Have You Heard?

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Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

 

Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar, now and in the days of Jesus. We know from the Biblical record, at least if we follow the Synoptics, that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on 10 Nisan, the first day of the week that year, what we refer to as Sunday. That was an important day in the Passover cycle because all the Passover lambs had to be inspected and approved by the Temple priests.

Jesus presented himself for inspection and he was found by the Temple authorities to be impure.

Passover always occurs on 15 Nisan, but the lambs must be slaughtered on the 14th, which was the fifth day of the week, our Thursday. As it happened, again by the Synoptics, Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed on 15 Nisan. (The day is from sundown on our Thursday to sundown on our Friday.)

The Gospel of John appears to have the arrest and execution occur on 14 Nisan, which would have Jesus, our sacrificial lamb, being slaughtered the same day as the other Passover lambs.

Whatever the case, the first day of the new week, our Sunday, 17 Nisan, Jesus began to appear to his disciples, and some even inspected the empty grave.

Today, the week after Resurrection Day, 24 Nisan, Jesus was still making appearances and confounding the Temple authorities.

We can be sure that word had already spread as far as Galilee within that week. People who had seen Jesus and heard him preach and teach were likely skeptical at first, but many believed what they heard. As Jesus told Thomas: Happy are those who have never seen me and yet have believed! Phillips

Have you heard?

We do a disservice to Jesus at this time of year when we emphasize that Jesus died and rose, as though what he did was so simple that any of us could have done it. I would be willing to suffer physical pain for a guaranteed six hours with the additional guarantee that I would be given new life and that everyone in the world would also receive new lives. Easy peasy.

But that is not what Jesus did, well yes, but it is not all he did. When he died, Jesus was taken by the Angel of Death to sit in front of the Devil. Because Jesus carried my sins, and yours, with him, Jesus had to serve the Devil, the price of sin. Those who die with sin must be punished.

It is natural, with our human understanding, to assume that Jesus went to Hell and kicked the Devil around Friday and Saturday, and then came back to us on Sunday. Job done.

The whole of Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and some other passages suggest that Jesus, the Messiah, had a great deal more work to do, specifically, a war to fight.

In his prayers the night of his arrest, it is clear that Jesus was not looking forward to the trip. What went on between death and resurrection may have amounted to thousands of years in our way of thinking.

Whatever, victory is the end result.

Have you heard? Do you believe?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

I Have Seen the Lord!

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Easter

 

Acts 10:34-43 
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26 
John 20:1-18 

 

Mary Magdalene was one of a group of women who went to give Jesus the full burial treatment they had not had time for Friday evening. None of the women entered the tomb but did see that it was empty. Mary ran to the disciples, two of whom ran to the tomb.

That is a lot of running for that culture. Men, and especially women, did not run. John made a point of the fact so we would understand their emotional state. Running for them could be compared to the average American changing clothes on a busy sidewalk; it’s just not done.

John does not list the names of the women who went to the tomb, but we know there were several because Mary said, “we.” The other name left out is the “other disciple,” generally believed to be John.

Both men entered the tomb, saw the neatly folded cloth, and the “other disciple” believed. This is a personal statement by the one who believed, that is, by John. He did not try to speak for Peter, only for himself. No doubt, they talked about what they had felt when they returned, but John-the-story-teller wants us to know about one man’s personal belief.

Yet, the story is only beginning. We next see Mary near the tomb, talking with a stranger who finally reveals himself to be Jesus. How would we react? Imagine sitting in a hospital waiting room after being told your loved one died on the operating table. The emptiness and sorrowfulness would be overwhelming. Then imagine a nurse rushes in an hour later to say he is alive. I can see every emotion and bodily sensation rolling through me like a thunder storm.

Whatever she felt, Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” NIV Possibly the greatest one-liner in Christian history.

Peter took more words to give the same message. And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the deadGNT In other words, to do what Mary did.

Paul takes the message to its conclusion, but we need to begin reading at verse 12, just before today’s assignment. Now, since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life? If that is true, it means that Christ was not raised; and if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believeGNT

If I believe Mary, I must accept the whole of the Gospel. Either Jesus walked out of the grave in a new body or Christianity is a lie. There is no middle ground.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

I Offered My Back to Those Who Beat Me

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Palm Sunday

 

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

 

Isaiah is a favorite of Christians, not because he is an easy read—few prophets are—and not because he is brief—66 chapters—but because he included so many visions of the Messiah.

What is not as well known among Christians is that Isaiah was also a favorite of First Century Jews who expected the Messiah to appear at any moment. But neither the First Century Jews nor the Twenty-first Century Christians cared much for today’s reading.

I Offered My Back to Those Who Beat Me. NLT This Messiah is not a warrior. He does not stand up for his rights or even defend himself. We love our heroes and find it embarrassing to follow in the footsteps of such a milk toast. Why didn’t Jesus come the way everyone expected him to, on a war horse with sword and shield in hand?

And yet, once a year we Christians celebrate the death of the man, Jesus, who literally gave his back as a whipping post and his body as a sacrifice.

Philippians 2:6 is the key verse. The literal translation from the United Bible Society is: who in form of God existing not thing to be grasped did regard to be equal with God. The Greek word, harpagmon, can mean grasping, or robbing, or snatching, all of which mean or suggest that it should not be done. This is the only time it is used in the New Testament and its meaning is derived from all the other ancient Greek writings.

Here are several versions of the verse:

His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with GodNJB

For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equalPhillips

Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. CJB

Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with GodKJV

He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with GodGNT

Notice what happened in the King James translation. All the others are stated in the negative, but KJ says that Jesus thought it was alright to grab equality. Not only does that violate the Greek text itself, it violates the whole of the Gospel of Jesus.

The Lion came as a Lamb. The Messiah unites the two. The contradiction is beyond our human abilities, yet Jesus did ask his followers to strive to be lambs while retaining the strength of the lion.

Jesus, filled with the power of the Lion, walked to the Mount of Olives and waited for the armed soldiers to arrive. He had to power to stop them, even to evade them, but he stood like the Lion, waiting for the confrontation. And like the Lamb, he bared his back.

I can only be a lamb when I am filled with the Lion.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

I Am Doing a New Thing

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Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

 

In his book, Radical, David Platt writes of meeting with a pastor and two deacons to describe his work with the disadvantaged of the inner city of New Orleans and of some other countries. One of the deacons said to him: “David, I think it’s great you are going to those places. But if you ask me, I would just as soon God annihilate all those people and sent them to hell.”

That general attitude lurks in the minds of far too many of our church faithful, even as it is light years away from the Gospel of Jesus.

Today’s reading from Isaiah reminds us of the great thing done by God in the Exodus, which can immediately take our minds to the Passover, but just as well to all the other great things. God brought up a band of people who thought of Him as the only God, even as they struggled with living that faith.

Yet, God now promises a New Thing. In this reading, Isaiah gives us the image of God sending water into the desert; not a very complete portrait of Jesus.

Or is it? Once we understand that the desert is the Gentile world and the water is the Living Water of Jesus, we must then realize that we, you and I, are to carry that Water to those in need of the life giving power of the God of the Universe. That includes the inner city of our own country and other countries as well.

God does not expect all of us to pick up and go to New Orleans or Haiti. He has given each of us different gifts. What He does expect is that each of His believers will want to help “those people” in every way possible.

The root cause of most people’s dislike of “those people” is our natural inclination to consider ourselves superior to at least some other people. My thought when I see a man with an enormous belly is, “At least I’m not that fat.”

Why do we do that? The real root cause is an effort to overcome a sense of inferiority. I am sensitive about being “pleasantly plump,” so I salve my self-image by making believe I am superior to at least a group of even fatter people.

As a member of the Church of the Pot-Luck, I know I’m superior to those who are not. Yet I can meet with members of the church across the street because we share a similar sense of superiority; they know they are superior to members of my church. So, we join in our condemnation of all the heathens outside our buildings.

Look again.

The thing that God made was so new that Paul gave up being one of the elite of Judaism to become a slave to Jesus. Jesus calls all of us who are willing to be slaves to love the most unlovable people God has not yet annihilated.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Two Lost Sons

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Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

 

We Christians are fond of the word reconciliation. We often treat it like a cure-all pill or the easy button. The Greek word Paul uses in his two letters to Corinth is apokatallasso. It is used once in each letter and does literally mean be reconciled.

That phrase, be reconciled, is often repeated by us and too often thrown at non-Christians to win them over.

The problem is, we misuse the term more often than not. Reading Paul’s passage for today, we should quickly see that the reconciliation comes from God. Verse 18: And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to himNLT

It is too easy to skip to the second part of this verse and assume that we are to now do the reconciling, we become agents of God and hand out the candy of reconciliation. That notion completely misses the message of Paul, not to mention that of Jesus.

Reconciliation is a technical term that should not be used with non-Christians simply because it carries such a load of meaning. Even Christians of long standing miss the point.

What is the point?

A man had to sons. One went away to feed the pigs and one stayed home to serve his father. Yet both were lost. The one returned from his wondering and asked to rejoin the family, but the other never saw the need and remained outside his father’s love, refusing to accept that free gift.

Both sons were separated from their father. Their father loved both, but only one accepted that love.

To be reconciled is to take what is given to us. The only thing I can do is accept that gift.

We humans like to make the simple difficult. We want to ensure that people jump through hoops to WIN God’s love. If you have not confessed your sins, been baptized, attended classes, told other people about God, then God will not love you.

At what point did the father love the prodigal son? The day he left the home, before he left even. The father did not love him any more or any less at any time in the story. Nor did he love the grumbling older son more or less.

God loves every man or woman in the ISIS camp just as much as He loves you or me. He longs to be reconciled to everyone of us, no matter our sins. We cannot afford to play the role of the older brother and blame God for loving people we don’t love.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence