Can I Do Less?

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Palm Sunday

 

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11 
Mark 14:1-15:47

 

For Adonai Elohim will help.
This is why no insult can wound me.
This is why I have set my face like flint,
knowing I will not be put to shame
CJB

We do not know how much of God’s plan Jesus knew as a child, a young man, a new preacher/teacher, or even as he approached Jerusalem for the last time. Mark gives us numerous details about what he knew the last week and Jesus did predict his death well before that week. But did he know all of it?

It is clear that he knew enough. From Genesis to the Malachi (2 Chronicles for Jesus in the Jewish arrangement) the Messiah is described in detail. Jesus knew the Word of God so he knew what would happen to the Messiah, to himself. Did God fill in the details even more? We do not know. Jesus knew that Iscariot would be the one to betray him.

We do not know what he knew, but he knew enough.

I took the photo above on top of one wall of the massive Citadelle Henry Christophe built in the early 1800’s. King Henry used to entertain himself by ordering soldiers to march along that thick wall to his commands. Sometimes he would never give the order to ‘about face’, and the men would plunge to their deaths. Why? They knew what would happen, but they did it.

The king helped lead them to independence from France, releasing them from slavery. They were so loyal because of that liberation that they accepted their fates. People are willing to die for what they believe.

The difference with Jesus is that he did not die for himself. He did not follow any human notions of right and wrong. He set his focus on God and never vacillated. His death and resurrection are essential to us, but not to him. He did not need it. Even so, he did not question God, or doubt God, or even suggest an easier path. He did ask for courage to do what God asked of him. He did admit that an easier way would be nice, knowing it was not possible.

How can we look at Jesus on the cross and put off caring for the sick, the poor, the unsettled, the estranged, the ignored, the ugly people of the world; the people Jesus spent his time with?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Inscriptions

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Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13

Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

 

Jeremiah records the words of God as He makes a new promise to inscribe His Teachings (Torah) on the hearts of his people. That writing began during the Babylonian captivity and continued through the next five centuries, including the time of Jesus on earth. That promise is complete with the death and resurrection of the Son of Man, but not yet perfect in that it must be written on every heart. Many resist.

The Torah (teachings) was given to the people through Moses to guide their lives forever, but the people turned from the teachings over and over. Starting in Babylon, the Torah became an internal teaching. The people of God no longer memorize rules they will break, but learn to trust God in all things.

Still, it was not until after the resurrection of the Son of Man that the hearts of men began to achieve the highest levels of understanding of the teachings; more than an intellectual understanding, rather an emotional, visceral, from lowest to highest understanding. It is the idea of imitation of Jesus present in the lesson last Sunday.

The Son of Man, Jesus, became our High Priest as the author of Hebrews declares. That is not meaningless to us with the Temple in ruins. We must remember that his one duty, the duty no one else could accomplish, was to enter the Holy of Holies, in the very presence of God, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

Why does Hebrews write about the order of Melchizedek? He seems unimportant, only appearing in three verses in Genesis (14:18-20), and one verse in Psalm 110:4 reads, The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” NIV It is in Hebrews that we complete the picture. Melchizedek was a king, but also a high priest of Yahweh, the Most High El. Because he served both roles, God promised, through David in his Psalm, that the Messiah would be a king like David and a priest-king like Melchizedek.

Because Jesus is our High Priest, he and he alone can approach God and plead for our lives. If I imitate Jesus and have the Torah written on my heart, then Jesus’ words are written there as well: If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there tooNJB

We have his final promise: And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myselfNJB

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Come Into The Light

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org
Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

 

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

 

Chapter 3 of John is rich in images and messages from God to us. The “Born again Christians” motif comes from verse 3, for example (sadly now used as much politically as religiously). But if we reread verses 1-2, we should notice that Jesus did not respond to the statements by Nicodemus, saying instead he needed a new birth. Jesus respected Nicodemus so went directly to the reason Nicodemus was there. Basically, Nicodemus had the same question as the rich man, ‘What must I do?’

He goes on to say, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the SpiritNIV Baptism is a Jewish practice, so Nicodemus understood that idea; he was not sure about the idea that it would lead to a new life. The addition of being born in the spirit is also a Jewish concept, and again Nicodemus had to think of it in the context of new birth.

Jesus uses a play on words when he speaks of the wind and the spirit because the same Hebrew word is used for both, also the same Greek word. In the Old Testament, wind is applied in the sense of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus knew that; he had to work on the idea of becoming like the Spirit.

As an aside, in this private conversation at night, Jesus in verses 11-13 clearly stated that he came from Heaven, but he never claimed to be God. No one has ever been up to Heaven except the Son of Man who came down from HeavenPhillips

The next verse ties John to the passage from Numbers. The Son of Man must be lifted above the heads of men—as Moses lifted up that serpent in the desert—so that any man who believes in him may have eternal lifePhillips To be clear, Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. He says the Son of Man came directly from Heaven. And he says that the Son of Man will be like the serpent of Moses.

That means we need to understand what happened in the desert. God was in the process of saving the people from slavery when they began to turn against God because of the food service. Turning away from God is to turn toward death; those complainers died. When the people repented, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake. When the people looked at the snake, they would be saved from death.

There is a great deal going on in the passage, but it is worth considering why God chose a snake to save the people in that instance. The traditional Jewish understanding is that the people were, in looking up, actually looking to Heaven.

That is in keeping with the well-known (almost hackneyed) words of Jesus: For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyedCJB By holding up the cross as Moses held the serpent, we look to it for our safety and life.

As Paul put it:  But God is so rich in mercy and loves us with such intense love that, even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah — it is by grace that you have been deliveredCJB Thus the serpent. Nothing Moses or the people did saved them. Neither did the serpent. Moses would have tacked an old, smelly sandal on the staff, and if God wanted to, His Grace would have worked just as well.

There is nothing I can do to save myself. I can only hope for the Mercy of God to rescue me.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Fulfilled Law

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Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

 

The Big Ten, Commandments that is, give us a guideline for living in this world. The rest of the Torah added many more; do not eat venison or shrimp, for example. David, in his Psalm, wrote, The Law of Yahweh is perfectNJB How perfect? It does not forbid slavery. It does not allow hospitals to remain open on the Sabbath. It does not prohibit using mind altering substances.

Matthew records Jesus saying, Don’t misunderstand why I have come—it isn’t to cancel the laws of Moses and the warnings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them and to make them all come trueTLB Jesus agrees with David that the Law is perfect. In our reading, he even became somewhat violent by driving out those people who were violating the laws regarding the Temple.

Jesus seems to have been in the Temple a number of times in his life, possibly nearly every year of his life. Why this once (perhaps twice, but save that for another discussion) did he choose to make an issue of what everyone knew was improper if not illegal? It is because this outburst is part of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation with God. How can that reconciliation take place if the very house of God on earth is corrupt? Jesus had to tell people that their beliefs were built on sand.

What Jesus consistently reveals in his ministry is that what we take to be most important turns out to be of no importance. A rich man asked Jesus, Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life? Jesus replied, keep the commandments. The man was not satisfied because he already kept the commandments. Jesus knew that. But he also knew the man only kept the commandments because he knew he was supposed to. So Jesus told him what he really needed to do, follow me. NIV

It is so much easier to memorize the list of 613 commandments and follow the list. Some of them are a little inconvenient, but none is really difficult. Obviously Jesus had more in mind when he said, follow me.

Paul brings some clarity to this whole issue. Hasn’t God made this world’s wisdom look pretty foolish? He adds, Precisely because Jews ask for signs and Greeks try to find wisdom, we go on proclaiming a Messiah executed on a stake as a criminal! To Jews this is an obstacle, and to Greeks it is nonsense. And finally, God’s “weakness” is stronger than humanity’s “strength.” CJB

When Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, he spoke directly to the full and eternal intention of God to defeat sin, save humans and do it without our help. Jesus spoke of the Grace of God that He has given us guidance and the presence of the Holy Spirit as we need it. Jesus came to fulfill the Law; but more than that, he is the Law.

There is no fault or blame in following the Ten Commandments or all 613 commandments, as long as we do it by giving our all to follow God. If I follow Jesus, I will necessarily follow the Law. If I follow the Law without following Jesus, I am lost. With the rich man, we must accept the command of Jesus, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow meNIV

It is all about imitation, as Commandment Ten describes it. You must not be envious of your neighbor’s house, or want to sleep with his wife, or want to own his slaves, oxen, donkeys, or anything else he hasTLB Actually, if we could obey this command, none of the others would be necessary. We spend too much time comparing ourselves to other people instead of comparing ourselves to Jesus. I wish I could (witness, sing, preach, teach, serve, etc.) like Joe. That is wrong. By wanting what Joe has, I set myself up to imitate Cain instead of God. Love and respect everyone, no matter how different.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence