Posts Tagged With: cross

John 19: The King Takes His Throne

I like how as we have read through the four accounts of Jesus’ death from the various gospels each of the authors has emphasized something different.  Today I have seen John emphasize kingship.

The word “king” is used eight times in this chapter.  Jesus receives a crown and a thorn.  A crowd shouts for him.  He is even enthroned in a significant way.

But this is a king of a very different sort.  He wears a crown of thorns.  He wears the purple robe only long enough to be mocked.  He is slapped not saluted.  People shout for him, but for his death not his glory.  Let there be no mistake, Jesus is a king.  Pilate says it several times, even when the people object.  As he dies, Jesus hangs beneath a sign declaring it too:

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews (19:19)

With this in mind, John paints the picture of this chapter as a paradoxical enthronement.  This is Jesus the King, and the King has taken his throne.

Jesus is the king of sacrifice.  His is a kingdom of selfless service where love is the power that changes the world.  In this kingdom, victory comes through death.  His subjects will follow his example.  On this day the King is crowned and seated on his throne.

Do you see this too?

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1 Corinthians 1: “Christians are Ignorant”

“Christians are ignorant.”

“Christians are weak.”

“Christians are escapists.”

Ever heard those charges?  More and more, these insults are thrown around as simple truths.

Christians sometimes don’t accept the theories and beliefs that others hold as settled fact.  Some Christians even talk about science like it is an enemy of faith (which might just be a bit ignorant, frankly).  Christians can be viewed by some as weak when we don’t fight back or refuse to pursue our own glory and advancement.  And to those who don’t accept it, our belief in an afterlife seems like nothing more than wishful thinking and a way to escape our frustrations and disappointments.

The reality of the situation, according to Paul as he starts 1 Corinthians, is that God did intend for it to be this way.  God has always chosen the unconventional way of working.  Only criminals die on crosses; the gospel was scandalous to Jews.  And humans can’t kill gods; the gospel sounded foolish to Greeks.  Yet this is exactly the message with which God sent his ambassadors into the world.  Why?

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the shrewdness of the clever I’ll abolish. (1:19)

God’s folly is wiser than humans, you see, and God’s weakness is stronger than humans. (1:25)

God gladly plays the underdog.  He’ll take the B-string.  He’ll do things that sound backwards and foolish, but . . . when they bring about change, when those things make all the difference, when they render other things ineffectual, it will be God and His wisdom that stands supreme.

So, yes, for a time we may very well seem ignorant, weak, and even like escapists.  God’s wisdom is still being revealed in its glory.

When has your faith made you feel inferior?

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Luke 9: Take Up Your Cross Soberly

I was watching again the first of The Lord of the Rings movies recently (notable because I almost never watch the same movie twice), and I was struck by how Gandalf was both drawn to and terrified by the ring.  When Bilbo leaves it behind, does Gandalf want to take it up and wear it and even use it “for good” as he says later to Frodo?  Absolutely!  The ring is such that any being would want it.  Yet, Gandalf will never touch the ring.  He knows, no matter how good his intentions, the ring will corrupt him and, therefore, destroy him.

I see the same thing happening in this passage.  Not in Jesus.  He has it figured out.  But like Gandalf was teaching Frodo to fear the corrupting power of the ring, I see Jesus teaching his disciples that power can easily corrupt.

I see an earthly king, Herod the tetrarch, scared that he might lose his power to this new man everyone is talking about.  I see people who flock to Jesus for whatever his power can give them, whether healing, wholeness or food.  Who could blame them?  I see disciples given power to heal and exorcise, who are excited to tell Jesus what they have done (9:10, 36) but who want to press pause on ministry to tell glory-stories about themselves (9:12).  I see Peter marveling at the power and glory of Jesus on the Transfiguration and glad that he gets to be there to see it (9:33), as if the marvelous sight was the point itself.  And at the lowest point in the whole chapter, I see disciples arguing over which of them is the greatest, as if the point of the power they have been given in this chapter was for their own glory (9:46).  Then they are ready to use that power to call down destruction of people who reject Jesus (9:54).  They have drunk the heady draught of power and have become intoxicated.

In the midst of all of this is a teacher who forbids his followers to tell others what they have seen and learned (9:21), who tells them he is getting ready to die, not revolt against Rome (9:22, 44).  Here we have a Master who practically tries to dissuade people who want to follow him, saying the cost is very high (9:57-62).  And also in this chapter are these famous reminders that the way of Christ is about sacrifice, self-denial, and service not power and glory:

“If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say no to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me.  If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it.  What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self?” (9:23-25)

“Whoever is the least among you — that’s the one who is great.” (9:48b)

Power only ever belongs in the hands of those who can carry it for a while, for the benefit of others not themselves, and who honestly see the “cross” they carry for what it is: an instrument of possible destruction and a vehicle of potential grace.  We dare not take up the cross of ministry, with the power and glory it can bring, lightly.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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Romans 6: Free at Last!

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all slaves living in America.  He was the president, he said they were free, and that is that.

Well, it wasn’t really that easy.  The Confederates were no longer acknowledging Lincoln as their president so his words weren’t worth much to them anymore.  At least until the Union won the Civil War and asserted their power and laws.

So at the point of the Emancipation Proclamation were the slaves free or not?

You are only free to the degree people (including yourself) let you be free.

There were pockets of slave owners in Texas that got together and conspired to keep the word of the Emancipation Proclamation from their slaves.  It wasn’t that hard to do.  Many slaves could not read.  The slave owners would also run abolitionists out of town or even in rare cases kill them lest they stir up the slaves into dissension.  When rumors of freedom did get through to the slaves, all the slave owners had to do was tell them to look at their situation.  How could these rumors be true?  They don’t appear to be free, do they?  In the end, in these pockets of Texas, even though slavery had been abolished, freedom was denied to the slaves for another two years.

The Roman Christians were at a crossroads.  Theologically they had to decide how free they would allow themselves to be.  Their slave masters were not flesh and blood though.  They had to decide how free from law and sin they would be.

Paul has been painting a picture of Law that is not pretty.  There is within fallen humanity a propensity to sin (5:12-13), but until a command comes along declaring what we should and should not do the sinful desires inside of us do not know how to tempt us (3:20).  Think of children: as soon as you say don’t do something, what do they want to do?  The very thing prohibited.  Likewise our sinful desires.  The law was not intended to be a way to salvation, rather it showed us how depraved we truly are (5:20).  To hang on to law as a way to get right with God is nonsensical.  Law leads to sin which produces guilt and ultimately death (6:23), whether spiritual death or the metaphorical death of hope and love and goodness.

In this chapter, Paul sketches out an alternative.  He tells the Roman Christians: “you have been freed from sin” (6:7, 18, 22). Sin is no longer their master, because they have been freed from an obligation to follow the Jewish Law.  Law played its role and now it is time for another option: the cross and the grace that is freely offered there.  As we identify ourselves with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus through baptism (6:3-5) we choose a new cycle.  The cross brings freedom which produces gratitude and ultimately life.

The wages paid by sin, you see, are death; but God’s free gift is the life of the age to come, in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord. (6:23)

Paul, though, leaves these two opposing options as exactly that: choices.  The Roman Christians can choose to go the way of law or the way of the cross.  He argues one will lead to death and one to life.  They have been freed from sin by the power of the cross.  Through Christ’s resurrection God showed this truly is His world and life and death, freedom and slavery truly are His to determine.  But they still have to choose to not let sin have that power over them by going the way of grace through the cross, not the way of law and sin (6:12-14).  They would only be as free in the Roman church as they allowed themselves to be.

Nobody is encouraging us to follow the Jewish Law these days, but we can still give our freedom away to a works-oriented religion.  Again, this only leads to inevitable failure, overwhelming guilt, and the death of hope.  But the cross still stands before us today offering grace and freedom, propelling us into a grateful and abundant life of service to God and others.

The choice is ours.  How free will we allow ourselves to be?

What struck you in this chapter?

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Romans 3: Bad News, Good News

Sometimes to really appreciate the good news we have to first understand the bad news.  It seems this is what Paul has been doing in Romans and it all comes to a head in Romans 3.

Lest the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church who have been jockeying with each other for power miss the point, Paul makes everything crystal clear:

Jews as well as Greeks are all under the power of sin. (3:9)

No one is in the right — nobody at all!  No one understands, or goes looking for God; all of them alike have wandered astray, together they have all become futile; none of them behaves kindly, no, not one. (3:10-12)

For there is no distinction: all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory. (3:22-23)

Both sides need to stop their posturing for a minute and face a fact.  Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter.  Both are sinful in their own ways.  Both are equally sinful.  Sin, of some sort, has slithered into their hearts and is slowly taking over.  At this point there is only one thing that matters and they are all the same in this way: they are doomed because of sin.

And right at the point of that depressing fact is when Paul gives the first of several statements of the gospel or “good news” in Romans:

By God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus.  God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. . . . He declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus. (3:24-26)

It isn’t how good we are that matters, it is how good Jesus was.  It isn’t what kind of blood we have running through our veins that matters, it is whether we have been covered by Jesus’ blood.  It isn’t the rituals we have done that save us, it is the ritual of sacrifice that Jesus did that saves us.  Jew, Gentile, Greek, Barbarian, American, Afghani, Iranian, devoted church attender, or tortured soul — it doesn’t matter.  We are all the same at the foot of the cross.  Sinners saved by grace.

What one phrase from this majestic chapter means the most to you, and why?

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Matthew 27: Let His Blood Be On Us!

I am struck by the utter irony of this passage:

“So what shall I do with Jesus the so-called Messiah?” asked Pilate.

“Let him be crucified!” they all said.

“Why?” asked Pilate. “What’s he done wrong?”

But they shouted all the louder, “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate saw that it was no good.  In fact, there was a riot brewing.  So he took some water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I’m not guilty of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It’s your problem.”

Let his blood be on us!” answered all the people, “and on our children!”  (27:22-25)

Of course, the crowd means they will gladly take the guilt of killing Jesus.  His death is justified.  He is a law-breaker and blasphemer.  He incites riots and disturbs the peace.  Look at the company he keeps: he likely has some hidden sin.   If he really is God’s son then he can save himself.  But he won’t.  This guy is a ruffian.  We’ll answer for spilling his blood.

The irony is that by the end of the day that is exactly what happened.  Jesus’ shed blood was potentially “upon them and their children,” but not at all in the way they had imagined.  That blood signified redemption and atonement.  It meant they all had the potential to be saved by the very man they had crucified.  And if they accepted that invitation that blood would wash away their sins.  Were some of these same people among the 3000 saved on Pentecost forty days later?

What an amazing reminder of the grace of God!  He gives them what they want, and so much more!

What did you notice today?

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Matthew 26: Two Very Different Roads Converge

We are approaching Jesus’ death and I am struck by how there are two very different roads to the same place, Mt. Calvary.

The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders are both contemplating the same event, but have very different intentions:

Jesus said to his disciples, “In two days’ time, as you know, it’ll be Passover!  That’s when the son of man will be handed over to be crucified.” (26:1-2)

The chief priests got together with the elders of the people. . . . They plotted how to capture Jesus by some trick, and kill him. (26:4)

Next, we have the two groups making preparation for death.  An unnamed woman comes to Jesus and anoints his head with very expensive perfume, unbeknownst to her as preparation for his burial.  She does this as a sign of honor.  Meanwhile, the chief priests strike a deal with Judas to lead them to Jesus in a private place so they can arrest him without a scene.  Preparations are made for betrayal.

When Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, a stark divergence is seen again.  Everyone around Jesus — including impetuous Peter — operates by force.  Swords are brandished, an ear is cut off, and Jesus is manhandled away to the house of the high priest.  In contrast, throughout it all Jesus operates by peace.  He so opposes force that he heals the high priest’s slave’s ear and chastises his own defender Peter.  These are two radically different ways of operating in the world.

Both groups see Jesus’ body as an object to satisfy a need.  For Jesus, his body is an instrument of “forgiveness of sins” and healing (26:28).  Later, as the palace guard spat on Jesus and beat him, they show that Jesus’ body is simply an object on which to show hatred and humiliation.

Yet, both of these roads end up at the same place.  However, for one it is a cross of shame, mockery, and elimination.  For Jesus it is the cross of victory, love, and forgiveness.

What did you see anew in this very familiar chapter?

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Matthew 10: The Crown & The Cross

How will we know when God’s Kingdom has come?  What will it look like?

Jesus tells us in this passage:

As you go, declare publicly that the kingdom of heaven has arrived.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse people with skin diseases, cast out demons. (10:7-8)

As we progressively fill out our understanding of the “kingdom” Jesus was talking about, this passage is immensely helpful.  Kingdom has very little to do with what takes place in a church building.  Here we see that “kingdom” describes a state in which a person lives.  Kingdom-life is marked by wholeness.  Kingdom-life is when all is as it should be.  When Kingdom arrives in a person’s life, oppression is ended, provision is present, cleanliness is restored, dead things others had given up on are brought back to life, and hope returns.  Now that sounds like a kind of life to preach about!

But before we can enjoy life under the Crown, we must take up our Cross:

Anyone who doesn’t pick up their cross and follow after me doesn’t deserve me.  If you find your life you’ll lose it, and if you lose your life because of me you’ll find it. (10:38-39)

There is very little in this chapter that makes sense apart from the principle in this passage.  Jesus is sending his disciples out into Judea to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6).  He warns them sternly that their mission is not an easy one.  It will be subsistence living.  Dangerous people will surround them.  They will be dragged into court on trumped-up charges.  Their work will even bring strife in their own families from those who can’t accept their new calling.

God will provide for them.  And there are worse things than suffering physically for the Kingdom.  But if the crowds can’t all accept Jesus, why do they think the crowds will accept them, his servants?

The disciple isn’t greater than the teacher; the slave isn’t greater than the master. (10:24)

Jesus wears the crown of his kingdom today.  But first he had to take up his cross at Calvary.

We his disciples will have to do the same.

What crosses must we take up today? 

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Galatians 6: Focused on the Cross

We come to the end of our fourth book today.  These shorter books of Paul go quickly.  We are on to James tomorrow.  Good place to jump back onboard if necessary.

So much of Galatians has been anchored in the interplay between law and grace, slavery and freedom.  In the third to last paragraph of the book Paul tells us why the law is futile to make us righteous, why we are free from slavery, why we are alive in Christ, and why we can have the Spirit:

As for me, God forbid that I should boast — except in the cross of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.  Circumcision, you see, is nothing; neither is uncircumcised!  What matters is new creation.  Peace and mercy on everyone who lines up by that standard — yes, on God’s Israel. (6:14-16)

Ritual makes us focus on ourselves.  The cross of Jesus focuses us on the work of Jesus.  The law offers guidance for right living, but leaves us without the power to do it.  The cross made spiritual power available with the coming of the Spirit at the ascension of Christ.  The law was spoken into the world of the old creation.  The cross vanquished all powers set against God’s Kingdom and started a new creation.  The law enslaved us to sin, guilt, and the death that is the consequence of failure.  The cross frees us from all such tyrannies.  The center of the way of Christ is the cross.  A cross-less Christianity is just one more way to end up enslaved.

As a result, the cross becomes our focus for how we live life each day.  We “carry each other’s burdens” or crosses (6:2).  This may leave the “marks of Jesus” on our bodies (6:17), but we are okay with that because we are certainly not the ones who want to “avoid persecution for the Messiah’s cross” (6:12).  Daily, we “sow in the field of the spirit” and as a result “harvest eternal life from the spirit” (6:8).  Focused on the cross as our power we take up the cross as our service — to God and to others.

Let’s try this again because it worked well last time: please summarize in one sentence the message of Galatians as you heard it this time around.

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Mark 8: Jesus’ Core Teaching

He called the crowd to him, with his disciples.  “If any of you want to come the way I’m going,” he said, “you must say no to your own selves, pick up your cross, and follow me.  Yes: if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me and the message you’ll save it.  After all, what use is it to win the world and lose your life?” (8:34-36)

This one just has to be the passage highlighted today.  They are not comfortable or easy words, but this saying of Jesus is the most often stated saying in the gospels.  It appears six times in some form or another.  Not John 3:16.  This one about self-denial.  Interesting!

What caught your eye today?

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