Category Archives: Jesus

Move Out

Saturday First Week of Advent

Readings

Today’s passage is part of the first coming, setting the stage for the next coming, and prefiguring the final coming. These are the three senses of Advent and of our Lord’s coming: first, current, and final.

Jesus had been born and baptized, and in today’s Gospel reading, he was in the midst of ministry. He had 12 disciples and many other followers. This is the first coming. What we commonly call the second coming is pictured in the Isaiah passage; all things being set right and unimaginable abundance prevailing as a sign of God’s blessing.

Then there is the current coming. The individual realization that the Kingdom is at hand; the receiving of the Holy Spirit into individual hearts. This is what Jesus instructs the disciples to proclaim. As proof of their message, they are to heal the sick and cast out unclean spirits.

Christ looks upon the crowds with compassion because he sees their needs. Not just their illnesses and their unpaid bills. Not only strained relationships and limited opportunities. He sees their deep, eternal needs. They are lost and need a shepherd. He is that shepherd, though they don’t realize it. They understand he can heal and cleanse, but that he can set them in right relationship with the Father seems to be beyond their grasp.

He instructs his disciples, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest.” He is pointing to himself.  “Just ask me, and I’ll send you to them.” Which is exactly what he does.

This is not yet the Apostles’ great ministry. They are still in training. They have not yet received the Holy Spirit in full. They are being sent out to act under the authority of Christ. The Spirit will come later, fulfilling the words we read in Isaiah, “While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or to the left.”

The teacher had come, they were listening, watching, and now they were given a chance to imitate. But this is not just an injunction to the Apostles. Jesus calls all of us to be his disciples. A disciple is just another word for an apprentice, a student. Someone who learns from a master and seeks to imitate their craft and skill.

Without cost we have received, without cost we are to give. The Kingdom of heaven. It is at hand, in stock, available for immediate delivery, no prime membership required.

The teacher appeared. Jesus was among the disciples leading them. Now we are instructed through the Church, through the testimony of the Apostles in the Scriptures, and through the examples of the saints who have gone before us.

The road lies before each one of us. Shall we move forward? Are we in tune to the Spirit so we’ll turn left or right when he prods us? This is our charge in order to be prepared for Christ’s final coming.

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The Feast

Wednesday, First Week of Advent

Readings

The Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want. He led his people beside the waters of Galilee and up onto a hill. He cured their diseases and their wounds. The people stayed with him, clung to him, like sheep to a loving shepherd.

Both times Jesus fed a large crowd, it was on a hill where he multiplied bread. Our passage from Isaiah refers to a banquet on a hill with choice wines. Isaiah then goes on to talk about a veil being lifted and a web being destroyed. Most notably he speaks of the defeat of death once and for all. He’s not talking about a picnic by the sea.

The feeding of the crowd is a foreshadowing of the Apostles’ ministry to come.

Isaiah, it seems, is referring to another banquet that happened on a hill just outside of Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world.

Indeed, on that day the veil was lifted, or rather torn in two, from top to bottom in the temple and the holy of holies was exposed for all to see. The Son of God hung naked upon a cross for all to see.

Blood and water flowed. His body, broken for us.

The web was removed; death defeated; tears erased; reproach lifted.

We celebrate and participate in that amazing moment in the Eucharist. The veil is lifted from the paten and chalice and his body and blood are once again exposed for all to see.

Just as the Apostles distributed that which Jesus had multiplied, through them we today still receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Jesus blesses and provides; priests are merely stewards told to distribute what has been put into their charge.

A feast far greater than fish and loaves on a hillside, this one flows through all ages. Instead of satisfying hunger to keep us from fainting, it wipes away our sin to keep us from eternal death.

“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

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Blessed Eyes

Tuesday, The First Week of Advent

Readings

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see,” Jesus told his disciples in today’s Gospel. What, precisely, were they seeing?

If we look at the larger context, this exchange occurs as the seventy men Jesus sent out are returning and recounting their successes. We could say that this is a test-run of the plan to have 12 ordinary guys be the founders of the Church. They seem able to get on okay with nothing but the Holy Spirit.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:17-20

Jesus is rejoicing that the prophecies we read in Isaiah — prophecies he read — are coming to fruition. Something is afoot. The rebellion is expanding. The powers of darkness are being driven back by this rag-tag group of disciples.

And blessed are their eyes, because they are witnessing it first hand. This is what angels, prophets, and kings longed to see. What a generation in captivity in Babylon longed for. What those around them were praying would come to pass. It was actually happening.

God was made flesh and dwelt among them.

The Holy Spirit was active, more active than anyone had seen in years.

What an awesome time to be alive.

It is easy to get historical envy. Wouldn’t it have been cool to live back then, to see Peter and the apostles with Jesus? Wouldn’t it have been awesome to be in the upper room? To hear Paul preach, to witness the church growing? To be able to seek out a Desert Father? To hear Augustine or Chrysostom preach? We could go on and on, right up to the present day.

And that is precisely my point.

Our eyes, too, are blessed, because they are also seeing what the prophets and kings of old longed to see fulfilled.

But our day? Well, our day is full of trouble and tension, distraction and apathy. It’s really not that inspiring of a time. That has always been the case.

Yet the Holy Spirit still infuses the Church. Individual believers still pray, worship, and serve to the glory of God. Saints are still being made; evil is still being fought.

The way is still stony, uphill, and lined with danger. God is still using ordinary people like you and me, just like he used Peter and Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
Thomas, Matthew, James, Jude, Simon, and Judas.

“But I’m no Peter!” you may exclaim. And neither are you a Judas, so take heart. Your eyes are blessed as well. Open them to see God working before, around, and in you. Your name may also be written in heaven.

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Do What She Does

It is May, which, among other indications of spring, includes commencement exercises. At my daughter’s college commencement this past weekend, one speaker told of how he was taught basic dinner etiquette when an undergrad many decades ago. The faculty member he dined with told him to watch her and do what she did. Through this imitation he learned how to eat with fork and knife, and not just his spoon.

This lesson served him well soon afterward when he found himself the guest of a well-to-do family while traveling with a small group of fellow students. At dinner, a vast number of cutlery and dishes were on the table. None of the students were used to such finery and they quickly huddled to figure out how to not bring discredit upon themselves. The one who had recently learned how to use more than just a spoon knew what to do. He told the other to watch the hostess and do what she does. They did, and received praise for their fine manners at the end of the evening.

My mind took this image and ran, uncovering a true guide to life.

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) craze inspired by In His Steps was at its height several years ago. While motivated by a desire to follow Christ, it failed to be a solid tool for most people because of two main problems. First, none of us are first-century itinerant Jewish rabbis. Our context is so different from Christ’s that trying to pattern our life so directly after his is difficult. Second, Jesus did and said a lot. We have four Gospels full of things he did and said, many of which we may not be able to do.

We can benefit from a simple, concrete example that is no less profound, but may seem more attainable. It is not easier to do completely, but it is less complicated to understand.

Do what Mary did.

Mary’s recorded words and actions in Scripture are few and attainable for all of us. In fact we can sum them up in two phrases. First, when the angel Gabriel came to her to announce what the Father intended to do through her, she replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Second, at the wedding in Cana, her one instruction to others, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

In these two statements, we find the whole of the Christian life. Submit to God as a willing servant and guide others to do the same. May we watch Mary and imitate her life — quiet, faithful and devout — that we may receive her reward.

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God’s (un)Awesomeness

…he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:15-1(ESV)

Thus, Paul describes Jesus Christ — awesome in every sense of the word. King of kings and Lord of lords, dwelling in unapproachable light. We sense Isaiah’s vision of the temple in chapter 6 of his book. We see John standing before the throne of God in his Revelation. Mind-blowing, face-melting awesomeness.

This is awe-inducing and inspiring and is certainly a part of God’s revelation of himself to us. But it is not his only means of revelation. This past week, on February second, the church commemorated Jesus’ presentation in the Temple. Jesus was 6 weeks old, still an infant. Cute and cuddly perhaps, but not shield-your-eyes amazing.

Yet Simeon and Anna recognized him and said some amazing things.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29-32 (ESV)

But part of the awesomeness of God (and particularly Jesus) is that he became unawesome.

Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.

Matthew 13:55-57a (ESV)

God became so “normal” that he was offensive by his claims. The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus was fully divine and fully man at the same time. Yet the divine didn’t show all that much, except during his healings and the transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. It is this normalcy that allows us intimacy with God. God thundering from fire and smoke on top of Mount Sinai is scary; the Israelites were terrified and refused to go up. But we can relate to a God we can pray to in our sweatpants on the couch on a snowy Sunday afternoon.

The phenomena is not unlike meeting a popular or powerful person only to discover that they are “down to earth” in real life. In my life I’ve had a few of those encounters. There was the commanding general who attended chapel and would often invite the two chaplains to join him and his wife for lunch after service.

I also remember a Rich Mullins concert where acquaintances had backstage passes for after the show. The passes didn’t do them much good, because Rich was out in the lobby talking to people and signing autographs. I later learned that he was known for not playing the part of pop music star very well.

Jesus also meets us where we are and is not put off by our ordinariness. Yes, he is the Word who is with God and is God. But he is also an itinerant rabbi who led a group of 12 men around the Judean countryside, fishing, boating, walking, and talking. He is with us in just the same sort of run of the mill circumstances today.

That’s pretty awesome.

You Did Not Have a Home by Rich Mullins

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Cataclysmic Risk

Yesterday we considered the greatest secret in all creation. Today I want to look at why it was kept secret even from Christ. First we need to understand a little about risk analysis. The general practice is to look at two axis: impact (or consequences) and likelihood.

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What is the risk of my coffee cup springing a leak on my desk? Pretty unlikely and the consequences would be pretty negligible as well, so low overall risk. Unlikely negligible scenarios don’t require much, if any, planning or mitigation.

Driving home last night, there was a higher probability I could have been involved in a collision. The impact could have been pretty severe, so I mitigated this possibility. I wore my seat belt and I own a car with air bags and other safety features. If I knew I was going to be in an accident, I wouldn’t drive home. Given the probability, I felt I took reasonable precautions.

Now let us consider the incarnation. We don’t know what the likelihood of failure was, but we can assume the impact of failure would have been catastrophic. We really aren’t given any clues from Scripture what the consequences would have been.

There are, though, two times in the Gospels that give us an indication that failure was an option. The first is the temptation in the wilderness. It can’t be a temptation if there isn’t potential to carry out the action one is tempted to. I’m not tempted to jump out my window and fly around, because I can’t. I’m tempted to lie, cheat, and steal.

If Jesus had succumbed, he would not have been sinless; he would have been just like the rest of us and would not have been a perfect sacrifice. Not only that, but it seems possible that the Trinity may have been ruptured. God does not tolerate uncleanliness or sin in his presence. If Christ had become a sinner, what would have happened?

The other time we are given a hint that failure was possible is in Christ’s words we considered yesterday:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,
nor the Son, but the Father only.

Matthew 24:36 (ESV)

Jesus had to face his temptation, but here, we see evidence of mitigation. Jesus does not posses the information, therefore he cannot divulge it. I’m not sure how he may have been tempted to divulge it, but it was not a risk the Father was willing to take. Perhaps Jesus needed to not know in order to carry out his earthly ministry with proper focus?

Failure on either one of these points is a disturbing proposition. It is not fruitful to speculate on what failure may have led to other than to be grateful that we don’t know what would have happened because it didn’t go that way. Thanks be to God that Jesus fulfilled his mission in the incarnation so that we might be cleansed from our sins and given the opportunity to be in the presence of the Father.

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The Ultimate Secret

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Area 51, the nuclear launch codes, the formula for Coke — it’s easy to think of secrets. Sometimes the existence of a secret drives speculation, as in the case of Area 51. Fear of harm, such as nuclear war, often cause secrets to be kept. And sometimes keeping a secret, like the formula for Coke, has a financial reward.

So what is the ultimate secret? It is could be entrusted to only one and it has the potential to do enormous harm if revealed. It was in last Sunday’s lectionary readings:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,
nor the Son, but the Father only.

Matthew 24:36 (ESV)

On the face of it, Jesus’ remark on his returning is puzzling. With our limited knowledge of the Trinity, we generally think that everything the Father knows, the Son knows and vice-versa, but this verse contradicts that assumption. We know Christ took limitations upon himself in the incarnation. He, in being made man, generally “played by the rules.” We have no indication that he was exempt from hunger and fatigue, but what about limitations on his knowledge?

In terms of who knows, information “concerning that day and hour” is certainly a top-level secret. This is above the common cliché when something is a mystery to us and we say that God only knows. The day and the hour of Jesus’ return is above the level of classification of “God only knows” since God can be understood as either the Father or the Trinity. It is the ultimate in compartmentalized information.

All of this leads to the question, “Why is this one piece of information so critical to keep hidden?” To answer this, peak into the next school bus you see on your way to work, especially if it’s headed to high school. Things probably haven’t changed that much since I rode one a few decades ago in that you’ll probably still find someone doing their homework on the way to school.

Procrastination is a strong temptation we all face in different areas. But procrastination is really only a viable option when we know the deadline. If we don’t, we’re playing a whole different game of chance. With a known deadline, we’re putting immediate gratification ahead of the quality of our task performance.

Consider if we knew when Jesus was returning. Every person on the planet would be condemned to hell. How so? If at the Ascension, Jesus had said to his disciples, “I’ll be back in 3,000 years,” there would have been no rush to tell people what they had seen. Yes, they may have developed a small following, but without a sense of impending return, would it have carried through? Without a sense of impending return, would we have a church today, 2,000 years later? I think we would not. With the lack of mystery — it could be today — and with our fallen nature, our desires would have turned elsewhere even more than they do already.

The knowledge may have been kept, but it probably wouldn’t have been kept current. Ask a 20-year-old what actions to take in the event of a nuclear attack and you’ll get a blank stare. A 60-year-old, though, could probably at least remember a few things from civil defense drills in school. We don’t see a nuclear attack as an imminent threat anymore so we aren’t passing on the knowledge.

You could argue that we all die and face judgement that way, and I would agree, but I have buried many who did not find that sufficient motivation to conduct their life in a way to reflect that belief. We all know we will die; few live like it will happen to them.

The Epistle reading from Sunday instructs us how we should then live.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:11-14 (ESV)

May we be always ready.

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