Tag Archives: Sin

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 224: Adulterer

Read John 7:53; 8:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;”  (Luke 8:1-2, 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.

Jesus_Woman-AdultererPart 224: Adulterer. We all are familiar with the account of the adulterer in John 8. This scene has been played out in virtually every movie ever made on Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection. Most likely, it is remembered in the following way:

A crowd of people come storming into the village square, stones in hand as they chase down a woman who is in a ragged undergarment. Her makeup is smeared across her face, and her dark, exotic eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara are streaking down her face with streams of tears. Jesus sees the angry crowd and also notices one of the religious leaders approaching him.

“Teacher,” the man called out snidely in order to trap Jesus, “this woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses says we must stone her to death. What do you say?”

Jesus bends down quietly and draws in the sand a fish symbol. Though Jesus doesn’t answer the man, he calls out again and demands an answer. “All right,” Jesus responded, “But let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Each person knowing that they aren’t without sin, they begin to drop their stones on the ground and leave dejected. Jesus approaches the woman and asks, “Woman, who here condemns you.

“No one, master,” she replied. Then Jesus said to her, “Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Of course, this memory of the Scripture is mostly right, though some of the details are off. First, the crowd was not necessarily holding stones; rather, the account tells us that they brought the woman before Jesus in order to trap him. When Jesus said his famous line, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, there is no mention that the people dropped their stones, but that they just left.

Also, we don’t know what Jesus actually wrote in the sand. Films often have Jesus draw a fish, which was the ancient symbol for Christ followers; however, there is no actual evidence that Jesus drew that symbol, let alone anything else. Most importantly, this woman often gets conflated with Mary Magdalene. In fact, this identity has become so strongly linked to the adulterous woman, that even when we read the text, in which the woman is given no name, we see Mary Magdalene as that woman.

The truth is, Mary was never linked to being an adulterer, nor does the Bible say that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. In fact, the only mention of Mary in her life prior to following Jesus, was that she had been possessed by seven demons and that Jesus had performed an exorcism on her, casting them out. Thus, this woman caught in adultery was NOT Mary Magdalene, but an unnamed, anonymous woman.

Many Christians will read into this lots of different things, none worse than the idea that this passage promotes the common, hideous, phrase of “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” People will use this woman as an example that, while Jesus forgives, he does so on the condition that you go and “sin no more.” There is some truth to that; however, it is a half truth at best and it is often used to justify one’s own judgmentalism.

Yes, Jesus forgives us and, it is true, that Jesus does ask us to go and sin no more. With that said, the forgiveness is not conditioned on anything. It is give to those who believe in Christ and call on his name for forgiveness. Honestly, Christ’s forgiveness is given to all humanity; however, if they do not see their need for forgiveness and do not accept Christ and the forgiveness he offers, they can never receive it. That is not because Christ doesn’t want them to, but because they are unwilling to.

The woman was not told to go and sin no more and, upon accepting that condition was forgiven. It was quite the opposite of that. Jesus forgave her and then gave her the opportunity to go and sin no more. No doubt, she probably did sin again at some point. She’s a human being; however, due to her acceptance of Jesus in that moment, she had been freed from living in her sins. As a result, any time she slipped into sin, she could remember the forgiveness given her, repent, and change course toward righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is the same for all of us. None of us are in a place to “hate the sin, but love the sinner”, for we are all sinners who sin. That doesn’t mean we should like our sins. No, far from it. We should not like our sins, but instead of being the judge of sin in others, we should be turning to God to help us remove our own sins. Instead of judging sins in others, we should support people who are sinning and extend the kind of graceful guidance that Christ would want us to extend. It is then, that we move from judgment to graceful accountability. “Love the sinner and journey with them as we all move away from our sins toward Christ.” Let us make that our motto.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:5

PRAYER
Lord, help me to focus on my own sins, rather than being so quick to see, and judge, the sin in others. I look to you for my salvation and I point others to you out of love. Amen.

God’s People, part 211: Jerusalem

Read Matthew 23:37-39

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

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

Jerusalem-2013-Aerial-Temple_Mount-(south_exposure)Part 211: Jerusalem. When I look at the United States of America, the country from which I am from, I find myself in lament nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in being an American and I love my country dearly. I really, really do. My father served this country in the Army over in Vietnam and is paying the price for his service. Yet, he would never take back his service. While, I did not serve in the military, I come from a family where mostly everyone did.

So, I come from a family that is deeply rooted in this country and I grew up being proud of it. I have a deep respect for America and for those who have sacrifice so much to serve it and to make it a place of freedom and opportunity. In fact, it is out of this love for my country that my lament comes. When I look around today and see the deep, ever intensifying division, my heart sinks. There is social discord on just about every level imaginable.

Looking at all of this, I have thought to myself that this is not the America I grew up in. Yet, the more I reflect on that statement, I am beginning to realize that it is untrue. This is the America I grew up in, we just did a better job at hiding it. These divisions we see now are not divisions that sprouted up over night; rather, they are divisions that have been brewing behind the scenes and now, following a few significant triggers, they are now exploding all over the place. So, I find myself in lament.

To lament is to passionately express grief or sorrow. In our Scripture reading for today, we see Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem. Like how I feel about my country, Jesus had a love for Jerusalem, like any good Jew would have. This was the city of his ancestor David and was the center of Jewish worship. This was a city with much history and glory, a city to which people from all around the world came to visit.

Yet, the leadership in Jerusalem were corrupt and their hearts were hardened. They didn’t care about those suffering underneath them. They didn’t care about those affected by their rigid laws and their calloused attitudes to those in a much weaker and vulnerable state than they were in. All that they really cared about was maintaining the status quo so that they could keep ahold of the power they had acquired.

Even if that mean consorting with the Romans, they were willing to do what it took to keep themselves at the top. Of course, they claimed that they were looking out for the safety of their people, and they no doubt fooled themselves into believing that; however, Jesus saw their hearts and the hearts of those who came before them. This was the same city that through Jeremiah into a cistern, the same city from with the wicked kings of Judah’s past had allowed idolatrous temples to be built for the worship of foreign gods, and the same city that had put countless prophets and people of God to death. What’s more, they were about to do it again in putting Jesus, the Son of God, to death.

Friends, it is out of a love of one’s country that one laments the evil found within it. We often think that patriotic loyalty means a blind acceptance of one’s nation without any questioning of the powers that be. This, however, is not patriotic loyalty, it is merely a toxic form of nationalism that put one’s nation over and above God and all that is good and right.

Let us be challenged by Jesus lament over Jerusalem and let us look with Christ’s eyes at our own countries. No matter where you are from, you live in a country that sometimes gets it right, and other times gets it wrong? In what ways, and over what things, should you be lamenting. More importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Jesus’ marched into Jerusalem and offered himself up as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. While we can never do what Christ did, we can offer ourselves up for Christ and for the Christian witness in our world. I pray we all have the strength and courage to do so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see things clear enough to lament the wrong I see, and give me the courage to stand against such things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 208: Silenced

Read Matthew 9:32-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Jesus reprimanded him. ‘Be quiet! Come out of the man,’ he ordered.”  (Mark 1:25, 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.

JesusHealingDemonPossessedManPart 208: Silenced. In today’s passage, we have yet another encounter between Jesus and a demon. That particular demon, according to the account, had taken away the man’s ability to speak and communicate. Once he was brought before Jesus, the Lord cast out the demon and the man was instantly able to speak.

When it comes to passages such as this it is hard to not begin to think like a person living in the 21st century. We become suspicious of such accounts because of our scientific understanding. For instance, was this man TRULY possessed by a demon or was this a medical or psychological condition that kept him from being able to speak?

It is easy to get lost in such thoughts, but to do so would be to miss the entire point. Whether this was a medical condition or whether it was the resul of demonic-possession, the point is that once this man encountered Jesus he was healed. Jesus healed this man of what was plaguing him and he was able to speak. It’s is a miracle no matter how one looks at it.

We should be careful  to not see a demon behind every illness. Such theology is bad and can be deadly. With that said, that does not mean we should completely deny the existence of demons and evil spirits. It is very possible that this man was, in fact, afflicted by demons and that Jesus did exactly what the account says he did.

It is important to stress is that the devil seeks to silence us from expressing our love of God. Conversely, the devil seeks to silence the voice of God within us. Thus, Jesus’ healing this man tells us something about the power Jesus has over the devil. While the devil tries to silence us from communing with God, and while the devil tries to silence the voice of God within us, Jesus is on the side of the silenced and puts the devil back in his place.

The most important part of any relationship is communication. If communication is severed and/or cut off, relationships fail. This is true in human relationships and it is also true in our relationship with God. Satan wants nothing more than to destroy our relationship with God. We are silenced in our relationship to God through sin and seeking our own way over God’s. What’s more, God’s voice can silenced within us by all of the temptations that attempt to lead us astray.

Of course, God’s voice can never truly be silenced, but it can grow faint beneath the layers of temptations we face. We can choose to end the silence by opening our hearts to Jesus and reestablish our communication with Him. What’s more, if we reopen our hearts up to God, we can also end being silent on our love of God. We can witness to others who have been silenced by this world and the devil. We can bring them to Jesus so that they, too, can experience liberation from the silence and establish communication with God.

The devil certainly doesn’t want you to start witnessing about Jesus, and Satan will do whatever is in his power to keep you from doing that; however, Jesus is onto Satan’s modus operandi, and the devil is powerless against Jesus! In fact, Jesus liberates us and silences Satan. So, we are being challenged to open our hearts to Jesus and to put our trust in his power to conquer the evil forces in our lives and in this world. We, who are God’s people, can and will conquer evil and spread the joy and love of Christ if we but put our trust in Him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is the Creator; Satan is the counterfeiter.” – Joyce Meyer

PRAYER
Lord, heal me from the things that silence my soul and muffle the sound of your voice within me so that I may serve and glorify you. Amen.

God’s People, part 191: Hometown

Read Mark 6:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff…” (Luke 4:28-29, 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.

Hometown_StorefrontPart 191: Hometown. There is something special about the town in which one grows up in. For me, I grew up in a fairly small town in Sussex County in the northwestern part of New Jersey. During the time I was in seventh and eight grade, my hometown had population of around 4,977. The town is geographically small, being nearly 4.6 square miles.

It was a sidewalk community meaning that one could walk from place to place on sidewalks and as I kid I used to walk from place to place with my friends. We’d hang out at the park, walk to the library, or go bowling at the Bowling Alley. Sometimes, we’d pop into the diner when it was still opened and have coffee and a bite to eat.

There is something special about one’s hometown and the nostalgic memories that surface when one reminisces about times gone by and all the experiences one had. Certainly, for those who didn’t move on a constant basis, people’s lives are rooted in the places they grew up. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is also true that those who moved around a lot as a child can feel like they don’t really have any roots. Hence the Alice Merton song Roots, in which she sings: “I build a home and wait for someone to tear it down. Then pack it up in boxes, head for the next town running. ‘Cause I’ve got memories and travel like gypsies in the night. I’ve got no roots but my home was never on the ground…”

I am sure that Jesus was very much rooted in his hometown of Nazareth. It is there that he grew up. It is there that he played, that learned his faith from his mother. It is there that he came of age and became a member of the local synagogue. It is there that he learned the carpentry trade and it is there that he experienced his call to become an itinerant rabbi.

Yet, there is a more dark and pernicious side to one’s hometown too. There is a side that is more hidden in the proverbial dark basement that doesn’t come out until the moment one begins to question the order of things. Jesus found this out in his hometown. Hometowns love their own, so long as they stay exactly in the place they’ve always been.

Had Jesus remained the carpenter from Nazareth, no one would have had qualms with him. But the Jesus that returned to Nazareth following his baptism and temptation in the desert was not the same Jesus that had left Nazareth seeking the will of God. The Jesus who returned was not the carpenter, but the Son of God focused to draw people unto himself so that they might be saved.

This Jesus healed. This Jesus taught. This Jesus drew a crowd and, in front of that crowd, called the religious, community and political establishment, as well as individuals, to account for their waywardness. This Jesus claimed that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy on the coming Day of the Lord, and this Jesus was claiming to be THE MESSIAH, the promised one who would deliver Israel!

The Nazarenes could not accept that precisely because they thought they knew Jesus. He was the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Simon, Judas, and his unnamed sisters. How could Jesus be the Messiah? How could he dare to come into the synagogue and preach us. Who died and gave him that authority?

It’s easy for us to point a finger at Nazareth and question them on their disbelief, but are we any better? How many of us think we KNOW Jesus? Yet, do we really KNOW Jesus? Would he walk into our homes and churches and feel at HOME? Or would he find us to be an unwelcoming place? Would we change our hearts at his guidance and direction? Or would we kick him out of our sanctuary and try to throw him over a cliff?

The challenge for us is to NOT be that kind of a hometown; however, in order to avoid that we need to expose the underbelly of our homes and places of worship. We need to stop seeing ourselves as sinless and in no need for improvement. We need to stop labeling little Joey and little Betty as being x, y, and z; rather we need to accept people for who they are in the moment, not who we think they are based off of who they once were.

Finally, we need to challenge ourselves to be open to critique and we need to be self-aware enough to admit when we’ve been called out for being in error. Yes, we need to be discerning and not all critique is true or honest; however, we need to at least hear the critique in a balanced and reflective way before we could ever be able to discern if it is from God or not. Be open to the correction of the spirit and be an exception to the rule that a prophet is not welcome in his/her hometown.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Be careful that you are not the one rejecting Jesus because He doesn’t meet up to your qualifications; rather, we need to open ourselves to Christ so that, by grace, we may be conformed to his expectations.

PRAYER
Lord, mold me and shape me into the disciple you’re calling me to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 181: Lazarus

Read John 11:1-44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.”  (John 12:10-11, 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.

Bonnat01LazarusPart 181: Lazarus. The account of Lazarus is on that is familiar to many people. Not to be confused with the poor man named Lazarus in Jesus’ parable in Luke, Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary. Not too much is known about him other than the fact that he and his sisters were friends and followers of Jesus. There is much speculation as to his age, as the Bible mentions that he was “living with his sisters”, indicating that Lazarus might have even been a boy living in their care.

Regardless of his age, he was someone Jesus had loved, and when he died Jesus was deeply moved to the point of weeping. In fact, the Scripture says that Jesus grew angry (or greatly disturbed) at his death. Of course, anger is a natural part of the grieving process and Jesus, being human, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. The scene is very touching, a beautiful display of Jesus’ humanity and a testament to the love he had for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

Lazarus’ death, and Jesus’ reaction to it, is a stark reminder of on very important fact regarding the world we live in: it is broken and evanescent. What’s more, life in this world is short, fragile and, eventually, everything in this world dies. What’s lamentable is that is not how God created the world; however, due to human sin, that is the very reality that the world fell into. If you think back to the wicked serpent’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden, which was addressed in part 1 of this series, you will see the bigger picture.

The devil, through the serpent, told Eve that humans would not die if they disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but that humans would instead become like God. Those words were true to an extent, and the first humans did not immediately die, but became like God in having the ability to discern good from evil. With that said, they instantly became separated from God, and while they knew good from evil, they lacked in the wisdom to discern what was ULTIMATELY GOOD and ULTIMATELY EVIL.

What’s more, death immediately entered into their reality, even if they didn’t realize it at first. They were cut off from the tree of life, they had to kill animals to cover their nakedness, their oldest son killed their youngest son thus giving birth to murder. From that point on, the beautiful world that God created was never the same. As much as it was still beautiful, it was also filled with sin, evil, greed, corruption, oppression, murder and, ultimately, death for everything that lived in it.

We see this reality in what follows Lazarus being miraculously raised from the dead. Scripture says that, following his resurrection and six days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Lazaurs is at a supper that Martha prepared for Jesus. Many people from all over surrounded the home they were in because they wanted to see Jesus and this man whom he had raised. This, of course, disturbed the religious leaders and it says that they even considered murdering Lazarus because so many people were believing in Jesus as a result of him being raised from the dead.

While, we don’t have a ton of information on Lazarus, and it is impossible to tell what his strengths and weaknesses were as a human being, what we can do is come to an understanding of the world in which we all live. This world is so mired in sin that it would rather snuff out the presence of God than celebrate at the salvific work of God in and through others.

This should challenge us to pause and reflect on how we participate in trying to snuff out God’s work. In what ways have we allowed sin to dominate and control our lives, and in what ways have we participated in the world’s rejection of Jesus Christ. I pray that, in honest reflection, you open your heart to the ways in which you resist God so that you may respond to God’s grace and move more toward God and who God is calling you to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The mystery of the Christian life is that Christ expects us to flee sin and the devil, but does not expect us to rid ourselves of either on this side of glory. Repentance is a way of life, and so is the pursuit of godliness. I wish every Christian could be reminded of these two things.” – Kevin DeYoung

PRAYER
Lord, expose my sin to me and cleanse me of it so that I might fully praise, worship and serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 176: Judas Iscariot

Read Matthew 27:3-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means ‘Field of Blood’” (Act 1:18-19, 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.

JudasIscariotPart 176: Judas Iscariot. The greatest enigma in the whole of the Bible, apart from the mystery of God, is Judas Iscariot. Who was he? What was he like as a human being? What brought him into the fold as one of Jesus’ disciples? What made him someone Jesus trusted enough to be the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry? What was running through his heart and mind when began to turn away from Jesus’ teachings? What was the reason for Judas deciding to betray the one he had called teacher and Lord? What caused this Judas to go from a faithfully daring disciple to a tragic traitor?

So, what do we know about Judas? Let’s start with his name. The name Judas is Greek for Judah. Judah, of course, is the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is where the name “Jews” comes from. As such, some people have tried to argue that Judas was a “made up” character constructed to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death; however, an overwhelming majority of scholars reject that claim.

Judah was an extremely popular name at that time. In fact, one of Jesus’ own half-brothers, had the same name. What’s more, there was more than one Judas among Jesus’ disciples. There was also Judas son of James, whom we discussed in the previous devotion. Thus, the majority of scholars believe Judas was a real person and that was his name.

The epithet which accompanies his first name, Iscariot, has also caused much debate among scholars. It was certainly used to distinguish him from the other disciples. The epithet has most commonly been understood as a Greek rendering of a Hebrew phrase (איש־קריות, Κ-Qrîyôtthat) meaning, “the man from Kerioth”, and seems to be supported by John 6:71.

Still, not everyone accepts this explanation. A popular explanation has been that Iscariot (Skaryota in Aramaic) is a play on the Latin word sicarius (or dagger man). If this were true, this would make Judas one of the Sicarii, a Jewish group of rebels known for committing acts of terrorism in the 40s and 50s AD. This interpretation has also found its way out of academia and into the world of film as well. In fact, the 1961 film, King of Kings (starring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus and Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot), utilizes this theory and portrays Judas as former sicarii (they incorrectly use the term zealot) who decided to betray Jesus to force his hand in striking down the Romans.

However, this view that Judas was a sicarii has no basis in Scripture, and there is no historical evidence that the sicarii ever existed during the 30s AD when Judas was alive. Thus, we don’t really know why Judas did what he did, or what he was before he was introduced in the Gospel accounts. We know that he was paid for his treachery, and the Gospel of John indicates that his motivation was greed; however, I would guess that there was more to it than just that. Still, we simply do not know why and we never will.

What we do know is that, at some point, Judas turned on Jesus and eventually betrayed him. We also know that Judas lived in a culture that took honor and shame very seriously. Once Jesus was arrested, convicted of treason, and crucified, Judas felt the weight of his actions crush him. The shame he had brought upon himself for betraying his teacher was unbearable. No doubt, you can see that shame played out in the Gospels.

The authors, and certainly those who conveyed the accounts to them, all looked upon Judas as a scourge for what he did. Every Gospel uses Iscariot to distinguish him from other Judases, and they always list him as Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus). That shameful fact hung like an albatross around Judas’ neck and, sadly, he took his own life.

The challenge for us is to NOT read with judgment toward Judas. Yes, he betrayed Jesus; however, he was chosen by Jesus as one of his twelve and, no doubt, Jesus chose him for a reason. What’s more, Judas was not the only one to betray or abandon Jesus that night. Peter denied him 3 times, the other disciples ran (one of them ran away naked as his clothes were torn off of him) and hid away for fear of their own lives.

The challenge for us is for us to, instead of judging Judas, turn the mirror around at ourselves. How do we fall short of Jesus? How do we betray him? How do we turn our backs at him? What’s more, how do we come to a place of forgiveness for having betrayed him? How do we move beyond the guilt and shame of our sins and into the blessed assurance of God’s redemptive grace?

I believe that Jesus had already forgiven him when he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave Judas, the other disciples, the Jewish authorities, and the Romans. He also forgave you, and me, and us all. The choice is ours, just as it was Judas’, as to whether we choose to accept that forgiveness and move onward into serving the Risen Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Jesus Christ (Luke 23:34)

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness and for freeing me for joyful service. Amen.

God’s People, part 158: Passion

Read John 18-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 156: 2nd Adam.

Read Luke 3:23-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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