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God’s People, part 159: Crucifixion

Read John 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’…Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34, 37 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

fullsizeoutput_2d7Part 159: Crucifixion. I am a huge fan of and collect films portraying the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I own the of the original black and white Cecil B. DeMille 1927 silent film, King of Kings. I own many of the films following that from the 60’s such as The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sydow through the latest one, Son of God starring Diogo Morgado. In fact, I not only own and love it, but the very first Jesus film I can remember watching was the 1961 remake of the King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter on TV with my family on Easter Sunday.

Honestly, up until the late 90s and early 2000s, most of the films really toned down the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I certainly understand why. Crucifixion is not a good way to have to die and with the heavy censorship of films and music that was in place prior to the late 90s, no one wanted to risk making the crucifixion more realistic. That and many producers knew that Christian audiences would not appreciate it either. They wanted wholesome films with little to no violence and sterile language. So, there was no way that they were going to gore up the crucifixion.

Rather, those films focused more on Jesus’ life and teachings, and they toned down and almost sterilized the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While these films are all great films in their own right, the unfortunate consequence of censoring the suffering and crucifixion of Christ is that it takes away from the real sacrifice that Christ made.

Thankfully, that began to change with the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto. While that film did not lay it thick with the gore, when Jesus was crucified he can be heard screaming in agonizing pain and blood can be seen splattered on the cross and dripping from his wrists. Again, not too much…but enough for you to cringe at the thought of what was happening. Then, by 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ and went to town on showing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. The film was so hard to watch, and so powerful, that people left the theater with the same full bucket of popcorn they went in with. It was the film that brought me back to my faith in Jesus, because it made me truly and deeply reflect on why Jesus would go through with that.

Without belaboring this, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. First, before one ever made it to the cross, they victim of crucifixion would be punished for the crimes they had committed. They would we whipped and beaten. The Jews had a law that a person should be whipped no more than 40 times minus one. Whether the Romans adhered to that or not is unlcear, but by the time Jesus would have had to carry his cross, he would have been severely beaten, bruised, bloody, and his flesh torn from the shards of glass and rock that hung from the flagella at the end of the whip.

Then there was the crucifixion itself. The criminal would have had to carry the cross beam up to his/her place of crucifixion. He then would have been laid down and his arms would have been tied to the beam, followed by the hands/wrists being crucified. The cross beam would then be raised up, with the body intact, onto the vertical beam which is already erect. Once the cross beam was in place nails would have been driven through each of the ankle bones into the sides of the cross, and a sentence would be placed above the head of the crucified. In Jesus case, it read in Latin (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum), in Greek (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων), in Hebrew read right to left (יֵשׁוּעַ מִנַּצְּרַת, מתי כז 3‡מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים), and in English (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

The crucified would spend hours, if not days, lifting his/her body up to breathe out and lowering his/her body to breathe in. Eventually, due to exhaustion, the crucified’s own body weight would crush his/her lungs and they would suffocate to death. It was a slow, laborious death that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. This is how Jesus died.

In the modern Western world, we have been privileged to not have to witness such executions. Even when we execute criminals, we do so in a way that is judged to be the most “humane” way possible. When reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and death, let us be challenged to NOT succumb to our privilege; rather, let us truly reflect on what he went through and let us come to the foot of the cross and lay our sins and shortcomings bare to the one who gave it all, and suffered the worst death imaginable, for our sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle in Galatians 2:20 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, as we approach Lent, help me to have the strength to be honest with myself and you regarding my sin so that my sins may be once and for all crucified with Christ and I may be free of their burdensome weight. Redeem me, for I am yours Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 158: Passion

Read John 18-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

pg-18-passion-of-christ-apPart 158: Passion. I seems like yesterday that the film, The Passion of the Christ, came out in the movie theaters. With that said, it was not yesterday. The film was released on February 25, 2014 amid a ton of controversy over its content. It was, as is often the case when it comes to portrayals of Jesus Christ, being blamed for antisemitism and being way to violent. Critics wrote that the film felt like abuse, that it was a snuff film, where the spiritual/metaphysical aspect and the redemptive quality of Jesus was denied for the physical torture of the body.

Sadly, many critics (and even some mainstream theologians) missed the point entirely on the importance and significance of The Passion of the Christ. Now there may be some people scratching their head at this usage of the word “passion”, because when they think of passion they think of romance. Like all things, the modern English understanding of the word has somewhat lost its etymological or linguistic origins. “Passion” comes from the Latin word passionem, meaning suffering or enduring.

The passion of the Christ, is literally the suffering of Jesus Christ during the last week of his life. That week included the conspiracy of the Sanhedrin against Jesus, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his cleansing of the Temple. It includes, Jesus’ anointing by the woman, his sharing in the Last Supper with his disciples, his journey to and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his being arrested and put on trial in the high priests house, Peter’s denial of Jesus out in the courtyard, his being tried before Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again, and his being violently scourged as preliminary punishment.

Finally, Christ’s passion  includes the crowds shouting for him to be crucified, the release of the prisoner Barabbas in exchange for Jesus, his slow painful journey to Golgotha, his crucifixion, death, and burial in the tomb. All of this encapsulates the passion of Jesus Christ and his endurance of such suffering is vital to the Gospel, to the Good News. In fact, there is NO GOOD NEWS without it.

This was evident to the author of Mark, who chose to show how the cross, how Jesus’ passion, revealed his true identity to the world. Matthew showed how his passion and crucifixion were the fulfillment of ancient prophecy on how the suffering servant Messiah would die for the sins of the world. Luke showed how the least of these and the outsiders were included into God’s covenant through Jesus’ passion. Finally, John’s Jesus exemplified how Christ willingly died on the cross and how the redemptive quality of his passion would carry on through the passion of his disciples who were to be given an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help them carry out his mission.

The critics of Mel Gibson’s film failed to realize that Christ’ passion is vital to the story of the world’s redemption. In that, I believe, was a spiritual component. The world is blinded to the redemptive work of the passion…of the cross. In fact, Paul told us that the cross is actually foolishness to those who believe. The lost, the people who are still in the darkness, don’t want to be confronted with their sins and how those sins have woefully played out in this world. They don’t want to be confronted with the fact that Christ’s death is a reflection of the reality of sin and evil that we, as humans, all participate in.

Yet, it is the acknowledgment of that participation, and the humbling of oneself it takes to acknowledge it, that leads us to the foot of the cross with great joy and thanksgiving. It is the kneeling down before the foot our crucified Lord that cleanses us of our sins and opens our hearts to sanctifying power of Christ’s resurrection. It is only in acknowledgment of what Christ has done for us, and why it is so desperately needed, that we are able to find our true salvation and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. Be challenged by this. As you begin to prepare for Lent, come face-to-face with your sins and, through Holy Week, journey with Christ to the foot of the cross. Don’t shy away from the passion, but embrace it and be embraced by your Lord, who was crucified, who died, and rose again for your sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Without Holy Week, without Christ’s passion, there would be no Easter or redemption.

PRAYER
Lord, prepare my heart for your passion that, through your suffering, I may come to everlasting salvation, joy, peace, and service. Amen.

God’s People, part 157: The Word

Read John 1:1-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!’”  (John 8:58, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

lamb-of-godPart 157: The Word. When you think of the Word of God, what do you think of? My guess is that most of you think about the Holy Bible, made up of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament). When we read Scripture in our churches, many of us end with the following, “The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God for this word.” The Bible is most often called the Word of God because in it are the words that teach us about the nature of God, human nature, and the way we receive God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. As John Wesley once put it in his Popery Calmly Considered, “The Scripture, therefore, being delivered by men divinely inspired, is a rule sufficient to itself: So it neither needs, nor is capable of, any farther addition.”

But according to Scripture, in the Gospel of John to be exact, the Word of God is NOT the Holy Bible. Sure, it is Scripture and is God-breathed (or divinely inspired); however, it was written by people. The ancients understood that and never said otherwise. For early Christians, the Word of God was not the written words etched on papyrus scrolls; rather, it was Jesus Christ, which was God’s Word made flesh. That Word existed long before people wrote words down onto paper, and it is through that Word that all that exists was created.

The Greek word used in John is actually logos, which was the divine creative force of the cosmos. John tied this Greek philosophical and metaphysical concept to the Genesis narrative where God spoke creation into existance:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  (Genesis 1:1-3, NLT)

John, playing off of Genesis 1, opens his Gospel with a poetic prologue, which echoes the first creation account in Genesis:

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  (John 1:1-3, NLT)

The Greek concept of logos was used by John to show different groups who opposed the Jesus movement the true revelation of Christ. To the Rabbis who claimed that the Torah was pre-existent, John shows them that it is rather the logos (the Word), not the Torah (the Law), that was preexistent to creation. To the Gnostics who denied Jesus came in the flesh, John shows in the prologue that, indeed, the logos became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. To the followers who stopped with John the Baptist, John shows that the logos was the light of the world. The Baptist merely proclaimed and paved the way for the logos.

The logos, according to John, “was God” but was also distinguishable from God the Father, for “the logos” was also “with God.” Thus, in Jesus we have the living incarnation of the logos who is both God and human, and is also a distinuishable person from God the Father. The logos is God the Son and came to be Immanuel, God’s presence with us. In John, we learn that Jesus (the logos) is not just the Word, but is also the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, The Door of the Sheep, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, and the life, The Vine, the One who preexisted Abraham and all of Creation.

That’s a lot to process right? The challenge for us is not not only process this with our heads. Much heady commentary has been written about Jesus’ I AM statements in John and that certainly has its place in theological discourse; however, the challenge for us is to process this with our hearts. Have you come into the presence of the Great I AM?

Have you experienced the Word made flesh, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, The Door of the Sheep, the Resurrection and the Life , the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the Vine? Have you met the One who preexisted all there is and has ever been? Have you met the Word who came, lived, died, and resurrected for your sake? If not, my prayer is that you will open your heart to the One who is seeking you out this very minute. My prayer is that you will let him in so that he may become your Lord and Savior.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’” – Jesus Christ (John 14:6, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, reveal yourself to me. You are my Lord and Savior and I wish to serve only you. Amen.

God’s People, part 156: 2nd Adam.

Read Luke 3:23-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.”  (Luke 9:31, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Glory_of_the_New_born_Christ_-_Annakirche_ViennaPart 156: 2nd Adam. If you recall, in Matthew the focus was on explaining to Matthew’s Jewish Christian community that Jesus was not only the fulfillment of all the Torah (aka the Jewish Law), but that he was also the greater prophet that Moses prophesied would come after him some day down the line (see Deuteronomy 18:15). There were, in fact, many parallels between Moses and Jesus, and Matthew pointed them out to show that Jesus was the fulfillment, not only of the Torah but of that specific prophecy.

In Luke, the scope is much larger than the fulfillment of Jewish laws and prophesies, for Jesus was the Savior of the whole world. He did not just come for the insiders but, as in the Gospel of Mark, salvation came for the outsiders as well. In fact, Luke spends much of his book highlighting Jesus’ teachings on the poor, the widows, the orphans, the lepers and the social outcasts of society. In fact, Jesus’ first act (of which he near fatally upsets the Jewish crowd) is to preach a sermon on how God has often favored the Gentiles over his own people because, while the Jewish people know God and yet reject him, the Gentiles who are initially ignorant of God accept him with open hearts (Luke 4:18-30).

Right before that in Luke 3, Luke highlights Jesus’ baptism and then goes directly through his geneology in order to show how Jesus is not only a descendant of Abraham, as all Jews were, but that he was also a descendant of Adam. Luke, a student and colleague of the Apostle Paul’s, goes further than his teacher who felt it sufficient to show the promise of God to Abraham that his descendants will bless the nations (see Genesis 22:18).

Instead, Luke shows how Jesus was not just a descendant of Adam, but was a 2nd Adam. Unlike the 1st Adam who was duped by his own selfish desire to know more and be like God, Jesus selflessly stripped himself of his divine glory to be like a human and, in the process fulfilled God’s law. What’s more, while Adam chose mortal over eternal life, Jesus gave up his mortal life for eternal life.  Through the 1st Adam, we were given over to sin; however, through faith in the 2nd Adam, we are delivered from death in our sins to eternal life.

While the 1st Adam brought separation from God and eternal death to all of humanity, Jesus reunited us with God. He established a new Israel through his 12 disciples, and through them he began the process of ushering in a new Eden, which is heaven on Earth. This Kingdom will not just be for the prominent and wealthy. In fact, many who are wealthy will never find the kingdom of Heaven because they are so fixated on their worldly possessions; rather, this kingdom will be open to all who are humble and seek God over and above their worldly status.

This is why the poor are featured so prominently in Luke’s Gospel. Their poverty has already humbled them and they are receptive to God. Their hearts rejoice at the Gospel, which IS GOOD NEWS to them. The challenge for us is to allow our selves to be humbled enough by God to see that, due to our sins, we are impoverished and in need of God. We are no better or worse than anyone else in God’s eyes. God sees our sins and knows our hearts and only God, through Jesus Christ, can save us. Do you believe this? Search your heart and discover Christ who is waiting for you to let him in.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all Creation.

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Purge my sins and cleanse my heart. Purify me and save me from myself and my sins. Amen.

God’s People, part 153: New Moses

Read Matthew 5:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”  (Matthew 5:38-39, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesusnewmoses-greatcommissionPart 153: New Moses. In Mark, we learn that Jesus true identity was revealed through his suffering and death on the cross. It was in that moment that the Roman Officer, who was an outsider to Judaism and was the one overseeing Jesus’ crucifixion, was the only human being in Mark’s Gospel who realized Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The only other place in that Gospel that we see that title being used is at the very beginning when Mark declared it to his audience. Every other human fails to realize it. The only other beings who seem to know who Jesus is are the demons. Flattering, right? It’s no wonder that Jesus was frustrated from chapter 4 onward.

While Mark’s account was written to a predominantly Gentile community, Matthew’s Gospel is written to Jewish followers of Jesus. Thus we do not see Matthew explaining what every Jewish custom was or what certain Aramaic phrases are because, unlike Mark’s community, his community would have understood those things. Instead, because of his context, Matthew focused on connecting Jesus to the Old Testament. Thus, he starts his Gospel with Jesus’ lineage, which traces back through King David to Abraham.

More importantly, Matthew show Jesus to be the New Moses. Just as Moses came out of Egypt, Jesus came out of Egypt following him fleeing there with his parents as refugees. Just as Moses passed through the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus passed through the waters of the Jordan at his baptism. Just as Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted for 40 days. What’s more, just as Moses received the law from God on the mountain, Jesus gave the law from his sermon on the mount.

With that said, Matthew was not merely comparing what Jesus did to what Moses did, as if Jesus was just some sort of uncanny Mosaic doppelgänger; rather, Matthew was showing that Jesus was actually greater than Moses. Moses may have delivered the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt, but Jesus delivers all of humanity from slavery to sin and death. While Moses gave the Law to the Israelites, Jesus gave us new divine teaching that not only gave deeper insight to the heart of the Law of Moses, but that profoundly revealed that the Law not only pointed to him, but also to the opening of the covenant to all people.

Jesus, in Matthew, was not only the New Moses, but was the only one who was righteously poised to judge the world. Yet, instead of judging the world, he was judged on their behalf. Matthew shows us that Jesus was the Suffering Servant prophesied about in Isaiah 53. He came not to judge but, instead became “a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus’ glory is not merely revealed through the cross, but in divine birth, his fulfillment of prophecy, the breadth of his life, the authoritative scope of his teaching, the pain he endured, the punishment he suffered that led to his death, and the resurrection.

Matthew challenges us to come face-to-face with the King of kings, who is Immanuel (God with us) for all time. Will we humbly bow before our King? Will we accept his divine teachings and follow them intently? Will we trust in his ability to save us from our sinful humanity? Will we follow him, even if it means dying on a cross like he did (Matthew 16:24)? If we answer yes to that question then we MUST take seriously Christ’s teachings and follow his great commission found in Matthew 28. Let us all follow Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is Lord of all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus Christ  (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Help me to be your follower. Amen.

God’s People, part 152: Mysterious Son.

Read Mark 8:27-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, ‘This man truly was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesusrebukespeterPart 152: Mysterious Son. Thus far, we’ve explored the birth of Jesus, we’ve witnessed his baptism, we’ve journeyed with him through the wilderness, and we’ve seen the people surrounding him during those times. Now I would like to take a look at Jesus as presented in each of the Gospels, starting with the earliest of the Gospels to have been written: Mark.

In Mark, perhaps, Jesus displays the most wide-range of human emotion. At any given point, he is happy, hopeful, tired, exhausted, sad, in despair, afraid, confused, and extremely convicted. The other Gospels show Jesus experiencing emotion too; however, Mark’s Jesus is the most down-to-earth. With that said, it would be the wrong to read any sort of Christological categorization into that. Some scholars who take the Historical Criticism approach to understanding the Bible see Jesus’ humility in Mark to be signs of a lack of initial divinity.

What does that mean? That means that some scholars attempt to see Jesus merely as a man who, through his baptism and subsequent death on the cross, was adopted as the Son of God.  This, of course, is heterodoxy or a deviation from the acknowledged standard of Christian interpretation. If we read mark closely, we see that Jesus is acknowledged as the Son of God right off the bat and he knows he is all throughout. There is simply no evidence for “adoption” in Mark’s Gospel at all! In the very first verse Mark writes, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”  (Mark 1:1, KJV). The rest of the Gospel pursues the mystery of Jesus’ identity in God and the climax of just how that mystery unfolds and is finally realized.

Jesus starts off his ministry pretty well. His first miraculous act was the casting out of a demon. He picked out 12 disciples out of the crowd that followed him and he taught them the inner secrets of what he was doing. He healed people, proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and started off his ministry on the right foot. Yet, by chapter 3, following choosing his disciples, we see that his own family did not believe him. They thought that he had gone crazy and wanted to take him home before he got himself killed. “Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”  (Mark 3:33-35, NRSV).

Okay, cool, right? It was a bummer that his family didn’t get it, but he had his disciples at least. They got him, didn’t they? In chapter 4 we find out that even his disciples, despite being told the “inner secrets”, still did not understand who Jesus was. Thus, from chapter 4 and onward, we see Jesus’ growing frustration with his disciples, let alone with the Jewish religious leaders, scribes and Herodians.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that the only one’s who seem to really know who Jesus is throughout the entirety of the text are the demons. The least of these, including the women, come the closest to understanding Jesus’ identity, but even they fall short. The only other human being to fully recognize Jesus’ identity was the Roman officer who was supervising over his crucifixion and death. Crazy, right?

So, what’s Mark’s message to us? The message is simple, those who think they are closest to Jesus tend to miss the mark in who he is, as do those who think they have no need for Jesus; however, those who know their need for Christ (e.g., the distant, the broken, the lost, the sinner, the poor, the poor in spirit, the least of these, etc.) are the ones most likely to have Christ’s identity revealed to them. Why? Because their hearts are receptive to it. Let this challenge us to open ourselves up to the Christ who would be our Lord and Savior if we would only acknowledge him as such.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’”  ¾ Jesus Christ (Mark 4:11-12, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, open my heart and mind to who you are so that my life may be transformed through you! Amen.

God’s People, part 151: Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:10, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

image 1-24-19 at 8.09 pmPart 151: Temptation. As I begin to write this devotion on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, I must confess that I sit on the edge of the wilderness facing the unknown of what lies ahead when I cross over that border. On April 12, 2018, I published a podcast in which I discussed my personal struggle with my weight and healthy living. I have been very transparent about that, and at the time I had just started another juice fast because of my giving into the temptation of convenience foods. I have plenty of good excuses to do so, “I’m too busy”, “I’m too tired to cook”, “If I cook at this time I will be eating at 10 p.m.”, etc. Regardless, I know that I should eat whole foods and not succumb to those temptations, yet I do.

Well, by July of 2018 I had gotten back to a healthy weight. I was down to 203 lbs. Then I went on vacation and gave into the temptation to just “live a little”. Following vacation and the end of Summer things got hectic and stressful, nothing negative, but just a lot of things needing my attention all at the same time. As I gave into those same temptations again, my weight began to increase and my health, naturally, declined.

The truth be told, since July I have gained about 80 lbs. and, yes, it does bother me. I know people notice and probably talk about it when I am not present. Some people have even commented on it directly to me. I also know that a lot of that has to do with concern, but my self-consciousness kicks in all the more as a result. So here I am, writing once again about my struggles, as I sit here the night before I start another juice fast to kick-start me back into healthy living.

Like any fast, it is a wilderness period where I will come face-to-face with my demons and will be tempted over and over again to just give up. When Jesus went into the wilderness he fasted too. During that time, Satan came to him and tempted him to eat and, overall, to just give up what he was doing. In a roundabout way, the devil was telling Jesus to just give up and make life easier on himself. Yet, Jesus rebuked Satan and continued through the wilderness.

That time of intense struggle prepared Jesus for doing ministry in the world. As tough as the wilderness experience was, it was nothing compared to what he was going to face out in the world. Jesus knew that would be the case and kept his focus on God and God’s promises as found in Scripture.

So often we try to avoid the wilderness, to skip over it entirely; however, what we fail to realize is that it is in the wilderness where we not only come face-to-face with our demons, but we also come face-to-face with our GOD. It is in the wilderness where we are humbled and profoundly learn about our weaknesses; however, it is also in that time that we learn how God’s strength shines brightly through them.

Today I am challenging you, even as I challenge myself, to enter into the wilderness. For each of us that place is different, but it is a place that exists for us all. Enter into it and face the things you need to face so that Christ can attend to you with angels and strengthen you for carrying out his mission in the world. Sure, it will be a painful experience, but as the old adage goes, “No pain, no gain.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” – Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, lead me into the wilderness and help me to face my weaknesses so that, in them, I may be strengthened through your sanctifying grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 150: Embodiment

Read Luke 2:41-52

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As they approached, Jesus said, ‘Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.’
‘How do you know about me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus replied, ‘I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.’”  (John 1:47-48, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

pantocratorchristPart 150: Embodiment. There is a lot of good that comes out of modern Biblical scholarship. For sure, my understanding of the historical, socio-economic, and literary contexts of the Bible comes out of an education steeped in such scholarship. It is important to acknowledge that the Bible cannot simply be understood by merely reading it. We are so far removed from the time and place it was written in that we will inevitable misinterpret it if we do not dive deeper than a mere surface read. It doesn’t take a scholar to do that, but it does take discipline to not cut corners in our personal and/or group Bible studies.

With that said, not everything that has come forth from modern Biblical scholarship has been helpful; indeed, there has been some modern scholarship that has been harmful. One such thing is the notion that the earliest Christians only saw Jesus as a man and overtime Christians mythologized who Jesus was, eventually seeing him as God in the flesh.

This theory postulates that Mark’s Gospel had a very low Christology (Jesus was God’s adopted Son at best). Matthew’s Christology was slightly higher, showing Jesus’ birth to be the result of divine intervention. Luke’s Gospel slightly higher still, with Mary receiving word from an angel that her child, divinely conceived, would be God’s Son. Finally, John’s Gospel has the highest Christology and goes so far as to call Jesus the divine Word of God and, beyond that, the very incarnation of God.

Such a reading, however, is counter to what we ACTUALLY find in the Bible. First, it is blind to the fact that Paul, who wrote before any of the Gospels were written, acknowledges Jesus as the pre-existent Lord, Creator of all that exists (Romans 8:3; 10:13; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2:16; 8:6; 10:26; 15:47; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 10:17;  Galatian 4:4; etc.). It also willfully ignores the fact that Mark opens up his Gospel with this proclamation: “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1, NLT)

In Luke, we see that Jesus is not only a human being but is the embodiment of God’s Law. In the Scripture for today’s devotion, we see Jesus as a 12 year old boy engaging with the religious teachers about God’s law. Luke wrote, “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers”  (Luke 2:47, NLT). What’s more, when his frantic parents got a hold of him upon finding him in the Temple and questioned why he took off on them like that, his response was this, “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49, NLT)?

Throughout Luke, and Matthew, Jesus is repeatedly shown to not only know the Law, but to also be the Law-giver. Just like God gave the Law of the old covenant to Moses, Jesus gave the Law of the new covenant to his disciples and, by extension, to us. Thus, it is clear, that the authority of God rests upon Jesus who is God incarnate. This was not just some later claim that came in through mythological development over time, but was a major part of the early Church’s understanding of Jesus’ divine identity.

The challenge for us is to be cautious when modern thinking leads us away from traditional understanding. Sometimes a shift in understanding is good; however, only when it is in line with the revelation of Jesus Christ found in Scripture. Anything that denies Christ’s divine identity and authority will ultimately lead us astray. Let us embrace Christ as Lord and humbly accept his direction in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation…” – Paul the Apostle  (Colossians 1:15, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I accept your Lordship and open myself to your instruction and mission. Guide me to where it is you are calling me and keep me on course. Amen.