Tag Archives: redemption

God’s People, part 159: Crucifixion

Read John 19

“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.

“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

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

“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.

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

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 85: Gomer

Read Hosea 3

“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.’” (John 8:10-11 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.

GomerPart 85: Gomer. I bet that most of you never realized that there was a person named “Gomer” in the Bible. Most people have probably not known many people with the name Gomer aside from, perhaps, Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show.” No doubt, Gomer is not the most “well-known” character in the Bible.

What’s more, her profession did not help her go down in the annals of notability. Being a sex worker, she would have been the sex toy of lustful men, and the scorn of pious people. Her line of work was not, nor is it now, a “respectable” vocation and she would have, no doubt, been judged by the majority of society. This would have been the case, even in the wicked Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The truth is, we are just as judgmental toward such people as well. I was just listening to an conversation on CNN between Anderson Cooper, Michael Avenatti, and some other guest. Mr. Avenatti was discussing a law suit he is filing on behalf of his client, stating that she had been defamed by the president. As such, she was seeking damages. The guest next to him began to object and push back against the lawyer. He asked, “Do you think a jury is going to buy into the claim that her character had been defamed, knowing that she is a Porn Star and has starred in over 500 porn films.” Following that question, Cooper pushed back and ask, “Wait, are you saying that her character cannot be defamed because she’s a porn star?”

Regardless of your political worldview, that question is a good one. Is Stormy Daniels not a human being, beloved of God, Created in the divine image of God, deserving of being treated with dignity and respect, simply because her line of work is sinful? What’s more, what is our part in her sin? Yes, you read that right. What is our part in her sin. What makes pornography even a thing? What causes a woman (or a man) to sell their bodies in order to make money?

The fact is that pornography, like prostitution, is driven by socio-economic factors. Women, most of whom are desparate for money (for various reasons), are being exploited by other people for the sake of making money. Money they make, indeed. It is estimated that pornography is a $97 billion industry. That’s net, not gross! So, let me ask this question again. What is our part in her sin?

I want you to make note of this. Gomer was NOT rejected by God, despite her position. Some may see God’s working in Gomer’s life to be strange. He has Hosea, his holy prophet, marry her and have children with her. Not to love her, but to prove a point to Israel that they had prostituted themselves out other nations and other gods, and there were steep consequences coming as a result.

Yet, strange as that may be, Gomer becomes the wife of a prophet and is redeemed. She’s given a new opportunity to leave her profession and raise a family. She does not even love Hosea and, evidently, leaves him for another man. Yet, Hosea pursues her and pays the other man so that he can have his wife back. What we have here is the PERFECT example of God’s love and grace. Hosea brings her back to be with him, and invites her back into faithfulness. Gomer finds redemption through God’s unconditional love, and the hope was that Israel would one day find such redemption too.

Of course, that redemption comes through Jesus Christ who, unlike his ancestor kings, would not fall away from faithfulness to God. It is through this savior that Israel, and the world, would be redeemed and reunited with God. We have been, like Gomer, married to Christ and are being asked to remain faithful.

With that said, we can never be faithful to Christ though self-righteous judgmentalism. The challenge for us is to not point our fingers at another’s sins, as if we have not played our part in those sins, as well as others. Instead, let us embrace Christ remain faithful to Christ our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, the Lover of our Souls.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT)

Lord, help me to reflect redemption rather than rejection. For I have not been rejected by you, but have been redeemed for your glory. Amen.

God’s People, part 65: Kings of Judah

Read 1 Kings 15:1-24

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me.” (Matthew 23:37 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.

The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzars_Army_by_Circle_of_Juan_de_la_CortePart 65: Kings of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah was established when the tribe of Judah hailed David as their King, following the death of Saul. Eventually, David was able to unite all of the twelve tribes together under his rule, which formed the United Kingdom of Israel; however, the unity was ultimately short-lived. Following the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led the ten tribes in revolt against Solomon’s son Rehoboam. That resulted in the split between those ten tribes that supported Jeroboam and the 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that were loyal to Rehoboam and the Davidic line.

Thus, Jeroboam’s kingdom kept the name “Israel”, while Rehoboam’s Kingdom reestablished itself as the Kingdom of Judah. As was discussed in an earlier devotion, Rehoboam ended up not being the ideal king. He was weak and he felt entitled. He increased the tax burden of his subjects and abused his authority as king. He doubled down on the harshness of his father and boasted about it. What’s more, he continued his father’s practice of idolatry.

His son, Abijah, succeeded him and, unfortunately followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite all of that, there was much more stability in the early years of the Judah’s reestablisment than there was in the Kingdom of Israel. That is mainly because of the power, money, and prominence the Kingdom of Judah had. The stronghold of Jerusalem, the Temple which drew countless people from around the world, and other factors helped to give Judah the advantage. Still, due to the corruption of its political and religious leaders, Judah was not able to stay in such privileged times for that long.

There were 20 kings following the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Judah, starting with Rehoboam. Out of those 20 kings, only 5 were deemed righteous in God’s sight, according to the Bible. Those kings were, King Asa (1 Kings 15:11; 2 Chronicles 14:2), King Jehoshaphat (2 Chornicles 17:3-4), King Jotham (2 King 15:34; 2 Chronicles 27:2), King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5; 2 Chronicles 29:2), and King Josiah (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:2). That is it! Out of 20 kings, only ¼ of them were good and did what was pleasing in the sight of God. The rest were corrupt tyrants who cared little for the people they ruled and cared most for their own grip on power and wealth.

When we look around at the history of humanity we can see this trend with our own eyes. Most of our politicians and leaders, while they are not totally evil, compromise what’s right in order to attain what advantages them the most. The truth be told, this is not just a fault of our leaders but of people in general. Rather than loving the LORD our God with all of our hearts, and seeking God first in all that we do, we tend to seek out our own way and our own path.

This often leads us down paths that end up hurting us and others; yet, just as with the people of Judah and the Davidic line, God does not abandon us even when we abandon God. The truth be told that, despite all of our unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to us. Even when we face the wages of our sin, God is there trying to lead us out of the darkness and into the light.

Just as through a twisted lineage of broken, despotic kings God brought salvation into the world through Jesus Christ, so too can God work in, through and in spite of us even when we are not always in line with God. Let us reflect on that and stand in awe of a God who will not be trumped by our sin. Let us praise our God who does not give up on us, despite the fact that we often forget and/or give up on God. Let us praise God who, despite our brokenness, provides us The Way to salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Though the Davidic line ruled the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem, Jesus the Messiah (who was of the Davidic line), was raised in Nazareth, a city in what was once the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hence the response of Nathanael, who was from Bethsaida in Judah, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

Lord, thank you for your undying faithfulness. Continue to lead me and have mercy on me, as sinner. Amen.

God’s People, part 1: Eve

Read Genesis 2:4-25; 3:1-24

“Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.” (Genesis 3:20 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 are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

AdamAndEve01Part 1: Eve. When we think of Eve, we tend to think in negative and sexual terms. That last one may make you uncomfortable to read, but it is true. Eve is commonly known as the mother of us all, but only because she chose to disobey God and lured Adam to do the same. Her sin, as it is commonly understood, led women into having labor pains and to the establishment of patriarchy (aka women being under the dominion of men). Sadly, our common way of understanding things does an injustice to Eve herself, and it has been damning for women throughout the millennia.

I also think that our tradition, in this regard, does an injustice to the Scriptures themselv es, as I think we tend to lay more blame on Eve than we do on Adam. My reading and interpretation of Scriptures leads me to a different place. By focusing on the sin of Eve, we also miss the beauty of her inherent goodness that is a reflection of the divine image of God. While the story has Eve coming from man, it is only because God realized that man was incomplete without woman. The story is kind of comical in how it is structred because God sets out to create a partner for Adam and has to give it a couple of attempts before getting it right.

The first time round God gave Adam animals, but ended up finding out that humans and animals don’t make a good match. Then God tries again and this time puts Adam asleep and forms woman from Adam’s rib. In other words, Eve was not a sheep or a donkey or a horse or any other animal. Eve was another human being like Adam, made from the same flesh and blood. The important thing to note is that Eve completed Adam.

Yes, Eve did sin, but it is important to realize that it was Adam who God told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was a direct command from God to Adam before Eve was even created. Presumably, as the story never specifies, Adam told Eve; however, it’s no wonder that Eve was the vulnerable target for the shrewd and crafty serpent. She had less of an understanding  as to why they could not eat from that tree, and so the serpent lured her in. Despite that, Adam is still culpable because he was the one who truly knew better.

Yet, that still misses the ultimate point being made here. Eve did not let her sin weigh her down. She became the mother of all despite many painful and tragic circumstances. Also, while sin may have entered the world through the first people, so did true LOVE. Why, you might ask? Because, through Adam and Eve’s choice came God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate embodiment of God’s faithful, unconditional love. Christ is the clear choice God has given us in regard to away out of our sin and back into a relationship with our Creator.

We all make choices and those choices all bear consequences. But that does not make us any less God’s people. The story of Eve drives that point home. Eve did not let sin have the final word and, as such, she became a part of God’s redemption plan as God would choose to become one of her descendents and redeem the world. God does not want you mired by your choices or their consequences, but wants you to move forward from them, like Eve did, and allow God to guide you toward being who you were created to be.

“Grace is a much more accurate word to use when dealing with the state of human existence. God gives us unmerited favor through Jesus Christ, and since Adam and Eve, our lives have depended on it.” – Monica Johnson

Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Still, despite my sin, give me the perseverance of Eve who moved beyond her sin, was fruitful and multiplied. Because of Eve’s faithful perseverance, your Son Jesus Christ came into the world and conquered sin and death. Amen.

Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.’” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)

AmazingGraceAgain, I want to reevaluate the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants. In particular, I would like to have us focus on the wrathful ending to it. In the last devotion, we spent time discussing what the parable reveals to us about God’s plan of redemption. Being that this is the parable Jesus chose to teach just days before he was going to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for capital punishment, it reveals to us exactly what Jesus thought his mission to be. Yet, as was also discussed, the redemption seems to get lost in translation and overshadowed by God’s wrath.

So, let us look at the rhetoric Jesus is using and try to understand this not as God’s wrath, but of God’s ultimate measure of grace. The reality is that when Jesus asks the question, “what do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to [those wicked tennants]?”, he is attemption to elicit a certain response. Yet, the religious leaders had come to be trap this pesky Galilean teacher, not to be trapped by him. So, these leaders remain silent rather than answering the question.

Of course, they surely knew what the answer was. They knew that any owner of such a vineyard, who had the right to claim his/her share of the crops, would definitely not sit by after having his servants killed by such wicked tenants. What’s more, the murder of his son would have driven this father (and any parent) over the proverbial edge. Yet, there the religious leaders stood, resolute in their silence.

Thus, Jesus answered for them, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16a NLT). This response elicited the exact response Jesus knew they would come up with. Instantly, the religious leaders scoffed, “how terrible that such a thing should ever happen.” In other words, these religious leaders were both saying that such a scenario is horrible and, on the same note, a rather far-fetched story that bore no relevance to them.

Yet, it absolutely bore relevance to them. Jesus, knowing their hearts were hardened, quoted scripture, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:17-18 NLT).

First, I want to point out that Jesus’ answer on how the vineyard owner would respond does not exactly match the Scripture that Jesus quotes. The answer itself is the answer that Jesus knew lay in the hearts of the ones he was telling the story to. It is the answer that we as humans would wish that the owner, who’s own son was murdered, would do. Of course, the father is going to seek vengeance and retribution for the death of his son, right? What father wouldn’t?

Jesus then follows that up with something quite different from that answer. Jesus points out to the religious leaders that God had given them the stone upon which to build God’s kingdom. This was the very stone that stood before them: Jesus Christ. Yet these religious leaders, who were builders in the sense that they were supposed to be leading the people in building God’s kingdom, had rejected that stone and, in doing so, had turned away from God. Thus, they would end up stumbling over the stone and falling because of it.

Yet, that was not God’s wrathful vengeance, but their own hardened hearts that led them to trip up instead of build. That was the result of their own unwillingness to see what God was doing through Jesus. Sadly, the religious leaders realized that they were the “wicked tenants” in Jesus’ story and, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they fulfilled their part in the prophetic parable. Instead of reacting as humans would in that situation, God instead showed AMAZING GRACE. This grace is extended toward all humanity, even those who have rejected God. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents did eventually come to follow Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, etc.). Everyone can turn from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and become the Kingdom builders they were created to be. This is God’s challenge to us this Lent.

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

Lord, you are the corner stone upon which I have been built. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

The Vineyard

Read Mark 12:1-12

“I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.” (Isaiah 28:17 NLT)

The+VineyardJesus had stirred up a hornets nest. Just the day prior, he had gone into the temple, violently overturning the tables, let the animals loose, and drove out anyone who was buying or selling goods for sacrifice, as well as anyone changing their currency into the currency accepted in the Temple or vice versa. The next day, he had also told the religious leaders that he didn’t need to answer their questions, since they were unwilling to answer his. Things were about to get pretty ugly, and Jesus knew it.

Following this, Jesus began to tell a parable. He told of a man who built a vineyard and leased it out as a cropshare to other tenants. When it was time for the harvest, this man sent his servant to collect his share of the crops; however, the tenants grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back to the man empty handed. So he sent another, and another. Only, these times the servants were not only beaten but killed.

Finally, the man sends his son to show the tenants how sincere he was about getting his share of the crops. He figured the tenants would see his son, and see that the son came in his authority, and have a change of heart. He hoped they would finally give his share of the crops to his son to return back to the man. Instead, these wicked tenants took hold of the son, beat him and killed him with the intent of taking ownership of the entire estate.

Following the parable, Jesus asked the religious leaders what the man would do once he heard that his son had been killed. Instead of answering, they stood their quiet. They knew the answer, but could not bring themselves to answer it. So, Jesus answered it for them and said, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.'” (Mark 12:9-11 NLT)

Of the many parables that Jesus taught, this one seems to be one of the least understood. The end of the parable seems to overshadow people’s interpretation of the rest of it, meaning that God’s wrath seems to overshadow a parable that is otherwise filled with grace. Yet, despite the last couple of sentences, the whole verse gives us a clue as to Jesus’ mission on earth, which was ultimately a mission of God’s unconditional love and grace.

We often look at the cross as something Jesus had to go through in order for us to be saved from our sins. We view Jesus’ sacrifice as being substitutionary, that Jesus death was a substitute for our own. Those of us who understand Jesus’ sacrifice and death in this way, often view God as a just God, one who is angry at sin, and because of God’s absolute holiness, cannot allow for sin to go unpunished. Thus, God demands blood as a price for such sin and, knowing this, Jesus offered himself as the blameless, sinless lamb as an atonement for us.

Yet, when you look at this parable, I think it is clear that Jesus is pointing us to a different reality. That God’s plan was not to send Jesus to die; rather, God’s plan was to send Jesus to show us The Way back to God. Like the man in the parable, God’s son was sent to bring us who have sinned against God to a state of repentance. God’s son was sent to show us how wrong we have been in severing the relationship we used to have with God, and to call us back into a relationship. Yet, people were too sinful to care that God had sent God’s son and, instead of repenting, we doubled down in our sin and killed God’s son. Jesus did not die as a subsitution for our sins, but BECAUSE OF THEM.

The wrathful ending to the parable is a reflection that God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by our sin. The very people who nailed Jesus to the cross had stumbled on the cornerstone and, no matter how much they thought they had won the day, they had totally lost the battle. While they further damaged their relationship with God and further corrupted their own souls in the process, God’s plan of redemption carried forward from the cross to the empty tomb. In other words, while sin put Jesus on the cross, God’s redemptive plan came to life again and walked right out of the tomb three days later. The challenge for us, as we journey through Lent, is this: will we humble ourselves, repent and be redeemed, or will we allow sin to further separate us from our loving Creator? In the end, it’s our choice.

“May the perfect grace and eternal love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing protection and help.” – St. Ignatius

Lord, lead me to repentance and save me from the power of sin in my life. Amen.

The Gospel Truth

Read Luke 20:9-19

He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)

copy-of-jesus-faceIf I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.

Yet,  when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.

But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.

That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.

The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.

“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.