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.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Parable of the Tenants - Mark 12

The Parable of the Tenants
12 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. 6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: “‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

Reflection:
As we have said before, Jesus spoke in parables to use earthly analogies to illustrate spiritual truths. In Jewish Galilee, large estates were owned by absentee landlords, which were put into the hands of tenant farmers, who cultivated the land. (NIV Study Bible) In this case Jesus uses this parable to expose the religious leaders in the past, who beat and killed the prophets who were sent by God to Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel is depicted as the Vine, who God cultivated to being salvation to the world. But yet they rejected the prophets who were calling them back to their true purpose, and would soon beat and kill Jesus, God's only Son and also a prophet.

Jesus was the true cornerstone. A cornerstone was used as a base to make sure the other stones of the building were straight and level. (NRSV Life Application Bible) As such unless the Church, God's building, is built with Jesus as the cornerstone it will be built on a faulty foundation. 1 Peter 2 also uses this as a metaphor to show that we are like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus.

So,before we stand in judgment of the leaders which only Jesus can do, how do we not commit the same mistakes as them? And by this I mean getting so caught up in preserving are own vineyards that we snuff out prophet's voice that God has sent to us. We may not literally beat and kill them, but maybe we just don't listen to them because we are so comfortable with status quo. So a question we might ask ourselves is: are we bearing fruit that God intended for us to bear, or are we just hoarding our vineyards! And I think the key to this is listening to the prophetic voice of God, which always comes through His Word through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God, the Holy Spirit, use Your Word to convict us of the things we need to adjust to be alignment with You and Your Word. Help us to see when we are being defensive or not listening to You so that we would preserve our vineyard and not grow yours! Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Authority of Jesus.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned
27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Reflection: Having no real arguments to make concerning who Jesus was by the things he was doing, which all fit the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, the temple leaders try to pull rank. Since they can't argue with the truth of his words and deeds, they try to go after his authority. Instead of answering their question, Jesus poses a question back to him. Of course being the wisest man ever to walk this earth, he wasn't confounded by their ploy.

And so what he does is to use the example of another prophet John the Baptist, who was universally accepted by the people as a true prophet. So the teachers and elders had two choices, neither of them were good. One, they could say John was not from God and provoke the ire of the people. Since they were more concerned about their approval ratings than God's approval, this wasn't a good option. Or, they could say he was from God, but this would validate Jesus as John said, "Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." In effect, this was declaring Jesus was God, and was the Messiah.

Since they had no reasonable answer except to say Jesus had the authority to say and do the things he was doing, it says they answered, "We don't know!"

What can we learn from this is how Jesus handled this? If we are seeking to bring in the kingdom, we are bound to get pushback. If we take it personally, or take on the responsibility ourselves, it could be overwhelming. But we have authority too. Where does it come from? All our authority comes from the Word of God and using it in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this sense we can never really fail if we are relying on the means of grace God has given us as children of God, and ambassadors of Jesus.

Jesus, you have sent us in your authority to go and make disciples of all nations. As we face resistance help us to remember our authority comes from you and your Word, not man. Amen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

House of Prayer/Boiler Room for the Church - Mark 11

Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Clears the Temple Courts
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. 15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers." 18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. 20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Reflection:
As Jesus nears the cross, everything he does and says will be important for us to contemplate. These are some of the last words/teachings he gives us in his closing time here on earth. Note the following aspects:

1. Jesus curses a fig tree that was barren and not producing any fruit. This is an obvious reference to Israel, God's chosen people who were supposed to bear fruit, but rejected the very source of the Vine, Jesus. In John 15 Jesus makes it abundantly clear that He is the Vine and we are the branches. Apart from him we can do nothing!

2. A symptom of this is their worship life, which has been reduced to making a mockery of the temple by their buying and selling practices. Jesus expresses righteous indignation at what is happening in the place, which is supposed to be devoted to worshipping the Father and house of prayer, not a den of thieves. Note there is a difference between anger at being personally offended, versus having a zeal for God's house of worship, which Jesus exemplifies.

3. When Jesus rebuked the leaders, rather than repenting of their behavior and bad leadership, they looked for a way to kill him. In the same way the killed the prophets, when they brought anything but good news, they did the same to Jesus.

As usual the disciples were missing most of the point, but instead focused literally on the fig tree which they found withered as Jesus predicted went they went back the same way they had come. Instead of rebuking the disciples for their lack of understanding, he uses it as an opportunity to teach them about the power of prayer. In another passage Jesus referred to the temple and said it should be a "house of prayer".

So what can we learn from this? How can we be careful to avoid the errors of the chief priests and teachers? Do we take prayer seriously? Someone has said the prayer room is the boiler room of the church. There are faith communities today called 24-7 communities that focus on radical dependence on Jesus, and a 24-7 commitment to prayer. I think the more we pray the more we rely on God for everything we do. We move away from dependence on human abilities to dependence on the Holy Spirit, which is the only way to bear real spiritual fruit. How is your prayer life? Has it become perfunctory and rote? Do you have enough time built into your schedule to really commune with God in prayer, both individually and within your faith community/church? I know I need more of this, how about you?

Jesus we come to you today in prayer because apart from you we can do nothing. We give you our burdens today and offer our prayers to you in confidence your will be done as we pray in Your name. As we pray help us to forgive anyone we have grievances against, just as you have forgiven us for our many faults. May we be people of humble prayer and radical dependence on you. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem!

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King
11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Reflection:

Today marks the beginning of the Passion Week, as Jesus enters into Jerusalem very publicly knowing what awaited him. There are several details noteworthy as Jesus makes his way to the home city of Jerusalem. Most importantly we see the humility of our Lord, who has emptied himself along the way, and will show us this today as well by:

1. Requesting and riding on a colt, a beast of burden, rather than a warhorse. Jesus rode on a young colt never ridden before, it had never bore and burdens. Ironically, Jesus was the only Son of God, who would bear our burden on the cross. This was a fitting symbol for Jesus' ascent to Calvary.

2. As one commentator has remarked, "Christ went upon the water in a borrowed boat, ate the passover in a borrowed chamber, was buried in a borrowed sepulchre, and here rode on a borrowed ass. Let not Christians scorn to be beholden one to another, and, when need is, to go a borrowing, for our Master did not. He had no rich trappings."

3. This fulfilled the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 which said, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." This detail is mentioned in Matthew, which is targeted at a more Jewish audience.

At the end of the day though, in humbling himself, God lifted His Son up as the people sang his praises singing, "Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of The Lord!"

As followers of Jesus, we should also humble ourselves, looking not to serve but be served. If the Son of God could ride in on an donkey, we can seek to have the same attitude of humility. Where are you tempted to be prideful? What would it look like for you to develop more of a servant-like attitude in the everyday things of life? Who can you serve today?

Jesus we thank you that you set an example of humility. Help us to humble so ourselves, so in due time you will lift is up. Amen. time

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight

Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.


Reflection:
After brief interludes, Jesus now returns to showing how the kingdom of God is at hand. And in this case, he shows us several things worth noting.

1. Bartimaeus means "son of Timaeus", many who have thought he was the son of the blind man. If this is the case this gives us even more reason to have compassion on this man.

2. The blind were not taken care of very well, as can be seen by the fact the he had to sit by the roadside begging. We see people on the road begging today and we shouldn't assume all of them are lazy. We should be led by the Spirit to help the needy among us, individually and as a church.

3. When he saw Jesus he shouted for him and said, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" By saying Son of David, it infers that he was probably Jewish, and had hope in Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 35:5 which said of the Messiah, "the eyes of the blind should be opened". Thus Jesus is fulfilling more OT prophecy.

4. When Jesus calls him, he throws aside his cloak and jumps to his feet eager to answer the call. This not only indicates his faith/confidence, but that he would lay anything aside that would be a hindrance in him coming to Christ. Would that we would be willing to throw aside anything that hinders our walk with Christ, like Bartimaeus!

5. Perhaps the most telling part of the passage is when Jesus says, "What do you want me to do for you!" It makes me wonder do I not get what I want or need because I really never come to Jesus and ask him? This passage would lead one to believe Jesus is willing to give us what we want, if it is good for us and will further the kingdom expansion.

6. Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus. Not only was his faith rewarded, but now he could see spiritually and this caused him to want to follow Jesus immediately. Though we should rejoice in any healing done in Jesus' name, the greater miracle is to receive spiritual sight and follow him and become part of God's kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Though we shouldn't wish for trials or afflictions, if they bring us to Jesus, they can work together for our good.

Jesus help us to jump up, throw off our cloak and run to you. As we bring what we want and need, you will work in due time to lift us up! Amen.