John the Baptist, speaking: "For the one whom God sent speaks the authentic words of God — and there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him! The Father loves the Son and has put everything into his hand. The man who believes in the Son has eternal life. The man who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; he lives under the anger of God." (John 3:34-36)
While John the Baptist lands with a THUD on that position of non-acceptance, let’s go back and consider all the glories he first attributes to Jesus:
1) He “speaks the authentic words of God” – The Incarnate God, the “Word,” cannot fail, every time He opens His mouth, to speak the authentic, fresh, original words of God. In other words, Jesus letting out a sigh is Scripture!
2) “there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him” – And, actually, because the Greek in this phrase is fairly porous, it can also mean that there’s no measuring of the Holy Spirit Jesus can give. Glory!
3) “The Father loves the Son…” – John the Baptist is the first Christ-follower who understands the Father-Son relationship going on in front of him; he’s the first to speak of the Father-God as Father.
4) “and [the Father] has put everything into his hand” – It’s difficult to put this concept into other words. It’s almost like the exact polar opposite to the power of the U.S. President as he carries around with him the nuclear launch-codes. That power, in the negative, is the power of universal catastrophic death. Instead, Jesus carried with Him the fullness of all the heavenly things; He, a Man, walked along holding universal supernatural LIFE.
5) So, INDEED “the man who believes in the Son has eternal life” – And that’s not just “someday in Heaven” sort of language. The word for “has” here is in the 3rd Person, Present Indicative Active; the one “believing” today “HAS life eternal," ALREADY, TODAY. Are you presently experiencing that verb-tensing as your inheritance-in-Him?
And how do all these descriptions hit your heart today?
Then Jesus took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be in terrible distress and misery. “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them, “stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he walked on a little way and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me—yet it must not be what I want, but what you want.” (Matthew 26:37-39)
Words with which we're intimately familiar. We've all heard all the talks and sermons about this passage before.
But: did you know that, in Matthew's account, that's not actually what He says? Read it in the original:
"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you."
Out of His own experience of being human, Jesus has learned the inner reality of what it means to have a will and to express - to act upon - that will. Like us, He had a mind that perceived, pondered and made decisions; like us, He had a will that operated at His soul/spirit level. But read it again:
"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you."
What if Jesus is telling us here that what we think of as "the will of God" is inseparable from the very nature of God: "but as you"? What if the seat of the so-called "will" in God is actually only His soul/spirit, ie. the Holy Spirit? Thus, what if to know the Spirit is to know all the mysteries of God? What if to release our own will is the first step into a complete absorption into His very being: "but as you"?
I think we think of our lives as this balancing act between "my will" and "God's will"; what if it's actually a question of your will vs. the I AM? Your little drop in the bucket vs. THE WHOLE OCEAN?
“Once upon a time,” Jesus said, “there was a magistrate in a town who had neither fear of God nor respect for his fellow-men. There was a widow in the town who kept coming to him, saying, ‘Please protect me from the man who is trying to ruin me.’ And for a long time he refused. But later he said to himself, ‘Although I don’t fear God and have no respect for men, yet this woman is such a nuisance that I shall give judgment in her favor, or else her continual visits will be the death of me!’”
Then the Lord said, “Notice how this dishonest magistrate behaved. Do you suppose God, patient as he is, will not see justice done for his chosen, who appeal to him day and night? I assure you he will not delay in seeing justice done. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find men on earth who believe in him?” (Luke 18:2-8)
These two paragraphs show the heart of the constant pray-er and the heart of God, who is so much better than that magistrate, patient and kind, never failing to respond to us...
But did you notice the “Yet” that begins that last statement? It would seem that Jesus is far more interested in our complete belief in Him, in His person and His goodness, than in acting as an arbiter in worldly matters of “justice.” (And, truth be told, our belief in One who took a total injustice to settle the demands of Eternal Justice would tend to calm our desire for personal, day-to-day justice!)
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his Ethics: "Jesus concerns himself hardly at all with the solution of worldly problems. When He is asked to do so His answer is remarkably evasive (Matt. 22.15ff; Luke 12.13). Indeed He scarcely ever replies to men’s questions directly, but answers rather from a quite different plane. His word is not an answer to human questions and problems; it is the answer of God to the question of God to man. His word is essentially determined not from below but from above. It is not a solution, but a redemption."
“Then the king will say to those on his right ‘Come, you who have won my Father’s blessing! Take your inheritance—the kingdom reserved for you since the foundation of the world! For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was lonely and you made me welcome. I was naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you came and looked after me. I was in prison and you came to see me there.”
“Then the true men will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you lonely and make you welcome, or see you naked and clothe you, or see you ill or in prison and go to see you?’
“And the king will reply, ‘I assure you that whatever you did for the humblest of my brothers you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Because - did you know? - this Jesus made all flesh - created it as the "Word" whose voice breathes life - and He made all men sacred by making them "in his own image and likeness, and then He took on flesh Himself, so that He might experience this journey alongside us, and then He returned to the Throneroom of Heaven - as that Man! - so that humanity now has a place there, with Him...
Everyday, meeting each other, we are always meeting Him. No matter the place or station we each, as people, inhabit.
How might that change the way we encounter this particular day ahead?
On the following day John the Baptist was again standing with two of his disciples. He looked straight at Jesus as he walked along, and said, “There is the lamb of God!” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Then Jesus turned round and when he saw them following him, spoke to them. “What do you want?” he said.
“Master, where are you staying?” they replied.
“Come and see,” returned Jesus.
So they went and saw where he was staying and remained with him the rest of that day. It was then about four o’clock in the afternoon. (John 1:35-39)
The very first impulse of these first two followers’ hearts carried the seed of what will become the full flowering tree of the Kingdom of Heaven. Consider verse 39 in the most exact wording of the Greek:
“He says to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they went and saw where He ABIDES; and with Him they ABIDED that day.”
How beautiful that when the Savior’s eyes fastened upon them, asking, “What do you want?” that these two men fastened their lives to His, went to where He abided and chose to abide in Him. If they never did much of anything else, they’d already done everything right…
Let us do the very same thing today.
Then Jesus went out of the Temple, and was walking away when his disciples came up and drew his attention to its buildings. “You see all these?” replied Jesus. “I tell you every stone will be thrown down till there is not a single one left standing upon another.” And as he was sitting on the slope of the Mount of Olives his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will this happen? What will be the signal for your coming and the end of this world?” Matthew 24:1-3
Now this I find fascinating - and, in a way, fascinatingly familiar. Here the disciples are: Sitting on a shoulder of the Mount of Olives, under the shade of the trees, looking across the Kidron Valley toward the city and the Temple. Right next to them is the Event-of-all-human-history Himself: the One who has come: the Bringer - for all time - of the Kingdom-Age of humanity: He who makes it "on earth as it is in heaven." And their questions to Him? "When will some events happen? When will you show up? When will Heaven's ways arrive?" And while I know that they are thinking toward the Second Coming, I don't think their questions are too terribly dissimilar to how we like to ask: "When will things change for me? Are you really with me, Jesus? Can't you just do this one little thing for me?"
If the disciples had had the self-possession to actually possess the moment they're now in, they might've wanted to use this conversation this way: "Jesus, you've been mentioning being betrayed, being killed, rising from the dead: can you tell us more about that?" Or: "Jesus, what would you like each of us to do for you... even just for the rest of this day?"
For us - and did you know this? - the greatest answer to all our theological questions and the very best way to await the Second Coming with great expectancy is to actively, demonstratively, listen to and obey this Jesus of Nazareth - today. The future is His realm: Eternity. Our place, our time, is Today. With Him.
What are today's questions you have for Him?
"You, my brother, are not a servant any longer; you are a son. And, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir of God through Christ.
"At one time when you had no knowledge of God, you were under the authority of gods who had no real existence. But now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by him, how can you revert to dead and sterile principles and consent to be under their power all over again? Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Frankly, you stagger me, you make me wonder if all my efforts over you have been wasted!" Galatians 4:7-11
Consider the underlying statements in that second paragraph, one by one:
1) “gods who had no real existence” – Can you picture people who’ve made their own god by their own labor and now bow down to worship it in all its false glory? “Oh, thou Chair that I hath crafted and hath hewn with my own hands, certainly you are the god of all the planets!”
2) “you have come to know God, or rather are known by him” – Aren’t you floored by that sentiment?! The actual God of the universe who actually crafted the entirety of Creation is the One who actually knows you! The One who saw our fallen sinful selves and wouldn’t accept our separation and, so, sent His Son to redeem us by His blood! The One who literally took on flesh and then walked out a perfect life, giving us a glimpse of the immensity of the Godhead in human form! The One who took the penalty of our sin – tried, mocked, flogged, condemned, murdered – so that we might taste His life eternal! The One who strode out of the tomb to show the power of the unquenchable Life and ascended to take His kingly-priestly place at the right hand of the Father! Yes, that One “knows” us!
3) “Your religion” is becoming a matter of “seasons or years” – If you and I choose to become “Sunday-only Christians,” observing only one day as our “season” for worship, we’re taking the enormity of our God and treating Him as befits a mute idol. Essentially, we’re sitting ourselves down in the lap of that false god “Chair”; we just so happen to call it a church pew...
You see, the greatest glory in all human history is the Eternal God conforming Himself into the shape of a man to save us from our sin. But then the greatest human tragedy is when we try to conform that overwhelming glory to the whims of our lifestyle. May it never be so for us, Brothers and Sisters! We are Sons and Daughters now!
In Luke's Gospel, we get to witness an interesting little scene between Jesus and His disciples, regarding prayer and "how to pray." The text from Luke 11 is below in bold italics with some thoughts to follow each stanza:
One day it happened that Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John used to teach his disciples.”
"When you pray,” returned Jesus, and you can picture the Twelve piously closing their eyes…
“you should say, ‘Father… All their eyes must’ve immediately opened. “No, Jesus! We want you to teach us how to pray, not just hear how you do it! Something like, ‘O Eternal Smiter of the Amalekites, Jebusites, Hittites etc…’” But Jesus actually meant this opener, didn't He? He wants you and I to draw near to the Creator and Sustainer of all things, lifting up our hands and hearts to Him, and begin with…"Dad!" Doesn’t that thought make your heart leap with joy?
may your name be honored… By which we’re expressing both our desire and our personal intent. Do we want to see His name honored? Well then, let’s honor it ourselves...
may your kingdom come! When we pray these words, we’re doing three concurrent things: 1) We’re drawing a demarcation between this world and the Heavenly Kingdom of Jesus 2) We’re expressing our desire that His Kingdom’s “otherness” would actually show up 3) Hopefully we’re aligning our lives and hearts with the doings that actually cause that Kingdom to arrive on the scene.
Give us each day the bread we need… This phrase reminds our minds and hearts that only He provides for our needs. And that our need/desire/gratitude should only look to this particular day, not to the future. For He gives no frame of reference for weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual consumption of bread, does He? He is the provider of the manna, after all...
and forgive us our sins, for we forgive anyone who owes anything to us… This is the only phrase He prays with a qualifying clause: “Please do this for us because we’re already doing it ourselves…” And I love how casually He seems to throw that last part in! Imagine Him looking at His friends with twinkling eyes and a hint of a smile, as He prayed these words. That clause calls up - or it should call up - hearts of true forgiveness in us everyday: Our forgiveness by Him must elicit forgiveness of others for Him...
and keep us clear of temptation.’” Remember: Our greatest weapon against sin – in fact, our only weapon against sin – is the hand and presence of our God, leading us along. Truly, we have nothing else but Him!
“Alas for you, you blind leaders! You say, ‘if anyone swears by the Temple it amounts to nothing, but if he swears by the gold of the Temple he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools, which is the more important, the gold or the Temple which sanctifies the gold? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar it doesn’t matter, but if he swears by the gift placed on the altar he is bound by his oath.’ Have you no eyes—which is more important, the gift, or the altar which sanctifies the gift? Any man who swears by the altar is swearing by the altar and whatever is offered upon it; and anyone who swears by the Temple is swearing by the Temple and by him who dwells in it; and anyone who swears by Heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the one who sits upon that throne." Matthew 23:16-22
Yesterday, at the Anchor gathering, we talked about how, if you invert the wordings/meanings of Matthew 23, you end up with a glorious picture of the New Covenant life that is ours. Take a look at these seven verses, turned upside-down into the Way of Jesus and see what I mean:
“Oh, and blessed are you, you wide-eyed servants! You say, ‘if anyone lives by the Presence of God it amounts to absolutely everything, and if he lives by the inheritance of the Kingdom he is freed by the blood of Jesus.’ You brilliant friends, they are really the same, aren’t they: the Kingdom-inheritance and my Presence that brings the Kingdom? And you also say, ‘If anyone is saved by the Cross, it is life, and if he then lives by the power of the Resurrection, he is given a brand new life.’ Oh! I’m so impressed by your spiritual eyes! For, yes, the two go perfectly together, don’t they: the Cross and the New Life that springs from the tomb? So, any man who lives under the blood of the Cross need only go a step further to meet me at the dawn of Easter and receive the ‘life, life to the full’ I offer. And anyone who lives by my Presence is living already in the Kingdom and by me who dwells in it; and anyone who delves deep into my inheritance is living at the throne of God already, and by me who sits upon that throne."
Isn't it amazing that we follow the Man who spoke Matthew 23's judgments in the new and living Way given by His Spirit? Thank you, Jesus!
"Then the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is quite ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it. So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’ So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike. And the hall became filled with guests. But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding. ‘How did you come in here, my friend,’ he said to him, ‘without being properly dressed for the wedding?’ And the man had nothing to say. Then the king said to the ushers, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside. There he can weep and regret his folly!’ For many are invited but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:8-14
Since you and I have already been "invited" to the Wedding Feast, and now are getting ready, standing in front of the mirror, combing our hair, checking our teeth, what are we meant to be wearing... today and everyday?
How about these:
Isaiah 61 – “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…”
1 Peter 5 – “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
Ephesians 4 – “… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Colossians 3 – “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…”
Oh, but how will we ever put on all of these things; how will we ever be properly clothed; how will we ever fit in at this wondrous Wedding Feast?!
Romans 13 – “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”
The reason that the king in the parable so immediately noticed the wrongly-dressed man was that he specifically wasn't "dressed for a wedding." The reason that this Christianity thing doesn't seem to be working, seems hard, seems burdensome, is because we haven't started by putting Jesus on. "Abide in me," He says, "and I in you."
Friends, don't try to come to the Wedding Feast dressed as yourself: the only way through the door, the only way out onto the dance-floor, is in His likeness. The Father wants to see Jesus. He is the Bridegroom and the way for the Bride to get into the party.
"Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn’t it his action which really justified him in God’s sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? Can’t you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners—that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.’ A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes." James 2:21-24
How does that last verse - 2:24 - read in the language of the original Greek?
"You see that a man is set right by works, and not by faith alone."
Let's examine that idea, step by step: If Jesus came to live the works of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we can see precisely what the life of Heaven is like by reading His exploits in the four Gospels. Yet external works were not enough for Jesus, were they? He wanted to get those works inside the hearts of those who'd repent and believe in Him.
So He died to end the separating influence and condemnation of Sin, thus giving us the possibility of being made a pure dwelling-place of His Presence. And then He rose to conquer human death, and so that He might be alive to reign over the Kingdom and rule it from within us. Then, ascending, He took His place at the head of all Kingdom of Heaven affairs, and, in sending the Holy Spirit, took His place directly in the hearts of His people...
So the reason that our justification - our being "set right" - is found in both faith and works is because, in faith and works, we are a union-place of Jesus-then and Jesus-now: we show the Kingdom as it was in the three years of His personal ministry - when He was making humanity right - and the Kingdom as it is now - with Jesus forever on the throne.
It is our joy - and our job - to act as the junction for the inner and outer workings of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us be living that life with relish this Easter Week!
One of the twelve, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came [back from the dead]. The other disciples kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he replied, “Unless I see in his own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!” (John 20:24,25)
Can you imagine how long this next week must’ve been for Thomas? After arriving back to the upper room, after seeing the looks on those faces, after hearing the explanation of the Resurrection, Thomas probably felt so confused by something so implausible, hurt to be the only outsider, and, maybe, a little annoyed at the appearance of the disciples’ giddy group-dynamic.
So, immediately, Thomas takes up what will become his weeklong litany to the others: “Unless I see, I won’t believe.” Really, Thomas has chosen one of the only three available positions for all mankind in face of the news of the Resurrection. These are:
1) Total disbelief without provisions or conditions
2) Potential belief, entirely conditional upon further proofs (this is Thomas)
3) Belief as the foundation, with expectancy as the new condition of life
Since you’re reading these words from me, chances are you’re not currently in the first group: you’ve probably already opened your heart to, at least, the beginnings of Belief. So then, from there, what sounds better to you: To base your every single decision about belief on the closed system of your own intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion; or, beginning with belief that “It is finished,” that death is dead, that you are a Son or Daughter of God, to instead deliver over your intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion, in order to be invested with the very life of Heaven?
Thomas’ first impulse is to say, “If it’s real, Jesus can come to me.” (And you and I do the same - and say the same - and feel the same - all the time.) But, friends, Jesus already has come to us, visited us, done absolutely everything that we might experience the fullness of the heavenly life today. True life is found in being swallowed up in these promises, not in constantly postulating on whether or not belief is in our day-to-day best interest.
Jesus, teach us how to believe you without reservation - today! We want more!
At this point the mother of the sons of Zebedee arrived with her sons and knelt in front of Jesus to ask him a favor. “What is it you want?” he asked her. “Please say that these two sons of mine may sit one on each side of you when you are king!” she said.
“You don’t know what it is you are asking,” replied Jesus. “Can you two drink what I have to drink?” “Yes, we can,” they answered.
“Ah, you will indeed ‘drink my drink’,” Jesus told them, “but as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to grant—that belongs to those for whom my Father has planned it.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
Do you know "for whom the Father has planned it"? Have you ever dug a little deeper into that enigmatic turn of phrase?
From Revelation 20: “And I saw thrones, with appointed judges seated upon them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death cannot touch such men; they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”
And who was the one who saw this vision, this Revelation? John, the son of Zebedee.
And who was one of the "souls" he saw, the first, in fact, to be "beheaded for his witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God"? John's own brother, James.
The two men who, on this day, allow their mother to approach Jesus to secure a position, who so confidently affirm their ability to drink the cup of His sufferings, will eventually stand face to face in the Throneroom of Heaven - one there by revelation, the other by gruesome death - and, you know what?
It'll all be worth it. For the sake of this Man, no sacrifice is any sacrifice at all. Losing all, everything is gained in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even to die is to live. Forever. At the right hand of this Man.
Let us run the race He's given us this week with joy... and endurance. He is worth it all.
“It is impossible for a good tree to produce bad fruit — as impossible as it is for a bad tree to produce good fruit. Do not men know what a tree is by its fruit? You cannot pick figs from briars, or gather a bunch of grapes from a blackberry bush! A good man produces good things from the good stored up in his heart, and a bad man produce evil things from his own stores of evil.” (Luke 6:43-45a)
What do you think Jesus’ “fruit” really is; where does it come from? Well, how do you usually define earthly, natural fruit? Isn’t it the sum total of the nutrients, water, oxygen and nourishing sap that flows into the grapes or apples or oranges or berries that are then mindlessly borne?
In the same way, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5).
Remember: You and I aren’t called to muscle it out as “good Christians” today. Those who are saturated with the Spirit of Jesus will never fail to bear His fruit…
"Now that you are employed by God, you owe no duty to sin, and you reap the fruit of being made righteous, while at the end of the road there is life forevermore." (Romans 6:22)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:1-5)
A prophecy which, in case you're wondering, is from Zechariah 9, which also has some other words that I want you to read about this Jesus. Take a look:
“As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double… Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds... On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.”
Yes, yes, YES! For, friends, hasn’t the “blood of the covenant” set us free, no longer to be prisoners, but now to be carriers of His hope? Hasn’t His personal, personalized presence struck among us like lightning? Haven’t we heard the great trumpet-blast: that sound that throughout all human history has called His “ekklesia” – His called-out ones – together? Are we not this Man’s flock: the jewels in His kingly crown? And oh! is it not the bread of life Himself – the grain we may eat and “never die” – who makes us “flourish” eternally; is it not His “new wine” – His personally poured-out Spirit – that we may drink and live forever?
May today be triumphant in the spirit of His great Triumph! This is our King!
Then Peter approached Jesus with the question, “Master, how many times can my brother wrong me and I must forgive him? Would seven times be enough?”
“No,” replied Jesus, “not seven times, but seventy times seven! For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (Quick Eugene note: The actual amount he owed, in today's gold-values, was approximately $15,933,600,000 - that's right, just a shade under $16B!) And when it was plain that he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over. At this the servant fell on his knees before his master, ‘Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’ Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt..." (Matthew 18:21-27)
Okay, let's stop there. Let's let our imaginations go, if that moment was the end of this famous parable, to what this man might feel and to what our owner personal takeaways would be. What would the expression be on the face of this forgiven man? What would he look like as he walks out the gate of the palace? How would we hope he lives, now that he's free?
An important note: THIS MAN, IN THIS MOMENT, IS YOU!
This absolute, truly-free freedom of Jesus is meaningful (its meaning is His life), costly (it cost Him, and it will cost us, everything), utterly unlike any form of life ever offered before (as proven by its foundation being a resurrection!), and it isattached only to His person (because He is alive, and accessible, and is Himself the Way of this freedom.)
If you and I walk into this day today like that forgiven servant should've walked out of the palace, our day will know no end of deep meaning, limitless value, extraordinary uniqueness and direct Christ-connected intimacy. In other words, our lives will look like they're supposed to look! Might make for a different sort of Monday, am I right?
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen....
Once they heard [all his story of Cornelius and his household accepting the message and receiving the Holy Spirit] they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-3 & 18)
And that, by the way, is that. End of story. That’s how thousands of years of entrenched religious tradition and belief went out the window in the presence of a group of men and women whose first recourse was to follow the Holy Spirit only. But, you see, eleven of the men standing in that room had once sat in another room, on a particular Thursday night, and listened intently as Jesus spoke these words:
“I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now. Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes — the Spirit of truth — he will guide you into everything that is true. For he will not be speaking of his own accord but exactly as he hears, and he will inform you about what is to come. He will bring glory to me for he will draw on my truth and reveal it to you.” (John 16:12-14)
My friends, what's your relationship like - today - with this very same Spirit of truth? And how nimble-in-obedience are you becoming as you learn to hear His voice, day by day?
"…Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder. For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live, so does the Son give life to any man he chooses…" John 5:20b,21
These two sentences are so unbelievable that I need to take a moment to type out – to get out – all my potential language of hyperbole: magnificent! marvelous! overwhelming! grandiose! transcendent! awesome! utterly stupefying! (Thank you.) But, in all seriousness, as you read through Jesus' words, did you catch the echo of a wording of another of His greatest promises? Go back and reread them and see if you can catch it…
So gloriously preposterous is the conclusion to which I’m about to drive that its foundational truth – foundational! – is the statement: “For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live…” You know about that, right? How the Heavenly Father, in the presence of death, may simply snap His fingers and – BOOM! – you’re back to life?
To Jesus, this spoken half-sentence seems almost a casual reference; for His First Century Jewish listeners, they’ve only ever heard of three such cases in all recorded human history: Elijah and the widow’s son; Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman; and that guy whose body got thrown into Elisha’s tomb, touched his bones and came back to life. Yes - Jesus says - “For just as the Father raises the dead… so does the Son give life to any man He chooses.”
For me, in preparing to teach through this chapter, I’ve often just stared into space at the wonder of that thought! Do you grasp the equivalency that Jesus is purposely setting up here: “For just as…so…”? How would you react if you were at a funeral and the dead person suddenly sat up in their coffin and came back to life? You would jump out of your skin. Yet, according to Jesus, your natural reaction to that should mirror the way people are consistently reacting to the New Life expressing itself in and through you...
Which brings me to my point: “Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.” The very next time that that phrasing “even greater things” is used – μείζονα in the Greek – here is what Jesus is saying: “I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Do you understand? According to John 5:20, the Father is planning to show the Son “even greater things” that will fill the world the whole world with wonder; and where, according to John 14:12, will those “even greater things” occur? In our lives!
May it be so today!
"We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realize that we Christians must expect such things. Actually we did warn you what to expect, when we were with you, and our words have come true, as you know. You will understand that, when the suspense became unbearable, I sent someone to find out how your faith was standing the strain, and to make sure that the tempter’s activities had not destroyed our work." 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Hear Jesus Himself along these same lines: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world will hate you. Do you remember what I said to you, ‘The servant is not greater than his master’? If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you as well, but if they have followed my teaching, they will also follow yours. They will do all these things to you as my disciples because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. The man who hates me, hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them things that no other man has ever done, they would not have been guilty of sin, but as it is they have seen and they have hated both me and my Father. Yet this only fulfills what is written in their Law — ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the helper comes, that is, the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father and whom I myself will send to you from the Father, he will speak plainly about me. And you yourselves will also speak plainly about me for you have been with me from the first.” (John 15)
Certainly Paul had sat with Peter and John and the others, and been told of these very words from Jesus. He knew plain-speaking about Him would invariably result in trouble… and so must we! But if we learn to receive our life, good and bad, as if from the Lord’s hand, we’ll learn to look to Him at all times, even in hardship. The pains we bear we’ll learn to bear for this exalted reason:
“Your fight against sin has not yet meant the shedding of blood, and you have perhaps lost sight of that piece of advice which reminds you of our sonship in God: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives’. Bear what you have to bear as ‘chastening’ — as God’s dealing with you as sons. No true son ever grows up uncorrected by his father. For if you had no experience of the correction which all sons have to bear you might well doubt the legitimacy of your sonship. After all, when we were children we had fathers who corrected us, and we respected them for it. Can we not much more readily submit to a heavenly Father’s discipline, and learn how to live?” (Hebrews 12:4-9)
“My friend George Mallory, for instance, who later disappeared close to the summit of Mount Everest, once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Lliwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climbers’ Club climbs are never named in honor of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here. The climb was recorded as follows: ‘Mallory’s Pipe, a variation on Route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr. G.H.L. Mallory.’” Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That
* * * * *
"But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us," the father said to Jesus.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24)
Then Jesus reprimanded the evil spirit and it went out of the boy, who was cured from that moment. Afterwards the disciples approached Jesus privately and asked, “Why weren’t we able to get rid of it?”
“Because you have so little faith,” replied Jesus. “I assure you that if you have as much faith as a grain of mustard-seed you can say to this hill, ‘Up you get and move over there!’ and it will move—you will find nothing is impossible.” Matthew 17:18-21
This is one of those encouraging-discouraging texts that can hit us totally differently depending on how our life's going, how we're feeling, how we're perceiving the nearness or distance of Jesus on a particular day. But reading it, this week, I couldn't stop thinking of something my friend, Joe Farrell, said a few weeks back, when the Anchor class was "out on the water" with Peter, walking on water to Jesus. Joe said, "Given the fact that a little tiny mustard seed is the Kingdom of Heaven, isn't it sort of a compliment to Peter to even be called a 'little-faith'?" And so here we are again: A mustard seed-sized faith, which again is the starting-point for the growth and flourishing of the Kingdom, is all that's needed to do the impossible within that Kingdom. If you can believe just that little, tiny, teensy-weensy bit, the rest is entirely Him.
But the most hideous activity possible in the Church is comparing faiths: the kind of thing where people say, or imply, "Well, you must not have believed enough for that..." How silly. Do we really think the relative size of our mustard seeds matters in that way, like, "Well, mine is this big; yours is only that big"?
The animating force in all this is Jesus: Jesus alone!
So when you're in a situation requiring belief - for a healing, an answer to prayer, just to get through a day - here is your only job: Believe in this Man just a little seed-sized amount. That way, if - in that moment - you don't see the exact answer you were praying for, you may confidently take His answer for what it is. No more wheedling, wishy-washy talk of "His Will" is needed. You can know His Will by believing that little amount, asking Him, and weighing His exact response... NOW.
"Jesus left there, walked along the shore of the lake of Galilee, then climbed the hill and sat down. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them people who were lame, crippled, blind, mute and many others. They simply put them down at his feet and he healed them. The result was that the people were astonished at seeing mute men speak, crippled men healed, lame men walking about and blind men having recovered their sight. And they praised the God of Israel." Matthew 15:29-31
What would you think I mean if I said that "Christianity" should be nothing less, and nothing more, than these three verses?
Might I mean that it's only Jesus, alive, ever on the move, and that proximity to Him is everything?
Or that it's properly peopled by broken people, needy people, sinful people who actually expect to be forever set free?
Might I mean that "Christianity" without expectancy, without verifiable human results, is actually foolishness? Might I?
And that the goal of all this is wholehearted praise and robust direct interconnectedness with the Godhead?
What do you think? Do you think that's what I mean?
"While Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover-time, during the festivities many believed in him as they saw the signs that he gave. But Jesus, on his side, did not trust himself to them — for he knew them all. He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature." John 2:23-25
There’s a subtlety in the language of these verses that is huge for our understanding of Jesus and Belief. Three times in John 2, we are told that people “believed” in Him – the disciples at Cana, the disciples at the Resurrection, and “many” during this particular week. They had seen a man, seen His actions, heard His voice, watched His ways, and then they “believed” - ἐπίστευσαν - in Him. In our modern usage, this most generally means we’ve given intellectual assent to a set of beliefs about Jesus and what we know of His life. Which, let's be honest, for most of us, most of the time, is most like an add-on to our lifestyle and current way-of-life…
Not so for His disciples.
For them, “belief” implied a complete change of life; a physical following: to “believe” was to entrust one’s whole life to the object of that belief; in this case, Jesus Himself…
And particularly damning of our modern “add-on” accessorizing Christianity are verses 2:24 and 25. Here’s what they say in the precision of the Greek: “But on his side, Jesus Himself did not believe (ἐπίστευεν) in them, because of His knowing all. He had no need that any should testify concerning man; He indeed knew what was in man.” Unregenerated (or half-regenerated) human nature was not “believable” to Jesus. He knew that what was needed was wholesale death of the flesh and rebirth into Hisnature, that nature being the very one His disciples had “believed” in.
Do we understand that He alone – living His life within our lives – is the only life truly believable?
"For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty. But if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him. This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear. They are the living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.' But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it. Yes, and they longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it." Matthew 13:12-17
Because Jesus is meaning, is life, is the Way, is God, is Heaven come to set all things right, then we are perfectly within our rights to revisit everything He's just said from the vantage-point of what His chosen proximity to us has accomplished. We should not just understand, but experience this:
“For when a man, a woman, has JESUS, more and more is given to him until he has plenty: his cup truly overflows. And if he has JESUS even his little will be added to until he has absolutely everything. This is why He speaks to us in our hearts by His Spirit; so that we may go through life with our eyes open, seeing EVERYTHING, and with our ears open, understanding EVERYTHING HE HAS FOR US. We will be a living fulfillment – in reverse – of Isaiah’s prophecy, which would say: ‘Hearing we will hear and shall forever understand, and seeing we will see and be blessed to perceive; for the heart of His people has grown vibrant and alive: full of life. Our ears are keen to hear His voice, and our eyes He has opened, so that we may see Him with our eyes and hear Him with our ears, and that we may understand with our hearts and turn, and there He is: our Healer. And oh! how fortunate we are to have eyes that see and ears that hear HIM! It is true: a great many prophets and good men once longed to see JESUS and yet they never saw HIM. Yes, and they longed to hear what we are hearing - and they never heard HIM.”
Friends, are we not overwhelmed with joy to be in the Heavenly position we are?! Our lives are the inheritance the whole Old Testament full of saints positively yearned for! Thank you, Jesus!
When Jesus emerged from his retreat he saw a vast crowd and was very deeply moved and cured the sick among them. As evening fell his disciples came to him and said, “We are right in the wilds here and it is very late. Send away these crowds now, so that they can go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
“There’s no need for them to go away,” returned Jesus. “You give them something to eat!”
“But we haven’t anything here,” they told him, “except five loaves and two fish.”
To which Jesus replied, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:14-18)
Which, in my opinion, may be the most powerful line in this whole very famous narrative: "Bring them here to me." Five loaves and two fish are clearly not enough for these thousands of people: "Bring them here to me."Jesus, I'm not sure if we have enough to make it through this next month: "Bring that here to me." Jesus, I'm between jobs and getting pretty anxious: "Bring that here to me." Jesus, our entire modern financial system is built upon contradictions and contraventions to what you said about money, wealth and possessions: "Bring yourself here to me."
If this whole account of the "Feeding of the 5000" is the perfect picture of how Jesus will provide and take care of us, then this opening line tells us where to begin: "Bring them here to me." Your life is already in His hands, my friends: it's your will and your trust being placed there that will close the circuit on all this.
Bring it here to Him.