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The Power to Set Free (or enslave)

brown cross on mountain
 
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:34-36]
 
Forgiveness sets us free. Even if we are locked up, imprisoned, quarantined, exiled, in chains, we are set free. We live freely when we live in Jesus’ forgiveness. Regardless of earthly circumstance. That is what Jesus is saying here in John 8- “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
 
So, what happens when people freed by the gospel choose not to forgive? In keeping with the metaphor, we leave people in prison. We keep people enslaved when we refuse to forgive. If forgiveness has the power to set us free, then unforgiveness has the power to enslave.
 
Isn’t that scary? If we choose not to forgive others their trespasses, we are choosing to keep them imprisoned by guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, or worse. Why would we want to do that? It is against the very nature of God, and living against God’s nature is bound to get you outside of God’s Kingdom.
 
When we refuse to forgive, we ourselves are in danger of becoming enslaved once more- to bitterness, anger, malice, greed, envy. We are in danger of giving up the joy we have in Jesus. We are in danger of reaching back and putting the yoke of slavery on our backs once again.

Let’s stay away from slavery. Let’s live in freedom. Let’s live our lives in a way that demonstrates the love of Jesus- the freedom of Jesus- to everyone we meet.
 
Prayer: Dear Jesus, you have set us free. Empower us to live as freed people, freeing other people from the dangerous and deadly weight of sin and despair. We trust in you for all things, by the grace of God we live and move and have our being in you. AMEN.

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What He Said Week 6

Study Six: RESPONDING TO AN INVITATION

 

TAKING IT IN

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  Matthew 22:1-14

 

GETTING AT IT

The Gospel is an invitation.  It’s an invitation to receive full and free forgiveness for the sake of Jesus’ death in your place.  It’s an invitation to become part of God’s family and enjoy his love and the fellowship of spiritual brothers and sisters.  It’s an invitation to an everlasting celebration of God’s goodness in perfect peace and joy.  Who wouldn’t say yes to the invitation?

Well, it turns out that some people don’t read the invitation, while others think it too good to be true.  Some people don’t want anything to do with the God who issued the invitation, and others think they’re too good for his family.  You can say no to the Gospel invitation.

Those who accept God’s invitation do so only because the Gospel is so wonderfully compelling that it captures their heart and mind.  The Holy Spirit convinces them of its authenticity and ushers them into God’s family.  St. Paul wrote: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) The apostle also wrote: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  (Romans 10:17)

With a parable about an invitation, Jesus spoke volumes to people in Jerusalem that week of his passion.

DIGGING INTO IT

The cast of characters in the parable is this: The king is God the Father.  His Son is Jesus.  The guests who received a “save the date” card and then the wedding invitation are the people of Israel.  The servants are the Old Testament prophets, and then the apostles and Christian missionaries.  The wedding banquet is the kingdom of God, ultimately an eternal celebration of what Scripture elsewhere calls the wedding of the groom – Jesus – and his bride – the Church. Those invited from the streets are the Gentiles, people from every nation.  The wedding garment represents the righteousness of Christ.

The chief themes of the parable are: 1) Jesus is the Son of God.  2) He is the Messiah, who has arrived and seeks people to join him in celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promises.  3) The chosen people of Israel have a history of rejecting the inviting message of God’s prophets.  4) The Gospel becomes God’s invitation to all people.  5) Only the righteousness of Christ qualifies someone to participate in the celebration of God’s forgiving love.

Scripture uses the analogy of a wedding reception several times to depict the union of Jesus and his believers, particularly focused on everlasting life at his return.  (Cf. Isaiah 25:6-9, Matthew 9:15, Matthew 25:1-13, Revelation 19:6-9) Everlasting life is not depicted as some ethereal existence.  A physical resurrection to a life like that which God intended for Adam and Eve before the fall into sin is affirmed when Jesus in Matthew 26:29 talks of enjoying a glass of wine with his disciples in eternal life.  A banquet is how God intends us to think of forever with him.

The rejection of God’s invitation is described in three ways.  The first is outright rejection.  The second is indifference.  People were too caught up in their own little worlds. In the third case the rejection of God’s invitation turns violent.  Like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus summarily, there are atheists and followers of other religions today who say no to the Gospel vehemently.  Like others in Jesus’ day who were too busy making a living and pursuing happiness to listen to his message, a large number of people in an affluent culture don’t have time for Jesus and his Word.  Like the religious leaders of Israel who killed prophets and ultimately Jesus himself, there have been violent and murderous persecutions of Jesus’ messengers throughout history, from Roman emperors to Islamic terrorists in our time.

There is a note of urgency in Jesus’ parable.  When the invitation is issued, it calls for a response.  In Hebrews 3, quoting Psalm 95, the apostle wrote: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) warns that we do not know the time of the Bridegroom Jesus’ return, so we are to “keep watch.”

Verse 8 says, “those I invited did not deserve to come.”   Actually, no one deserves to come to the banquet of God’s kingdom.  Grace alone places us there.  But there is an especially bitter conclusion for those who have had God’s truth and rejected it.  In Acts 13:46, Paul says to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia: “We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  Rejecting the Gospel after having it is self-condemnation.  In John 12:48 Jesus said: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”  Jesus hints at degrees of punishment in eternity when in Luke 12:47-48 he says: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what this master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.”

The “good and bad” who are invited off the street may describe those who live a quite moral life and those who’ve lived a life of depravity and crime.  There will be penitent murderers as well as “decent sinner” believers in eternal life. No one is good enough to deserve eternal life; and no one is so terrible that he is beyond God’s redemptive grace.  It is also possible to understand the “good and bad” of the parable as a reference to the fact that the outward church can include both true believers and hypocrites, while the Holy Christian Church is all believers and only believers.  Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30 says as much. 

It would seem unfair of the king to consign the man without wedding garments to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” if he was too poor to own appropriate clothing.  Commentators suggest that it was not uncommon for a wealthy ruler to provide wedding garments for those he invited.  In that case, the man condemned refused to put on the clothes provided.  In any case, the man without wedding clothes was snubbing the king who issued the invitation.  Several places in the Bible depict the righteousness that Jesus lived in our place and gives to us as a garment.  (Cf. Isaiah 61:10, Galatians 3:27, and Revelation 7:9.)  The man consigned to outer darkness in the parable represents those who reject the gift of Christ’s righteousness and insist that they are good enough in themselves to appear before their God.

“Outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a frequent expression for hell.  (Cf. Matthew 13:42 and 50, 24:51, 25:30.)  The point of emphasis is that eternal condemnation is separation from God and his goodness, with painful regret at having ignored God’s grace.

The burning of the city which was home to the murderous rejecters in Jesus’ parable is prophetic.  In 70 AD Roman armies captured and burned Jerusalem.

“Many are invited, but few chosen” is Jesus’ closing statement.  The Gospel is an open invitation to everyone. Jesus specifically chooses some to follow him.  In John 15:16 he told his disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  The same could be said to each of those who believe in and follow Jesus.  Faith isn’t our choosing Jesus, but his choosing us.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  In Ephesians 1:11 we’re told, “In Christ we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”  As the ultimate expression of God’s grace and for our certainty and comfort, Scripture teaches that those who believe and are saved are his elect, his chosen. 

 

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Scripture depicts eternal life as a banquet, a party.  Jesus spoke to his disciples of enjoying a glass of wine with them in eternal life.  Those who see Christianity as a guilt trip and Christians as dour kill-joys have it all wrong.  How does the party image impact your view of Christianity? Your view of God? Your view of heaven?

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Try to understand acquaintances who don’t share your belief in Jesus.  The parable offers a few possibilities.  Is it that they just don’t get it?  They have the notion that Christianity is just another set of rules.  Is it that they are too caught up in their work, their family, their pleasures, and they won’t make the time to pursue the claims and promises of Jesus?  It could be that they are angry at God as a result of life experiences, or just angry at the suggestion that there is a God who governs the universe.  Some people think they live good enough lives that if there’s a God and judgment, they’ll be good enough to come out OK.

How can you frame the conversation with friends who don’t believe in Jesus so that you can better understand where they’re coming from, what they object to, what they don’t understand?

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

From educators to politicians, there are leaders and influencers in contemporary life who have rejected the truth and invitation of Jesus.  Pray for your nation and those who lead it, that angry rejection of Jesus does not result in a burned city.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

In cynical times as well as periods of hardship, there is a lot of negative talk.  Bad news travels far and fast, whether via the news media or social media.  Be counter-cultural.  Talk about blessings.  See the positive in people.  Look for opportunities.  And when you stand out for doing so, let people know that faith in Jesus has changed your outlook.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Read Romans 10 to reinforce the truth that the Gospel produces faith and to remember that God hasn’t given up on Jewish people.

 

 


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God forgives, but…

GOD FORGIVES, BUT…

 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

What went well for you last week? What successes did you experience last month? What good came to you in the past year? Or, would it be easier for you to dwell on the things that went wrong, the times you messed up or failed, the people you let down, the tasks that never got completed? I know for me, I am much more prone to focus on the second of those two.

Every week, in churches across the world, the gospel is proclaimed, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!” And every week, people leave worship still caught in the weight of their sin. Just look at the scribes in Mark 2. These men dedicated their lives to studying, copying, and transmitting God’s Word so that the world would know it. Yet when they heard Jesus proclaim, “Son, your sins are forgiven!”, they were incredulous. They were in shock. They couldn’t compute the words they just heard. No one can forgive sins except for God. This man is abusing God’s Word!

They were uncertain about the grace of God for this person- and probably themselves, too. Professional church workers, people who should know the Bible. So, there is hope for us, too, even as we doubt God’s forgiveness in Jesus, that this man Jesus could really work the salvation of our souls. But does his forgiveness cover that sin? Can I really be washed clean from this dirty heart? Can those words be cancelled out by the cross? Can my actions be made acceptable before God by the atonement of Jesus?

Our hearts, marked by doubt, can find their assurance in the actions of Jesus. What proof did he give the scribes that this forgiveness was real? He healed the man of his paralysis. What proof does Jesus present to us that we are forgiven? The empty tomb. The cross of Good Friday was proven to be effective because Jesus rose from the dead. The wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23 states, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ.  Jesus took on the wages of sin and showed his power over them by rising again to life.

There is no “but.” You are forgiven, no matter what, because of Jesus.

 

Lord God, heavenly Father, we are awestruck by your love. We cannot comprehend how You look at us with love, even though we have fallen so far short of your glory. But through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you have made us holy, you have set us apart, you have paved the way for us to live forever with you. We bless you and thank you that you have forgiven us in Jesus, no matter what. May we always cling tightly and joyfully to this promise, in Jesus’ name, AMEN.


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What He Said Week 5

TO THE CURIOUS

Study Five: HOPING TO SEE JESUS

TAKING IT IN

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.  John 12:20-36

GETTING AT IT

What makes people curious about Jesus?  One possibility is intellectual curiosity.  They may have studied philosophy and realized that life makes little sense without a God; so investigating Christianity is the logical next step.  They may be serious students of science.  The order of the universe and the intricacies of the cell scream intentional design; so they explore the possibility of a Creator and meet Jesus along the way.  Intellectual curiosity is what St. Paul counted on when he addressed the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17).

Another possibility is religious curiosity.  Maybe you’ve met people who are on a “religious journey,” studying the world’s great religions in the hope of finding something to believe in.  As they do, they realize how different Jesus is from Mohammed or the Buddha.  Nicodemus, in John 3, is an example of religious curiosity.  He believed God’s promise of a Messiah and had to learn whether Jesus was that Messiah. 

Relational curiosity is common.  People who have no faith see in a friend, a relative or a spouse the impact that Jesus has made on their life.  It could be the sense of peace they notice in a Christian, or maybe the values and integrity, or the certainty with which they approach life and death.  They want to know why.  It was the relationship of Andrew with his brother Peter, and Philip with Nathanael (John 1) that brought these men to Jesus.

One more possibility might be termed desperate curiosity.  When there are no medical answers to a serious illness or the consequences of addiction bring a person to the bottom of a spiral, when divorce has left a person devastated or joblessness has turned into homelessness, people may search for hope in Christianity.  Jairus at his rope’s end and the woman with a 12-year medical history in Mark 5 are examples in the New Testament.

More important than the nature of a person’s curiosity is the response of Christians to that curiosity.  Those who are close to a searcher will recognize when God has prepared that person to listen.

Jesus’ words in John 12 were triggered by the curiosity of some “Greeks.”

DIGGING INTO IT

Who were these Greeks?  The Jews used that term “Greeks” for Gentiles in general because Alexander the Great’s conquest of the middle east had made Greek culture and language universal. These men may have been living in Galilee or the Decapolis region east of the Sea of Galilee.  They were probably not proselytes who had fully converted to Judaism, including circumcision and the dietary laws.  The Bible uses the term “God-fearers” or “worshippers of God” for Gentiles who believed in the true God but had not embraced fully the laws of Judaism.  (Cf. Lydia in Acts 16:14.)  That they were serious about the faith is apparent in that they had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. 

The reason these Greeks approached Philip may have been his Greek name (many Jews in Galilee had adopted Greek culture) and perhaps a previous acquaintance in Bethsaida.  They wanted an introduction to Jesus and may have been wary because Jews religiously avoided Gentiles.  Philip seems a bit uncertain, so he got his buddy Andrew from Bethsaida to approach Jesus with him.  St. John tells us no more about these Greeks, so we are left to conclude that they were among the people who heard what Jesus said following their appeal through Philip. 

 

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Earlier in John’s Gospel (7:30 and 8:20) we’re told that Jesus’ hour had not yet come.  In God’s timing and Jesus’ awareness, the focal point of his life had arrived.  Jesus had been preparing his disciples for his impending death; now he foretells his death clearly.  It may sound strange to hear that Jesus is to be glorified in the most degrading of all deaths, yet that death for sinners was God’s plan all along; and Jesus is glorified in obeying his Father’s will.  That you have a cross in your home or jewelry testifies to how Jesus is glorified in his crucifixion.  Of course, Jesus is looking ahead also to his resurrection and ascension when he speaks about his “hour” and being glorified. 

Often Jesus used analogies from nature.  The “death” of a seed to produce a harvest is the perfect illustration of what Jesus’ death accomplished.  You are among the “many seeds” resulting from his death for your sin.  Life from death is a recurring theme in the Bible.  “Dead in sin” is how the apostle Paul describes human beings by nature.  “Made alive in Christ” is his description of how the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection is the model for your own physical resurrection from death at his return.

The love/hate contrast Jesus used is a common idiom in the culture of that world and time.  It’s about choices, and the words emphasize how stark and serious is the choice between life in this fallen world and life with God forever.  “This world” describes everything that opposes God and his will since the fall into sin.  “Hate” describes how the Christian feels about what sin has done to his world, his life, and his “old Adam.”  Certainly, Christians appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and the blessings of family, friends, and material prosperity which God may grant; but they cannot “love” that life more than their God and the eternal life Jesus died to earn for them.

To serve Jesus means more than acts of kindness and right beliefs.  Serving Jesus is following him; it’s what the word disciple means.  Followers stay with their Master no matter how difficult.  Followers imitate their Master after closely observing what he does and says.  The goal of a disciple is to become more and more like Jesus.  Author Bob Goff put it this way: “Jesus didn’t call us to agree with him, but to follow him.”  What a challenge!  What a privilege!  The world won’t honor Christians for serving Jesus, so don’t try to please the world.  Doing what’s right to gain praise from human beings isn’t following Jesus, and it often backfires. Your heavenly Father honors Jesus’ followers with a “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thinking about the suffering that lay ahead, Jesus gives voice to the truth that he is true man.  His soul was troubled, agitated, anxious.  That he is also true God is expressed by his commitment to giving his Father glory by seeing the plan of salvation through to the end.  Here Jesus anticipates what becomes more intense in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his passion (Matthew 26:38-39).  How do we wrap our heads around the fact that our heavenly Father loves us so much that he finds glory in sacrificing his dear Son to rescue us from eternal condemnation?  How do we comprehend the love of Jesus that pursues our salvation through horrific suffering and death?

 

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

At least twice earlier, at his baptism and his transfiguration, God the Father spoke his affirmation of Jesus and his ministry audibly.  With Jesus’ resurrection, his Father would glorify him again.  How the crowd responded is instructive.  People don’t know what to make of the miraculous, so they reinterpret it in terms of their own experience.  Thunder we understand; God speaking to us from above we don’t.  Do you wonder how many miracles we may have missed for just such a reason?  Perhaps we can also understand, then, why God chose to speak to us in the Bible rather than in a series of audible revelations which we would probably misinterpret.

The voice from heaven, Jesus said, was for the benefit of the crowd.  He knew how his Father felt.  Still, the benefit was lost on those in the crowd who didn’t get it, who would lose sight of Jesus as their Messiah when their religious leaders condemned him to death.  God has given us so much truth and so many spiritual gifts that are lost on us when we fail to appreciate them and their Giver.

“Lifted up” was apparently a crude and ironic expression for crucifixion.  By Jewish law, Jesus should have been stoned to death for what the Sanhedrin labeled blasphemy.  But Jesus gives another reason for people to reflect on who he is after the nature of the death he foretold came true.  Jesus adds to the irony in the term “lifted up” by prophesying that with his death he would lift up from spiritual ignorance and death the world he died to save.

We typically see Jesus’ death as the time for salvation of this world.  Jesus describes his death as the time for judgment on this world.  In one sense, his horrible death proclaims God’s judgment upon sin.  The price for sin is death, separation from God.  The world that rejected God and his will is judged and punished in Jesus, the world’s substitute.  In John 3:18-21 Jesus described “judgment” as the consequence of rejecting him, his word, and the redemption he earned with his death for sinners. 

The “prince of this world,” Satan, is driven out of the power position he usurped in the Garden of Eden.  The Gospel, spread throughout the world, ends the tyranny of evil, spiritual ignorance, guilt and fear that is Satan’s hold on people.  What Jesus voiced here seems an echo of his words in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.”  In Revelation 20:1-3 John saw Satan “bound” so that he could no longer “deceive the nations” until the time of Jesus’ return.

 

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

By “Law” the crowd meant the Old Testament Scripture, where in passages such as Psalm 110:4 and Daniel 7:14 the Messiah is foretold as immortal, undying.  Jesus most often used the term “Son of Man” to describe himself.  That little used title for the Messiah is drawn from Daniel 7:13 and avoided the false Messianic hopes for a military and political ruler.  The crowd in Jerusalem understood that Jesus was proclaiming himself the Messiah with the title “Son of Man,” but they couldn’t connect his identity as the Messiah with his foretelling his death.  What was missing in their logic was the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the rest of the story.

So often Jesus seems not to answer a question directly, especially when the question comes with a note of challenge or disbelief.  To their query about “this Son of Man” he offers one of the “I AMs” in John’s Gospel.  Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12).  There is a note of urgency when Jesus warns that they would have the light only a little while longer, for after his resurrection he appeared only to his followers.  That urgency Jesus conveyed to his disciples in John 9:4-5, where he explains that his mission (and theirs) as the Light of the world was on the clock.  “Walk while you have the light” is the encouragement to live out your faith and your purpose with a sense of urgency.  “Believe in the light” is the call to a faith that is all in, the faith of a follower, the faith of a member of God’s family.

Like the love/hate contrast, the light/darkness contrast is frequent in Jesus’ ministry.  Darkness is a description of spiritual ignorance and unbelief, as well as an unchecked life of sin.  How fitting is Jesus’ characterization of such darkness as not knowing where they are going.  Contemporary culture has embraced the idea that life has no real purpose or meaning, an inevitable conclusion if there is no Creator who governs our world with his purposes.  People in darkness, therefore, do not know where their life is headed, both now and at their death.

John lets us know that after this episode, Jesus no longer appeared in public; he spent the remaining time until his passion with his disciples.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Scripture challenges us to think deeply about the death-to-life theme.  Here is a passage from the apostle Paul to wrap your head around:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Romans 6:1-7

How does this deepen your appreciation for your baptism?

What does this say about the “I can’t help it” excuse for pet sins?

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

The love/hate contrast Jesus talked about, together with his call to follow and serve him, challenges us to do an inventory of our life.  What’s important and what’s not?  What can we do without and what must we do without?  What do our daily schedules and budgets say about our priorities?  What habits ought to be re-evaluated?  Our affluent culture confronts us with choices and temptations, often without our awareness.  Luke 12:13-21 can be a discussion starter.

Talk about areas of the Christian life today that need more serious thought; and don’t let the conversation create guilt trips or legalisms that would rob us of the peace and joy of forgiveness in Christ.

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Pick one area of your faith-life that you want to work on with God’s help.  Ask him for that help.

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Who needs to “see Jesus” in your circle of acquaintances.  Game plan a way to launch the conversation.

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Read Ephesians 4:12 – 5:21 for an extended study of the light/darkness metaphor.


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What He Said Week 4

Study Four:  TRUTH TRUMPS TRICK QUESTIONS.

TAKING IT IN

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”   Mark 12:18-27

GETTING AT IT

Smug atheists often try to paint Christianity as irrational.  The most ridiculous trick question may be: Can God create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift?  The most challenging attempt is described by the term theodicy (divine justice).  An 18th century English philosopher named David Hume put the argument this way: 1. A good and caring deity will prevent evil from occurring. 2. An all-knowing and all-powerful deity is able to prevent evil. 3. Evil exists in the world. 4. Therefore either God is not good and loving, or he is not all-knowing and all-powerful. 

The theodicy question misrepresents God, of course, for God is perfectly just as well as loving.  What may appear as evil to us could be God’s justice meted out against those who reject him.  The second century Christian writer Irenaeus responded to the theodicy question by pointing out that evil provides the necessary problems through which we learn to treasure God’s grace and grow in faith and character.  If God removed all the consequences of sin from our world, people would not seek his grace and forgiveness and would suffer the ultimate evil of eternal condemnation.  God is justified in allowing evil to occur as a consequence of sin when doing so fosters a greater good. The fourth century theologian Augustine attributed evil to the fallen nature and limited free will of human beings, saying that God could not have created a moral being without the possibility of evil.  To eliminate the possibility of evil would rob human beings of the possibility of loving God as well as denying him. The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that rather than a denial of God’s existence, evil necessitates the existence of God, for there must be final justice in the end.

Actually, the Bible itself raises the question of theodicy.  Ecclesiastes 8:14 says: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve.”  The inherent question “why” is not answered. It may be that we couldn’t understand and wouldn’t accept God’s answer.  He is sovereign, not answerable to us; and he knows what we can’t about tragedies. Faith means trusting God’s will and God’s judgments when we don’t understand.  There is one huge reason for doing so – the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

In the aftermath of 9/11 people asked: Where was God when those two planes took down the twin towers and killed hundreds of innocent people?  A Lutheran pastor answered: God was in the same place as when he watched his innocent Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.  That was the greatest injustice and yet the most amazing love.

Christianity is not irrational, it is supra-rational – above and beyond reason.  Truth trumps the trick questions of human reason.  Jesus did just that in the days before his crucifixion, exposing the holes in mere logic.

DIGGING INTO IT

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

The Sadducees were a relatively small sect of first century Judaism.  They were centered in the temple at Jerusalem and were as political as they were religious.  The high priest, at this time a political appointment, was a Sadducee.  The Sadducees accepted only the five books of Moses – Genesis to Deuteronomy, denying the inspiration of the historical, poetic and prophetic books of the Old Testament.  They rejected among other truths of Scripture the resurrection of the dead. 

The Pharisees’ attempt to discredit Jesus and the resurrection of the dead is an absurd scenario based on the Law of the Levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).  The term is based on the Latin word for brother-in-law.  If a man died childless, the widow’s brother-in-law was to marry her.  The first child of that marriage would be legally the child of the deceased first husband.  With this law God sought several things.  In a time when women were severely limited in opportunities to support themselves financially, the levirate law provided for their physical needs.  God did not want the family lines of Israel to be lost, and the levirate law helped to accomplish that goal.  The promised land was assigned in portions to the families that entered the land under Joshua; and the levirate law meant preserving property rights for families.  The Pharisees accepted the Law of the Levirate, but they used it here in an attempt to make the resurrection of the dead irrational.

 

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”  

The Bible speaks about resurrection to life in two ways.  (See Revelation 20:4-6.)  That the soul survives death, separated from the body and – in the case of believers – in the presence of God, is a first resurrection.  On time’s last day, Jesus will raise dead bodies and reunite them with souls for eternity. That is the second resurrection.  In response to the Sadducees Jesus speaks of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as alive with God — the first resurrection.

There is so much in the verses of Scripture that we would miss if the Bible elsewhere did not reveal it to us.  Jesus draws from Exodus 3:1-6 what we might never notice.  At the burning bush God describes himself with his promise to the patriarchs in the present tense, not past tense.  It’s not that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is their God because they are living beyond their death.  What treasures of truth still await our discovery if we will read God’s Word over and over, with reflective meditation on what God is teaching us!

Jesus provides the two basic reasons for error in people’s thinking.  The first is that they don’t know the Scriptures.  When we fail to grow in our understanding of the Bible, we are susceptible to falsehoods raised by our culture, by wrong religion, and by our own misguided thinking.  The second reason is that people fail to appreciate the power of God.  When God and truth are measured by our own limited reason and experience, we will miss the wonder of his gracious rule in our world.  Jesus had to remind his disciples of this when in Mark 10:27 he told them: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Much error in contemporary religion is based on the denial of the miraculous, in Scripture and in life.  Much misguided thinking is rooted in our inability or unwillingness to accept how powerful is our God.  We limit his role in our world to what we have witnessed and experienced in life; and in so doing limit our prayers. 

There was another reason for the Sadducees’ error.  They assumed that life in a resurrection would have to be like life here and now on earth.  Jesus corrects that misunderstanding by telling them that the family of God in eternity is not defined by marriage.  What can be said with certainty from these verses is that there will be no new marriages in eternity (“neither marry nor be given in marriage”) and there will be no further procreation of children (“be like the angels”).  Jesus’ words do not mean that loving relationships on earth have no continuation in heaven.  Like everything else, our relationships are made new by Jesus in eternity, free of all the selfishness that sinful nature imposes on earthly relationships.  It is our relationship with our God rather than with a spouse that is primary.  Contrary to popular sentiment, people who die – and particularly children – do not become angels.  In eternal life we are like angels, Jesus said.  It is pointless to speculate about relationships in eternity, as well as whether we will appear as the age at which we died and other things.  Jesus gives us an insight into life in eternity but not a full-blown description.

Ultimately, Jesus would answer the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection with his own resurrection from the dead.  The apostle Paul points to Jesus’ resurrection as the guarantee of our own resurrection.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

How many misconceptions may we have about life?  Some may be a result of our culture’s view of what is true, moral, or normal.  Christians can be influenced by cultural norms reinforced by entertainment and news media, as well as literature, education, parents and friends.  Some of our misconceptions may be based on our experiences.  Where we live and to what we’ve been exposed help to shape our view of reality.  We may begin to believe that the way we see things is the way they are, and that the way things are is the way they should be.  Our emotions can distort our view of life also.  Those emotions may be merely our own, or they may be somewhat manipulated by our culture.  One of the misguided approaches to life begins with “I feel that. . .”

What assumptions about life may “what Jesus said” challenge us to reconsider?

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

In this study Jesus invites us to think about things eternal.  St. Paul put it this way in Colossians 3:1-5, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

What does it mean to “set your hearts and minds on things above?”

How does doing so help us to “put to death” the temptations of our sinful nature?

Is there a danger that we become “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good?”

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Most of us have friends and family members who are outside the family of God and apart from Jesus will not enjoy the blessedness of the resurrection.  Think of specific individuals and pray that God will touch their hearts with his gospel and bring them into his family.

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Read a book in the realm of apologetics – the rational defense of truth.  It will prepare you to respond to the trick questions and rational arguments of non-believing friends.  “The Case for Christ” is one of the books by Lee Strobel, who is a former rationalist become a committed Christian.  “The Story of Reality” by Gregory Koukl is another example of apologetics and a book you may want to give to a doubting friend.

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Read 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul’s defense and explanation of the resurrection of the dead – Jesus first and those who believe in him at his return.


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