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The Generous Life Week 2: Stewardship of the Environment

April 20, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Two weeks ago we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. During our conversation someone asked the question, whether stated in this way or not, around what does it mean to live a resurrectional life. So we promptly began a series entitled The Generous Life looking at the issue of stewardship in many areas, not just the only one that normally comes to mind (money). Stewardship is defined as the act of caring for someone else’s property in a manner consistent with the way he or she would care for it. So stewardship revolves around us caring for things that God has given us, in the way that he would care for it. Stewardship then applies to things like money (of course), time, talents, relationships, our bodies, the environment, and more.

Last week we started talking about stewardship by looking at the stewardship of our bodies. We talked about things like sexuality, exercise, sleep, etc. But we also spent a lot of time talking about self-image and being a community that encourages each other in relation to the self.

When we talked the last two weeks about the resurrection we talked about the idea that the resurrection means that, in a very real way, this world matters. This world of blood, sweat, tears, earth, and flesh really matters.

And so today we are going to explore what has, unfortunately, been a divided issue in the Christian world, even though I don’t understand how it could be. This issue is the idea of being a good steward of the environment. Or as some like to call it Creation Care. So what does it mean to be good stewards of the creation that is all around us? What does the bible actually say about taking care of the environment? Is it only something that “liberal tree huggers” care about or is is something that followers of Jesus need to speak out on, live out, and be involved in? Those are some of the questions that we’ll look at in relation to stewardship of the environment.

This week is Earth Day and some in the wider church have designated this day Earth Day Sunday, the day of the year when the church sets aside time to talk about the environment and being good stewards of it. That is why we have chosen to talk about this today.

To talk about being a good steward of the environment we are going right to the beginning. Let’s look at Genesis 1:26-31 and see what we might learn about our environment and being good stewards of it.

Genesis 1:26-31 says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”

This text has been used in so many different ways, even promoting a lack of stewardship of the environment. James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan said, “God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” Another contemporary political and television personality said this in a more direct and pretty offensive way, “The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply and rape the planet. It’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining, and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players, and wet bars- that’s the Biblical view”. But is it really? Does our Scripture this morning agree with this statement or have we been reading it wrong to come up with that conclusion?

First, we want to look at the end of the verses we read. Verse 31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Now this was before the fall, before sin entered the world but I truly still believe that God’s creation is still good. I truly believe that God still calls it good, and wants us to steward it well, so that one day when it all is set right, it will be very good again. One reason to be a good steward of creation is because God calls it good, and if God calls it good, then we should as well. And if God calls it good, then we should work hard to keep it good.

Secondly, and the main part of this message revolves around the struggle of how we could draw two radically different meanings from the same passage of Scripture. Some people read it like those that I quoted above, and some others, more like myself, read it as a mandate to be good stewards of the environment, and for the environment not to be raped.

In order for us to get at what God is saying through this text, we need to do some unpacking of words, especially in verse 28. Verse 28 says, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The two words that we need to look at especially are the words subdue and rule or sometimes translated have dominion over.

First the word subdue is the word Kabash, which means something like conquering or taming it, as a farmer would tame a wild field. It is like the idea of bring order to it. So we are to bring order to creation. But the main word that many struggle understanding is the word, in this translation, rule. But in many other translations we see it saying “Have dominion over”. The world dominion is the word which has led people to believe that we can rule and have power over this planet and do whatever we feel like to it. We can pillage it, rape it, mine it, and use it for our own good. After all, many people say, Jesus is going to rapture us out of here, and then destroy the world anyway, so why recycle.

But what does the word dominion actually mean? The Hebrew word there is Radah. It is a word that is only used about a dozen times in the Old Testament and is rather special in it’s meaning. It almost always refers to to military action or political authority. We have taken it to mean “dominate over” just as a mediaeval rule or potentate would dominate over his subjects, using them for this own ends, his own pleasure, his own prestige, his own wars, etc.. But an examination of radah shows that this is not the type of dominion that we are called upon to have over the creation.

To understand how we are supposed to have dominion over creation, we need to look at the verses preceding this one. Look at verses 26-27 which says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” To understand dominion we have to understand that we were created in the image of God. And so we should have dominion in the image or likeness of God. Humans should rule or have dominion over Creation in a way that is consistent with the way God rules. But the question then becomes how does God rule? Let’s look at Psalm 72:8, 12-14, “May he rule (radah) from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.  For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.  He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” He rules (radah) with love, grace, mercy, and compassion. He rules (radah) not with an iron fist and a cold heart. God does not exploit or dominate or consume recklessly. God doesn’t use his power to hurt, but to heal. God values what cannot be replaced. God works to preserve life not destroy it. Mankind needs to exercise radah over the creation as God would exercise radah. Gerhard Van Rad says it this way, “Just as powerful earthly Kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erected an image of themselves in provinces of their empire where they did not personally appear, so man is placed above the earth in God’s image, as God sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominance over the earth.”

And so God calls us, as image bearers, to radah/rule over his creation, in his stead. To rule it in the way and in the likeness of how we rules over it. Our “radah” of the creation is not be be for our own selfish gain. Our “radah” of the creation is to be not for own sake, but for the sake of the sake of the one ruled, that is, for the sake of the creation. We “radah” creation as God’s representative.

Ultimately, even though he has given us “radah” over creation, the earth is the Lord’s and not ours, unlike what the person that I quoted before who said “It’s yours.” It isn’t ours. We are just stewards of it, just like everything else that he gives. Look at Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” So the creation is God’s and we are called to be good stewards of it. We are called not to “rule over it and subdue it” in the way that a tyrant rules over and subdues his people. We are called to, as image bearers, model the same love, same care and same devotion to the creation that God has for it. We are called to see the creation in the same way that God did and does, as good. Broken, crying out for redemption, fallen but still good. And that we as followers of Jesus, as image bearers, are called to do the hard work of working towards the wholeness, redemption, healing, fullness and shalom of the creation that God has called us to steward.

But what does that look like? What does it mean to do the hard work of bringing wholeness, redemption, healing, fullness, and shalom to the creation? What does it look like to live out the mandate that God has laid out for us to “radah” over the creation as image bearers, and as God’s representative here on the earth? How have you sought to “radah” in God’s image in relation to stewardship of the environment? And what is God calling us as a community to do in being good stewards of the environment? That is what we will seek to unpack in our time of discussion.

1. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. How have you sought to “radah” in God’s image in relation to stewardship of the environment? Where do you need to “radah” over creation more faithfully as a steward?

3. What is God calling us as a community to do as good stewards of his creation? What steps can we pursue together to better “radah” over God’s creation?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

The Generous Life Week 1: Stewardship of the Body

April 13, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we begin a new series entitled “The Generous Life” in which we will be talking about the biblical concept of stewardship. Stewardship is defined as the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially :  the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. So often when churches and pastors begin to talk about stewardship, everyone thinks that we will be just talking about money. But there is so much more to stewardship than just money. Yes, it includes begin a good steward of money, but it also covers our bodies, the environment, our time, our talents, and our relationships. So for the next few weeks we’ll be covering all of these things and learning what it means to be a good steward. We’ll learn what it looks like to steward these things well so that not only will our lives be changed but also how the world around us can be changed by followers of Jesus stewarding their resources (time, talent, relationship, environment, bodies, and yes money as well).

The first thing that we’ll be talking about in relation to stewardship is stewardship of our bodies. I’m not sure if I have ever heard a sermon revolving around being good stewards of our bodies or not. Have you? But today, maybe for the first time, we’ll unpack and dig into what it looks like to live a generous life in relation to our bodies. To do that we’ll look at two passages of Scripture. The first one being 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and the second being 1 Timothy 4:8.

Let’s first look at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Now before we jump too much into this text, there are a few things that I need to say regarding stewardship of our bodies. Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Do you know that Easter is not just a one week celebration in the Christian church and the Christian calendar? It is a 7 week celebration called Eastertide running from Easter to Pentecost.). Jesus bodily died and he bodily rose from the dead. We talked about the fact that if he rose bodily from the dead, than that means that there is something important about our bodies. I quoted NT Wright when he said, “The point of the resurrection is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a good future in store for it.” If the resurrection does anything it affirms the importance of this world and of the material. All too often I believe the contemporary church has bought into a more Gnostic philosophy that says spirit is good but physical/material is bad/evil. But the resurrection of Jesus completely denies that possibility. Our bodies, like Jesus, will be resurrected (verse 14) at the end, and so what we do with our present bodies matter. What we do in and with our present bodies will have consequences, not just arbitrary rewards and punishments in the life to come.

So let’s do some unpacking of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. First of all when we look at the context of this text, Paul is referring to sexual immorality. Corinth was known as a very hedonistic city. It could probably have been called the Sin City of it’s day. So Paul in this section is addressing what it means to be Christian in relation to sexuality. What Paul is getting at in this section is about followers of Jesus learning to use the human body in the right way, for the right purposes. And he is also getting at the fact that our bodies are meant for the Lord. Paul makes it plain that the Christian’s relationship with the Lord Jesus is not simply a “spiritual” one, but also a physical one. He is getting at the sense that Jesus wants to know us and work through us as fully physical human beings, both here and in the hereafter. And since verse 14 lays it out pretty clearly that our bodies will be raised, just like Jesus, that means that there will be some sort of continuity between the present body and the future one.

Paul is making a claim, that to us, doesn’t seem all that radical but it was very radical for his day, and if we take a step back and see what our language that we use tells us, than what Paul is saying is still radical for our day and age as well. Paul in verse 19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” In Paul’s day in the world of many gods, there was this concept that deities lived in buildings of stone and wood. And Paul is radically challenging that and he says, No. God doesn’t live in special buildings built for him. Just look at Acts 17:24, which says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” No, God himself lives in a temple alright. But that temple is our bodies. The bodies of those of us who have made Jesus our King, Lord, and Savior. Even in our own day, it is not uncommon to hear people during a worship gathering call the place where they gather as the house of God, meaning that God somehow lives there and only there. God, in someway, when we open our lives to him, makes our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are the temple. If you are in Christ than the Spirit takes up permanent residence within you. Not just showing up when you “do religious activities”

And because we have the spirit of God living in us, and because of the fact that Jesus died for us, we need to honor God with our bodies. Our bodies, not just our souls or spirit were bought with a price, definitely referring to Jesus’ death on the cross. And so those of us who have been bought with a tremendous price or cost must remind ourselves of what special people we are, what it cost Jesus to redeem our bodies, and to learn what it means to be good stewards over the body that God has given to us. Paul puts it like this at the end of our text, “Therefore honor God with your bodies.” We are to glorify God with our bodies and to discover how to live the truly human life which brings glory to God in whose image we are all made and whose own unique image, Jesus, died to rescue us from all that will stop us from being the person that God longs us to be.

But what does it mean to honor God with our bodies? This is the question of stewardship, to honor him with what he has given to us, and in this case our bodies. What does ti mean to be a good steward of the body that God has given to us as a gift? I think the wider context of chapter 6 verses 12-20 gives us some possible ideas. Part of being a good steward of our body definitely has to do with sexuality. Paul makes the point that what we do sexually happens to our whole selves, not just a portion of our bodies (verse 18). People can think that our physical bodies and our spiritual selves are separate so what we do in our bodies doesn’t affect our spiritual lives, and vice-versa. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our bodies and spirits are intrinsically connected. So what we do with our bodies does affect us spiritually, and what we do spiritually affects our bodies. To honor God with our bodies in this text refers to sexuality. Many of you are single in this community. To honor God with your body in terms of sexuality means biblically speaking that you keep the future marriage bed pure, by abstaining from sex before marriage. It is also more than just about the physical act itself. It doesn’t mean to get as close to the physical act as you can, stopping short of actual sex. No, it means keeping our bodies and spirits pure by fleeing from sexual immorality which encompasses sex before marriage but also things like pornography, etc.. For those who are married honoring God with our bodies means keep the marriage bed pure as well, by abstaining from sex outside of marriage and keep our bodies and spirits pure as well.

But is honoring God with your body just related to sexuality? No. I mentioned at the beginning that we would look at two different Scriptures this morning and this is where the second one comes in. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Know that this passage is talking about the importance to viewing spiritual development and discipleship as training and work. Discipleship takes as much training and work as physical training; But notice what Paul is saying here. Physical training is of some value. It has importance for this life. Just ask a doctor how important physical exercise is. Verse 8 is one of the clearest references to physical exercise in the New Testament. I believe a huge part of honoring God with your body revolves around physical training or exercise. When you get exercise you will become physically fit and able to work harder and enjoy more of life. When we train our bodies, I believe it can affect our spiritual lives. My wife when she gets in the habit of running, uses that time as prayer time. Just her and God out on the road, running and praying. I personally try to run somewhere between 3 and 5 days a week running around 3 and a half miles each time that I run for a total of between 10.5 and 17.5 miles a week. And I have noticed a difference, not only physically in my own body (energy level, weight, etc..) I’ve noticed spiritual growth from running as well. So another way to honor God and be a good steward of the body that he has given to us is to get regular physical exercise. What do you do to get physical exercise? How can that help your growth and development as a parson and in your spiritual life? That is one of the questions we’ll come back to in a minute.

There are a ton of other ways that we could talk about being good stewards of the body that he has given to us to use. We could talk about sleep, food, moderation, drugs and alcohol, and a few other things related to our bodies. But let’s turn now to thinking about what it means for you and I to be a good stewards of our bodies. Let’s talk about physical exercise and how we can help encourage that area in our lives together. Let’s talk about what areas of stewarding our bodies do we struggle with the most. Let’s talk about what God might be saying to us about how he wants us to steward this gift, this temple, that he has given to us.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scriptures and/or the message?

2. What do you do to get physical exercise? How can that help your growth and development as a parson and in your spiritual life? How can this community help in relation to physical exercise?

3. What area in relation to stewardship of the body do you struggle with the most? How can this community help you grow and develop in the stewardship of your body?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

Art Show at Community Room on King looks at grief, sorrow.

April 6, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

Here is an article that was written last week about the Emotive 2: A Good Friday Art Show that we just held at the Community Room on King this past Friday night.

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LAURA KNOWLES LNP CORRESPONDENT
Art isn’t always about flowers in bloom and robins in spring.
Sometimes it’s about pain and suffering and deepest sorrow.

While it may not be easy to deal with these difficult emotions, this Friday’s art exhibit at the Community Room on King is titled “Emotive 2: A Good Friday Art Show.” The show will feature 10 local artists, most of them emerging artists.

This isn’t the first time the Community Room on King has tackled the tough subject of art with deeper emotions like grief and loss of hope. Two years ago, “Emotive: A Good Friday Art Show” took the first step in a show about the more sorrowful side of life.

“When we did the first show, we were looking at the emotions as they relate to the story of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins,” says curator Ryan Braught, a pastor for Veritas and organizer of the show.
As he explains, the title “Emotive” has to do with strong emotions for or against something. And what could be stronger than the feelings of abandonment, grief, loss and hopelessness that we all feel at times?

“It seemed appropriate on this Good Friday to revisit these themes,” says Braught, noting that in Matthew 27:46, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Among the artists exhibiting their work in “Emotive 2” are Shalom Beachy, Luis Quiñones, Mike Rock, Melinda Houvig, Emily Meneghin, Grace Engard, Alexandria Bonner, Sammy Lang and Grace Rhine.

Houvig knows something about betrayal and loss. Her sculpture is a powerful testament to the life-altering loss she suffered when she was an art student at West Chester University.

Her piece is called “Stage 5.” In Houvig’s life-sized sculptural installation, she relives the trauma of being a senior in college when she learned that she had cervical cancer.

“I underwent a partial hysterectomy shortly after I graduated in May 2012,” says Houvig “The surgery, and the diagnosis altered my life in many ways and the sculpture work functioned as a platform for a conversation about physical trauma and the resulting emotions that are left after losing organs and confronting never being able to have children.”

At first glance, her sculpture appears to be a pile of leaves, branches and birds’ nests. Interspersed are haunting body parts molded from her own body. A hand reaching out. A foot that has lost its bearings. A leg folded in hopelessness.

She refers to it as detritus, which is defined as “the pieces that are left when something breaks, falls apart, is destroyed.” And her work depicts the resulting emotional trauma from losing physical elements or parts of the original human form.

Yet, in many ways, Houvig’s expression of loss has a sense of hope. A year after her surgery, she was accepted into the MFA Studio Art program at Moore College in Philadelphia and will graduate in August to pursue her art career.

“The piece is meant to be outside and I hope to eventually find a buyer for it so that it can find a permanent residence outside on the land,” says Houvig.

Photographer Luis Quiñones is new to the art of photography and he takes an inside-outside view of the world. From his home on South Prince Street, he has observed the seasons changing and the views of the city. He started off snapping shots with his smartphone, then invested in a real camera.
His photograph of crows evokes Alfred Hitchcock with ominous black crows gathering on the branches of a tree outside his window. As he explains, birds like robins and bluebirds symbolize joy and happiness. Not crows.

“Crows are often linked with death,” says Quiñones. “But I see them as symbolizing mortality and freedom. I am fascinated by birds because they are not tied down by regulation. They are free.”
Quiñones likes to work in black and white, because of its power and simplicity, as in another photograph showing a child wearing skeleton makeup.

“In dealing with the emotions of suffering and loss, we can see the way to finding peace and hope,” says Braught.

If you go:
“Emotive 2: A Good Friday Art Show
Fri. 5-8 p.m. Free
Community Room on King, 106 W. King St. 572-5914 communityroomonking.com facebook.com/CommunityRoomonKing

The Last Week: Resurrection

April 6, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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We come to the end of our series called The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus life’ here on earth, and in Jerusalem. Over the course of the last few weeks we have walked with Jesus through his week.

We started seven weeks ago looking at the beginning of Jesus week, on what we call Palm Sunday or known more specifically as the Triumphal Entry. We talked about his coronation as King and how his Kingship (represented by the animal that he chose to ride on) was not like the Kingship of this worldly Kingdom.

We then looked at Monday of that first holy week and his cursing the fig tree and cleansing the temple. We talked about how Israel and the religious leaders were getting in the way of people coming back to and finding God. We talked about how Jesus turned over tables so that people could find their way to God and how he needs to do that today in our own individual lives and our corporate lives.

Then we entered Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week and saw that for most of those days he encountered strong conflict and more conflict. We took one of those encounters when the Herodians and the Pharisees got together and asked him about paying taxes to Caesar. And Jesus responded by saying Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

And then we came to Thursday of Holy Week and looked at Jesus dinner at Bethany and how Mary anointed Jesus head and feet with oil and how she was pouring her whole life out onto him and preparing him for burial.

We gathered Friday night to walk through that fateful Good Friday. We read the account of Jesus journey that day to the cross and his death on that instrument of capital punishment in the Roman world.

When we left this darkened room on Friday night, Jesus had died. He breathed his last, was taken off the cross, and laid in a tomb. Death seemingly had won. The powers of sin, death, evil, the devil, and hell had triumphed, or so it had seemed to everyone, including the disciples. The disciples had fled and only the women had followed and saw where Jesus was buried. Ideally to be able to come back and anoint his body, when time allowed for it, and after the day of Sabbath.

This is where we pick up the story. That first Easter morning 2,000 years ago. The disciples dismayed, out of hope, confused, and unsure of what to do from this point on. They gave their lives to follow this messiah, this Jesus, and now he was dead laying in a tomb that wasn’t even his.

Let’s pick up the story in Mark 16:1-8 and see what we encounter on that 1st Easter Sunday, who we encounter in the story, and what that first Easter tells us about our lives, our world, and the future of everything.

Mark 16:1-8 says, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

So we need to talk about the ending of this text before we dive into the story. We should notice that there are two alternative endings to Mark and a footnote at the end of the section that we have just read. It seems like Mark’s original ending was lost. The two best manuscripts from the fourth century end where this text breaks off. The alternative endings were later writings. So a question that we could raise would be something like, “What do you think Mark’s original ending looked like? What part of the resurrection story did it contain?” If you look at the other 3 gospels and also the flow of chapter 16 you could probably fill it in like this, “the women eventually speak to the disciples. The disciples go to the tomb. And they all eventually meet Jesus somewhere in Galilee.” But that is getting ahead of ourselves and the text that we are looking at today.

So that first Easter morning 3 women got up early, headed off to the tomb where two of them saw Jesus laid only 3 days earlier. They were going there, not because they expected to encounter a risen Savior. They were going there to anoint Jesus body for burial. You see, a traditional burial process in the 1st century Jewish world was a two step process or burial. The first step would be to anoint the body with various spices and lay the body in a tomb. The spices were to mask the smell of decomposition. The second part of the two step process was to come back a year later when the body was nothing but bones and collect the bones and put them in a box called an ossuary. That way you could use the tomb over and over and over again. So these women went to the tomb to take part in the first first part of the burial process. They didn’t get a chance to do this before laying Jesus in the tomb because the body was taken down, and immediately put in the tomb, so that it wasn’t on the cross during the sabbath.

You see in verse 2 this understanding about what they were going to do. They were talking about who was going to roll away the stone, in order to get into the tomb to anoint his body. They had no concept, no idea that this day, this first Easter morning, would change the course of their lives, but also the course of history, from that day until this day, and for all of history.

When they arrived at the tomb, after their discussion of who would roll the stone away from the tomb, they saw that it was already rolled away. When they entered the tomb, no doubt wondering what was happening. No doubt, their hearts beating out of their chests. No doubt, their brains moving a million miles an hour seeking to understand what this all meant. When they entered the tomb, they came face to face with an angel. His presence no doubt freaking them out. His words hitting them like a ton of bricks. His words shattering their darkness. His words shaking them to the core.

The angel in the tomb spoke these words to the women, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Obviously, as I mentioned before, these women didn’t expect the resurrection. Didn’t expect Jesus to come back from the dead. But Mark, told us, over and over again that Jesus tried to teach his disciples that he would suffer, die, and then be raised back to life. But they didn’t understand. In fact, it seems like the only ones who understood and thought about what Jesus said about his resurrection (even though they didn’t believe it) , were the chief priests and the Pharisees who come to Pilate and asked if they could put a guard at the tomb and secure it (Matthew 27)

We have clearly established that the early followers of Jesus, including the women, weren’t expecting the resurrection, even though Jesus clearly taught that he was going to suffer, die and then three days later be raised back to life. But my question for us today is what does the resurrection of Jesus actually mean for us and our world today? Resurrection isn’t just to secure an eternal future for us beyond this life. Resurrection for Jesus was about coming to bodily life after bodily death. So if it isn’t about an eternal future in some place called Heaven, what is resurrection all about? To get at that let’s go back to the text specifically verse 2 which says, “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,” Something about this part of the text clues us into, I believe, what the resurrection of Jesus is truly pointing towards. The first day of the week, if we are thinking biblically, should push our minds back to the beginning, back to Genesis and the story of creation. What is happening here in the resurrection of Jesus is connected with the story of creation. Jesus resurrection is to be seen as the beginning of the new world, the first day of the new week, and what God wants to do not only in Jesus, not only in us, but in all of creation. If Genesis 1 is about creation, than the resurrection story is about recreation. Jesus was re-created first, and then someday the rest of humanity who are in relationship with God will be re-created along with the rest of the created order. What we are witnessing in the resurrection stories is the birth of new creation. The power that has tyrannized the old creation has been broken, defeated and overthrown. God’s Kingdom is now launched and launched in power and glory, on earth as it is in heaven.

The resurrection is probably the ultimate place where heaven and earth overlap and inner lock. NT Wright has this to say about the resurrection, “The point of the resurrection is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a good future in store for it. What you do in the present- by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building, happily digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor and yourself- will last into God’s future.” The resurrection of Jesus is about this, that it affirms the material world that is currently broken and the promise of the renewal of all things. Scripture says it like this, “Behold I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) Jesus through his death and resurrection is making all things new. He is making everything, including you and I (as we follow him) new. He has redeemed all things (Colossians 1:20….and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.).

But the point of the resurrection is that God’s new creation has already begun. It began with Jesus. He went first. And that if you are in Christ, he has begun that work of re-creating you, making you a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And then he wants to use you and put you to work to make more bits of new creation happen within the world as it still is. And that we still live in the tension of a world that is being re-created but isn’t fully re-created. The world is not what it used to be, or what it will be. But we can know that because of the resurrection of Jesus, all will be made whole, made right, made new. And that because of Jesus resurrection, that shalom has happened, is happening and will happen. And that because of Jesus resurrection, we can not only be made whole, made right, made new but that we can be instruments of new creation (or as Paul says ambassadors). We are empowered to partner with God to remind our world that it isn’t always going to be like this. We, the people of God, are invited to live as though tomorrow’s new creation has already begun. And we know that, according to our resurrection text this morning, it already has.

Let me close with a quote from NT Wright about the resurrection and the work of new creation that the resurrection of Jesus began and what that means for you and I, and ultimately our world, “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”

So where are you seeing the resurrection work of re-creation in your life, in your relationships, and with the world around you? Where is the resurrection of Jesus touching down and breaking into your reality? These are the questions that we’ll be discussing together.

1. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. Where are you seeing the resurrection work of re-creation in your life, in your relationships, and with the world around you? Where is the resurrection of Jesus touching down and breaking into your reality?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

The Last Week: A Need for a Traitor

March 16, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

TheLastWeek

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent, the 40 day period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter (not including the 6 Sundays- Days of Resurrection). A period of time in the Christian calendar that prepares us as we travel along with Jesus towards his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Lent is also the time in the Christian year where we focus on repentance, prayer, self-denial, and fasting.

During Lent we have been walking with Jesus through his last week on this earth. The last week starting with his Triumphal Entry and ending with his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

3 weeks ago we started this journey with Jesus on what we call Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry. We talked about the fact that this story is all about Jesus and his Kingship and Lordship.

2 weeks ago we covered the story of Jesus cursing the Fig Tree and cleansing the temple. We talked about how the religious leaders got in the way of people finding God. And we asked the question what tables would Jesus flip in our lives in order for us to get out of the way so people can find God.

Last we talked about giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what is God. We talked about all about our allegiance being to God and to no other.

Today we look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11, a story that we can say is like a three panel painting. In the middle of the painting, which is the largest section, is the main part of the story centering around Mary of Bethany (verses 3-9). The panels on either side of the center section would be the story of the Pharisee’s and their desire to arrest and kill Jesus (verses 1-2) and the story of Judas and his part in handing Jesus over to the religious leaders (verses 10-11) and getting some financial recuperation from it.

So let’s look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11 and see what it might say to us today seeking to walk with Jesus through his last week while here on earth.

Mark 14:1-11 says, “
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”

Let’s take a look first at the center panel, the main part of the story and see what it might say to us.

We see in this center panel a women from Bethany coming to Jesus in the midst of dinner and anointing him with oil from an alabaster jar. Now we know from John 12:1-8 (John’s account of this story) that the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary of Bethany, who is the sister of Lazarus (who Jesus raised from the dead) and Martha. So Mary anoints Jesus head from oil from this alabaster jar. Now there are a few things that we need to look at historically and culturally to make some sense and draw out meaning behind this act.

First, in the culture of the day, when guests arrived for a meal, as an act of hospitality, it was customary to anoint the guests head with a dab of oil. Now the biggest difference in that custom, and what we see in this story is that Mary didn’t just put a dab of oil on his head, she broke the whole thing open and poured the entire contents on the alabaster jar all over his head. An extravagant act of worship that no doubt made others pretty uncomfortable and even a little ticked off.

Secondly, connecting our story of the Triumphal Entry, when a person became King, part of the coronation process, was for his head to be anointed with oil. Anointing the head was in the Biblical tradition the ceremony for the coronation of a King. So here is Mary anointing Jesus as the true King. As the King of all Kings. This was another of his coronation moments on his way to the cross. In fact the word Messiah itself actually means anointed one.

Thirdly, this act of anointing, as Jesus referenced, was connected to his upcoming death on the cross, and his burial in a tomb. We read in verse 8 these words connecting the anointing of Jesus by Mary and his death and burial, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” The type of death that he was expecting, the common criminal death of crucifixion, lended itself to the problem of not preparing the body for burial. The idea being that Jesus was going to be killed in such a way that there may not be a chance for proper anointing of the body at the time. In fact, we will visit this idea again on Easter Sunday, when the women who followed Jesus return to his grave, in order to anoint his body with spices and perfume, as was the traditional custom of what they did to bodies, most of the time before laying them to rest in a tomb. Now Jesus is not implying that Mary somehow knew that what she was doing was for his burial. She was acting upon her love, and gratitude and her worship of Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords.

Fourthly, this act was costly (in two very different ways). The first costly way is what we see mentioned in the text. In verse 4 we read these words, “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” So we know from other texts that the perfume was called Spikenard and was a very expensive fragrance imported from India. So expensive that it was more than a year’s wages. A denarius, as we talked about last week, was roughly a days wages. And so it the perfume probably cost over 300 denarii. This was no doubt very costly, especially to a family who more than likely wasn’t a wealthy family.

But even more costly, was what the breaking of the alabaster jar, and pouring the perfume on Jesus head, meant for Mary and what it meant culturally at the time. In the days Jesus was on earth, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment. The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth. This alabaster box would be part of her dowry. When a young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet. The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor. So what she was doing was pretty much giving her whole life and whole self to Jesus. Without the alabaster jar and perfume, her future didn’t include marriage. He future was totally wrapped up in Jesus. Without a husband to provide for her, how was she going to live? Without a husband, who was she? But she realized that no man would be better then her Jesus. When she broke that alabaster jar and poured her expensive perfume over Jesus in front of a room of men, she was giving up a portion of her dowry, her reputation, and most importantly her heart.

So on the center panel of this painting we see a beautiful act of love, worship, and devotion. An act that was about coronating Jesus, worshipping him, preparing him for his death and burial. And an act that was super costly not only in the amount of money that the perfume and alabaster jar was worth, but also costly in relation to Mary having a future husband. But an act of worship, giving her life, her self, and her future to Jesus.

If the center panel is all about worship, then the other two panels are about those who should be doing what Mary was doing, but instead were rebuking, scheming, planning, and dreaming about how to arrest Jesus, kill Jesus, or make some money off of Jesus’ arrest.

Their reaction to this beautiful act of worship, devotion, and giving of herself to Jesus was about rebuke and chastisement. People said “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” Now in other accounts of this story we see one of the primary voices speaking these words is Judas, who didn’t care for the poor at all. No he was in it for the money. He was the treasurer if you will of the disciples, the moneybag keeper, and he would help himself to some of the money.

Let’s briefly look at both side panels of this painting. First in verse 1-2 we read, “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” As we have mentioned before, Passover was the time when Jerusalem swelled in population as many pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem. Also passover was the time every year that the Jewish people were looking for that deliverer, that new Moses, to come and kick the Romans out of their land, take over, and become King of Israel. And the conversation and expectation around Jesus in this Passover season was one filled with Messianic hopes and dreams that finally Rome would be ousted, Israel would have it’s own land back, and they would have their own ruler in charge. So the religious leaders and teachers of the law, who weren’t on Jesus side, were scheming how to get him arrested, but secretly. Because if he was arrested publicly, no doubt those who were hoping for Jesus to be the long awaited Davidic Messiah, Warrior King would revolt and riot.

And that is when Judas comes in. Judas, as a disciple, or an inside guy so to speak, would have inside information on where and when they could arrest Jesus when the public wasn’t around. So Judas would help them find a private time to arrest Jesus. But what was Judas’ motive for being a traitor? Obviously we can only speculate as the text never truly says what his issue or issues were, but here are some thoughts about motive. First, the motive of greed. As I mentioned before Judas loved money, and would help himself to some of the money given to fund the mission of Jesus’ and his disciples. We see that he goes to the Chief Priests and they arrive at an agreed upon price, that we know is 30 silver pieces. So one motivation was most likely money and greed.

And Secondly I believe he also was hoping that Jesus would be that warrior King, that Davidic messiah who would come, kick Roman’s tail, and deliver Israel back to prominence and their own rule and own land. And so maybe their was a level of anger, and disappointment that it wasn’t going to be an violent overthrow of the powers that be that he expected. (Maybe he understood maybe better than other disciples of what Jesus was truly headed for).

So for whatever reason..greed, disappointment, anger, frustration, etc.. Judas agrees to become the traitor and hand Jesus over to the chief priests and teacher of the law to be arrested and eventually killed.

So in our time of discussion let’s two at the two radically different responses to Jesus in this story. Let’s look at what our alabaster jars might be that God is calling us to break and pour out for him. Let’s also look at our own lives and the ways that we have been Judas to Jesus ourselves. These are the two things we are going to unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What alabaster jar is Jesus calling you to break and pour out in worship? What is keeping you from breaking it over his head?

3. In what ways have you and I been Judas? Been a traitor to Jesus and his Kingdom?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

The Last Week: Conflict and More Conflict

March 9, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

TheLastWeek

We come now to Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week in our series The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus’ life while here on earth.

When we kicked off The Last Week two weeks ago we looked at the first day of Holy Week, what we call Palm Sunday or what is called in Mark 11, the Triumphal Entry. We talked about this story and how in it we see two radically visions of Jesus being King. And how anyone from the outside seeing it, especially Rome, would see the connections to a coronation ceremony and get nervous. I mentioned that this was one of the reasons that only a few days later Jesus was executed, because he claimed himself as a King and as royalty.

Last week we talked about Holy Monday, and the cursing of the Fig Tree, and the cleaning of the Temple. We talked about how they were connected and pointed towards judgement of Israel. How the religious leaders got in the way of people actually finding God. How Jesus flipped tables and drove animals out of the temple because the temple was supposed to be a signpost pointing to a deeper reality, that of Jesus and his Kingdom, but instead they thought it was the reality. And how we can also get in the way of people finding Jesus as well as the similar danger of believing that we are the deeper reality, and not the signpost that is supposed to point to Jesus.

Today we are looking at two days, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. These two days could be probably summarized by saying Conflict and More Conflict. Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like everywhere you went you ran into questions, accusations, conflict, etc..? Jesus had many days like that but especially during Holy Week.

If we look at Mark 11:27-13:37, we see almost every section of these two and half chapter starting with one of the religious leaders of the day coming and either asking him to explain himself, have him justify what he was doing, asking him questions, or as in the case of the section that we’ll be looking at, trapping him and basically putting him between a rock and a hard place, or so they thought.

So let’s turn to Mark 12:13-17 and see what this conflict was all about and what we might learn about following Jesus in our 21st century world.

Mark 12:13-17 says, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.  They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”  They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”

So in this text we see the Chief Priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders (meaning the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) sending a group of Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus with his own words. Now what is really happening here can be best summed up in the saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” You see the Pharisees and Herodians weren’t on the same page with most things, except they both didn’t like Jesus. The Pharisees, which means “separated ones”, were the group of people who were extremely accurate and legalistic about the law of Moses. And importantly in this story, the Pharisees weren’t 100 percent in favor of the Roman rule. In fact, they were divided when it came to the question of Roman rule. On the other end of the spectrum were the Herodians. The Herodians favored submitting to the Herods and therefore Roman rule. Support of the Herods compromised Jewish independence in the minds and eyes of the Pharisees. So as you see these two parties were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to a lot of social, religious and political issues. But what they agreed on was that this Jesus character needed to be dealt with.

So they get together and go to Jesus hoping to trap him. To put him between a rock and a hard place. So the first thing they do is butter him up, they seek to flatter him by what they say. Before they get to the question that they are hoping to trap him with, they flatter him by saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” Now I don’t believe that they even truly believed what they were saying. First they called him Teacher or in their world it would be Rabbi, but he wasn’t either of the groups Rabbi, or in other words they weren’t his disciples. Secondly, their theology if you will didn’t agree with Jesus’ theology. The Pharisees especially didn’t believe that Jesus was teaching the way of God in accordance with the truth. They believed they had the truth and anyone who disagreed with them was not following God, and that included Jesus.

So after they butter him up, they then drop what they believe was the bombshell question. The question that would seal his fate either with the people or with the Romans. The question that would trap Jesus was, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
This was a huge question in Jesus day. Do you pay taxes or not. You see the Peasants (like Jesus’ family) were forced to pay upwards of 50% of their income to various taxes. Various taxes like Ground tax (10% of all grain and 20% of all wine and fruit), Income tax (1% of man’s income), Poll tax (paid by men 12-65 and women 14-65- 1 denarius a year). But they also were forced to pay other taxes like a local tax, a temple tax, and taxes to Herod. But it wasn’t just about the tax, as bad as that was, it was also about what the taxes stood for. It meant that Israel wasn’t free, wasn’t independent. That they were now under the rule and thumb of the Roman empire. And what Rome ruled they taxed and taxed heavily.

The Pharisees and Herodians believed that they were forcing him into an either/or. Either he would say to support the paying of the tax therefore alienating the crowd who hated Roman rule and by nature the taxes that came with it or denounce paying the taxes and then the group would go to the governor and accuse Jesus of treason and revolt. Either way he would lose something. Or so they thought. They thought they had him right where they wanted him. They were wrong. Jesus, the master at always finding a way out of these either/or dilemma’s and finding a third way.

Jesus knowing what they were up to, not being blinded by their flattery, asks them why they are trying to trap him. He then says, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”  They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. It’s interesting to note as an aside that he didn’t have a denarius on him.

So now this isn’t just a political or social question, this was also a religious question. You see there is a lot at play in relation to the coins. Jews were forbidden to make carved images. There were debates whether that included images like plants and flowers, but it definitely meant images of people. In fact, some of the devout Jews wouldn’t even touch or use the coins. And so they began making their own coins with the image of a palm leaf on them. And so Jesus is asking them, many in the Pharisee camp who probably wouldn’t hold or touch one, to go and find one.

They find one and he asks them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” And they reply Caesar’s. You see at the time the coins in use, the denarius, had an image of Tiberius on one side with the words “Augustus Tiberius. son of the divine Augustus.” above the image. And on the other side High priest, son of God, high priest” To a devout Jew this was no doubt totally offensive. I mean if the Romans wanted to be offensive to the Jews, they did a pretty good job of it with their coinage.
Once they have established whose image is imprinted on the coin, Jesus says these brilliant, and possibly misunderstood words, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” There are a number of ways to read his response to their question. First we could see him meaning, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar- pay the taxes but without the sting of submitting to Rome as your master. Or connected with that, since it’s Caesar’s blasphemous image on the coin, then send this filthy stuff back to where it came from. Secondly it could be taken that it echoes a Maccabean slogan from 200 years earlier during a revolt against Syrian rule, which said “pay back the Gentiles what they deserve and obey the commands of the law.” Jesus could be drawing their minds back to that revolt, and saying it as a revolutionary slogan for a different kind of Kingdom. The Kingdom of God where the one true God became King of the world. And lastly, Give to God what belongs to God. If the image stamped on the coin is Caesar, then give back to him what belongs to him. But Human beings bear the stamp, the image of God. Therefore all humans owe themselves, and their very lives to God. Caesar could have his image on coins, crowns, and robes. But life and creation have God’s stamp on them. Caesar could have his coins, but life is God’s. Caesar had no right to take what is God’s. God’s image is stamped on us like Caesar’s stamp and image on coins. God made us all including Caesar and he wants our lives. And I believe that if you give yourself wholly to God you would discover, like his followers then, that using violence to fight violence, and evil to fight evil, simply wouldn’t and won’t do.

But probably one of the most subversive things that Jesus meant when he said Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s , and give to God what is God’s, is in the fact that he refers to them as separate entities. He is saying that God is god and Caesar is not. The question then becomes who is truly King. One of the most subversive, radical, and treasonous things that Christians said in the face of the Roman empire is that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.

So when we boil it all down, the question really that we are wrestling with comes down to loyalty. Where does your loyalty lie? If you believe that everything is God’s, then there really is nothing left for Caesar. Once we have given God what is his, there really isn’t much or anything left for Caesar. Sure, pay taxes, Jesus would say but Jesus is the Lord. Our allegiance needs to be to him. Not to a country, a philosophy, a doctrine, a denomination, etc.. Total allegiance should be pledged to Jesus and to him alone.

So the question for us this morning is what is our Caesar? To whom have we given allegiance to in place of God? Where do our loyalties truly lie? And what is God saying to each of us about what is Caesar’s in our life, and what is truly God’s. That is where we’ll turn right now in our discussion time.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. To whom have we given allegiance to in place of God? Where do our loyalties truly lie? And what is God saying to each of us about what is Caesar’s in our life, and what is truly God’s.

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

The Last Week: Trouble in the Temple

March 2, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

TheLastWeek

Over the next few weeks, during this Christian season of Lent, which started last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and running through Easter/Resurrection Sunday, we’ll be exploring Jesus last week on earth, in our series The Last Week. We’ll exploring Jesus last week through the lens of the gospel of Mark.

Last week we started the series looking at the first day of Jesus last week, the story of Palm Sunday/Triumphal Entry found in Mark 11:1-11.

Today we are looking at the events and encounters that took place on what many call Holy Monday. To explore the events of Holy Monday we’ll look at Mark 11:12-21 together.

Mark 11:12-21 says, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.  Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

So what is going on in these two encounters? What in the world is Jesus doing in cursing a fig tree, and seemingly violently throwing out moneychangers? These two encounters seem so unlike Jesus so just what is actually going on? Well let’s unpack both encounters and see what they mean and what they have to do with each other.

First, let’s look at the beginning of Holy Monday, the cursing of the fig tree. We read, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.  Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.”

So Jesus, the day after the Triumphal Entry leaves Bethany heading for Jerusalem. He is hungry and sees a fig tree in leaf. When he gets to the tree he sees that there are leaves but no fruit. And he seemingly gets mad, even though it wasn’t the season for figs. And then he curses the fig tree. What in the word is going on here? What is Jesus doing in cursing a fig tree when it wasn’t even the season for figs?

First of all, this act of cursing a fig tree is actually a dramatic, acted parable indicating the meaning of what Jesus was going to do in the temple. It was a dramatic acted parable of judgment. To understand more of what is taking place we need to look back at Mark 1, to the purpose that Mark had in writing his gospel. Look at Mark 1:1 which says, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” This enacted parable of the fig tree spells out again Jesus identity and authority. His identity and authority as King of Kings (as seen in Mark 11) and as Lord of Lords. His authority over all of creation. You see in Jesus’ day there were symbolism behind the fig tree, and here Jesus is showing his power, his authority, and his identity through the cursing of the tree. In Jesus day there were 3 things that the fig tree came to represent in Jewish culture and in Greco-Roman culture. The first thing the fig tree was associated with was various deities, primarily the tree god Dionysus. This shows his authority not only over Israel but over the gods of the empire. Also in Greco/Roman culture the sudden withering or blossoming of any tree was considered a powerful omen of coming destruction or blessing. A withering tree outside of Jerusalem would be considered, especially by Mark’s gentile readers as a sign of disaster for that city. And lastly the fig tree in Jewish scriptures was symbolic of the nation of Israel.

Also in relation to the connection between the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple, we see that this tree was pointing to something but not delivering. It was the signpost pointing to a reality. And so if the fig tree represents Israel, then Jesus is not only judging the fig tree for not being a signpost pointing to a reality, but he is using the tree as a symbol of coming judgment on the nation of Israel and the temple. That the nation of Israel and the temple, though they appear to be leafy, are not keeping with the fruit that Jesus is calling them to. And so Jesus was not out to condemn a non-bearing tree; he was pronouncing judgment against the religious barrenness of the nation. The tree is not in trouble, the nation is. The tree has not rejected its Messiah, the nation has. The tree is being used as a symbol, not the object itself, of the judgment.

So after Jesus cursing the fig tree with these words, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” he moves on to Jerusalem where he enters the Temple and begins to cleanse it by driving out the moneychangers, and to turn over the tables of those selling animals. There are a few things that we need to get out of the way when we look at this part of the text. First, those who were the moneychangers and sellers of the animals were there because people needed to buy animals for their sacrifice. People came to Jerusalem and the temple to sacrifice to cover over their sins. Many of these people would bring their own animals to be sacrificed. Animals that they had raised, had cared for, had invested time and money into, all to be brought to the temple to be sacrificed by the priest. But the priests were ripping people off by telling them the animal they bought to sacrifice didn’t meet their purity standards. People were thus forced to purchase a “temple certified” animal. The priests would then confiscate the allegedly substandard animal, only to turn around and sell it to the next worshiper who was told the animal they had bought was substandard. It was a money-making scam.

Secondly, many see this story as Jesus endorsing violence. You’ll notice that in this text no where does Jesus actually attack the people or animals in the temple. He does whip them, or hit them at all. He drives them out, he overturns the tables, he judges the entire temple system. But it is not a violent act towards people. Greg Boyd has this to say about the supposed violence in this story, “while Jesus’ behavior was certainly aggressive, there’s no indication whatsoever that it involved violence. True, Jesus turned tables over. But this was to put an immediate stop to the corrupt commerce that was taking place as well as perhaps to free the caged animals. There’s no mention of any person or animal getting hurt in the process. And yes, Jesus made a whip. But there’s no mention of him using it to strike any animal, let alone human. Cracking a loud whip has always been the most effective means of controlling the movement of large groups of animals. Jesus wanted to create a stampede of animals out of the temple, and there’s no reason to conclude he used the whip for any other purpose than this.”

After Jesus clears out the moneychangers and drives out the animals he quotes from two separate Old Testament passages to claim the temple for what it should be, a signpost pointing to a reality, and not the reality itself. First he quotes from Isaiah 56:6-7 which says, “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” And then he quotes from Jeremiah 7:9-11 which says, “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” Both of these passages and Jesus act in the temple point us to the issue. That the religious leaders and the temple system were actually getting in the way of people experiencing and encountering God. The religious leaders as I mentioned above were ripping people off. The system itself was corrupt. Jesus was bringing judgment upon it. The temple was supposed to be a signpost pointing to the deeper reality of God and his love for humanity. Instead, it became the reality. You see the temple had been intended to symbolize God’s presence among his people for the sake of the world. But the way that it was organized when Jesus came to cleanse it, was not about the inclusion of other nations, but Gods’ seeming exclusion of them. The religious leaders were living out what the prophet Jeremiah had said all those years before, and so Jesus had no other choice than to judge it and cleanse it. It had jumped the tracks and was now running in the track of it’s own making. It had lost its reason for being. Jesus was judging it, and shutting it down. It would still go on for a few more years until Rome destroyed it in 70 AD but it had lost it’s true purpose of being a signpost. NT Wright says it like this, “The sacrificial system was therefore doubly redundant. It was part of the Temple system which had come to stand for the wrong things. It was part of the signpost system set up by God to draw the eye to the climatic achievement of Jesus himself on the cross.”

So the question that all of this raises in my mind is have we as the church gotten off the rails? We are meant to be the signpost pointing to the reality, that of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection and his love for the world. Have we been a signpost pointing to Jesus, a signpost pointing to ourselves, or making the church the reality, when it is about Jesus. Have we gotten in the way of others experiencing the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus? What would Jesus say or do if he came in this morning? What tables would he need to flip in our own lives? What things would he judge in our corporate lives that has gotten in the way of being inclusive and allowing others to experience him? What would he drive out of us to make room for others to find him? Those are the things that I want to unpack together in our corporate discussion time.

1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What tables would Jesus need to flip in our own lives? What things would he judge in our corporate lives that have gotten in the way of being inclusive and allowing others to experience him? What would he drive out of us to make room for others to find him?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

The Last Week: What Kind of King is Jesus

February 23, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today is the first Sunday of Lent and the first Sunday of our series called The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus life here on earth.

Before we jump into the Scripture and the story of the Sunday before Jesus death on the cross, better known as Palm Sunday, I thought I would share a little bit on Lent for those who didn’t grow up in the church or are unaware of what Lent is. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, repentance, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. It’s the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it’s about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Lent runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.

Over the next 6 weeks we will look at the Last week of Jesus life. We will walk through Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We will also spend 1 Sunday (March 22) in service to our world. And we’ll spend one Sunday gathering around the Table for a time of reflection, a simple meal, feet washing, and communion. And all throughout these next 6 weeks we’ll be looking through the lens of the gospel of Mark as he tells the story of Jesus last week on this earth.

So today we’ll be looking at the story that occurs on the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes called Palm Sunday but also called the Triumphal Entry. This story happens in all 4 of the Gospels but we’ll be looking at this story, as I mentioned before, through the lens of Mark. So turn to Mark 11:1-11 as we begin to talk about and explore what kind of King is Jesus.

Mark 11:1-11 tells the story this way, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,  saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it,  some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

So today we are going to look at this familiar text but through a new lens, the lens of Kingship and royalty. We are going to talk about what kind of King is Jesus and we’ll see that this story begins to show us what kind of King Jesus actually is. We’ll also see the connections between this story, and the story of Moses and the Exodus. And we’ll also unpack the political and religious understandings that are happening within this story.

Now the first thing that you need to know about is when this story took place. It happened during Passover, which commemorates God delivering the Israelites out of the hand of the world’s first superpower/empire Egypt. Being that this took place during Passover Jerusalem would have swelled to twice the size that it normally was. Travelers and Pilgrims would be there as would the powers that be. You see Passover again was all about freedom time and kingdom time. The time when all the hopes and dreams of freedom, of God’s sovereign hand, and God’s deliverance would again happen. The Jewish public were looking for a second Moses, one to deliver them out of the hands of Rome, the current Empire under whose thumb they currently resided. They were looking for a King in the line of David who would ride into Jerusalem, kick out the Romans and set up a new Empire/Kingdom. And their eyes turned to Jesus. Their messianic hopes rested on Jesus.

So Jesus made the trip from Jericho up to Bethpage, and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. The trip from Jericho to Jerusalem is only 17 miles but goes from 825 feet below sea level to 2500 hundred feet above sea level, rising more than 3000 feet in such a short distance. When travelers would crest the hill at Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem would come into view. Jerusalem, the home to their hopes, dreams, and their faith. It reminds me in some small way of the first time that I saw the Tetons rising from the earth. Kim and I were driving in Wyoming and we crested a hill and off in the distance we got our first view of the Tetons and it took our breath away.

Once Jesus and his disciples climbed that hill, their destination came into view, the city in which the son of man would be crucified as a common criminal. When their arrived Jesus sent two disciples into the village of Bethany (where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived) to get a colt that no one had ever ridden. This is the second and third pieces of evidence in connecting this story to Jesus being King and finding out what kind of King he is. You see in the Mishnah (Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah”. It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature) there is an instruction that says “no one may use an animal on which a king rides” So Jesus got two of his disciples to get a colt that no one had ever ridden knowing that this was going to set off flags in his disciple’s minds that this move was a royal move, a coronation if you will. That was the second piece of evidence in seeing Jesus as King.

The third piece was his choice in choosing not to walk but to ride into Jerusalem. His choice, gives us a clue into what type of King Jesus is. You see a warrior King (like King David) would have gotten a war horse or something very majestic. But Jesus got a colt and was seeking to show his disciples and others that he was a King of peace. Colts were ridden by men of peace not by men of war. Also Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy about the coming peaceful King and his Kingdom from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a war horse to establish his Kingdom. No, he rode on a peace animal into the heart of the empire to have the empire eventually kill him and shed his blood in order for his Kingdom to be established. Instead of a King who shed others blood, he had the empire shed his blood. All of the while being a King, a King of peace, again symbolized by his choice of animals.

We also see the royal connection related to an earlier coronation found in 1 Kings 1:38-40 with the coronation of Solomon, “So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon.  There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!”  And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.” This doesn’t sound too different than what we read in Mark 11.

So once they had gotten the colt, they spread cloaks on it as a saddle, and then Jesus got on it and off they went. Now here is where we see another royal or kingly understanding and expectation that the people had for Jesus. They began to spread their cloaks and branches on the ground in front of Jesus. And they began to shout “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” There are a few things that we can see from this part of the text that shows us that the people believed him to be King, but not the kind of King he actually was. No, they pictured him like all the other kings. Jesus however was not the sort of royalty that either Israel or the rest of the world were used to.

There is an Old Testament tradition that when one of Israel’s Kings of old was proclaimed King in defiance of an existing one, his followers would spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty (see 2 Kings 9:13). They were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on. They would also wave branches that they had cut from the trees to make a celebratory procession for this King. This too carried “royal implications”. So the people laid down their cloaks and waved palm branches, no doubt knowing what they were doing. They were seeking to proclaim Jesus king in defiance of the current rulers, not only the Jewish ones but even more importantly that rulers of the Roman Empire. They believed that now was the time, and Jesus was the man. Jesus was going to deliver them from the hands of their oppressors.

You see their hopes were not in a King of Peace, but in a King of war when they shouted, “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David”. They were hoping that Jesus would initiate again a Davidic Kingdom. A Kingdom where the Messiah would rule and reign over Israel and not some foreign empire. Where a Jewish person would establish Jewish rule and reign and lead his people to freedom, deliverance, and prosperity not seen since David was King. All their hope and dreams from all those years under the thumb of Rome come exploding to the surface and they proclaim Jesus King. But as we see less than a week later Jesus, the King not spilling the blood of his enemies and establishing his Kingdom, but allowing his enemies to spill his blood and establishing his Kingdom of peace, salvation, redemption, and reconciliation.

We have definitely seen in this account of the triumphal entry that Mark is definitely emphasizing the idea of Jesus as King. I believe that this coronation if you will, this triumphal entry was one of the many reasons that came together that week in order to get Jesus killed. Royalty and others in power want to stay in power, and when they see a challenge to their power and throne, they fight it with all their power and strength.

No doubt, as we have seen in this story, that Jesus is indeed the King, but not in the way that many expected him to be. He is indeed the King of Kings. His rule and reign will move on from this time forward or as Handel’s Messiah says, “The kingdom of this world Is become the kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ, and of His Christ;And He shall reign for ever and ever, For ever and ever, forever and ever,” But what does this mean for us today? What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King, but not in the way that we expect or even hope? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read the rest of Scripture? And what are you seeking to lay down into front of King Jesus showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign? These are some of the questions that we’ll unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King (though not in the way we expect or hope)? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read Scripture?

3. What are you seeking to lay down in front of King Jesus and therefore showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith Week 7: How do you share your faith without pushing others away?- Matt Wheeler preaching

February 16, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Good morning! Today, we are wrapping up our 7-part iDoubt series. You can find the sermon notes from the first 6 parts at www.veritaschurchpa.com. Today’s topic: How do we share our faith in a way that won’t push others away?

We will look at the Scripture for today, from I Peter 3, in just a moment. I would like to begin with the same disclaimer that Ryan has put on each installment of this series thus far. It is important for us as brothers & sisters in Christ to agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. We can also agree that we are allowed to express different points today, & that, if we do, we should do so with an attitude of love and grace. Let us explore this question, seeking God’s truth, & submitting ourselves as a community to Jesus. Through Christ, we can have love & grace for everyone – even those who we might strongly disagree with.

The key verse here is verse 15, but let’s look at some more of its context for a fuller picture. Let us read I Peter 3:13-18:
I Peter 3:13-18 (NIV)
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

It is natural for those of us who have been – & are being – saved by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, His death & resurrection, His victory over sin & over death, to want to share about it. We have been invited into the larger story, to know our Creator, our Savior, & to live for a greater purpose. It only makes sense that this reality would be central to our lives as Jesus’ followers, & that we should unashamedly identify with Him & be happy to let others know it. The question is – what does that look like in day-to-day life? Are we to direct every conversation into a discussion about Jesus? Should we be willing to bully people into believing as we do?

Make no mistake, the truth that we desire to share when we speak of “sharing our faith” is not merely a mental assent. It is possible, on an intellectual level, to know quite a lot ABOUT Christ, without actually KNOWING Him. I have heard a saying about the importance of knowing Christ being not just in our mind, but in our heart – making that “18 inch move” from head to heart. What I think that phrase is trying to express is that knowing Christ is about relationship – about trusting, about conversation, about becoming more like Jesus because we have been around Him & know what He is really like.

I see sharing my faith as more about introducing a person to my best friend & less about winning a debate. And that fundamentally shapes how I would answer the question we are exploring this morning. You see, I don’t think it is ME that does the saving, but rather God working through the Holy Spirit in the lives of others that saves them. That does not mean that I have no responsibility in the matter – I am to be Christ’s hands & feet to others, to be a vessel of His grace & love, & that may take a variety of forms, depending on who it is that Jesus has put in front of me. A good question to ask ourselves is, “What is the Good News to this person right now”? If it is your birthday, & what you really would like is day trip to New York City, & I ignore any hints that you have been dropping to that extent, & just get you what I think you might like, & I end up getting you a bowling ball, you might get the sense that I don’t know you very well, or don’t care to. Maybe I just really like bowling, so I figured that a bowling ball would be a great gift, never mind that you have never shown the faintest interest in bowling. It is a somewhat silly example, but it says a lot about how important it is to earn the right to vulnerability with another person. To get to know Christ requires some vulnerability, some openness to the Truth of Christ, & I need to approach it with more than just a persuasive argument. And that is where the gentle, humble element of our faith-sharing comes in. Matthew Henry said, “The readiness of the Christian’s defence of himself and the Church from all moral aspersions is not to be marred by any self-exaltation or improper confidence.” We are vessels for sharing Jesus’ truth, not trumpeting what wonderful communicators we are, or what big hearts we must have for caring to share the Good News with other people.

The song “Hands & Feet” by The Brilliance illustrates a lot of what I have been talking about. I want to take a few moments & play the song for you – here it is.

Hands & Feet
by The Brilliance
Lyrics:
For all the strides we’ve made

For all our blessings

We’ve fallen far away from truth

Turning our face away 

From this hurting race

We’ve turned our face away from You



We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak



For every broken heart

For every widow

For those without shelter from the rain

We lift our eyes to You

Looking for answers

When we have been called to ease the pain



We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak



So here we are

Words can only go so far

Draw us closer Your heart

Bring us back to You, bring us back to You



We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak


We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak



Here we are

Words can only go so far

Draw us closer to Your heart

Bring us back to You, bring us back to You

Bring us back to You, bring us back to You

Please understand, I do not mean to play down the usefulness of words when sharing our faith. We talked last week in our discussion about the “blessing strategy” & the “speaking strategy” for sharing our faith, though I grant that I may not have the wording of the terms we used exactly right. I think that a balance is possible. And, as much as the popular quote that St. Francis of Assisi may or may not have said – the “Preach the Gospel, & use words when necessary” quote – is used, words are extraordinarily valuable in sharing our faith, when they are backed up by our actions & shared in love as we have earned relationship with others. Interestingly, something that St. Francis of Assisi definitely DID write sheds some more light on how to share our faith. He said, “…love one another, as the Lord says: ‘This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.’ And let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.’” He also said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” & “…As for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.” Consider also, though, Romans 10:14, in which Paul says, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” I believe that the right approach comes from balancing both of these factors.

To quote the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “To love another person is to help them love God. “ What does this mean to you? What does sharing your faith in Christ mean to you? Let’s discuss this.

Questions:
1. What thoughts/comments/pushback/encouragements do you have based on these Scriptures & this message?

2. What experiences have you had with sharing your faith in Christ with others, whether in word or deed?  What words or actions by others do you feel helped point you to Christ?

3. So what – what does this mean for you individually, & for us as a church community?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith Week 6- “Is Jesus the only way?”

February 9, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we are looking at probably one of the most challenging questions that we got, but a question that if you are engaging with anyone in our world and culture, you’ll eventually have to answer in one way or another. The iDoubt: Questions about Faith question that we’ll be exploring today is “Is Jesus the only way?”

This question is a question that each of us as follower’s of Jesus need to wrestle with, think through, and seek God on. I think too often this question however become a litmus test when asked. From the more “conservative” side of things, it is a question on whether or not you are an orthodox Christian or not. From the more “liberal” side of things it is a question about tolerance, supposed bigotry, pride, and arrogance.

So let me reiterate something that I’ve said a few times during this series and then I have a few more things to say before we jump into the Scripture for the morning. First, let’s agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. That is okay. Can we also agree that we are allowed to express different points today but can we also agree to do it with an attitude of love and grace. Can we seek God’s truth in this question and submit ourselves as a community to Jesus? And can we have love and grace for everyone even those who you might strongly disagree with.

Secondly, when we approach this subject of the exclusivity of Jesus, we go to the text that we’ll be looking at today especially verse 6 in John 14. This text has been used to clobber people over the head with Jesus. Can I say that that posture is wrong. Anytime we have used this text to demean, put down, cause harm, hurt, or inflict violence on someone else, this is not in the spirit of Jesus. When the church uses violence it ceases to be the church and becomes the world. We have seen too many times Churches and Christians who have been arrogant and violent in how they have presented the gospel. So let’s agree never to use this text as a means of clobbering someone.

Thirdly, I want to say straight out that I believe that all truth is God’s truth. I believe that there is a level of truth and beauty in all religions. There is something to be affirmed in almost every religion (I wondered about whether Satanism was a religion and is there something to be affirmed in that or not). I never want to pretend that I am a better person, more worthy, etc.. because I follow Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus should never lead us into arrogance, self-righteousness, or condemning of others. Jesus never condemned anyone.

Fourthly, let’s move this discussion away from which religion is right and which religion is wrong. I am not referring to religion in this message. The text that we’ll be looking at isn’t about religion. It is first and foremost about Jesus, and to be completely honest, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came so that we could be reconciled and redeemed to God, each other, and the world/creation around us. And live in this reality that he called the Kingdom of God.

And lastly, something that we’ll seek to address in this message is the secondary question, “If Jesus is the only way, what is he the only way to?” Is this Jesus’ way of saying “I am the only way to heaven” or is there more to it than that?

Okay. With those things out of the way let’s turn to our text for today John 14:1-9 and let’s talk about the question, “Is Jesus the only way?”

John 14:1-9 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Let’s do a little bit of historical research that will help us understand this passage a little better before we really get down to verse 6.

First thing that we need to know about this chapter and the next 3 chapters (running from chapter 14-17) is that this section is called the Farewell discourse and Jesus spends a great deal amount of these chapters informing and commenting on his impending death on the cross. So much of the conversations in these chapters relate to prepping his disciples for what was to take place and how this one event in history would shake the foundations of the world as they knew it, and how that event would then ripple throughout history into our own time and beyond our time.

Let’s look deeper at verses 1-3 and see what Jesus is actually saying Verses 1-3 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus here is using a metaphor of marriage to talk about relationship with him. There is definitely a Bride and Groom metaphor that is taking place. To understand that we need to understand the 1st Century Jewish betrothal and marriage process. The first step in 1st Century Jewish marriage process is the marriage covenant. The Father of the groom would give a dowery to the Bride’s family and therefore establishing a marriage covenant. When the Bride agreed to the arrangement that is when the betrothal would begin. The second step is that the son would return to his Father’s house to prepare the bridal chamber and the annex (connected to the Father’s house) that the bride and groom would live in. This process of building their living quarters would take roughly a year. The third step would be that once the annex was completed, the Father of the Groom would give the okay to the groom that the annex was ready and it was time to go get his bride. Then the groom and the groomsmen would set off for the bride’s house. Although the Bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she didn’t know the time of His coming, and as a result the groom’s arrival was preceded by a shout, which forewarned the Bride to be prepared for his coming. Once the groom got his bride, he would take her back to the Bridal chamber and consummation the marriage.

So we see this marriage process being talked about in relation to Jesus’ church, his bride. Here we see the process of Jesus giving us a marriage contract, by dying on the cross, then going to his Father, and eventually resurrecting. Now the interesting thing about this is that most of the time when we hear the word place in this text we think of heaven. That this text is about going to heaven. Now that is certainly true. But I believe Jesus is talking not only about a physical place but probably more so about an abiding relationship. So the reference’s to the Father’s House are not to be taken totally as a synonym for heaven. Instead this reference to the Father’s house needs to be read first in the context of mutual indwelling of God and Jesus. This idea of Jesus taking up residence within us has been stressed from the opening verses of the Gospel. So yes, as I said before, there is the idea of heaven in this passage, but even more so it is about a relationship here and now with Jesus, and allowing Jesus to live in and through you. And him creating a way for us to enter into God’s Family and to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God.

And so after Jesus talks about his going away, he tells them that, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus, I believe is talking and reminding the disciples of the last 3 years of their lives in which they spent learning the way of Jesus. He is saying that you have been with me for 3 years and you have seen the way that I have lived, how I have loved people, even my enemies, how I have served others, how I have healed others, how I have lived out the Kingdom of God in front of you. And so he is reminding them of all these things and is saying to them, “You know the way to the Kingdom. Just follow my example.”

Then Thomas, I believe missing what Jesus was really saying, asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is frightened about the prospect of Jesus going away, and how he would live without Him. He was also struggling with the realization that the earthly Kingdom where Jesus and the disciples reigned in power was not going to happen, and that Jesus was not going to kill to take over the reigns of the empire, but be killed by the empire to set up his rule and reign and the Kingdom of God. One thing that many people think he was asking that he really wasn’t was “Jesus are all non-Christians going to Hell?”

And so we come to the verse which all of you have been wanting some help in understanding. In verse 6 Jesus replying to Thomas’ question about knowing the way, says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This verse is multifaceted and multidimensional. First of all Jesus is seeking to answer the question that Thomas asked in the verse 5 but also comfort him. What Jesus is saying here to Thomas is something like, “When I’m gone, continue to do the works I do. Follow the pattern I have set before you in the way I lived my life, and you’ll be following the way. And when you follow the way, you’ll be in relationship with God through me.” This statement is connecting back to the beginning of the chapter where we talked about being in an abiding relationship with Him. What he is saying is if you want to know God, then know and live out how I lived my life. Because later on in this text we see him saying, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The primary question that is being asked isn’t about access to heaven and Jesus is saying, “You have to get through me to get to God and be in heaven.” No the primary thing that Jesus is talking about here is about life in the Kingdom and being a disciple. John 14:6 doesn’t define who is in and who is out, it defines who God is for the disciples. That God is Father. It defines Christology for us that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” (Hebrew 1:3) Gail O’Day has this to say, “The particularism of John 14:6-7 does de facto establish boundaries; it says, ‘This is who we are. We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ.” Rather than using it as a means of condemning others, it should be seen as a doxological statement of who we are as children of the Father through Jesus And so this statement in John 14:6 is about the incarnation of Jesus, coming to earth so that we could see what God is truly like. And then we can pattern our life around this God that we see in Jesus. And then live the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life best known as the Kingdom of God. I like how Eugene Peterson puts it, “Only when you do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get to the Jesus life.”

So the original question was “Is Jesus the only way?” I assume the ending of that question is “to go to heaven when you die”. But I don’t believe that this is the primary question that Jesus is answering in this text. I do believe that our question is part of what he is getting at, but a small part of it. (Look at what Luke says in Acts 4:11-12, “Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”) Do I believe Jesus is the way to the Father. Yes, I believe that Jesus and the Father are one. So that when you know Jesus you know the Father. I like what Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say in Re:Jesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.”

I think then that this text is asking us a few questions which take us back to the first week where we explored the question of “What is a disciple?” I think this text is primarily asking us these 3 questions: 1. Am I living the Jesus truth? Yes we need to live the Jesus truth but not isolate from the others because if we only focus on the truth it yields a disembodied orthodoxy which means all the right words with no behavior to make the words believable. We need all 3. 2. Am I living the Jesus way? Do I know how Jesus lived his life, and I am committed to living my life in the same way (through the Holy Spirit’s power)? And lastly 3. Am I living the Jesus’ life. Am I living out Jesus life in and through my own life?

So let’s talk about your questions, thoughts, ideas on the question itself “Is Jesus the only way?”, the message, and the Scripture. Let’s also talk about how we as individuals and as a community seek to live out the Jesus truth, the Jesus way, and the Jesus life and which one we struggle with the most. And what God might be saying to us and what we should do about it?

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question “Is Jesus the only way?”, the Scripture and/or the message?

2. How as individuals and as a community live out the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life? Which one of these do you have the hardest time living into?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

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