Therapy Session

The Kingdom of God is near! Are you picturing the guy standing on a street corner, yelling at people? Sadly, the “Kingdom of God is near” message is often wrapped up in the language of condemnation and wrath. And to be clear, it includes judgment. But that is not the heart of the message. Judgment is what happens when you reject the message; when you say something like, “What a load of garbage!” The heart of the message of the kingdom is healing; restoration. It is a therapy session. And here is the thing, healing cannot take place if you want nothing to do with the therapist – the healer. If you refuse to sit on the couch, rejecting the very concept of the couch, then don’t complain when you cannot receive the benefits offered on the couch. The therapy session has begun. The only question is whether or not you will join in.

              Luke 10:8-16 is the second half of the message Jesus gave to the seventy who were being sent out. It is a message about reception and rejection. If they are received by the citizens of the city, they are to eat what is set before them. This is deeper than food. It is an appreciation of reception. Don’t spurn the gift. I watched a group of college age kids giving away the dinner that had been provided for them in Honduras. To their credit, they didn’t just throw it away. They gave it to some children. But think of the people who graciously prepared that meal for them. Eat what is set before you. Appreciate the effort of welcoming you. And if they are welcomed in the city, they are to heal the sick. The word “heal” is the word from which we get the English word “therapy.” Put on a therapy clinic. And then proclaim, “the kingdom of God has come near upon you.” It is possible to translate that the kingdom has arrived. This may be more than a preparing the way. This may just be a statement about the arrival of the kingdom. Healing is a sign that the kingdom has come to their town. The therapy session can happen because the kingdom is breaking into their reality.

              And if the messengers and their message is rejected by the citizens, they are to get themselves into the main streets of the city and very publicly denounce that city. The clinging dust of the city will be wiped off. This was a well-known statement: I want nothing to do with you or your dust. As earlier (9:5), this is probably a prophetic symbol: just as I shake off the dust of your city, you will be shaken out of the kingdom. The kingdom of God has still arrived. The difference is that the city will receive none of the benefits. They will know nothing of therapy – of healing. It seems significant that the message to the cities who reject the message is still that the kingdom of God has arrived, but it has not arrived upon them. The kingdom comes whether you accept it or not. The coming of the kingdom of God is not dependent upon your approval. Now, whether you enjoy healing or not, well, that does depend upon your approval.

              Then Jesus emphasizes the point by saying that it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom than it will be for the city of rejection. What? Sodom had become a symbol of God’s judgment; a symbol of the worst of cities and therefore worthy of destruction. How will it be more bearable for them? The punishment will be the same – eternal separation from the kingdom. The difference? Knowledge. So, Jesus pronounces a good ol’ fashioned woe upon some current Jewish towns who were witnesses to the power of the kingdom; of the therapy session of Jesus. If the notoriously pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon had been blessed to be witnesses they would have repented. So, there they are, outside of the kingdom. Tyre and Sidon can at least say, “But we didn’t see the Kingdom of God walking our streets.” Woe to you Chorazin (we really don’t know where this was), woe to you Bethsaida! You saw the power of healing; the sign of the kingdom; and you rejected. And Capernaum, just because you were a base of operations for the kingdom, that doesn’t mean you can reject the message and be okay. You will, instead, be like the king of Babylon, thinking you can exalt yourself to the heavens only to discover you have been plummeted to Sheol. It is all about welcoming the kingdom and its therapeutic impact.

              The kingdom of God has arrived and Jesus is still operating a therapy clinic. But therapy is sometimes unpleasant; not what we expected or want. The Bible sometimes refers to this as being pruned. Ouch! You and I are messengers of the kingdom. We are inviting people to join in and get themselves therapied. If they listen to us, they are actually listening to the one who sent us – the Great Physician. If they reject us, they are really rejecting Jesus and God. Welcome the kingdom and be healed. Grace.

Bustle Time

The crop is ready. The conditions are favorable. Do you linger at the local café chewing the fat with the townies? Do you go to bed early and sleep in? Do you watch TV all day? I’m not a farmer, but I know this much – harvest time is bustle time. Long hours in the field – early mornings and late nights. The window may be small; the weather may turn; the opportunities may dry up like a drop of rain in the Sahara. So, the farmer hustles and bustles and brings in the harvest.

              Luke 10:1-7 is about the harvest in the kingdom of God. The master, that is Jesus, appointed seventy people to be sent out. Why seventy? There were seventy translators of the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. There were seventy men on the Sanhedrin. There were seventy elders in Moses’ day upon whom the spirit descended and they were enabled to prophesy. In Genesis 10 there are seventy nations listed. Some have seen the number seventy here representing the ministry of Jesus reaching out to all the nations. Others will make the comparison to the spirit being poured out on the seventy elders and would then see this as a symbol of divine commission. Maybe it is both of these. These seventy are given a divine appointment and they may symbolize the spreading of the message to the nations. Like the messengers of 9:52, they are sent ahead of Jesus to go to all the cities that Jesus was intending to go to.

              “The harvest is great,” said Jesus, “but the workers are few.” It is bustle time but there are not enough workers. And Jesus’ advice here is not “so get out there and get to work you slackers.” Nope. His advice is to beg the lord of the harvest to send out workers. The word “send out” often implies force. This is not a motivational speech for rolling up your sleeves. It is an encouragement to see the harvest as urgent – even if the harvest includes the nations. Beg the lord of the harvest to force the laborers to get busy. He is the Lord – the master – and if you belong to him and he says, “Go!” you go. Jesus also said that he was sending them out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Now that sounds cozy. Having a divine commission is not about cozy. And it is not about you fighting the wolves. You, sir and madam, are lambs. Ministry is about vulnerability. Wolves are stronger and more vicious than you. As before, he tells them not to take things. Again, this is a prophetic symbol of haste. The ministry is too urgent for you to waste time packing. But it is also about trust. Can you trust the lord of the harvest to provide and protect? And differently than the earlier accounts, Jesus tells them to not greet anyone. Several sources mention that greetings at this time were no simple matter of saying “Hi!” Urgency leaps out of from Jesus’ words.

              And whatever house they enter first they are to pronounce kingdom peace upon the household. This is more than a Jewish greeting. It is that, but it is more. If a son of peace is in that house, your pronouncement of peace will rest upon him. As spirit empowered messengers their pronouncement of peace brings peace. But if there is no son of peace in that house, don’t worry, the peace will return to you so that it can then be pronounced on another. Don’t be stingy with peace pronouncements! There may just be a lesson here for us. If we say “peace be with you” and peace doesn’t rest there, that is not on us. There is no consequence for proclaiming unrested peace.

              Again, the messengers are commanded to stay in the first house in which they had been welcomed. That house becomes a base of operations and therefore a supporter of the harvest. Some are sent out as messengers and some provide the needs of the messengers. Both are equally important to the harvest in the kingdom. And for goodness sake, don’t disrespect the one who welcomed you by moving on to another house; one that is more comfortable and has better food.               This is the first half of the section (the second half being 10:8-16). Harvest in the kingdom is much like physical harvest. There is a time of urgency; of hustling because the crop is ready and the conditions are good. The Lord of the harvest knows the times and seasons better than we do. So, we beg him to send the workers in good time. And if he is our Lord, when he says “Go!” we will not argue; we will not hesitate; we will not go home to grab some money or weapons. We will trust in the Lord of the harvest to provide and protect. Yes, there are wolves out there. Jesus is not calling you to be a wolf. He is sending you out to be a lamb; to be vulnerable. If he is the Lord, we don’t argue. We go, all lamb like. Bustle time! Grace.

The Pressing Path

I am about to make an assumption: I assume that Lot’s wife was not turned into a pillar of salt just because she looked backward. I think the whole of Genesis 19 is about Lot’s family struggling with letting go of their life in Sodom. I mean, for crying out loud, the angels had to physically drag Lot and his family out of the doomed city. Yes, they were told not to look back. I don’t think this command was about forbidding a curious glance at the devastation. I think God was telling them, “Quit longing for the life you know here; the friends; the relative; the bustling city life; the degradation.” A relationship with God should hold priority above all other relationships. And sometimes that is easy to see like in the case of Lot’s wife. Sodom was a horrendous place, all full of ugly abuses of dignity. And yet all of them seemed to cling to the life they had made there. Sometimes this is not as easy to see like when Jesus says “Let the dead bury the dead.”

              Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem; to rejection; to death. He is traveling the path of obedience to the Father. Luke 9:57-62 is about that journey. So, as Jesus and his disciples are journeying along, a certain person said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Through the years this passage has been applied to preachers. Nice dodge. This is about a person who is offering to be a disciple, a follower. All who believe in Jesus are called to follow and following is not a walk in the park (unless you are thinking of the Garden of Gethsemane – it is a walk in that gloomy park). Notice that Jesus doesn’t just accept the offer with a slap on the back and a “That’s great! Come along as we sing ‘We’re Marching to Zion!’” Nope. He tells them about how the foxes and birds have places to rest, but that the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to lay his head. Is this literal? I think Jesus rested. Some people have made a huge deal about Jesus being homeless. Well, maybe, but I don’t think that is his point here. He is journeying to Jerusalem to pronounce that the Kingdom of God is breaking into reality. That message, and therefore, Jesus, will not be popular. Jesus is, in effect, saying, “Will you really follow me anywhere I go? Because I am on the path to being rejected and killed. I can find no rest from this path. I have set my feet on this path of obedience.” God’s path is not a path of rest. It is a path of movement; of following; of death.

              Then Jesus said to another person along the way, “Follow me.” It is a call to be a disciple. This person responded with a request to be allowed to bury his father. Burial was an important responsibility. It fell upon the son to bury the father. One source permits a person who has the duty of family interment to not pray the Shema; to not observe anything commanded by the Torah. For the Jewish people burying the dead superseded everything else. This would have been a reasonable request. Jesus responded with “let the dead bury the dead.” As you can imagine this has generated a lot of discussion. How can the dead bury the dead? I mean they’re dead. They can’t really do anything. Is he suggesting that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead? But does that suggest that the spiritual person doesn’t have physical responsibilities? Whatever is decided here, the main point is that the path of Jesus – the relationship to God – holds priority over everything else. When there is a conflict in responsibility, obey God! Jesus is not saying that physical duties are wrong. It is a question of priority. Jesus’ path is the most pressing duty.

              Another person comes along and offers to follow, but wants to go back to his family to make final arrangements first. This was granted to Elisha when Elijah called him to prophetic discipleship. But Jesus’ path is more pressing than that of Elijah. Jesus ends the segment by quoting a familiar parable. If you throw your hand to plowing, you are not going to look back. Looking back results in crooked furrows. The person who was plowing usually set his eyes on something at the end of the field. The path of plowing is about progressing on – not glancing backward. Don’t cling to family so tightly that you miss the path of being a disciple of Jesus.

              Are you journeying with Jesus? The word “follow” can have the idea of accompanying on a journey. This is not a call for a select few – the ordained clergy. This is a call to all who believe. Set your hand to the plow, set your eyes on the one who has gone on before you, and proceed forward. If you are a disciple, your duty to Jesus is greater than your duty to your spouse, your children, your country, your pets. Nothing should overshadow your responsibility to God. This may be difficult, but anything less would result in a division of loyalty. Press on as you journey the pressing path of obedience. Peace, Walter

Move On

Ahaziah fell out of his upper chamber in his palace in the city of Samaria. And then he got sick. He wanted to know if he was going to die, so he sent some messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. Well, Yahweh didn’t like this very much and he sent Elijah to intercept those messengers with the message that Ahaziah will indeed die. And what does Ahaziah do? Well, he doesn’t repent. He sends a commander of fifty men along with said fifty men to force Elijah to come to a camp meeting. And Elijah calls down fire from heaven and consumes the commander and his fifty men. This happens twice. The third time, the commander, who is terrified and humbled, begs Elijah to spare his life and the life of his fifty men and to come meet with Ahaziah. Elijah comes down and tells Ahaziah that he will die because he sought out the god of Ekron instead of the God of Israel. This story is found in 2 Kings 1. And the story resonated with the Jews. I mean, what’s not to love? You have the man of God; you have the faithless king and his commanders and warriors; and you have fire from heaven displaying the glory of God.

              Luke 9:51-56 is about direction and mission. The days were becoming full for Jesus to be taken up. This most likely refers to his death; his transition from this world to the throne of God. And Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. This is a Jewish idiom for determination. Jesus was determined to go to the very place that would lead to the cross. This was his mission; this was a submitting to the will of God to the point of suffering, betrayal, death and resurrection. Jesus is going to pass through Samaria, which was the most direct route from Galilee to Judah and Jerusalem. He sends some messengers before his face (or, ahead of him) and they enter this unnamed Samaritan village to prepare the way for Jesus. This phrase is strangely familiar. It is reminiscent of Malachi 3:1 and, therefore, the ministry of John the Baptist. But wait one minute here. These nameless messenger (the word is literally “angels”) are sent to the Samaritans to prepare the way. Most translations say something like “make arrangements” as if the goal was to set up some kind of temporary housing situation for Jesus and his entourage. But again, the language is similar to the prophecy concerning God sending his messenger to clear the way before him. Later, in Malachi 4:5, this messenger is identified as Elijah. Jesus wants the Samaritans prepared for his coming. What?

              This village finds out that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and this doesn’t sit too well. You see, there is this long-standing disagreement between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans worship God at Mount Gerizim and the Jews say, “nope! Yahweh is to be worshiped in Jerusalem.” And because Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem and has slighted Gerizim, they refuse to welcome him. They miss the message because they don’t like Jesus’ direction. Now, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They feel slighted, so they stomp their collective feet and reject the one who could make all of the arguments between themselves and the Jews come to a decisive end.

              When James and John hear about this, they ask Jesus if he desires for them to command fire to come down from heaven and destroy the whole stinking village. The wording is strikingly similar to the Elijah story and most accept that the disciples had that story in mind when they longed to wield heaven-fire and wipe out the ungrateful Samaritan village. Jesus turned toward the two would be fire wielders and rebuked them. Later manuscripts added what they believed that rebuke must have been. But the earliest manuscripts simply have that Jesus rebuked them and then they all went on their way. His direction is Jerusalem. His mission is suffering and death so that all might be saved. He sends messengers to prepare the way, not with destruction, but with information and invitation. I don’t think Luke recorded the nature of the rebuke, and maybe he didn’t record any words here because he wanted to emphasize that they continued on to the next village. That village had rejected. Okay. Move one.

              Jesus set his face to go to the cross; to submit to the will of God. Some people don’t like that direction. I mean it kind of smells of death. So, they refuse to welcome the Kingdom; the Messiah; the Good News. Our response should not be destroying fire. We move on to the next person; the next neighborhood; the next city; the next country. No matter where we go, we proclaim the message of Jesus. And yes, we desperately want people to welcome Jesus. And when they refuse; traipsing after other gods; and other holy places, we may be tempted to transform into fire-of-heaven wielders. But don’t. Simply move on.

No Restraining

If I say something like, “I believe that Mother Teresa did a lot of good for the cause of Christ,” are you tempted to respond with a “Maybe, but . . .”? Here’s the thing, I really don’t know much about Mother Teresa other than the fact that she had a heart to minister to the poor in one of the poorest cities in the world. I think she did this because she loved Jesus. For many she is the face of Christian compassion and concern for the impoverished. She didn’t belong to the same group that I do. I know. And neither did Diedrich Bonhoeffer, who became a voice for standing up for what is right in the midst of the madness that was Nazi Germany. I think he did much for the cause of Christ as well. I am making no statement about who is saved here. My job is to do my best to let people know what a faith in Jesus asks of us. It is not to decide where any given person is going to spend eternity. Neither is it to disparage others because they don’t belong to the same church culture as I do. If they are doing something good in the name of Christ, well then, let them to it with a “God bless you.”

              Luke 9:49-50 is reminiscent of Numbers 11:24-30. Moses cries out to God in anger. Basically he tells God off for making him responsible for all the people. God tells Moses to gather seventy of the elders, men whom he knew and trusted. God would send his Spirit on these seventy. And they prophesied. But there were these two, Eldad and Medad, who had been registered, but didn’t show up at the camp meeting, who also prophesied in the camp. Joshua told Moses, “Make them stop!” And Moses’ response? “Are you jealous for me? I wish God’s Spirit would come on all people.” Joshua believed that only Moses should prophesy. Maybe he thought that if others could go about prophesying, then Moses would lose some sense of being special. And who are these guys anyway? Whoever heard of Eldad and Medad?

              In our text, right after the discussion of what it means to be great in God’s Kingdom, John relates an incident that most likely happened when Jesus had sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God; you know, when Jesus gave them authority over demons and diseases. They see this random guy casting out demons in Jesus’ name. But there was this problem. This man wasn’t following along with the disciples. I mean, “how dare he?” So, the disciples stepped in and tried to restrain him. They are still grasping at greatness based on being the Twelve; the disciples of Jesus. After all, Jesus had given them authority and a mission. Who was this guy to go about doing the important work of the kingdom? And it just may be that we are intended to read this story shortly after the account of the disciples’ failure to cast out a demon. This not named man had the audacity to be successful.

              Jesus responds with, “Do not restrain him.” And he follows this up with a proverbial statement: he who is not against you is for you. We could possibly say it like this: “Don’t fight against people who are not fighting against you.” But it is more than that. And what is infuriating about this very short passage is that we know nothing about what this man believed. Did he believe Jesus was the Messiah? Did he try to follow his teachings? All that we know is that he was casting out demons in Jesus name – by Jesus’ reputation or character. He must have believed in Jesus name to a greater degree than the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:14-16). But that is all that we know. So, Jesus is not saying, “This man is saved!” or “this man is a disciple just like you.” His point is when someone is doing Kingdom of God work in the name of Jesus, consider that work to be on your behalf. Kindgom work is Kingdom work. And Kingdom folk are not intended to be elitist, thinking they are the only ones who can or should do good things. And sometimes all that we need to know about another person is that they are honoring the name of Jesus.               If another group of Christians is honoring Jesus by feeding the hungry, rejoice. The poor are receiving food in the name of Jesus. And that, my friends, is a good thing. It is Kingdom good. If a group seems to have inroads to the prisons, don’t disparage their initiative. Don’t demean them as if visiting prisons has less value because you or your group are not doing it. If Jesus is being honored, rejoice. Why spend time worrying about what another group is doing or not doing anyway? If you know that is right to feed the poor, then feed the poor. If the best way to do that is to partner with larger churches of different cultures and belief structures, then join them. You are not agreeing with them. You are not okaying everything they believe. You are doing Kingdom work to the glory of God. May Jesus be honored.

Welcoming Greatness

On the one hand, in a positive sense, the disciples of Jesus believed that their future greatness would come from their connection with Jesus. On the other hand, in a negative sense, they thought greatness was all about their connection with Jesus. They were the chosen Twelve. They were privy to the inner circle teachings of the Messiah. And all of this would make them great when Jesus finally decided to battle those pesky Romans and set up the restored Kingdom of Israel. They could almost taste the greatness; they could almost see the common, non-inner circle people, bowing down before them. But, like so many other things, greatness looks different in the Kingdom of God. You see, they were right about the source of greatness. They were way off on what greatness means.

              Luke 9:46-48 is about greatness. It is probably also a reason that the disciples did not understand what Jesus said about the Son of Man being handed over to men. They were blinded by the glare of anticipated glory. So, while Jesus is talking about death, a dispute enters in among them. Just who is the greatest. Maybe Peter, James and John boasted about how Jesus took them up onto the mountain to host Moses and Elijah. They may have conveniently left out the fact that they nearly missed the whole thing as a result of being overcome with sleep. Did some of them blurt out with “I’m important too!”? And isn’t fighting about being great a great way to miss the truth of God?

              Jesus knows all about the disputing of their heart. The way this is worded implies that their heart owned the argument. Jesus knows what our hearts grab hold of. Instead of allowing their hearts to grasp the truth about who Jesus is, they were grabbing onto the debate over greatness. And I wonder if churches don’t succumb to this. So, in answer to this problem, Jesus grabs a little child and stood him by his side. In order to understand what is going on here, it is important to understand the culture of Jesus’ day. Important people spend time with important people. They hob-knobbed. Children were not seen or heard in Jewish society. Let the women and/or servants deal with them. The unimportant must tend to the unimportant. And here is the Son of Man – the perfect man – grabbing a child and setting him to his side.

              But that is not all. He says, “Whoever welcomes this child – this unimportant person – upon my name.” Okay, there is a lot of discussion about what “upon my name” means. What if Jesus is saying that if you welcome this child upon the character of Jesus; upon who Jesus is, then you welcome Jesus himself. Greatness is about who you welcome because of who you know. If you know the character of Jesus, if you are shaped by the reputation of Jesus, then you will go about welcoming all manner of unimportant people. You will not go about bragging about how you know Jesus expecting others to be impressed with who you are because of who you know. And here is the thing: If you welcome Jesus you are welcoming the one who sent Jesus. Some times I wonder if we make Jesus’ words more difficult than need be. Count how many times Jesus uses the word receive. The key to being great is all about receiving. While the world looks at greatness as being able to separate yourself from the riff-raff, Jesus says, “Greatness is about being welcoming.” And when you are welcoming, that is when you will truly welcome God.

              So, the one who is the smallest or least in the pecking order, is actually the one who is great in God’s kingdom. Why? Have you noticed that the people who argue about being great are often the ones who want so desperately be apart from; distinguished from the unimportant? For example, the biggest mansions are often the furthest away from the street and other houses. But the unimportant are often the ones who are welcoming, and being welcoming is what matters in the Kingdom.

              Be great! Welcome the little children. Nah, that’s too easy in our culture. We love babies. Welcome the homeless; stand beside her and let her know that she matters. Welcome the prisoner. Visit him, study with him, let him know that he matters. This is not about children really. This is about welcoming whoever the world says is not important. This is about a heart that is captured not by disputes but by receiving; not by minimizing but by maximizing; not by making small but by making large. And once again, Jesus turns the order of things on its head and says, “Not in my Kingdom boys and girls.” Your connection to Jesus can make you great. But only if you grasp his character; only if that connection shapes your heart into a welcoming machine. Welcome on my friends. Grace and peace, Walter

Selectively Sight Impaired

Sometimes we are selectively sight impaired. There are things we don’t want to see or believe. People do this for many reasons and about many things. Some people ignore the evidence of wrongness in their child. This is not positive thinking; this is not love covering a multitude of sins. This is harmful, not getting your child the help they need, blindness. It is the person who refuses to see that abuse is happening or even wrong. The alternative feels too scary. Scarier than being beaten again. People do this all the time with God. It looks a bit different, but it amounts to the same dangerous blindness. And Satan may just be involved. You see, there are things that Satan doesn’t want us to see.

              In Luke 9:43b-45 Jesus’ disciples are selected to not see. Everyone was astonished at all that Jesus was doing. The buzz must have been electric. This guy had authority over demons, he fed thousands with very little, he healed the sick. Was there anything that this man could not do? The disciples hear this buzzing and are full of Jewish expectation. They suspect that Jesus just may be the Messiah; the anointed one; the one who would defeat the tyrant Romans; the one who would rededicate the Temple; the one that would restore Israel. The disciples were a part of the fabric of which Israel was woven. Their sight was determined by cultural expectations of what God would accomplish through his Messiah. So, as the crowds buzz, the disciples buzz right along with them.

              Jesus tells them, “Put these words into your ears.” This was an idiomatic expression that meant, “You need to pay special attention to this.” And he is not telling them to allow the crowd buzz become an ear worm. He is trying to tell them that what he is about to tell them; what he has already told them; is super important. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. Again, the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14 seems to be in view. In that vision, the one like a son of man will go up to the Ancient of Days and be given a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of that vision. But it will not at all be like what the Jewish people expected. Instead of a great military victory, the Son of Man is delivered over into the hands of men. He had already told them in verse 22 that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and raised up on the third day.” There is no need to repeat this. The disciples should get the point. Instead of a great victory, there will be a great defeat. There will be betrayal. The perfect Son of Man will be delivered over to a mob of men.  

              But the disciples did not get the point. In fact, they were completely ignorant to the meaning of this word. That this message was hidden from them can refer to many things. Many assume that divine providence is at work here. They are not meant to understand until after the resurrection. But what if this is about Satanic sight searing? O to be sure, the disciples are culpable. They don’t want to see. They are more than willing to allow Satan to adversely effect their view. The truth is too far removed from the fabric of their existence. Before they could see, all of their cultural expectations would have to tumble. So, maybe Satan used their history and their expectations to blind them. And they were more than happy to be blinded. They didn’t want to see a Messiah who was defeated. They didn’t want to see a Messiah who died a horrible death. They had been let down too many times already. They thought the age of Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Hagai had issued in a rebuilding age. Then came Antiochus Epiphanes, who claimed to be the divine revelation. He desecrated the Temple and tried to force the Jews to eat pork. And their hopes floundered until Judah the Hammer rose up and defeated the Greeks and restored the Temple. And for seven years they dreamed. Then came Pompey and his army. And Rome was in charge. So, no thank you. We have had enough of disappointments.

              Expectations will blind you just as surely as acid thrown into the eyes. And Satan works here. He is happy for you to have all manner of expectations of God. Anything that keeps you from seeing the suffering Christ, is just fine with him. I believe that Jesus has issued in the Kingdom of God. Some don’t see it because it isn’t what they expect or want. There is no military genius here, who defeats the dreaded tyrant. There is death here. The Kingdom is not about military victory. The Kingdom is about death. And then victory. Death and glory. That is the Good News of the Messiah. Grace, Walter

Rebellious Generation

Why is there evil? How we respond to that question determines a lot. Some, when they think of evil shake their fist at God, blaming him for all that has slipped sideways in the world. And to some degree, I understand this. God is sovereign. Nothing happens with out his okey dokey. And that leads us to all kinds of conundrums. Yes, evil is present. Yes, God is sovereign. But evil is about our choice to rebel against God. And God, in his sovereignty allows us to rebel. But evil is about us slipping sideways; shaking our fist at a holy God and determining with our little rebellious hearts to turn away from him toward all manner of lesser and therefore evil things. We trust in ourselves. We trust in other gods (education, sex, science, power, money, and the list is almost endless). But the bottom line is we have no one to blame but us – mankind is at fault.

              Luke 9:37-43a is a strange tale of the battle between good and evil. So, the next day, after a night of Jesus hanging out with Moses and Elijah, Jesus comes down the mountain with Peter, James and John. And when they arrive at the bottom of the mountain a large multitude meets him. They arrive, but the crowd meets him – Jesus. They are there to see Jesus. Peter, James and John slip into the background of the story. And isn’t there exactly where we should be – in the background of the story? I want Jesus to be in the foreground of my story. That sounds right. Anyway, you have Jesus and you have the often-present large crowd. And then you have a man crying out his desperation. It is important to hear the desperation here.

              The concern is his only son. This is emphasized several times in Luke. A parent’s only child (the widow of Nain’s only son; Jairus’ only daughter). Don’t get me wrong, no matter how many children you have you would be desperate if they were in any danger. Our hopes and dreams are often wrapped up in our children. And if there is only one, and that one is hurting – that is our only hope and dream. This man screams out “Teacher, I am begging you to look closely at my son – my only son.” The problem is an evil spirit. I know. Many sources will call this epilepsy. And the symptoms are epileptic in nature. Okay, but is this about a superstitious misunderstanding of a neurological condition? I don’t think so. I think this is about a demon. Even if the disciples, or the father, made a misdiagnosis, which is completely possible, I don’t believe Jesus did. This is about a nasty spirit that is tormenting this man’s son. This is about his desperation; about his lack of ability to do anything about it; about his watching as his son is battered about by a malevolent demon.

              The disciples were not able to cast out this spirit, which is interesting since Jesus gave them authority over all the demons in verse 1. Even more interesting is Jesus response. He blurts out with a rebuke, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?” I mean, “What?” Jesus is taking them back to Old Testament Scripture. In Deuteronomy 32, in the song of Moses, Moses rebuked the people for being a perverted and crooked generation in verse 5 and for being perverted and unfaithful in verse 20. The overall gist of the song is that the people of Israel have trusted in other gods and themselves and have been, well basically unbelieving and perverted. Why is there such a thing as demon possession? Why is this young man being tormented? Jesus is saying, “Rebellion is why.” But it is more than that. Why can’t the disciples cast it out? Maybe, they had begun to trust in their authority more than the source of that authority. That seems to be one of Moses’ points in his song. The rebellious people tend to look at God’s victory as their own. So, why evil? Rebellion. Why inability to confront evil? Rebellion. As the young man approaches Jesus the demons slammed him to the ground and convulsed him. Jesus rebuked the spirit and it left and the boy is healed and the people are overwhelmed.

              One of the things we are intended to see here is the difference between the disciples’ failure and the success of Jesus. Jesus success is because of the greatness – mighty power, grandeur – of God. Yes, there is evil in this world. And it is intent on harming, bruising, and maiming. And when we trust in our ability to handle, to deal with, to vanquish evil, we will fail. The evil is there because of rebellion. Your inability is because of misplaced trust. Trust in God then. It is his power – his good – that will conquer the demons of this world. Don’t rebel, holding firmly to your own intelligence or power. Let go of all that and trust God.

Departure Glory

What is glory? Not the movie. But since you brought it up, lets talk about the movie. The movie Glory is about the first platoon made up of African Americans during the Civil War. Near the end of the movie, their commander, Colonel Shaw, understands that in order for them to get the respect they deserve, they will need to do something almost majestic; something glorious. He volunteers them to lead the charge against Fort Wagner. Many will die. The night before the fateful battle, the soldiers are around a fire, singing their stories. They know they will most likely die the next day. They know that this is about something bigger than one battle; something bigger than themselves. This is about how white people view black people. This is about laying down their own lives so that others can find freedom. This is about glory.

              Luke 9:28-36 is also about glory. About a week after Jesus told them that being Christ means suffering and death – after he tells them that being a follower means following that path – Jesus takes Peter, John and James up on a mountain to pray. And while Jesus was praying the outward appearance of his face became “other.” His clothes became white and flashing like lightning. My guess is that Jesus was filled with the radiance or glory of heaven and it radiated out of him so much so that it actually made his clothes dazzle. Jesus was radiating from the inside out.

              And behold! The word “behold” is intended to grab your attentions. Something that is not the norm is happening here. I mean, you know, other than the flashing like lightning clothes. Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with Jesus. Did Peter, James and John get out their “Great Patriarchs” trading cards? How did they know it was Moses and Elijah? Maybe Jesus told them later. Maybe Jesus used their names while talking to them. We don’t know. What is important is that they were there, having appeared in glory, which probably means they came from Heaven. Everything that comes into proximity of the Glory of God reflects that radiance. Kind of like Moses’ face when he came out of the Tent of Meeting. So, Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his exodus. Although the word is used for departure, as in death, among Greek speaking Jews, the word here is probably also intended to hint at the Exodus. The main point is that they are talking about Jesus’ departure – his death; his obedience; his sacrifice. And why Moses and Elijah? Elijah was taken up to God in a fiery chariot. That seems pretty glorious and it puts Elijah in the presence of God. But Moses died before entering the promised land as punishment for not glorifying God.  The common theory is that Moses represents the Law while Elijah represents the prophets. And that may well be, but what if they represent departure – one in obedience and glory and one in disobedience? The choice is before Jesus talking to him about departure.

              The disciples were apparently in some kind of sleep stupor. When they wake up, they notice the glory of Jesus and that of the two men with him. Moses and Elijah get ready to leave and Peter blurts out, “Master, it’s good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles.” It seems probable that Peter is attempting to prolong the experience. He is witnessing the glory of heaven and doesn’t want it to end. As is often the case with Peter, he is speaking without knowing what is speaking about. The whole conversation is about departure, about submitting to the will of God to the glory of God. So, because Peter felt blessed to have been a witness, he wanted that mountain top experience to continue as long as possible. As he is speaking and maybe as a response to his speaking a cloud formed and covered them. The cloud often represents God’s presence and here it is intended to remind the reader of the Mount Sinai event. A voice comes out of the cloud and said, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And then all of a sudden Jesus is found alone, sans Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the Chosen One. Listen to what he tells you about what it means to be the chosen one. The Christ will suffer and die. Listen!

              What is glory? Glory is giving your life for something bigger than yourself. Glory is being so intent on God that his glory radiates out from inside of you. Glory is about how you depart and what you are willing to depart for. Will you depart in disobedience or in obedience? Jesus knew that he was approaching his death. His face is facing the goal. Jesus is one with the will of God and the majesty, the sublimity, of God is shining through him. Yes, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Listen to him. So, what will your departure look like? Listen to Jesus. Depart well my friends. Peace, Walter

Following

If the identity of the Christ is about suffering, being rejected, killed and resurrected, what would a follower of Jesus look like? I could tell everyone I’m a plumber. I could dress like a plumber. I could carry around the tools. None of that makes me qualified to be a plumber. Or I could pretend to be a surgeon. I could buy a nice white coat, some shoe booties, some you know, whatever I need to pull off the look. I may even familiarize myself with some of the lingo. Like I could say “scalpel” instead of “that really sharp thingy.” But no one wants me to pretend to be a doctor; no matter how much I think I could pull off the look and technical language. Yeah, anyone can say they’re a disciple of Christ.

              There is a reason that Luke 9:23-27 follows directly after Jesus’ description of what it means to be the Christ; the Son of Man. Followers should follow. So, if you are going to be a follower of the Christ who was to suffer, be rejected by the religious leaders, killed and resurrected, what exactly are you following? Jesus was saying to all of them, emphasizing that this message is for everyone. And what is this message? If you want to follow Christ you are called upon to deny yourself. What? Wait! I thought Jesus wanted me to be true to myself. Nah man. He wants you to disregard, refuse, deny yourself. But he doesn’t stop there. He also calls you to pick up your cross daily. Every one of his listeners understood what this meant. If you were sentenced to be crucified – if you were a non-Roman citizen and the worst of people – you had to carry the cross beam of the implement of your death to the place of your death. Picking up your cross meant only one thing. You are going to die son. Daily! That’s what it means to follow the Christ.

              This is followed with three explanatory clauses which begin with the word “for.” For whoever longs to save or rescue their life will ruin it. And we have seen the truth of this played out before us haven’t we? The person who focuses all of their efforts on themselves is often a train wreck. But whoever loses or ruins their life for Jesus’ sake will save that life. It may seem too scary to pick up a cross and follow the suffering Christ, but the alternative is not really life. It seems likely that Jesus is saying that his followers should not only daily lay down their lives, but that they should be ready to be martyred. It is a call to make Jesus more important than your life; your self.

              For in what way is a man successful if he is able to acquire the whole world, but in the process ruins or suffers the loss of himself? In the ledger of life is this really a success? On one of the news shows, they sometimes do a segment on “A Life Well Lived.” This is usually about a person who has used their ability, resources, to help others; to better their community. Even non-followers of Jesus know that having wealth cannot be the end all of your existence. Sure, it might be nice to throw money at all of your problems in life – such as purchasing a college education for your son or daughter who is more interested in partying than studying.

              For whoever is ashamed of Jesus and his message, when the Son of Man comes in glory, he will be ashamed of that person. When the pressures of this life try to crush out the message of a suffering Christ, do you shudder and think more about yourself or do you take a stand in Christ? Do you rescue you by displaying shame for Christ? If you live your life rescuing you at the cost of Christ’s honor, should it be a surprise when Jesus is ashamed of you? Should Jesus honor you when you have refused to honor him? Many will see the phrase “come in glory” and leap to the end of time. But if this is a reference to Daniel 7, this is about when the kingdom is given to the Son of Man. Maybe that is why he tells them that some of them will still be alive when they see that kingdom. That kingdom is the glory of God and of the angels. And you really shouldn’t expect the Son of Man, to whom has been given dominion, glory and kingdom, to welcome you into that kingdom, if you have treated him and his message with contempt.

               By all means, follow Jesus. But don’t just wear a title and learn the lingo. Don’t sit in the stands cheering on the Miracle Worker. Be a follower of the true Christ; the suffering servant who was rejected by the religious elite; the Christ who went to the cross. So, pick up your cross. Daily. I know. It means death. Pick it up and follow. Jesus doesn’t call you to a life of being true to yourself. He calls you to deny self. Paradoxically, if you spend all your effort – your self – trying to save yourself, you will lose. So, lose you as you follow. I know. It feels like death. It is. Die then, and live. Grace, Walter