Category Archives: Jesus

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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What is Vain Repetition?

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In his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord cautions us:

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:7-8 (ESV)

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Matthew 6:7-8 (KJV)

What is Jesus cautioning us against? It is easy to use these verses as a club against things that may annoy us, but that is not the intent of Christ’s words. Here are a few things he must not be cautioning us against, because they are either done by our Lord or demonstrated elsewhere in Scripture as positive things.

Liturgical Prayer

In the very next verse, Matthew 6:9, Jesus instructs his disciples to “pray then like this” and gives them the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer has been prayed verbatim by generations of Christians.

Repeated Requests

In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable of a widow and her persistence to receive justice from a magistrate. We are told to learn from the widow as we persist in prayer. Jesus himself in Gethsemane prays to the Father three times that “this cup may pass.”

Repeated Prayer

John’s Revelation gives us glimpses into heaven reminiscent of some of the Old Testament prophets. In chapter 4, John describes being taken up in the Spirit before the throne of God where he sees:

…the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:8 (ESV)

They never cease we are told. They are near the throne, so it would seem reasonable to assume that if God did not enjoy having this said repeatedly, he would tell them to desist. But he doesn’t.

Perhaps we put emphasis on the wrong word in “vain repetitions.” Maybe it isn’t the repetition that God dislikes so much as the vanity (or empty phrases). John Chrysostom echoes this in his sermon on the passage:

He dissuades them; calling frivolousness, here, by the name of vain repetition: as when we ask of God things unsuitable, kingdoms, and glory, and to get the better of enemies, and abundance of wealth, and in general what does not at all concern us.

Indeed, persistence in asking for what we truly need is upheld and rewarded. Consider Bartimaeus as an example:

And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10:47-48 (ESV)

Let us be persistent in prayer for what is truly needful — the mercy of God upon us — and set aside selfish desires.

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Names and Miracles

I have a theory about names in the Gospels. Jesus interacted with some people whose names we know, like Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, Jairus, and Lazarus. But what about the woman at the well, the woman subject to bleeding for 12 years, the centurion and his servant, the man born blind, and the Gerasene demoniac? Why do we not know their names?

My theory is that those who “stuck around” after being healed or raised are the ones we are more likely to know by name. (Or, as in the case of Lazarus, they were known to Jesus and his disciples before the miracle.) A quick overview of the Gospels reveals that none of the paralytics Jesus healed are named, nor are the lepers. The highest percentage we know are those raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus have names, while the widow’s son in Nain does not.

Assuming my theory is correct that a named recipient of a miracle equals a subsequent follower of Jesus, we can see that miracles were not very efficacious as an evangelistic method. We are certainly given the impression that there were many healings and exorcisms beyond those we have details about, and yet we only have a handful of names.

One interesting exception to this rule is the raising of Lazarus. This is the only miracle specifically mentioned in the Gospels as having evangelistic effect.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

John 11:45-46 (ESV)

And then later:

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

John 12:9-11 (ESV)

Why was the healing of Lazarus different? Was it because Lazarus knew Jesus before his death? Did this prior knowledge give him better insight to be able to explain what had happened? Was Lazarus merely a more well known person for reasons unrelated to Jesus? We are not told. There are varying and conflicting accounts of Lazarus’ later life that don’t really seem to help answer the question either. We are told there was a decent crowd around when Jesus raised Lazarus, but that was the case for many of his other miracles as well.

We know more about the raising of Lazarus than about most of the miracles Jesus performed, and yet for all we know, it seems to only raise further questions. Why did Jesus weep? What were the dynamics going on with Mary and Martha when Jesus arrived? Why does John not call Lazarus by name in 11:44?

We will probably never know the answers to these questions about Lazarus, yet we accept the narrative by faith. We accept that the reasons and the outcomes were part of God’s plan. We can pray that God will use us for his glory as well, either in life or death.

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What About the Sabbath? Part 3

Thus far, we have considered teaching from the Old Testament and the Apocrypha on the Sabbath. Today, we will move into the New Testament.

In the New Testament, we witness three conflicts with the Mosaic law — Peter with dietary laws, Paul with circumcision, and Jesus with the Sabbath. Jesus seemed to be in constant conflict with the Pharisees over what constituted acceptable Sabbath conduct. The first passage in the New Testament concerning the issue is typical.

In Matthew 12, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field. They start harvesting and threshing the grain — at least on a very small scale — as they pick some heads, rub them between their hands, and eat them. To the Pharisees, it is a clear-cut case of Sabbath-breaking. “Look! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” cry the Pharisees.

Jesus rolls his eyes¹ and gives two counter-examples from the Old Testament. The priests work each Sabbath and David broke the Levitical law by eating the Bread of the Presence. Jesus then makes three statements: “Something greater than the temple is here,” “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” and “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus then enters a synagogue to find a man with a withered hand and is asked if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. It’s not a wholly unreasonable question since the Mosaic law does not specifically address it, but they are seeking a reason to accuse him, not information. Christ answers in good rabbinical fashion with a question. “Which one of you, who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?” The implied and assumed answer is, “Every one of you.” “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep?” Again, the obvious answer is, “Much more.” From this short argument Jesus issues the conclusion, “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” He then promptly heals the man’s hand, which enrages the Pharisees who plot to destroy Jesus.²

Few things seemed to anger the Pharisees as much as Jesus healing on the Sabbath. He was violating their tightly-controlled interpretation of “work” on the Sabbath, but he was also upstaging them in doing so. He was not merely walking through grain fields, he was healing people of all sorts of ailments. This was something they were unable to do and was making him very popular among the people.

The Gospels record about 8 instances in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath, in addition to mentioning him teaching on the Sabbath. (No one ever opposed that activity. Teachers, is your job not work?) In many of the instances, when he was challenged, he gave a similar reply to the one we considered from Matthew 12. He asked either about livestock or children needing assistance or basic care on the Sabbath. The unstated answer always being, “Of course you do that.”

Was Jesus resolutely anti-fourth commandment? Tomorrow we will examine some texts from the Gospel that indicate the importance of Sabbath-keeping to his disciples.


¹ There is, of course, no scriptural support for my conjecture. In fact, I am most likely projecting myself onto Christ at this point, which is something we need to be wary of. It is easy to slip from “What would Jesus do” to “What would I do if I was Jesus?”

² The Pharisees are enraged for multiple reasons. The most reasonable reason is that Jesus is asserting authority to interpret the law which could be construed as a claim to messianic identity. To claim this falsely is blasphemy and worthy of death.

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