Tag Archives: Love

God’s People, part 243: Paul

Read Acts 9:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”  (Galatians 1:14, NRSV)

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.

PaulPart 243: Paul. We often look at Saul of Tarsus’ journey to Damascus as his big “conversion” experience. Most who grew up going to Sunday School know the story:

Saul of Tarsus was this really, really mean, bad guy who hated Christians so much that he hunted them down, arrested some and had others killed. One day, while traveling on the road to Damascus to arrest and kill more Christians, Saul saw a great, blinding light. It was so bright that it stopped him in his tracks and he fell off of his horse.

A voice cried out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul answered, “who are you Lord?”

“It is I, Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the voice answered back.

From that point on, Saul was blind and Jesus told him to continue to Damascus and await someone to meet him there. Three days later a Christian came, laid hands on Saul, prayed over him and he could see once more.” From that point on Saul became Paul and converted from being a Jew to a Christian.

This summary, while it may sound familiar and seem accurate, is actually significantly different from what actually happened. Sure, some of the details are the same; however, the subtle difference add up and significantly change the trajectory of our understanding. It is true that Saul of Tarsus detested Christians and persecuted them. It is also true that he traveled to Damascus to persecute more Christians and encountered the risen Lord along the way. Even more, it is true that his encounter with Christ brought from being an opponent of Christ to being his greatest proponent.

So, you might be wondering, what is different? First, Saul was not a “bad guy”. He was a Pharisee who believed in strict adherence to the Torah in order to live holy lives set apart from God. Anything that contradicted that understanding was false and needed to be shown to be false. It was Saul’s religious and moral duty, as a Pharisee, to counter false teachings that went against the Scriptures.

Second, while it is true that Saul encountered Christ on the Road to Damascus and that encounter dramatically changed the course of his life, he did not convert to Christianity. This may throw you for a loop and shock you. Some of you might think I am going against Scripture and falling into heterodoxical claims; however, if you read Scripture closely and understand the context, Saul never converted from Judaism to Christianity.

How do I know this? Simple, Paul wrote it. In Philippians 3:5-6, he wrote that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-8, NRSV). Though he came to accept Christ, Paul never, ever denounced his being Jewish. In fact, he saw his newfound faith in Christ as the perfect expression of his Jewishness.

Even still, the term Christian did not even exist at the time of Saul’s “conversion”; rather, Christians were actually a new sect of Judaism known as “The Way”. Thus, it is silly to refer to Saul’s Damascus Road experience as a conversion as all, as if he went from one religion to the other. Instead, it was a transformative encounter that illuminated his understanding of what it meant to be Jewish!

The third and final point is this, Saul did not initially change his name to Paul. In Acts, we see Saul still using his Hebrew name in Jerusalem and the people there were afraid to come and hear him preach for fear that he was the “same ol’ Saul”. At some point, during his missionary journeys through Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Greece and Rome, he began using his Roman name, Paul. This was no doubt done to make his evangelism efforts among Gentiles more effective.

What does all of this mean for us today? It means that God is not looking to bring us into a “new religion”, but is rather calling us to be transformed and brought into a NEW RELATIONSHIP with God. If Saul of Tarsus can be transformed into Paul the Apostle, we can too. Not all of us will have Damascus Road encounters, but God will reach us in the way that is best suited for us to receive and respond. Be open to transforming power of God through Jesus Christ and you will find that God can and will recreate you in powerfully miraculous ways.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”  (Romans 5:20, NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, open my heart and purge me from my unwillingness to be transformed by your grace through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 242: Eunuch

Read Acts 8:26-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”  (Matthew 7:22-23, 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.

Moroe-ArmletPart 242: Eunuch. There is certainly a lot to unpack in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Before we can understand the account itself, we ought to understand the components of it. First, we all know of the Gaza strip, which is a contested strip of land that the Israelis fight over with the Palestinians who live there and govern it. It is a small strip of coastal and that strategically borders Egypt.

As far as Biblical history is concerned, the Philistines were located in Gaza originally. Of course, the Philistines and the Israelites did not have a good relationship with one another and it is this group of people which Samson, Saul and King David, among others, notoriously fought against. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the area during his Egyptian campaign, and then it became a part of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Dynasties after that. By the time of Philip the Apostle, the Gaza strip was a part of the Judaean Province of the Roman Empire.

The Eunuch that Philip runs into on the road to Gaza, was a high court official who was the head of the Queen of Ethiopia entire treasury. In the account, the Queen is seemingly named Kandake, or Candice; however, Kandake/Candice was not a name as much as a title. It is in dispute whether or not she was the the sole queen and ruler or if she co-ruled with a King; however, most scholars point to Amantitere as the name of this particular Kandake. Not much is really known about her other than that she was quite affluent. It has been speculated that she may have been Jewish; however, this is little more than speculation due to the fact that her Eunuch was reading Isaiah. It is possible, as there were Jewish settlements in the area; however, that proves little.

As for the Eunuch, he was clearly at the very least a “God-fearer”, or someone who was non-Jewish, but who believed in the Jewish God and came to worship in Jerusalem at the Temple. It is even possible that he, himself, was Jewish. As with all Eunuchs, he was castrated, meaning that he had at least his testicles, if not his penis as well, surgically removed. This form of emasculation was done on slaves who were assigned to the courts of royalty. These Eunuchs served in a variety of different positions, most notably but not limited to, guardians of royal harems.

Our particular Eunuch directly served the queen herself as her treasurer. He was a highly valued person in the queen’s court and was clearly permitted to travel to Jerusalem in order to worship in the Temple. No, doubt, he was probably also there on diplomatic business as well. When Philip ran into him, he was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, which is the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. When he asked Philip to explain to him what he was reading, Philip used that opportunity to talk about how Isaiah was prophesying about the coming of the messiah, who would be a suffering servant through whom God would bring about Salvation for the whole world.

The beauty of this is that we clearly see that the early Jewish Christians saw Isaiah 53 as clear prophecy of who Jesus was. Beyond that, we see how powerfully transformative that passage is in light of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, prophecied about hundreds of years prior to the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Eunuch believed and got baptized, becoming an early convert to the Christian faith.

Following that Philip was “snatched away” by the Spirit of the Lord. Our fancies can get the best of us hear and we can imagine that Philip vanishing in thin air and appearing elsewhere; however, it would be a mistake to read it that way. Rather, this is poetic license to say that following the Eunuch’s conversion, Philip did not stick around; rather, he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and found himself being led to a town farther North. The term “snatched” is from the Greek word ἁρπάζω (pronouced harpazō), which means “carried away”, “snatched”, “take away by force”. In other words, Philp felt compelled by the Spirit to go elsewhere and abruptly left the presence of the Eunuch.

We should be challenged by this. In this passage, we see how the Holy Spirit works. We get called to one thing and, then, the Holy Spirit compels us to go elsewhere. We, as God’s people, get too attached to the seasons we find ourselves in and we are being reminded that, at any moment, God could snatch us away and send us to serve Him elsewhere. Are you okay with that? Are you, like Philip, willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit? Are you willing to go where you are being sent? Or do you prize your comfort more than your faith in God?  I challenge you to reflect on your relationship with Christ and his Lordship over your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we are going to truly call Jesus Christ our Lord, we must be willing to submit our lives to his Lordship.

PRAYER
Lord Jesus, I submit myself to you. Help me to grow stronger in my submission to your way. Amen.

God’s People, part 141 – Simon Magus

Read Acts 8:9-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9, 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.

Capital: Fall of Simon the MagicianPart 141: Simon Magus. The account of Simon Magus (or Simon the Magician) is an interesting one and it has captivated the imaginations of many people throughout the past two millennia. For instance, in Irish lore, Simon Magus came to the aid of Druids who were fiercely denouncing Christianity and, in Ireland, he became known as Simon the Druids.

Another example is the church of Santa Francesca Romana in Rome. That church was supposedly built upon the spot where Simon Magus died following a confrontation with Peter and Paul. In Danilo Kiš’s collection of stories, The Encyclopedia of the Dead, the opening story retells the confrontation between Simon Magus and Peter the Apostle. In that story, he asks to be buried alive in order to, like Jesus, be resurrected from the dead in three days. That didn’t, in the story, turn out so well for him.

Of course, none of these stories are historical and none of them really find much relation to what the Scriptures have to say. One must also wonder why is Simon portrayed to be such a “bad guy” in these legends. Was he portrayed that way in Scripture. What do we know about Simon?

So, here’s what Scripture tells us about this Simon the Magician. First, he was a Samaritan magician and/or sorcerer. He was well known for his “signs” and spectacle and he proclaimed himself to be someone great. In fact, the Samaritans referred to him as “the Great One­­–the power of God”, that is until Philipp the Apostle came and converted the Samaritans to be followers of Christ.

Now, one could imagine such a person of ill repute might grow bitter and jealous of Philip and see him as a threat; however, Simon did the opposite of that: He CONVERTED to Christianity. So far, it’s really hard to see why Simon is considered such a weaslely character in the legends about him. Once we move on to the arrival of Peter and John in Samaria, then we begin to understand what the fuss is all about. Whether or not, it holds up to the hype is up in the air.

In Acts, we are told that Peter and John arrived in Samaria to check out the great work that Philip had done. We are also told that upon their arrival, they laid hands on the believers who were then filled by the Holy Spirit, which had not yet been sent to them. Once he saw this, Simon offered money to Peter in hopes that Peter would give him that power in exchange. This outraged Peter who scolded Simon, by saying, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought!” (Acts 8:20, NLT)

With that said, Peter did not just condemn Simon Magus. In fact, he did not condemn Simon at all; rather, he sharply scolded him and then challenged him to repent of his sins. According to Peter, Simon Magus was filled with bitter jealousy and was held captive by sin. That much I think is clear. Simon was someone who saw himself as a great and powerful person and, while he may have converted to following Jesus Christ, he still wanted to be seen as a great and powerful person. Hence why Simon offered to buy the power of gifting the Holy Spirit to people.

Certainly, his jealousy and sin led him to foolishly try and bribe Peter; however, the Scriptures never tell us what became of Simon. Was he completely written off by the Apostles after he refused to repent, learn, and change? Or did he repent and change afterward? We simply do not know. We do know that Simon responded to Peter’s call for him to repent by saying, “Pray to the Lord for me that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!””  (Acts 8:24, NLT)

So, what do we make of the account of Simon Magus and his confrontation with Peter? One thing is for sure, Peter did not confront him in Rome with Paul, nor did he seemingly have ANY connection to the Druids in Ireland, and he most definitely did not ask to be buried alive. These are all legends that further smear a man that, for all we know, might have repented and lived out his days serving the Lord. We ought to be cautious and allowing extra-Biblical legends to lure us down a path of sinful judgment.

But we ought to be challenged by what we do know of Simon Magus. We know that God will have no part in bribery! We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor can we buy God’s favor. As a pastor, I have seen people use money and status to hold the church hostage. I have seen people threaten to withdrawl their money and/or their presence in order extort the church into following their will. That kind of behavior is NOT of God and it is not Christian.

There are other ways in which we can fall into such traps as well. We can try to bribe God with our works, with our money, with our prayers and just about every other means. We need, as Christians, to make sure that we repent of the times we have done that and cease to employ such sinful methods. We cannot buy and own God. Period. Let us be challenged by the hard lesson that Simon Magus learned so that we can avoid following in his footsteps.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.” – Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, give me the wisdom and humility to know your grace is the reason I am saved and that there is nothing I can do to earn my way into your favor. Help me to trust in you fully! Amen.

God’s People, part 140: Saul

Read Acts 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at [Stephen] and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58, 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.

20181019_apostle_paulPart 140: Saul. As we carry on with our God’s People series, we now arrive at a pivotal moment in the history of the early Christian Church. At the time, the church hadn’t even yet been given the label, Christian, but were known as The Way. The church was predominantly made up of Jewish people who saw Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the embodiment of God.

These Jesus followers, or Christ followers as they would later come to be known as (aka Christians), did not see themselves as starting up a new religion; rather, they saw themselves as “enlightened” Jews who were following the true Jewish religion.  What that meant was that they thought that they were given, through Jesus and his apostles, the true understanding of the Jewish Scriptures and God’s Salvation plan.

They were preaching this revelatory message in the streets of Jerusalem, at the Temple, and in the synagogues. What’s more, they were not only preaching and teaching this to Jewish communities in Judaea, but throughout Syria as well. For any devout Jewish person, and especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, this new sect of Judaism was growing at an alarming rate and would have been viewed as a threat against all the Jewish people.

Why? Because they saw it as a rewriting of Jewish history and of the Jewish faith and they feared that this dangerous little cult of Jesus followers was going to bring the wrath of God down upon their heads. After all, they had been following the Torah since God gave it to Moses and it was God who commanded the Jews to follow the Law and to live by His commands; yet, these Jesus followers were twisting around the Law and saying that some of the Law didn’t matter anymore because it was fulfilled in a person who was convicted and crucified traitor.

One such Pharisee was named Saul. He was zealous for the Lord and his Jewish faith and he was not going to sit idly by while this ragtag group of Messiah hopefuls ransacked the Jewish faith and led people astray. That is why he approved of Stephen’s stoning and went on a campaign to root out that Jesus cult once and for all. Acts tells us that he went door to door arresting people and having them put in prison.

At first, Saul’s campaign against the Jesus movement was limited to Jerusalem; however, Saul of Tarsus knew that it was spreading far beyond Jerusalem and he fully intended to track it down no matter where it was spreading to. He was going to track it down and stamp it out permanently. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let it suffice for us to say that Saul did not see himself as a “bad guy”; rather, he saw himself as a defender of God’s people against “bad guys”.

Let that challenge us. Most people do not act the way they do believing themselves to be bad or evil. Most people believe that what they are doing is righteous and just in the eyes of God (or whomever they view as the ultimate judge of those things); however, such a view can easily lead to close-mindedness that closes people off to the truth that God is actually revealing to them.

Let us be challenged by that so that we can reflect on how we are like Saul and the ways in which we can change so that we don’t fall into the same trap that he did. If we open ourselves to God, rather than our preconceived opinions of God, God will guide us to the truth he has ultimately revealed to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Zeal without knowledge is fire without light.” – Rev. Thomas Fuller

PRAYER
Lord, help me to burn with zeal for you, but also help me to temper it with open-mindedness, restraint, and understanding. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Easter Sunday

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ Then she gave them His message.” (John 20:18 NLT)

jesus-Is-laid-in-a-tomb-tomb-03-1800Happy Easter Sunday! This is the day to which all of the previous days and devotions of Holy Week have been pointing to. This is the day when the power of God was fully displayed in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not enough that he lived the life of a prophet. It’s not enough that he lived the life of one who had compassion on the “least of these.” It’s not enough that he held to his beliefs even unto death. It’s certainly not enough that he bore his cross and died on it. For if that is how the life of the Son of God ended, if that is the end of the story, then what hope is there that evil will ever be overcome?

If the Jesus movement were to die with him at his death, then he would go down in history as just another poor peasant who dared to defy the powers that be and paid the ultimate price for it. What’s more, his teachings would go down as nice but unrealistic. His miracles would go down as nothing more than magic tricks, and his claims of divinity would go down as nothing more than an egotistical delusion. Yet, the story did not end there; rather, on the third day following his passion and death, the Son of God was resurrected from the tomb. What’s more, his resurrection was experienced by countless people, at least 513 people according to the Apostle Paul who was writing about 24-27 years after Christ’s death and resurrection.

The resurrection is not about a dead body becoming resuscitated back to life. The resurrection isn’t about faith that goes against reason, nor is it about believing in something ludicrous that cannot be seen or experienced. If it were about those things, no one would have believed Paul or the countless others who preached the resurrection of the Son of God to others. In fact, Paul would have never believed it either were it merely about belief in what cannot be seen or experienced. What’s important to note is that belief in the resurrection of Christ is not about blind faith, but about an experiential faith. The question is not about whether or not the Son of God resurrected from the dead, the question is about whether or not you have witnessed the resurrected Son of God, and whether or not you have experienced that resurrection in your life as well.

Whether you are celebrating Easter Sunday or not, ask yourself this question, have you experienced the miracle of the resurrection? If not, why not? Perhaps it is because you have not died to anything or, if you have, perhaps it is because you have not let that experience go. I can tell you that I have experienced both the risen Son of God in my life, and I have experienced the miracle of the resurrection too. But what I have experienced can only intrigue you, if that. You need to open yourself to experiencing it too. I pray that on this Easter Sunday, the power of the resurrected SON manifests itself in you and that you are aware and open to it. If you are, NOTHING will ever be the same again.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“People have been told so often that resurrection is just a metaphor, and means Jesus died and was glorified – in other words, he went to Heaven, whatever that means. And they’ve never realized that the word ‘resurrection’ simply didn’t mean that.” – N.T. Wright

PRAYER
Lord, reveal your resurrected self to me and a produce in me the resurrected life. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Holy Saturday

Read Matthew 27:62-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’Go out and stand before Me on the mountain,’ the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13a NLT)

Jesus in the TombToday is Holy Saturday, which is the day in between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. It is on this day that his disciples sat in hiding. It is on this day that the uncertainty of death hung over them like a shroud, clouding them with the fear of the unknown and paralyzing them in that fear. They had followed Jesus for three long years and had invested all of their hopes and expectations in him. Now he was dead, gone, and the silence of the tomb echoed in their psyche about as loudly as a shrill scream in the night.

On the flip side, the powers that be that opposed Jesus were scrambling to keep the silence from becoming to uncertain. Caiaphas and other religious leaders were holding a meeting with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, regarding what they were going to do with this dead trouble maker named Jesus. The religious leaders were claiming that his disciples might come and snatch the body in order to make false claims about some sort of bodily resurrection. Out of fear that the body might disappear, they all decided that it would be best if guards were posted at the tomb to ensure that nothing happened to the body.” These men, too, were disturbed by the silence of the tomb, for they were afraid it might remain silent. So they did everything they could to ensure that it would.

The silence of death and the tomb affects each of us in many different ways. It seems so final, yet so uncertain, and we are left feeling not only loss by a sense of hopelessness. And I need not be talking about the physical death of any one person, but death in the broader sense. Throughout life, aspects of our lives die off. We come to identify ourselves one way, or another, and for a season that identification endures; however, there comes a point when that identity, that aspect, that part of us dies off and we are with a tremendous sense of loss and of fear. Who are we? How do we respond to this particular loss? Do we, like the disciples, hide in the shadows afraid of what lies next? Or do we, like the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day, place guard over the tomb to make sure nothing is out of our control?

Both of the above questions are pathways that we can take? Both seek to hang onto whatever control we have left. Paralysis and overreaction are on the opposite side of the same coin of control. However, there is a third option. We need not hide in the shadows or overreact in some outlandish way or through some sort of crazy power grab; rather, we have the option of letting go. We have the option of allowing the silence of the tomb to speak for itself. We have the option of letting go of control and allowing God to work resurrection in our lives. The reality is that no matter what we do, whether we hide in the shadows or stand guard over the tomb, that stone will be bursting forth with or without us. The question is not “if”, but “when.” When the Son of God sparks resurrection in your life, will be open to it or will you let it pass you by? The silence of the tomb gives you ample time to reflect on that very question. May that reflection be rich in the darkness and the silence of the tomb.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” – Steve Jobs

PRAYER
Lord, prepare me for the death in life, and for the death of life, for I know that all ends are the beginnings of something new. Amen.

Good Friday Tenebrae Service Online

Good-Friday-1Join Rev. Todd and First United Methodist Church of Newton for their online Good Friday Tenebrae Service on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. https://youtu.be/U_sG4ysCAAU.
Holy Week is more than just Easter. It starts with Palm Sunday, works its way to Upper Room and Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, to the foot of the cross on Good Friday. Without the suffering of Christ and his death on the cross, there would be no Easter! Join First UMC of Newton tonight night at the foot of the cross and prepare for the joyous celebration of Easter morning!

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Good Friday

Read John 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
When the Roman officer who stood facing Him [heard His cry and] saw how He had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 NLT)

2014-NIUE-AUGUSTUS-FEATUREUp until now, it might not be clear why I entitled this series of Holy Week devotions, “Son of God. I mean, sure, I am writing about Jesus of Nazareth who is known by billions of Christians to be the “Son of God.” That much is self-evident; and sure, I am writing about the activities, suffering and death of “the Son of God” because it is Holy Week and that is when billions of Christians celebrate the last days of Christ. But, other than that, why entitle this SON OF GOD.

What most people don’t realize is that the title, “Son of God”, was not held exclusively by Jesus during his lifetime. There was another person who was known to the world at the time as son of god and his name was Tiberius Caesar, just as Augustus Caesar was before him. Because Julius Caesar was divinized following his assassination, Augustus (whose birth name was Octavian) took on the title divi filius, aka son of the divine one, aka son of god. When Tiberius succeeded Augustus, he took on the same title, as did the Caesars that followed him. And, honestly, who was going to argue with them. They were truly the most powerful men in the known world and to argue their divinity with them was to order your own death.

When Jesus’ followers, and later the Gospel writers, started hailing the peasant carpenter from Nazareth as “the Son of God,” this instantly put him in immediate competition with Caesar, who did not take kindly to such competition. What’s more, Jesus wasn’t being called the equivalent of divi filius; rather, he was being called the equivalent of Dei Filius, which put him above the son of a deified mortal and made him the Son of the immortal God. Also, this Jesus claimed that being the Son of God meant conquering people with love and truth, as opposed to Caesar’s way of conquering people with fear and force. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that this peasant Nazarene came face to face with the Roman Empire. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that the Son of God challenged another son of god. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that LOVE and brute force crossed paths in such a dramatic way that the world would never forget it. While brute force may have won the battle, three days later it totally lost the war!

On this Good Friday, we are being called by the Son of God to reflect on the ways we oppose walking the path of LOVE. How often have we tried to force our way on others? How often have we put ourselves above the Son of God through our thoughts and through our actions? Christ is calling us to search our hearts and our souls. The Son of God is calling us to acknowledge his Sonship, his divinity, and his Lordship over our lives. The Son of God is calling us to abandon our ways for his ways, and he is calling us, at all costs, to return to the pathway of LOVE. While this is not always easy, it is what the Son of God calls us to do and his death on the cross is a reminder to us all of the extent to which he was willing to go in order to see that pathway through. The Christ on the cross is waiting for us to join him in his mission.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:45 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, precious Son of God, thank you for your sacrifice. Stir up in me a sacrificial love that reaches far and wide to those in need around me. Amen.

Maundy Thursday Online Worship

pictures-of-jesus-gethsemane-960152-wallpaperJoin Rev. Todd and First UMC of Newton, NJ for their Maundy Thursday Online Worship service at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time (U.S./Canada) on YouTube. https://youtu.be/SMdTRcV6tEA
Holy Week is more than just Easter. It starts with Palm Sunday, works its way to Upper Room and Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, to the foot of the cross on Good Friday. Without the suffering of Christ and his death on the cross, there would be no Easter! Join First UMC of Newton tonight and tomorrow night and prepare for the joyous celebration of Easter morning!

A LOOK BACK: SON OF GOD: Maundy Thursday

Read John 13:21-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)

JudasHave you ever read the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Gospels? Have you ever noticed the sentiment conveyed about Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus? Have you ever noticed that as you read through the Gospels chronologically in the order they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), that there is a progression from cold to seething despise in the representation of Judas and his final act of betrayal? In Mark and Matthew, Judas’ actions are more or less presented in a very “matter of fact” way. Judas decides to betray Jesus, for which no reason is given, and he gets paid for the betrayal. In Luke, the author writes that “Satan entered Judas Iscariot” which led him to go to the high priests. In John, Jesus calls Judas “a devil” (John 6:70) and was possessed by Satan, who entered him following eating the bread at the Last Supper (John 13:26).

Since the moment he decided to betray Jesus, Judas has certainly gone down in infamy. He has been forever remembered as the man who betrayed the prince of peace. What sort of man would do such a thing? How could have possibly even thought that betraying Jesus is a good thing? These questions, and more, to this day remain unanswered. We’ll never know why Judas did what he did. It is easy to understand why a growing number of Christians, from the Gospel writers onward, came to despise him for betraying our Lord. Yet, the ironic part is while we hold Judas accountable (perhaps more than accountable) for his actions, we give the other disciples a complete pass. After all, while Judas actively betrayed Jesus, didn’t the others betray him too? Which one of them stood by Jesus’ side in his time of need? They all deserted, they all fled, they all abandoned him…and in some sense…the all betrayed him.

Yet all of the Gospel accounts are consistent on one thing, if not on their view of Judas himself. They are all consistent on the fact that Judas was welcome at the table of grace, on the fact that Judas was welcome to share in the last supper, but a Jesus who was well aware of his deceit. While we’ll never know what was in Jesus’ mind at the time, it is consistent with his teaching on not judging, and loving even one’s enemies. In fact, Judas wasn’t an enemy at all, he was a friend and he was a trusted confidant of Jesus’. Yet, instead of reacting negatively toward Judas, Jesus pitied him and made room for him at the Last Supper. I would like to believe that Jesus wished that Judas would be able to forgive himself and eventually rejoin the disciples in spreading the Gospel message; however, I also believe that Jesus knew that Judas would never be able to.

The question for us, out of all of this, is how far are you willing to take the Jesus’ command to love? By his very example, Jesus showed us that he wasn’t being hypothetical or theoretical in his calling for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies. How far are you willing to go in your love of others? Will you love others, including your enemies, even if it comes at a great personal cost? Today’s challenge, as we approach the Lord’s table of grace at the Last Supper, is to reflect on your call LOVE OTHERS, just as Christ has loved you. Will you follow Jesus in living a life of LOVE, or will you abandon him and his cause for your own comfort and safety? The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself up to your love and help me grow to be a person who more fully loves others, even those who I would otherwise consider to be my enemies. Amen.