Tag Archives: salvation

REVISITED: Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnow

In the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

The Void

Read 1 John 1:5-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the LORD and rely on your God” (Isaiah 50:10 NLT).

Darkness can be interpreted in many ways, but it is almost universally understood to be a state we, as humans, do not want to exist in. One cannot see well in the dark and moving around when one cannot see is quite treacherous. In fact, since the beginning of time, people have referred to such a state as “being in an abyss” or being in “a void”. Definitively, this kind of void is a completely empty space, emptied of everything including light.

One of my favorite bands released an album during Lent 2021 called, Songs of Death and Resurrection. Demon Hunter is a metal band whose members are Christian, and this album was a collection of their ballads, each performed acoustically (including strings and piano). One of the songs on there is a song called Praise the Void. For Ryan Clark, who wrote it, the song is about people who believe there is no life after death and how they think that death will bring about an exit out of the darkness of life.

For Ryan, a Christian, this concept makes little to no sense. Jesus is the light in the darkness, and he is the ONLY one who can lead us out of it. His salvific work on the cross has given us the way out of the void we find ourselves in without God. Thus, when he sings the words, “Praise the void for this love, this wasted love”, he’s being facetious and using sarcasm to express how ridiculous he finds believing in “nothing” or in a “void” is.

As a Christian I, of course, agree with Ryan; however, a little while ago, I was listening to this song and I heard something else in the lyrics. They spoke to me in a different way than they had in the past. That is the beauty of art, it is created with a specific intent, yet it is always being interpreted by different people differently. As the lyrics entered my ears and swirled around my head and heart, they began to speak of a different void, one that I have been locked in before and could always find myself back there again. The void I speak of is the void of loneliness, of not fitting in, of not being valued or, at the very least, the perception that one lives in such a void.

In that moment, these words took on a whole new meaning to me: “But here in the dark I feel nothing, I see no one. No solace at all, we once heard the lasting call, but now I praise the void for this love, this wasted love. Praise the void for we found nothing is enough.” In those words, I was reminded of that empty feeling of being alone and abandoned, not feeling the presence of God and feeling rejected by the world…including those dearest me.

Some of that loneliness was real, some of it was perceived due to mental illness, but all of it felt real while in the void. The love…the wasted love…reminds me of all of the energy…the blood, the sweat, the tears…the countless sleepless nights and anxious days trying to get someone, anyone, to notice and LOVE me. In the void, that lasting call of Christ choosing and loving me seemed non-existent even though I could remember it and hope seemed elusive at best.

Yet, at some point, Christ broke through the void and the light led me out of the darkness and back to that lasting call. After all, it wouldn’t be lasting if it didn’t last, no? So, now I praise the void. Well, and this is perhaps where the interpretation weakens a bit, I praise God for the void. I praise God for the void because while I felt isolated in it, the void actually brought me closer to Jesus Christ. I praise God for the love…the seeemingly wasted love…because I still dared to love and that is NEVER a waste. I praise God for the void, because, in the end nothing (BUT CHRIST) is enough.

Of course, I still appreciate the original meaning of the song as I cannot wrap my head around believing that millions of years of human relations to a higher power has been somehow canceled out by nothingness, of which there is no scientific proof for either. But this new fresh interpretation has really been meaningful to me and I hope you find it meaningful too. Never be afraid to find new meanings in art or in life in general. God is speaking to us in ways that no human could ever predict, and the faithful will always be open to discovering new meanings in otherwise familiar things. Remember, authors merely write the words based off of what is on their heart; however, it is Christ who speaks through them with his lasting call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We become aware of the void as we fill it.” ― Antonio Porchia

PRAYER
Lord, help steer me away from the void and, when brokenness places me back in it, help lead your servant back to the light. Amen.

March 2, 2022 – Newton UMC – Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service

Worship service streams live at 7:30 p.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service on Wed., March 2, 2022, hosted by First United Methodist Church of Newton, along with First Presbyterian Church of Newton. Today we learn that we partner in Jesus’ suffering so that we may better see the experience of those who suffer daily and work with them for lasting justice.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc. Tonight’s collection will go to support local mission. To make sure your gift is included in tonight’s offering, please write Ash Wednesday in the memo of whatever platform you pay on, as well as on checks that are being written, which can me made out and mailed to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

God bless you all for your generosity.

February 27, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Live Stream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Our 9:00 service will not live stream on YouTube today due to technical difficulties. We are working to get this service up and running as soon as possible. Please check out our Traditional Service.

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Traditional Worship Service for February 27. Today we learn that closeness to God is NOT the same as “doing good”; rather, any good we do is because of God and our closeness to Him.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

REVISITED: THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, part 10: God’s Favor Revealed

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Remember me, LORD, when You show favor to Your people; come near and rescue me.” (Psalm 106:4 NLT)

The light in young woman hands in cupped shape. Concepts of shar

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 10: God’s Favor Revealed. What does it mean to have God’s favor? Often times, we look at people who have everything going for them as though they have been favored and/or blessed by God. We look at the wealthy, the successful, the fashionable, the sociable, the famous, the strong, the powerful and others such as these as if they have been showered with God’s blessings. It goes without saying that, if God is showering blessings upon people that they must be favored by God.

What does it mean to need God’s favor? Often times, we look at the lowly, the poor, the destitute, the ignorant, the uneducated, the socially awkward, the loners, the timid, the weak, and the powerless as being those who are in major need of God’s favor. Of course, it goes without saying that those “living in their sin”, however we define that, are also in need of God’s favor. These are the people we look down upon, we pity, and we distinguish ourselves from.

In regard to the answers to both questions above, not much has changed in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth. If you seemingly had everything going your way, you were considered to be under God’s blessing and, in essence, favored by God. If you’re existence was viewed as miserable and with pity, then you were considered to be under God’s curse and, in essence, IN NEED of God’s favor. In part, the book of Job tries to dispell this bad theology by showing that even those favored by God suffer and, conversely, those who are wicked sometimes triumph in their sin and evil. Despite the difficulty that aforementioned book presents to us theologically, there can be no doubt that the reality is that our discernment of who’s favored and who needs favor is skewed and injustly biased.

In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesuths proclaimed the time of YAHWEH’s (aka the LORD) favor. In the context of the Jewish year of Jubilee, as well as in the context of the Isaiah passage Jesus is reading from, it is clear that those who need favor are the ones who are poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed. As has been asked before, who are the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the opressed? We always tend to think of these labels in terms of people who are financially poor, physically imprisoned, literally blind, and socially/economically/politically/physically oppressed.

The truth is that, while Jesus was proclaiming the year of the YAHWEH’s favor upon such people, he was not proclaiming that favor ONLY for them. The truth is we all need God’s favor…we all are in need of God’s salvation and the freedom that comes with it. People can be spiritually and relationally impoverished, as well as financially. They can be imprisoned in their hatred, in their short-sighted worldviews, and in virtually every other pitfall in their lives. They can be blind from seeing truth, from seeing their need for God’s grace, from seeing their neighbor through the lense of loving compassion and hospitality. The truth be told, we ALL are oppressed by our sins and our propensity to miss the mark when it comes to living in UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The power of the Gospel is, that it is to such people…to all people…TO US…that they year of God’s favor has arrived and it is US that Christ chose to spread that favor.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“People who demand neutrality in any situation are usually not neutral but in favor of the status quo.” – Max Eastman

PRAYER
Lord, help me to realize my need for you and help me to realize your need for me to spread your Good News to all. Amen.

The Good News!

Read Luke 2:25-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

This may sound a little morbid and/or macabre, but I thoroughly enjoy officiating funerals. Okay, maybe enjoy might not be the right word…indeed, it is not the right word…no, I feel fulfilled in the ministry of serving families in times of grief and despair. I love being present for people in those times, and I thoroughly am blessed to be able to assure the family that death is not the end, but the beginning of something new and eternal…something we all get to join in on…not just now in this current world order, but in the new, eternal kingdom to come.

What good news that is! What awesome news, that we are already citizens of a coming kingdom. In fact, we are not just citizens, but ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. What’s more, we are not just citizens or ambassadors, but heirs to the Kingdom. That means, we’ve been adopted into the family of God and are children of God. What great news that is and it is my honor to share that message with families, because it reminds them of the great hope we have in God through Jesus Christ.

Recently I officiated a funeral for a family of a relatively young man in his 50s. I had deliberated on whether or not I should wear my suit jacket as I was wearing my short-sleeved collared clerical shirt and my tattoos, of which I have many, would be showing. It was summer and no one would blame me for showing up in a short-sleeved dress shirt; however, some might not be thrilled to see a tattoed minister! In my deliberations, I got distracted and ended up forgetting about making the decision.

Of course, that meant that I showed up to the funeral home and then realized I was not wearing my jacket. I was instantly self-conscious about it, but then a peace came over me. I was there to serve that family and I would not let a jacket stand in the way of that mission. I walked in, introduced myself to the family, got ready and officiated a celebration of life that seemed to be really meaningful for those who were gathered to remember the person who had died. I had created a space where they could grieve and celebrate freely.

Afterward, a woman who was probably in her late 60s or early 70s approached me and said, “Reverend, you are truly as cool as your tattoos!” I was taken back by her comment. I was not expecting that comment at all and was left somewhat speechless. All I could muster was an awkward, “Thank you.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she continued, “I have waited my whole life to see this…to see a minister who isn’t afraid to show their humanity.” Again, I was taken back, but managed to say, “Thank you so much, you’ve really blessed me with your words.”

“You are the one who blessed me,” the woman said assuredly. “Thank you so much for being here and for your words.”

I was stunned. I have had people comment on my tattoos before. Usually, I am asked whether or not my congregation knows I have them. I can appreciate the question because that is the perception of the church, a perception the church created itself by forgetting that it consisted of sinners redeemed by grace…not saved by the law or legalism.

This woman who approached me had clearly experienced that somewhere along the way in the church too. This woman so clearly articulated that church was the place where people shed their humanity and act like they are something better that human. The truth is that is NOT THE GOSPEL MESSAGE. We are not better than humanity, we are among those who make it up. We are sinners saved by a gracefuly, compassionate, merciful, and loving God. That is the Gospel message.

Just like Simeon, who had waited all his life to see the Christ child, this woman had waited all her life to see the church reclaim its humanity. It’s not about me and I am certainly not the only minister with tattoos…not in a long shot; however, it is about each of us being true to who we are…because Jesus accepts us for who we are. More than that, Jesus uses our uniqueness for the glory of God and the coming Kingdom. Submitting to Christ means being who we uniquely are for the sake of Christ and following him faithfully in that freedom.

Therefore, let us put on Christ and carry him out into the world in our unique way. Christ’s Kingdom is made up of a vast army of unique people, unified but NOT UNIFORM in Christ’s mission and ministry. If we do that, there will be no stopping what Christ will do next for the transformation of this world into the Kingdom God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God didn’t create us to be robots, but to be autonomous, individual people with the freedom to use our unique gifts for the glory of God.

PRAYER
Lord, use me in ways that are unique to who I am so that others may come to know you and your love for them through me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Just Who Do You Think I Am?

Read Romans 7:7-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)

CrossRedeemed

If you were to ask any of the students I have had over the years for confirmation class, they would tell you that one of the major projects I have them do is write a theological essay on who people say Jesus Christ is, and to also write about who they believe Jesus Christ to be. This essay is based off of the two questions Jesus asked his disciples, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am’” (Matthew 16:13, 15b)?

There were no wrong answers, and it wasn’t anything they were graded on. The purpose of the required exercise was two-fold: 1) To help them develop the skill of critical theological thinking and the ability to articulate the Christian faith as they have been taught it. 2) To promote critical thinking around their own experiences with Jesus Christ, as well as to give them the opportunity to express those experiences and their own understanding of who Christ is in writing to themselves. Later in life, they can look back on those answers and see how their understanding has grown over the years.

Recently, while driving, I was listening to the Christian metal band Demon Hunter’s album, “Extremist.” The first song on that album is “Death”. This song, to me, is the opposite exercise. Unlike the exercise I have my confirmation students (aka confirmands) go through, this song is not asking the listener who they think Christ is, but rather it is asking that same question in regard to all of the other influences in their lives.

Actually, the song is a reflection, in part, on the tendency to idolize people like him, as if they are some sort of paragon of perfection. With that said, I also think that this song works beyond just Ryan Clark, but other people and/or influences in our lives that we turn to in order to be “saved” from ourselves and our circumstances. In the song, Ryan Clark screams, “I’m not your gateway. I’m not your prodigal son. I’m the vile lesser-than. Just who do you think I am? I’m not your standard. I’m not your vision divine. I am not sacrificial lamb. Just who do you think I am? I am death.”

Ryan is not stating that he is literally Death, as in the Grim Reaper. Nor is he stating that he is evil or that he has no part to play in helping others. That is not what he is saying at all; rather, he is stating that ONLY CHRIST is the savior. We all, including Ryan, are sinners and we are all in need of being saved. How do I know that’s what Ryan actually meant when writing the song? Here’s what Ryan has to say about it:

‘By our very nature, we are a sinful people. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you stand on, that will always be the case. If you don’t see it, you’re not paying attention. There is no pretending to be impervious to it. The answer is revealed in the realization of its existence, and the understanding that you are in need of forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. Eternal death. My desire is to be an instrument for this revelation, but my words alone can only point the way. I am no savior.’

Amen. We are all in need of being saved and, for those who recognize that need, salvation rests in Jesus Christ who literally HELD NO BARS in ensuring that  salvation for us, should we desire and ask for it. Our way, apart from the eternal love that is GOD in Jesus Christ, leads to death. This need not merely be in some other-worldly sense either. Just look at the wisdom and “saving plans” of human beings running amok in the world. Look at the broken relationships, the drug addiction, the abject poverty, the abuse and oppression, the genocide and the governing for SELF-INTEREST. It is clear, we humans are not saviors, but lesser-than (to use the lyrics).

We are, apart from Christ, death. Yet, as Ryan rightly points out, those of us who are saved are called to point the way to Christ, who is the revelation of God’s unconditional, saving love. We may not be the savior, but we intimately know the savior and can introduce people to our Lord and Savior. If you feel lost in your life, if you feel surrounded by dead ends and hopelessness, there is a way out of such despair. There is a way to abundant and joyful life. That way is Jesus Christ and I pray that you two get in touch. Find a pastor or someone grounded in faith who can support you in that. If you are a person of faith, be willing to be the vessel that points the least, the last and the lost to the One who LOVES and SAVES THEM beyond all measures!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He that falls into sin is a [human]; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasteth of it, is a devil.” – Thomas Fuller

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. May I always point to your saving grace. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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)

AmazingGrace

Again, 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.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’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

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

The Vineyard Revisited

Read Mark 12:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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+Vineyard

Jesus 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 and Jesus’ sacrifice on it as being substitutionary, meaning 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 subtly different way of understanding this parable. The cross wasn’t necessary because God is wrathful, vindictive and needed blood to atone for sin. Besides, how is sending an innocent person to his/her death, for the benefit of the guilty, justice? Instead, the cross was necessary because it was the ONLY thing that could shock us enough to SEE our sin for what it is. The horror of the cross reflects the horror of human sin and evil.

In the parable, the landowner who sends his son represents God, for sure, and the landowner’s wrath is a reminder to us that God is ANGRY, and should be angry, at our sin. Yet, the parable is not conveying to us the whole of God’s plan. The parable is meant to teach us that God has tried and tried and tried to bring us to repentance and redemption. God has sent us messengers and messages throughout the millennia to reach us, but our sin kept us from hearing and seeing. What the parable does not tell us is that God not only sent his son, but was the Son. That God took on human flesh and became one of us, knowing that it would lead to his own death. Unlike the landowner, God didn’t destroy us, but brought redemption to us through self-sacrificial LOVE on the cross. God transformed a device of human torture and death into a profound symbol of forgiveness, salvation, and LIFE!

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 human 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.

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

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

God’s People, part 276: Typical Politicians

Read Acts 24:1-27; 25:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, 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.

Part 276: Typical Politicians. As was discussed in the last devotion, Paul was a Roman citizen and he used that fact to his advantage after being arrested in the Jerusalem Temple. Following his arrest, a Roman commander was going to have Paul whipped and beaten for being a “rabble rouser” but, prior to that happening, Paul questioned the legality of that being that he was a Roman Citizen by birth and had not received a fair trial.

The question was a successful move on Paul’s part and, as a result, was placed under protective custody while he awaited trial. In Acts 24, we see that Paul’s trial fell into the hands of Felix, who was the governor of Judaea at the time. Judaean Governors, lived in the city of Caesarea and rarely came to Jerusalem, except on high holy days and other events that could break into a successful rebellion due to the massive number of people gathering in the city. Thus, Paul was transported to a palace prison in Caesarea where he awaited trial.

Paul’s trial started twelve days after he was arrested, and he was accused of being a trouble maker and someone who desecrated the Temple, which he had not done but had been accused of. Thus, Felix turned to Paul to hear his side of things. Paul did so eloquently, and he explained why he was in Jerusalem, and that as a devout Jew he was at the Temple to observe the purification ritual. He did admit to being “a follower of The Way” (aka a follower of Jesus), which he also pointed out that the Jews accusing him saw “The Way” as a cult; however, he also pointed out his deep, devout Jewish convictions and his desire to follow the Law and the prophets.

When Felix heard that he was a follower of The Way, which he was familiar with, he decided to table the trial until the commander came. Paul was kept in prison, but was allowed to have some freedoms, such as regular visitors. The problem was that Felix’s wife was Jewish and he did not want to upset her or the Jewish people. Felix had to walk a fine line and he was hoping that Paul would get himself into trouble by trying to bribe him, or to find some other cause to nail Paul on.

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into two long years. Yet, the trial ceased to continue. After two years in prison, another governor succeeded Felix. His name was Porcius Festus and, once he took over, he resumed Paul’s trial after pressure from the Jewish authorities. The initial trial took place in Ceasarea; however, not wanting to further upset the Jewish leaders, he asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there. Paul objected and appealed to the emperor.

Little did Paul know that King Herod Agrippa was also coming to hear Paul’s case. According to Agrippa, he would have let Paul go if he had not appealed to Caesar; however, this should be taken with a grain of salt as Agrippa, just like Festus and Felix, was typical politician. With no pressure on him, he could easily make such a claim now that it was out of his hands; however, would he really have just let Paul go? Also, couldn’t Agrippa arranged to let Paul go and not send the appeal.

The point is that Paul knew that Christ was calling him to Rome. In his very letter to the Romans, he said that he wanted to go to Rome on his way to Spain. While I am sure that Paul knew that a trial in Caesar’s court might not go his way in the end, he was also sure that he could continue to witness to Christ in Rome as he knew he was called to do.

As for Felix, Festus and Agrippa, they were men of power. They didn’t care about Paul as much as they did their own prestige and station in life. All they cared about was looking good and keeping the peace. Paul was nothing to them, just a number. They were, sad to say, typical politicians. In appealing to Caesar, Paul was not actually looking for Caesar, another typical politician, to save him, but was fully thrusting himself into Christ’s plan. It was an act of faith and faithfulness. Let us, like Paul, not put our trust and hope in people, let alone politicians. They will fail us; however, Christ will not fail us and if we remain faithful to his mission, not even death will be able to stop us from our true inheritance.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is only one Savior, Jesus the Christ, and he is our only HOPE.

PRAYER
Lord, I look to you, and you alone, as my Lord and my Savior. In you alone I place my faith. Amen.