Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Great Paradox

Jesus Anointed at Bethany
14 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” 3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Reflection:
In this short passage we have many paradoxes surrounding Jesus' last days. Since things were coming to a head, the separation of who were his true followers and who weren't, comes more into focus. First, we have the chief priests and teachers of the Law. The Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread were both annual festivals that Jewish people celebrated in anticipation of the Passover Lamb, Jesus who would take away the sins of the world. But instead of being a holy moment, the leaders only see it as a reason not to hand over Jesus to be killed. What irony it is that rather worshipping the true lamb of God, they only reason they won't hand him over due to fearing a riot in the very feast Jesus will come to fulfill.

Secondly, we have a woman who brings an extremely expensive jar of perfume and offers it as an act of worship to this coming King, who will show his royalty by dying on a cross. The people are upset that the money could have been used to give money to the poor, and they don't realize she is anointing Jesus for his burial. True worship is costly, and this woman gives all she has to Jesus. Instead of realizing the appropriateness of this act of worship, they focus on what could have been done with the money in this world. Jesus is not saying to neglect the poor, but helping them to realize that their first act of worship is to honor and adore God and lay everything down at his feet.

Finally, in contrast to the woman who gave everything, is the disciple who betrayed Jesus for such a small amount. While the woman gave everything to adore JESUS, Judas gave very little to betray him. So isn't it interesting that the religious leaders and one of his disciples thought so little of Jesus and cared so much for their own self interest, whereas the woman unabashedly gave her all for Her Savior and Lord.

So the question for us is what value do we place on Jesus? Do we look use Jesus for our own self interests? Or, are we ready to lay everything at his feet in adoration of our Lord? As we go to worship on Sunday, do we go for what we can get out of it, or to give everything to God in worship? When we give, does it comfortably fit in as a budget line item, or do we determine how much to give to God and then live on the rest? Do we pray just when we are in trouble, or pray unceasingly so that when we are in trouble we are not alone? As you can see the paradox is not just in the stories today, but also in the stories we live out every day.

Jesus, help us to be like the woman, who realized who you were and responded by offering everything she had. May our lives be a living sacrifice to you in lieu of the sacrifice you made for us. Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Day and the Hour Unknown.

The Day and Hour Unknown
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Reflection:
There have been many over the years who have predicted Jesus' second coming on this day or that. And, of course, they have in one thing in common, they were all 100% wrong. Secondly, we know that actually there is no reason to try and predict it, because only the Father in heaven knows the day and the time. Interestingly Jesus says that not even he or the angels in heaven know the date or the time, only the Father.

We are actually only given one instruction, one thing to be focused on. We are told to keep watch. Let us notice several aspects of what this preparation looks like:

1. While our Master has gone he has left us in charge like the servants in the story. And it says each with his assigned task. And he tells us to keep watch. As we are awaiting Jesus' return, one of the ways we prepare is by doing the task he has given us. Notice it is not someone else's task but ours. We each have a charge given to us by our Lord. We each have a spiritual gift given to us to employ on behalf of Jesus and his church. When Jesus comes back, we will be held to account with what we have been given. Therefore, it is a serious deal to figure out what God has given us to do and be about that in the meantime.

2. We are told to keep watch. Much like during a prayers of the Jewish people, each one would take three hour shifts for the different watches throughout night. We are told to pray unceasingly, or continually. You might say this is maintaining conscious contact with God throughout the day. We are told to keep watch so that we are not caught sleeping. Obviously this doesn't mean we can never physically go to sleep. It means that we need to be spiritually awake, and avoid laziness in our walk with Christ. This is a big challenge because we have all had periods in our lives of spiritual apathy. That is why it is good to have frequent reminders that Jesus will return and it will be like a thief in the night.

So how about you? Are you ready? And please don't hear that this is just about doing more religious stuff. Being ready means we are remaining in Christ and He in us. If we feel far from God guess who moved? We know from other stories that if we have strayed, that God waits for us to return to Him. In the parable of the prodigal Son, the Father who, represents God, throws a party when His lost Son comes home. God loves you and me, and more than anyone He wants us to be ready. And He has sent His Son to give us everything we need to have a right relationship with Him. And He has also sent the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the one true faith.

Jesus thank you for calling us back to the Father. We know one day you will return and we want to be excited to finally meet our Savior and Lord. Amen.


Friday, September 26, 2014

The Destruction of the Temple

The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times
13 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. 24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. 28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Reflection:

As Jesus nears the end of his journey, he teaches the disciples on two separate topics. Sometimes people confuse the two because of their proximity. Jesus is teaching on the destruction of the temple, which will happen in AD 70. This also points to the view that the Gospel of Mark is written before AD 70. Most agree that Mark is the earliest gospel written. The destruction of the temple was also concurrent with Jesus' building of the new temple, the body of Christ. Unfortunately the Jewish people and their leaders had confused the beautiful buildings they had erected with the building of God's kingdom.

For a modern day association, just look at all the magnificent but empty cathedrals across Europe. They have been relegated to tourist sites with the worship areas roped off for site seeing versus people assembling in the name of the a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in an indirect way all of the buildings we now worship in will one day not be standing either. So the question is what are we building? The passage then describes that one day Jesus will return
after many other false messiahs, and many other signs. But the bottom line is that he will come again in great and promised glory and the only thing that will remain is his kingdom. This earth and all that is in it will pass away, but whoever does the will of God will last forever.

So what kind of lives should we live? Will the buildings we are building outlast ours and maybe the next generation? Some people say we in America are one step away from what is happening in Europe, where church attendance hovers around 10% in most countries. To the extent that we are focusing on buildings as the main barometer of success, we are not too far from our European brothers and sisters. Notice I didn't say buildings are unimportant. We need facilities to facilitate the growth of the Church. But it is when our focus goes from building God's kingdom to building our own that we are really in trouble.

1 Corinthians 3 says it this way,

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work."

So the question for us today is where does the foundation of our work lie? Is it on Jesus Christ and built in His power? Or do we rely on our flesh and personality to build monuments to ourselves? One of the questions I have tried to ask myself from time to time is, "What am I building that will make a difference for all of eternity?"

Jesus, help us to build on the foundation you have laid with precious stones, as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Awe know that one day when you return, the quality of our work will be revealed. Amen.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

God Looks at the Heart!

Whose Son Is the Messiah?
35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.

Warning Against the Teachers of the Law
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

The Widow’s Offering
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”


Reflection:
In today's passage as Jesu sets his eyes toward Jerusalem, he begins to reveal who he really is. Since the Jewish people knew that the Royal covenant spelled out that the Messiah would come from the house and the line of David, he quotes a verse from the psalms where David refers to the Messiah. And he refers to him as Lord, even though he was from his line. If this is the case, it is clear David is referring to the Messiah as more than a son of his, but the Son of God.

Then, Jesus goes back to rebuking the teachers of the Law, who love to walk about in their finery and sit in the places of honor, rather than taking on the role of a servant. On top of that even though outwardly they utter long winded prayers, the reality is that they are busy extracting money from widows, rather than caring for them as the Law prescribes. In the end though he gives a sobering warning that these men will be judged on how they handled their authority.

Finally, in stark contradiction to the previous example, Jesus tells of a widow that put in all she had. Though not much externally, her offering reflected a heart that was completely sold out for The Lord. Jesus sums it up by saying she put in more than all the others.

So what can we conclude? It reminds me of the story from 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel looked at David's brother Eliab and thought by his outward appearance that he seemed to be the heir apparent to the throne. But God had another young boy in mind, coincidentally King David. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, "Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart!"

The widow showed her actions flowed out of a deep sense of worship of God and devotion to him. On the outside it didn't look like much but to God it meant everything. Why? Because it was from the heart! This is a good reminder that as we give our time, talents and treasures to God, he doesn't need our offering, but wants our hearts!

Jesus, we thank you that you showed us a life worthy to follow. We know that you are more concerned with the inward transformation of our hearts than the external show of piety. May we be like the widow, who gave all she had not as someone who was poor in this life, but someone who was rich toward you. Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Greatest Commandment

The Greatest Commandment
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Reflection:
Although many of the teachers of the Law were far from understanding and spent there time trying to trap Jesus, this one was intrigued and curious. We might call him a "seeker" today. He was opened minded enough to press further into who Jesus was and what he taught. So he asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. Of course there were Ten Commandments, and they were all equally important, but Jesus summed up the intent of the Law. In the first part when Jesus says, "Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One, he is quoting the Shema prayer. This prayer was at the heart of Jewish worship, and the centerpiece of the daily morning and evening prayers. It was also the prayer Jewish parents recited with their children when they went to bed at night. It might be likened to the Lord's Prayer for Christians.

In this way Jesus was identifying with the Jewish faith and showing how what He was teaching was a fulfillment of their faith. Jesus also added to love your neighbor as yourself. The key there being it is only as we love God first with all that we are, can we be in a position to love others in the same way. When the man affirmed what Jesus was saying, Jesus told him he was not far from the kingdom of God. We might say Jesus met him where he was at and encouraged him to keep on seeking. Jesus often did this, as with the person who said, "I believe help my unbelief!"

This is a good thing that older, more mature Christians should remember. There was probably a time when you maybe didn't have all the answers, and someone took the time to bring you along at the proper pace. We should always remain humble in our Christian walk, and be slow to judge and quick to make the best possible construction on our neighbor's behavior. In this way, we can fulfill Jesus' commandment to love one another as we love ourselves.

As you think about this passage, who in your life may God be calling you to reach out to? As you love others as yourself, God will always be leading us to love those He is calling into a deeper relationship with Him through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus thank you for showing us the Father's love. We can love because you first loved us. Help is to extend is same kind of agape love to those in our path today. In Your name, Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Best Is Yet To Come!

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

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

Reflection:
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, so it is clear they are not really trying to understand it, but trap Jesus by their supposed logical arguments based on the Mosaic Law. But by Jesus' answer we get a bit more of a window into what life will look or not look like in heaven. When Jesus says there will not be marriage in heaven, I don't think he is disparaging the institution of marriage. He is pointing out that our existence in heaven will be much different than here on earth.

Then, he uses the analogy that we will be like angels in heaven. What do we know about angels? They have personalities and names. They worship and glorify God day and night around His throne. They serve God and are messengers for God. They are powerful, yet still under the power of God the Father and God the Son. The passage says we will be like angels, so that doesn't mean there aren't other aspects of our existence in heaven beyond what angels are and what they can do. For instance, we know angels are spiritual beings, but we don't know a whole lot about their physicality. We know from our Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. So is just as Jesus had a body when he was resurrected, so will we.

While we would like to know a lot more about heaven, and there are lots more movies out lately about what heaven is like, part of the reason I think it is hard to grasp is our limitation as human beings. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says,

"What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him."

While it is good to think about heaven and be confident we are going there because of what Jesus has done for us and our faith in Him, ultimately we fall short in our human mind conception because we have not been there yet. But the Good News is that the best is yet to come. We can be sure it will be better than anything we have experienced here on earth and no suffering is worthy to be compared with what God has in store for us.

Jesus help us to live with one eye on eternity, as we know the best is yet to come. Meanwhile may we give our best to you so that more people would hear the Gospel and come through you into the Father's house where we will spend eternity with you and all the saints. Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Paying Taxes??!

Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax[b] to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

Reflection:
Again the religious leaders try to trap Jesus. If Jesus said to pay the tax, they would accuse him of supporting the Roman Empire, who had suppressed the Jews. If he said don't pay it, he was advocating to break the law. But again Jesus shows his superior wisdom by saying, "Give to Caesar, that which is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's!"

Jesus is expounding on a doctrine called the "two kingdoms", which Martin Luther used quite a bit to distinguish between the church and state, and the issues that arise from a misunderstanding of this concept. Some believers said well we don't believe in the government so we won't pay taxes. But the bible clearly says in Romans 13, to obey the civil authorities, which are given by God as a means of protection on the earth. The Church is the head of the spiritual kingdom, whose job is to preach and teach the Gospel. Whereas the government has temporal power, the Church is given spiritual power through the Word preached and the Gospel administered.

The only ethical dilemma here is when the state asks you to do something that is directly against God's will. And of course you can see all sorts of arguments arising when the state calls on our young men and women to go to war. Some would call on a just war theory, since the state is called to protect against evil regimes and sometimes has to use force to do it. The other side is "pacifism" that would say going to war and taking another life should never be an option. As you can see it is not black and white, and believing Christians disagree on this matter.

But overall the message is that Christians should pay taxes and support local, state and national government, whose authority is given by God in civic matters like protection by police, public education etc. In our church we pray for the leaders of our nation every week, that they would guide with wisdom and justice for all. This is also why we should vote and support candidates with a Christian worldview and can govern effectively.

God we pray for our leaders that you would guide them with wisdom from above. May they help to protect us from evil doers and those who wish to do us harm, in Jesus' name. Amen.