were those, at that time, that felt that the only way to salvation had to do with following the Jewish laws as well as accepting Christ.  They are called the ‘circumcision group’ here and apparently they were intimidating.  In any case, Paul stands up to Peter which, as Paul is explaining it, sends him on a whole explanation about salvation by grace through faith and not any sort of human work.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

I like too, Paul’s explanation of the relationship between the law and the covenant of Abraham.  Many people had and have come to the belief that somehow the giving of the law nullified the original covenant that was made.  Paul points out that can never overlook the original covenant, which is more than the law, it is a promise which is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.  The law was only put in place in the mean time, something to help guide the people of God until the promise was fulfilled.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.



Day 315: John 18-19; The Glorification of Jesus

We come to it again, for the forth and final time in our journey through the Gospels: the Crucifixion of Jesus.  For John though, this is more than just a recount of Jesus awful suffering and death.  It is, as we have talked about, the glorification of Jesus, the pinnacle of all He came to do one earth!  If the first chapter of John was a Theological high point from which we look down on the rest of the book, as we said on that day, then this would be the other high point, perhaps equal too or second only to that first chapter.  It is at this point in John’s writing, like in Luke, where we see John appealing to the Scriptures in a more intentional way, showing how the actions of Jesus in this narrative of His death are fulfilling what had been said about Him throughout the Bible.  John also makes careful work of mentioning how Jesus is fulfilling the things that He said of Himself as well.

Because we have already read through the crucifixion narrative of Jesus, I don’t feel like there is as much to say today as there otherwise would be.  It is a lot easier to write about things that we haven’t talked about, like the I AM statements and the Farewell Discourse of Jesus, things that are unique to John.  So in light of that, I think that I just want to mention a few things that are unique to this narrative and then encourage you to take some time to reflect on the book of John, or perhaps the whole story of Jesus as it has been presented in the Gospels over this past month or so.

The firs thing that is rather unique about this particular narrative is that of the questioning of the high priests.  It is mentioned here that they Annas, the father-in-law of the priest who ‘prophesied’ that one man would die for the whole nation of Israel.  I’m sure he didn’t know that he was talking about Jesus, but all the same, these things have taken place and we have seen the work that Jesus did for us on the cross.  I thought it was kind of interesting how Jesus, during His questioning, never seems to raise His voice or lose His temper.  Though struck unjustly, Jesus maintains His cool and lays out a simple question for why it happened.  I noticed that He didn’t get struck again… at least not in this narrative.

I think the conversation between Jesus and Pilate is also interesting:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

What a strange place to end the conversation!  Yet I think that John is trying to make a point here.  There is a much higher and greater purpose that is taking place in this whole narrative that only Jesus can see.  They all think that they are caught up in some earthly drama that is about to be ended with the killing of a mere man, yet Jesus is pointing out very clearly that there are things much greater and more significant that are going on here and Pilate simply doesn’t understand.  John signifies this by ending the conversation with Pilate’s question, “What is truth?

Finally, and I think this is of incredible importance because it shows once again, how the people of Israel have turned from God so much that they are blind to all that is going on.  All of what has taken place was foretold in Scripture and these religious leaders were in the right places at the right times to recognize this.  Yet they did not and we see this most clearly in Pilate’s final attempt to free Jesus:
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”  So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.  Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”  They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”  So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

We have no king but Caesar… wow… just wow… remember all the way back to the time when the Israelites cried out for a King to Samuel?  Moses had written to them in the law about how kings would lead them away from God and that they should be a people that have no king except God (the King of the Universe?)  It was then that they cried “give us a king!”  No the King of the Universe, God Himself sits before them (which they don’t see obviously) and they cry to His face “We have no king but Caesar!”  Fortunately for us there is a greater power at work in all of this, that even though there are those that don’t see or know Truth, God’s will is still alive and well…  This is true for us at all times as well.  Even in the darkest of hours, God is still alive and well!  And as the stone is rolled in front of the tomb once again today, we know that there is a bright hope for tomorrow!



Day 307: John 1-3; Introduction to and Prologue of John

Today we come to the Gospel of John, the fourth and final Gospel in the New Testament.  John’s Gospel was the last of the four that were written and is not considered to be one of the “synoptic Gospels.”  Much of what is written in John is unique from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t follow in the same order as them.  This is not to say that the Gospel of John is in some way, incorrect, but instead takes yet another perspective of Jesus life from presumably one of His closest disciples.  John is writing in an effort to prove once and for all that Jesus the Divine Son of God.  Not only that though, John sought to show His readers, which were likely some of the Church’s that are mentioned at the beginning of the book of Revelation, that Jesus was indeed God almighty as well, the creator of the world who took on human flesh and ultimately sacrificed Himself for the salvation of His beloved children, and ultimately all of creation.

John begins his writing with a beautiful prologue that we have the opportunity to read today.  It is one of the most theologically rich writings in all of Scripture if you ask me.  In some ways, it is a genius move on John’s part, starting with the main point of His writing, almost as a theological plateau or mountain top from which we can look down and survey the whole of the rest of the Gospel (and most of Scripture too actually).  To be honest, I think we could spend a month talking through the prologue of John, and then venture carefully into the rest of His writing, however we aren’t given that amount of time.  So instead we will indeed use this scripture as the point from which we look out over the whole of the next 9 day’s readings, always keeping in mind the dual nature of Jesus on earth.  He is both fully human and fully Divine!  Too often we tend to divide up God and we forget that though we have a Triune God with three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, God is also one and Jesus being God means that God came here to earth and took on human flesh.

The book of John is divided up into two different sections after this first chapter: the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  In the first half of the Gospel of John, we specifically see a focus on Jesus’ miracles, in (arguably) seven signs, which are Jesus’ miracles, that are performed as John establishes Jesus Divinity in human form.  We see clearly that Jesus, though a man, has divine abilities and powers over creation.  In some ways, Jesus is also “recreating” many things, showing the true nature of creation and the Kingdom of God in small but important ways.  The wedding of Cana, which is Jesus’ first sign is one of these miracles where Jesus both does something miraculous but also shows the nature of His love and the Kingdom of God in the abundance of what he creates and what it comes from.  These basins were wash basins for those that had to go and “relieve” themselves at the party.  The Jewish community would have considered that water to be completely dirty and unclean.  Yet Jesus takes the dirty and makes it clean.  You can definitely see some of clear foreshadowing to the Lord’s supper here, with the wine that Jesus creates and gives to all the people.  Again, taking the unclean and making it clean.

Notice too, in our reading today, the interplay that John sets up between darkness and light.  There are many of these types of interplay that happen in the book of John.  He is a masterful writer, blending many themes together throughout the whole of His writing, even carrying them on into His letters which we will read in about a month.  John works on making many distinctions between what was before Jesus and what was after.  The unclean and the clean at the wedding of Cana is just one example.  The darkness and the light that we see in chapter one as well.  In chapter three we also see a bit of the interplay between flesh (before) and spirit (after), and John lay this out very well without giving into some of the Gnostic teachings of the time that said that flesh was ultimately bad.  John does not say this, but points to a time when the Spirit will be in our flesh, in much the same way that he points to God incarnate in flesh through Jesus Christ.

As we begin our short journey through John, I think its important to know that John’s book is in many ways one of the most important theological books of the Bible.  I know that this is a difficult thing to say and I wouldn’t even discount the rest of Scripture, however John makes some very specific theological moves in His book that are very important for us as Christians.  While they are present in other places throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament, John does a great job of weaving them in deeply in His writing.  The whole book of John is worth reading over and over.  We many only have a little time to cover each days’ reading (and I’m sorry if my posts get long these next few days, but there is just so much to say), but it’s still completely worth the read.  John’s Gospel is like a swimming pool: you can play in the shallow end and still get pretty wet, or you can dive down deep into the deep and get soaked.  My prayer this week is that we get as soaked as we possibly can in the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the book of John!



Day 287: Matthew 23-24; Teaching on the "End Times"

With the release of the “Left Behind Series” and other associated books, the craze of thoughts and speculation about the end of the world has been at an all time high.  Associated with this, the amount of theories about the end of the world has also been on the rise leading to a great deal of Christian bickering and generalized disagreements about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the second coming of Christ.   I would dare say that, though the fad that these books were is dissipating into the cultural abyss, the continual talk of war, the seeming increase in catastrophic natural disasters, and the decline of morality in culture have all spurred on these conversations as well.  Often times we see these discussions get heated and passionate as people try to defend their understanding of the end of time.  On the other hand, some people in churches have opted for a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.  I don’t necessarily think that this is a good idea either.  As we see in our reading today, this isn’t necessarily something that Jesus avoids due to its controversial nature, but rather tackles head on in His teaching before the Passover.

I really do not think that a single blog post that is meant to cover the reading of Scripture for a day is a good place to start a debate around the differences in millennial kingdom views or the reasoning behind why dispensationalism as theology is a very poor reading of the whole of Scripture.  However, as a person of the Reformed Denomination of Christianity, my views are colored by how I have been taught and what I (and a great many others) feel is a more dutiful and faithful reading and interpretation of the whole of Scripture, not just certain verses here and there.  As I have said before, this is not a code that we are to decipher with some hidden meaning that God only wants us to have if we look hard enough.  Scripture is God’s REVELATION of Himself and His work throughout history which means that He is revealing it to us; it is an open book and we need to make sure that we read Scripture within the context of itself.

Anyway, enough of that soap box.  Perhaps we can take up that discussion some other time.  Jesus’ teaching today primarily covers the end of time when Jesus will return and the restoration and consummation of creation will be complete.  If I were to venture an opinion here, I would say that for as often as we talk about the end of time, we so often get the focus of Jesus’ teaching here and in other places wrong.  Jesus doesn’t necessarily talk about the exact events leading up to it.  Yes, he says that there will be natural disasters and wars, but all this, He says, is “the beginning of birth pains.”  To say that any one war or disaster is what Jesus was talking about would be foolish.  There have been hundreds of wars and even more natural disasters since the time that Jesus was taken to heaven.  We cannot be so egocentric, ethnocentric, geocentric, or even temporal-centric to think that our time, place, and people are more important somehow than any others.  We cannot assume that Jesus was talking about America or the Nuclear bomb.  What we have to understand here is that Jesus is saying that these things are the beginning of the end… and the end has been beginning since the beginning.

So what is Jesus’ main point here?  Perseverance.  Jesus says that His followers will be persecuted, even unto death.  He says that many will come claiming to be ‘the Christ’ but will not be.  Times will be hard, wickedness will increase, but those “who stand firm to the end will be saved.”  Jesus is saying to His followers, to all believers, “Keep the Faith!  Don’t turn from me just because its difficult.  By this you will be a testimony to me throughout the whole world.”  He goes on to quote from Daniel, referencing again a great evil that will destroy much.  Some say this was fulfilled by the son of Emperor Vespasian, Titus, who erected an idol over the destroyed Temple in 70 AD.  Some would say that Jesus was offering this reference to the Jewish people because they would recognize it as the event when Antiochus Epiphanes IV sacrificed a pig on the alter of God.  Yet there are many that would argue that this is something yet to be fulfilled.  I wonder if all three of these could be right.  These two events represent a great evil in our world, the unfettered, unhindered rebellion against God.  Perhaps there have been many more of these events?  Could Hitler be an abomination that causes desolation?  I think he certainly fits the bill.  But does that mean that Jesus is coming soon?  Well… Jesus has been coming soon since the book of Revelation was written, since He left this earth… so… yes, Jesus is coming soon.

The truth of the matter, however, is just as Jesus states it:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

 



Day 286: Matthew 21-22; Jesus Enters Jerusalem

We turn now our attention to what the Christian Faith considers “Holy Week,” the final week of Jesus’ life.  Matthew chronicles all of the teachings and events of Jesus during this week in particular detail.  Other Gospels place a great deal more emphasis on the last couple days of Jesus life, but Matthew continually covers the whole of the week.  I think there is a very specific reason for his doing this as well.  Remember that Matthew’s point in writing is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is indeed the Messiah that they had been waiting for.  For Him to do this, He needs to show Jesus as such, contrasting Him with the image that they had set up for themselves.  Matthew is making the point over and over and over again that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, even if He wasn’t exactly what the people expected.

In many ways this is seen more clearly in the paradox that surrounds Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As Jesus entered the city, going up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and ultimately His death, He did so in the manner that was foretold about the Messiah.  Matthew mentions this here:

Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,the foal of a beast of burden.’

Once again Jesus’ actions are so clearly and distinctly following Scripture.  Yet, as we have talked about the last couple of days, the religious leaders still just don’t get it.  These are people that would have memorized the Torah and would have been intimately familiar with the writings of the prophets, yet they still do not understand.  Jesus even points this out to them later when He is in the Temple:

Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?

I keep wondering about this.  How is it possible that these pharisees missed all of these blatant signs that were before them?  I guess it really does boil down to their hearts being dull so that they really did not see or hear any of what was happening before them.

Jesus continues His ministry and teaching throughout this week in the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding towns.  Every time the pharisees come before Jesus, He quotes Scripture to them and sends them on their way looking foolish.  This is the strange paradox of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the whole of this last week of His life.  If there was ever a time that we can clearly see His true nature out in the open, it is here.  He has even directed those who would challenge Him back to the very Scriptures that speak of His coming, and yet they still do not believe.

Interestingly enough, Jesus brings His teaching full circle, all the way back around in all that He has talked about and shown the people and the religious leaders.  He does so at the end of our reading today when asked about the “greatest commandment.”  What does Jesus reference?  The Shema.  I encourage you to look at this again because it really brings to light what Jesus is talking about in all of the Gospels, and in our reading today.  All these things that have happened, all the challenging of the religious leaders takes place because at the end of the day they have not lived into this commandment.  The goal, the point and purpose was to love God in a way that would transform the whole life, keeping it in the front of one’s mind all the time and everywhere.  I wonder if we miss this point from time to time in the Church as well?  Do we see Jesus for who He is, or are we too busy looking for what we think He looks like?



Day 285: Matthew 18-20; Jesus Continues Teaching

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, which we will continue to read about and see in the next three Gospels, Jesus is continually teaching his disciples and the myriad of crowds that are following Him.  The subject of these teachings ranges across the spectrum of the human experience.  However, Jesus was not simply a man of many words, talking a good talk, but He is also one who walks the walk as well.  As we have continued to talk about the life and ministry of Jesus we have continued to talk about this in different ways as well.  Jesus’ teaching has a lot to do with actions and interactions, the way we are with those that are around us.  We, along with Jesus, have criticized the pharisees for their “works based righteousness” mentality, and we have seen very clearly what Jesus says about them and how that is related to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Sometimes I think that it seems like, and we interpret the teachings of Jesus in a very similar fashion to that of the pharisees.  Quite often in the contemporary church we hear sermons about how we need to try hard to be good so that God will be happy with us and bless us.  We are told that if we give enough money or if we do enough good deeds we will meet a certain quota of goodness and we will get rewarded.  Perhaps we even make it sound a bit more spiritual than this too.  We use words like “servant” and “humility” because they are words that we hear Jesus using in the Bible.  We are told that we need to follow Jesus’ example even unto death to do good things which will help God to be happy with us.  However, we are careful to avoid the phrase “righteousness” because we wouldn’t want people to think that they can make themselves righteous, we just basically insinuate it and push people to live up to an impossible ideal.

Sadly, this is so completely contrary to the teachings and actions of Jesus in His life, and this infringes on and violates so many doctrines that if it were closely examined, the Christian faith would fall apart.  We, like the disciples and the people of Israel, are called by God not of our own merit, elected by Him and predestined to be believers in Jesus Christ (which is where we are different than the Jews).  We believe that we are sinners, sinful by nature and that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves to redemption.  Yet we live as though we have to do everything right to earn our salvation for ourselves.  We teach others as if this is the reality of our life and faith too.  Friends, these things are mutually exclusive.  What is the difference?  The place that our heart is in.

As believers we are indeed called to “life a life worthy of the calling we have received.”  However, the purpose of living this life is not out of necessity for righteousness or out of some quest to make ourselves perfect, but out of gratitude for the grace that is shown us.  This is the true calling of Israel and it is the true calling of the people of God.  We were chosen when we deserved not to be!  We have been redeemed through no work of our own!  We have been shown abundant grace and mercy, redemption in the face of sin and condemnation!  We have been blessed to be a blessing; given light for a dark world!  Knowing what we know, seeing what we’ve seen, how can we not live a life of love and gratitude?  What’s the difference?  Where our heart is!  When our hearts are focused on God, all the things that Jesus teaches about here like forgiveness, having a servant’s heart, loving one another, mercy, grace, and even healing all flow out of us naturally.  Ultimately though it is about the heart, it flows out of our hearts and lives not as an attempt at righteousness, but because we have already been made righteous.



Day 140: Nehemiah 8-10; Covenant Renewal

As we have been talking about for the past few weeks now as we have journeyed through the Chronicle and through Ezra and now Nehemiah, we are reading through the process by which the people of God, the returned exiles of Judah are re-identifying themselves.  They are discovering who they are anew by way of remembering where they have come from and linking themselves with the God that has called them and brought them to this point.  We have, in many ways, looked back with the Jews from the building of the wall in Jerusalem all the way back to Adam and creation, seeing for ourselves the direct link that saw the people of God brought to Jerusalem at this time by the providence of God almighty.

Ezra Reads the Law Photo Credit: www.tillhecomes.org

Ezra Reads the Law
Photo Credit: www.tillhecomes.org

Today we see what is arguably the peak of that process coming to fruition in Jerusalem.  The people have finished the work on the wall and they are ready to celebrate!  In their desire to celebrate, they have a worship service of sorts in which the book of the Law is read.  Likely, this is the book of Deuteronomy, the summary book of the all the Law of Moses.  This probably wasn’t quite like any worship service that you or I have ever been too.  It started on the first day of the seventh month, when they read the book of the Law from “early morning until mid-day.”  Then they all went home and had a feast!  Not your average Sunday morning I would assume.

The next day, they all got together again and read from the book of the Law and discovered the festival of booths which was to take place once a year.  In this they were to stay in little huts, to remind them of the time that they were in Egypt and in the Wilderness, yet another way of helping them to connect with the past through remembering.  Interestingly, for the Hebrew people. remembering isn’t just simply calling to mind some stuff, it is as if they are participating in the actual event.  The Greek word for this is “anamnesis.”  It is more than just thinking about it, it is also participating in it.  As the Hebrew people celebrated this 8 day festival, they participated, by calling to mind and doing action, in the events of the exodus and wilderness wanderings.

Ezra Reads the Law of Moses Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

Ezra Reads the Law of Moses
Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

A couple days after this is done, the whole assembly gets back together again and this time reads from the book of the Law for 6 hours and then they pray and confess their sins.  Once again we have an example of how the Hebrew people connect with God.  They don’t just confess the sins that they have done, but the sins of their fathers and ancestors.  And then, once again they recall their history, remembering who they are because of whose they are and reaffirm the covenant.  Nehemiah 9 is one of the most beautiful chapters of the Bible when it comes to remembering God’s actions throughout their history.

Now I can’t imagine being in a worship service for that long, or for that many days.  We certainly haven’t adopted the practice of reading Scripture at these great lengths.  Yet I wonder if we might have lost something in not doing this from time to time.  We break up Scripture and segment it, and then roll it up into one or two pithy moral statements and call it a sermon.  I wonder what would happen if we were to read large chunks of Scripture at a time.  I wonder what would happen if we were to be open to just letting Scripture speak, rather than developing a sermon.  How do you think you would be impacted, say, if someone read the whole Gospel of Matthew or the entire book of Deuteronomy to you?  Do we even believe that the Word of God is that powerful and would have any sort of impact on our lives?  I wonder what that kind of a mentality would do to us and for us on a Sunday morning if we say… truly opened ourselves up to the transforming work of the Spirit through the Word of God?