Tag: love

Story 38: For the Love of Sarah

Genesis 26

Abraham and his entire tribe continued to move as nomads through the land, waiting on and trusting in the promises of God.  Someday, God would fulfill his covenant and give all the land to Abraham’s descendants, and they would fill the land like the stars fill the sky.

While they were staying in the region of Hebron, which is a part of Canaan, Abraham’s beloved wife died.  She was one hundred and twenty seven years old.

Sarah had stood by Abraham in faith, venturing out into unknown and dangerous lands with him as they waited on the promises of God together.   When Abraham asked her to protect him by telling kings that she was his sister, she submitted to her husband, and she saw God protect her from her husband’s mistakes.

Sarah was a woman of great beauty, not only with her outward feminine grace that so beguiled kings, but through the dignity and strength of how she carried herself through life.  She waited in patient faith as she bore the disgrace and pain of being childless for twenty five years.  All the while, she trusted God’s promise for the heir that her body had not provided.   Mistake though it was, she was willing to give another woman to her husband in hopes of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.  But God had his own plan to provide, in just the time and way he said he would: through Sarah, the wife of Abraham’s own flesh.  Sarah lived to see her one and only son grow to the age of thirty seven.

The impact of Sarah’s faith on history is something so great that we can’t measure it.  Two thousand years after she died, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, wrote about her.  Here is what he said:

“Wives, in the same way submit to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.   They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.  You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

1 Peter 3:1-6

Peter described Sarah’s faithful life as his prime example of what is truly beautiful.  Those who have faith and do not fear, doing what is right, are Sarah’s spiritual daughters.  They become part of her family and her heritage of beauty to the world.  That was true during the time of Sarah and when Peter wrote those words two thousand years later.  Two thousand more years have passed and they are still true today.  God’s image of womanly beauty through the life of Sarah has stood true for four thousand years and counting.

In our story, the life of Sarah, Abraham’s great love, had come to an end.  Abraham went to her body and bowed over it in grief.  He wept and wept with sorrow.  He wanted to provide a secure and honored place to bury her in the Land of Promise, where they had journeyed so many years together.  The land was not his yet, but he had faith that it would be…it was the relentless, underlying belief that decided every choice he made.

Abraham rose from his place beside his wife and ventured out to visit the Hittites.  At the time, they were among the people who owned the Land of Promise, which they called Canaan.  Abraham went to see if he could purchase a piece of the land from them so he could lay his wife to rest.

God had blessed Abraham over many years of faithfulness.  He had great herds of animals and hundreds of servants that made up one of the most powerful, well trained armies in the region.    God had blessed him with great wealth through gifts from kings and the plunders of war.  Many of the wells for precious water throughout the region had been dug by Abraham and his servants over decades as they roamed the land.   Abraham and Sarah and all the people of their travelling clan had lived among the other nations for over fifty years.  The Hittite people of the region saw Abraham as a great prince, and Sarah was his queenly wife.  The death of this great man’s spouse was a very big deal to the Hittites.

When Abraham went to the gate of the Hittite village where business was done, the Hittite people gathered, eager to hear the famed man speak.  Abraham gave his request,  “‘I am an alien and a stranger among you,’”  he said.  “‘Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.’”

The Hittites replied, “‘Sir, listen to us.  You are a mighty prince among us.  Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs.  None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.’”

The Hittites gave Abraham, the princely foreigner, the right to bury his wife within the boundaries of their land.  That was a major victory for Abraham.  The people of each of these cities and clans held on tightly to their territory. Yet they graciously offered Abraham the right to choose from any of the tombs of their own families to take as his own.  They considered it an honor that this great man would have the grave of his family among them.

Abraham was deeply respectful of their offer.  He bowed down before the Hittite people who had gathered and said, “‘If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field.  Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.’”

Abraham would not let them give him a tomb for free.  If it came freely, they might take it back one day!  For Abraham, this tomb was a way of claiming the promises of God.  He wanted to establish a place in the Land of Promise that was the permanent resting place for his descendants, starting with the mother of the nation God had promised.  Abraham told the townspeople that he had found a piece of land he liked, and it belonged to a man named Ephron.  Ephron said to Abraham, “‘Listen to me, my lord, the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you?  Bury your dead.’”

Wow.  Four hundred shekels was a lot of money.  In those days, a normal farm laborer might

make ten shekels of silver a year for his work.  He could work his whole life and never make four hundred shekels!  This was very valuable land, and Ephron had given a very high price.   Yet Abraham agreed to pay it.  He bowed low before the people to show his respect and thankfulness.  Then he weighed out four hundred shekels of silver so he could bury his Sarah in a place of honor and dignity.  Abraham had not only purchased the tomb, but all the land around it with a field of grass and tall trees.  Then he took the body of his beloved wife into the cave and laid her there.

God had promised Abraham the land, but the Lord had not given it yet.  Abraham had waited in faith all of those years, depending on God.  The first piece of the Land of Promise that belonged to Abraham was purchased for the love of Sarah.  By faith, he believed that one day, her burial site would be surrounded by the towns and fields of their offspring.

Story 8: The Love of Adam

Genesis 2:18-25

Adam and Eve in the eden

 

According to Scripture, every aspect of our universe came bounding out of the perfect will of God in an outpouring of energy, beauty, and the substantial, concrete things that make up our Reality.  God is so powerful that all He had to do was speak and His will was set in motion.  The natural world is a revealing and breathtaking revelation of the character and brilliance of our Almighty Lord.   The more we learn about the natural order of our world, from the genius of a human cell to the majestic wonder of the cosmos, the more stunning this revelation becomes.  God set this magnificent universe into motion, and He said that it was good.

We know this to be true because it resonates in our souls.  All we have to do is watch the sun setting on a sparkling sea, a falling star gliding across an inky black sky, or a soft rain falling on a field of lush, green grass in spring to know that whatever troubles are raging in this life, the natural world is profoundly right, pure, and good.  These good things are evidence of God’s ongoing grace in spite of the sins that humanity has brought into our world…and they are the promise of a new world to come.

When God had finished speaking the abundance of the world into place, He began to create the beings for which He had created everything else.  They were to be given an unspeakably great honor, the privilege of being made in the very image of God.  This first man and woman were then commanded to be fruitful and fill up the world with their children…the offspring that would bear the same image and the same task of acting as God’s stewards over the earth. And this incredible process, the bringing of children into the world, God blessed, conferring upon it His empowering favor and grace.

The story of how God created the entire universe is told to us in Genesis 1.  In the second chapter of Genesis, the story slows down.  It focuses on the details of the story of how God created the first humans.  For the first part of that story, see Story 7.  God came to earth and formed the first man with His own hands from the dust of the earth.  He put the first man in a vast, beautiful Garden where there was two trees.  The first was the Tree of Life, and the second was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God told the first man that out of all the other trees in the Garden, he was never to eat from that tree.  He was never meant to be exposed to the wages of evil, or even the knowledge of it.

Then the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  And God began to bring all the animals that walk on the earth and birds that fill the air to the first man.  God had named the stars and sky and the day and night, and He would rule over them for all time.  Now God gave the man the role of naming all the animals. Man would serve God by ruling over them.  There is power in the giving of a name.

The man named the birds and the livestock and all the creatures that roam in the wild.  Imagine the parade!  What an astonishing wonder as the tiger, the bear and the parrots of the trees came before the first man.  What a regal and delightful position to rule over such fascinating and wonderful creatures!

Yet as delicate or fearsome or fascinating as each new creature was, it was clear that none of them could be a true companion for this man.  None of them were a true match for the one who was made in the image of God.  How lonely the man must have become as each creature came and went.  None of them seemed to fit!  What was this ache…this longing for something more?

The Lord already knew this was going to happen, and He already had a plan.  For you see, God knew that it was important for the man to learn that he was lonely.  It was important for him to understand just how much he needed the gift that God was about to give him.  God was creating a hunger in the man as he waited for the gift so that when he received it, he would overflow with gratefulness and appreciation for her.

The Lord put the first man into to a deep sleep.  Then He did an operation.  He opened up the man’s chest, took out one of his ribs and closed his body up again.  Then God used the rib to form another creature, crafting a wonder of great and powerful beauty.  She was the final creation that God made in all of the universe, the sparkling crown, and her ravishing grace would awaken a special vibrancy of life in the heart of the first man.  The Lord made a woman, a bride, and brought her to the first man.  When the man saw her, his response was immediate.  There was no questioning, no doubting, no fear.  He declared:

 

“‘This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.’”

Gen. 2:23

The man named her “woman.”  Her name came from his name.  He gave her his own name, showing the deep and permanent connection between himself and his wife.  It was an unbreakable gift. They were named for their bond of love and commitment to each other.

Through the blessings of marriage, this man and woman became one soul, and their love and devotion to each other was a basic part of their ability to bless the world.

Then the Bible said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Now, why would God say that?  The first humans didn’t have a mom or dad.  They were the first mom and dad of every human to come.  But God was preparing for their relationship to be His example of the primary, central relationship in human life.

The love between a mother or father and their child is terribly important, but the relationship of marriage has a special position in God’s ordained plan for the human race.

Just as God creates each new person, when a man and a woman marry, God transforms each of them to become a new creation together.  They are one.  They are one flesh.  Their love for each other is designed to especially reflect the image of God in ways no other relationship can.  Through their love for one another, God would create new lives, new souls bearing the image of God.  As parents, it was their role to raise children in the strength of the Lord so they would grow and become wonderful companions to the person God made for them.  The bonds of marriage and the sacred importance of the love between a man and his wife are embedded in the structure of the universe.

This amazing gift, this exalted, sacred miracle and treasure was meant not only for the first man and the first woman.  This gift of creation would work in their descendants as the Lord brought each bride to her husband.  The vibrancy of the love we so often see between a groom and his bride are delights that call us back to the Garden of Eden, reminding us of the perfect wonder and pleasure that God offered to humanity at the dawn of creation.  The first husband and the first bride joined together in perfect unity; there was no shame or embarrassment between them.  They were completely pure in the delight of their nakedness as they gave their love to one another before God in their Garden Temple.

Story 182: The Last Supper: The Prayers of God’s Son

John 17

VIENNA - JULY 27: Holy Trinity. Detail from fresco of scene from apocalypse from 19. cent. in main apse of Altlerchenfelder church on July 27, 2013 Vienna.

A fresco of the Trinity from Vienna                          With Christ in glory.

On His last night with His disciples, Jesus finally made it clear. The Kingdom they were going to proclaim would be far different from what they had imagined, but it was also far greater and more wonderful. As Jesus looked ahead to the days and years to come, He lifted up His eyes to His Father in Heaven and prayed. Let’s listen in on how God the Son talked to His Father:

“‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.’”

John 17:1b-5

Wow. Did you get that? Those who have put their faith in Jesus are a gift from God the Father to His Son. Not only that, but the love between the Father and the Son was such that they were working to bring glory to one another. If humans worked to bring glory to each other, it could become ridiculous. It is nice to encourage friends and compliment them, but because every person is a sinner, there is a limit to what we can say to each other or about each other and still speak truthfully. You cannot bring true glory to someone if they don’t deserve it. But God does deserve it, and so does His Son. The only right thing is for them to be magnificently glorified. The only right thing for us to do is fall down and worship them in all their radiant glory. That is why the rejection of Christ is such a deep and terrible sin. It is the ultimate wrong. The Son of God and the Father are Truth, and they bring glory to each other.

Jesus knew that He had completed the work the Father had for Him on earth. All that was left was the cross. And so He prayed that once He died, His Father would restore Him to the glory He had with the Father for all eternity past. Then He went on:

“‘I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out the world. They were Yours; You gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your Word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You. For I gave them the words You gave Me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.’”

John 17:6-8

Do you see how important belief is to Jesus? Consider the wondrous humility of Christ that it matters to Him whether we trust Him. That He cares so much about our faith that everything else that matters depends on it!

Listen to how Jesus prayed for the people of faith of His time and throughout all time:

“‘I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is Mine. And glory has come to Me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name–the name You gave Me-so that they may be one as We are One. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that Name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’”

John 17:9-12

Wow. It is impossible for us to imagine the grandeur of these words…or the magnificent goodness of what it means to us. Belonging to God…to have the God of the universe say, “You are Mine.” Wow. Consider the potential for you and I and all who believe…we are meant to be one as God the Father is One with His Son. And while Jesus was with His followers on earth, He was protecting them. From what? He seems to be saying that none of those that God the Father had given to Him was lost to unbelief. Jesus went on:

“‘I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You would protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth: your word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.’”

John 17:13-19

There is so much in these words from Christ to think about. He was explaining God’s plan so that His disciples could share in His joy. He was about to pay the price for the sin and death of the world by hanging naked in a torturous death on a cross…and yet His own profound belief in His Father’s plan allowed Him to speak of joy. Just as His goal was not to avoid the suffering before Him, He was honoring His disciples with the privilege of their acting as heralds of His Kingdom. He would not stop them from having to live with the problems of this world, but He gave them an amazing purpose to live for as long as they were in it.

“‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one.   Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. may they also be in You so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one. I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.’”

John 17:20-23

Wow. Now Jesus was praying for all of us who have put our faith in Him. In fact, our life in God is meant to show the world that the story of Christ is true. And somehow, we have been given Christ’s glory, and the purpose is so that we can live in unity together. We are meant to be all bound up in the love of the Trinity together.

“‘Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.’”

“‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I Myself may be in them.’”

John 17:24-26

What an amazing love story! The whole story of the universe is the love story of God. How the Father has loved the Son!  How greatly the Son glorified the Father with His perfect obedience. There is no deeper display of devotion than His willingness to suffer the ultimate agony on the cross. And the glory of God for those who love Him is eternal bliss. Jesus wants to draw His faithful ones into that glory to share it with Him forever.

Story 180: The Last Supper: Remaining in the Love of the Trinity

John 15

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 3, 2015: The mosaic on the portal of The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) by Professor Giulio Bargellini (1922 - 1924). Jesus and God the Father.

As Jesus sat with His disciples in the Upper Room, He continued to give them His last lessons before His journey to the cross. Over and over again, He showed the deep interconnectedness that they would have with Christ and His Father through the Holy Spirit. This time, He used a picture where He was a grapevine and His followers were the branches that stem off from it. This is what He said:

“‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in You. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.’”

John 15:1-4

Jesus was trying to show just how close they would be with Him, even after He was gone. A branch finds its whole life from what it receives from the vine. His followers are meant to live in complete dependence on Him. The branch that does not honor Christ does not truly belong to Him, and God the Father will cut it off and cast it away. That was the very thing that was happening in the nation of Israel. The religious leaders were like bad branches. They weren’t loyal to the plans of God and they were betraying His Son with their every rejection. God was going to cut them off from the New Covenant blessings.

For those who did have faith, God would prune the same way a good farmer will cut back His vineyard. The vines look stark and empty as God does His work, but the branches will be freed from giving nourishment to leaves and branches that are not going to bear fruit. They will have energy to have new growth so they can bear new fruit.

The job of the followers of Jesus is to act like the branch. We are to stay in connection and utter dependence on the Person of Jesus Christ. As His followers draw their strength and hope from Him, Jesus will bear fruit through them! This is how Jesus described it:

“‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.’”

John 15:5-8

When Jesus says that His disciples can do nothing apart from Him, He does not mean that they will become blobs on the ground that can’t move. God gives all human beings their ability to get up and move and breathe and have their being every day, whether they believe in Jesus or not. By His lavish, common grace, He keeps the whole universe going at all times. Jesus sustains it all by His powerful Word. But when those who are called to be Jesus’ disciples begin to live for the Kingdom, they are joining the work of the Spirit. It simply cannot be done apart from the Lord! They must make nearness to Jesus their highest goal. They must be so closely connected to Jesus that it is like the physical connection between a vine and its branches. From that deep connection and that transformed life, the Spirit will flow into the lives of others. And the rewards are pretty amazing. Listen to what Jesus said next:

“‘As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’”

Wow. Do you see how love the love of God expands? First, Jesus and the Holy Spirit respond to God the Father with devoted obedience. The Father sent the Son to earth. He was going to send the Spirit next. In the richness of their divine love, they work in perfect harmony and unity. Each follower of Christ is drawn into that powerful love and that beautiful work. It is a place of infinite joy! And the outpouring of that nearness to God flows to the people around them. We are to love one another with the love of God Himself. This is how Jesus described it:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. This is My command: Love one another.’”

John 15:9-17

 Wow. That is the second time Jesus issued that command on the night of His arrest. This was something He wanted His disciples to pay special attention to. Their love for each other had to be so extreme that they would be willing to die for one another. It was the same love Jesus gave. He had every right to demand it from us. The children of God’s Kingdom are called to radically love one another. But that was not what they could expect from the rest of the world. Jesus also said:

“‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.   Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than His master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law, “They have hated Me without reason.”’”

John 15:18-25

As Jesus prepared to return to His Father, He knew He was leaving a situation on the ground that His disciples were going to have to live with. The disciples could expect the same kind of terrible treatment from the very same men that were about to put Jesus to death.

What terrible guilt hung over the religious leaders and those who followed them! They had been given chance after exhaustive chance to see the beauty of the miracles. They knew the Old Testament law, they understood the prophets. As Jesus taught the true interpretation of the Word of God from God’s point of view, they could have let it light their way to an even deeper, purer understanding! These priests and scribes and Pharisees of Israel had been given the unimaginably great honor of leading God’s holy nation, but when God came to serve them, they killed Him.   When they showed hatred for the Words of Jesus, they showed that they hated God the Father as well. If they were so grounded in their hatred of God, so deeply steeped in rebellion and sin, why would they listen to Jesus’ disciples as they carried on with His message?

The followers of Christ throughout time have continued to face the same hostile opposition from the people of their own generations. Jesus was leading an invasion of the Kingdom of Light into the Kingdom of Darkness, and those loyal to the enemy of God would fight against the work of God no matter which century they belong to. This message was meant for the disciples, but it was also meant for you and me.

 

Story 178: The Last Supper: The Bread and the Cup

Matthew 28:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Last supper

The Passover Feast was a high and holy event for the Jewish people. It celebrated the memory of the great day of salvation in Jewish history. Fifteen hundred years before Jesus came to earth, God set His people free from the horrible oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh.  He made Israel into a mighty nation under the leadership of Moses by establishing a covenant with them that honored His covenant with Abraham (See Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 15).

By the time of Moses, Abraham’s descendants had grown to a multitude that was like the stars in the sky.  The time had come for them to introduce God’s high and holy Law to the world so that it would be blessed with a new understanding of God’s ways (See Exodus 19:1-9). The Lord gave them these Laws to show them how to live in a way that honored Him. He ordered a beautiful sacrificial system so that when they failed, they could bring their repentance to their Lord and cleanse themselves and their nation from sin. He ordered their society in a way that taught them to treat each other with dignity, compassion, and respect, and protected them from the shameful degradation and horrors of the nations around them. The abuses of power, the murderous sacrifice of children to idols, the rampant practices that spread diseases and disloyalty among marriages…these were to be cut off. The people of God were to bring the bright, ringing beauty of God’s goodness into the Land of Promise and live as a people set apart for holiness…an example and blessing to a cursed world…showing the way for another way to live.

As they honored the holy ways of the Most High God, they were meant to create a sacred space for God’s holy, intense presence to rest on earth in a special way. According to the Lord’s specific instructions, they built the golden ark of the covenant whose lid was the Mercy Seat, the footstool of God’s earthly throne. Their tabernacle in the desert and then their Temple in Jerusalem functioned as the great halls for God’s throne room. A massive, thick curtain of deepest blue was hung between the presence of God in the Holy of Holies and His people to protect them from the intensity of His holiness. While they were truly His treasured possession, but they were still marked and tainted by the filth of the Fall. The toxic power of sin utterly weakened their ability to bear the Presence of God, and God provided a gracious protection so that He could come near them.

As the people faced their sin, they brought sacrificial offerings to the priest in repentance. The priests of Israel took the animal sacrifices to the altar of God. God had ordained that the blood would be the cleansing agent that purified His sacred space from the toxic pollution of the people’s sin. The cost of sin is death…it is an inherent rejection of the life that God gives. This blood represented the true price for the failures of humanity. Day after day, week after week, the people brought their sacrifices to the priests as they constantly checked themselves against God’s high and holy Law. For every failure, for every transgression, there was a public declaration and confession through the sacrificial system. As the people learned to take an honest assessment of their great weakness and selfishness, they were learning how deep their sin truly was. As God’s Law taught them to hold up their bent souls against His straight, whole, righteousness and love, they eyes became able to see how to become more like Him in their day-to-day lives. They also saw how impossible it is for human beings to honor the beautiful goodness and perfection of the Most High God. As they followed God’s Law, the seriousness of their sin became more clear, the high holiness of God was revealed, and the tremendous goodness and grace in His desire to purify them became more apparent. The realities of eternity were being revealed in the life of the nation on earth.

The nation of Israel was called by God to purify itself so that it could act as a priestly nation to the world. Yet through all of the nation’s centuries, they proved to be a massive failure. They sinned against the Lord, they rejected His ways, and they waged ungodly wars. Their kings set up idols in rebellion against the One who put them on the throne and trusted in the power of other nations more than the power of God. They fell into horrific moral sin, offered their own children up as sacrifices to false gods, and forgot the ways of God’s compassion and justice. Ultimately, the nation split in two, and these were finally crushed and sent into exile.

This story is no mere myth…it is grounded in the reality of human history. The ten tribes of the North were attacked and decimated by the Assyrian Army. The two tribes of Israel in the South were taken into captivity by Babylon. They were the only ones who would ever return to the Promised Land, and it was their descendants who lived in the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus.

In the midst of the cataclysmic flaws of God’s holy nation, there were always a few among them that were faithful. There were always those who continued to offer themselves to God and seek His holy ways, coming to Him with their sacrifices and honoring him with their devotion and obedience. They were called the remnant, and their response of love to God was the same love that Jesus was requiring of His own disciples. The heart of God’s remnant has always been the same. Through the long years of Israel’s history, their sincere sacrifices of repentance pointed to the sacred, glorious, devastating sacrifice that Jesus was about to make. In their obedience to what God had revealed to them in their own time, they were looking forward to the hope of God’s mercy that would be fulfilled completely in Jesus. The salvation that belongs to us belonged to them as well.

It was no mistake that Jesus’ life would be offered up at the Passover Feast. His life was the outgrowth and the highest purpose of the nation that the Passover had established. The nation of Israel was created so that there would be a people on earth that was set aside to await the Messiah. There had to be some group that would be ready for when God Almighty sent the Cure in the form of His own Son.

Now Jesus had come, and He was making a New Covenant for a new era. His own blood would be the final sacrifice, the true sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to as a symbol for the epic moment when the Son of God would break the power of sin and death. His victory was based on the power of His indestructible life, smashing all the requirements of the Law for everyone who believes in Him.

The rituals of the Passover celebration had been kept by the Jewish nation for 1500 years. The memory of God’s saving work was fresh on the minds of the entire nation as they gathered in Jerusalem. Every part of the Passover feast was a symbol of God’s faithfulness. Now, as Jesus and His disciples honored that tradition, Jesus gave them a new ritual. It was a new command from God. It was given to remember and worship Christ in the new era that He would bring through His sacrifice.

The old Law would no longer be in force. A new Law was coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it would be written on the hearts of everyone who had faith in Jesus. There were whispers of this in the Old Testament.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of it:

 

“‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer will shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’”

Jeremiah 31:31-33

Ezekiel declared it as well:

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”

Ezekiel 36:24-28

The Spirit of Christ would be the seal of salvation for everyone who believed. The intensified presence of God on earth that hovered over the golden ark would now be found in every heart that had been purified by the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. The Spirit would make every believing heart His home.

These were the grand and epic things that were going on in human history through the life of Jesus. And now He sat in the Upper Room with His remnant, the eleven faithful disciples who would carry on the message of this Good News in the decades after His ascension into Heaven.

As they sat around the table, Jesus took some bread, thanked His Father, and broke it. He passed it to His disciples and said, “‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’”

Then the Lord took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He passed it to His disciples, saying, “‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink from it, all of you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’”

What a solemn, beautiful moment. What an elegant, quiet ritual for Jesus to give His followers to join in together as they remembered the work of their Savior.   Jesus was a King like no other. He was about to give His blood and His body for the salvation of everyone who belongs to His Kingdom. He was going to become the True Passover Lamb. This new ritual was to become a powerful symbol for the people of God’s Kingdom to remember His breathtaking, beautiful sacrifice for thousands of years.

The men who reclined with Jesus in the room that evening would be His heralds, declaring the victory He was about to win on the cross to the world. As they built His Church, they would remember this night. They would take these commands of Jesus and teach it to each new believer. Two thousand years later, the chain of their teaching has reached down to us. We still remember the sacrifice of our Savior together by sharing the bread and the wine. His presence is still with His Church in a special way as they honor his commands. Our sacred communion threads all the way back to the night before He died for us.

 

 

Story 166: Passion Week: Turning Up the Heat

Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 12:38-39; Luke 20:45-46

Segnender Jesus Christus Glasfenster

The religious leaders were mad. And they were scared. Nobody, not even the most brilliant minds in the nation, had the courage to stand up to Jesus any more. He was too quick. He spoke with a power and an authority that they had no answer to.

So they stopped their questions and took their plans behind closed doors. They plotted in secret with  murderous intent, searching with all their hearts for a way to kill the Son of God.

It was the greatest irony in the history of the world.  Out of all the people on earth, the nation of Israel was chosen to be God’s treasured possession (See Exodus 19:1-6). God said that one day, He would bring salvation to the world through them (See Genesis 12:1-3).

Now that time had come.  Every year, the Jewish people held a national feast to celebrate the magnificent salvation that the Lord gave them at the first Passover when He rescued them from slavery to Egypt.  Thousands upon thousands would converge on the city of Jerusalem for the festivities. As they poured into the city, their rulers were paving the way for the ultimate salvation that God had promised.  Yet they weren’t doing it on purpose. They were doing it in spite of themselves. God would use their malice and sin to bring salvation to the world through their murder of His Son.

In the wide and powerful flow of God’s glorious purposes for human history, these men could have had the privilege of obedience.  They could have taken part in God’s breathtaking victory over sin and death. They were meant to take part in His victory! They were meant to lead the nation of Israel to repentance when the Messiah came. They were meant to welcome the Kingdom of Heaven! But instead, they chose for themselves the petty role of jealous and power hungry men.  They would go down in history as men that allowed their malice to blind them from true glory. And as always, God would take their insidious choice and use it for the very greatest Good.

As Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, He was empowered by the Spirit in absolute obedience to the Father. He knew exactly what His enemies were up to. He was fully certain of what was going to happen…and He would lay down His life knowing that in the end, He would make all things new.

But for now, the time had come for a confrontation of the religious leaders.  In truth, it was an act of compassion. He had taught them, reasoned with them, and told stories that highlighted their corruption without directly confronting them.  He had spent three years giving them a chance to repent.  It didn’t work.  Their hearts were too hard.  So now He would come with a stronger message, turning up the heat, calling them out directly.  If they still didn’t listen, it would at least make things clear for the crowds.  This is how He began:

“‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.'”

Wow. Moses was the great leader of Israel who went up Mount Sinai and spoke with God. He brought the people of Israel the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. It was the very Scripture that the scribes and Pharisees taught the people. They were in positions of great authority, yet they were in rebellion against God. Even though they were terribly sinful, these scribes and Pharisees had positions of authority, and they were teaching from the Word of God. The actions of the leaders were completely different from the good things that they taught. Jesus told the common people in the crowd that they had to separate the sin of their leader’s actions from the righteous beauty of God’s Word. They had to choose to be like God’s Word and reject the terrible model set by the leaders who taught it. Then Jesus went on to describe exactly why the actions of the leaders were so sinful.  Notice that Jesus didn’t mention the awful way they were treating Him:

“‘They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at the banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them “Rabbi.”‘”

 Wow.  Imagine if you were a member of the nation of Israel.  Imagine if the zealous religious leaders were constantly making you and your family feel like your love and faith in God were never enough?  What would that burden feel like if they kept adding more and more?  Can you imagine what it was like for the people to hear Jesus declare that the religious leaders were wrong?

Imagine these proud men, the religious leaders, walking among the crowds as if they were somehow holier and more worthy than everyone else. The phylacteries that Jesus spoke of were leather cases that held parchments of Scripture. Their tassels were a part of the clothing they wore in obedience to the Old Testament Law. God commanded the men of Israel to sew blue tassels on the corners of their garments to show that they were holy and set apart for God (see Numbers 15:40). Jesus probably wore the tassels, too. But these men didn’t wear them to honor God. They wore the tassels to honor themselves, demanding admiration and power from the common people. They were demanding the worship and honor that belongs to God alone! And then they turned around and treated the people with contempt.  Jesus was offended. He went on to explain what He desires from His disciples:

‘”But you are not called “Rabbi,” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called “teacher,” for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'”

Wow. The followers of Christ were to be completely different from the leaders of Israel. Can you imagine if everyone treated each other that way? Can you picture how sweet it would be to live among people with such kindness and humility? Jesus was calling His followers to a completely different way of life. It is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is the way He still wants us to live.

Story 160: The Triumphal Entry of a Weeping King

Matthew 21:1-11; 14-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-10

Church of St. Anne - Palm Sunday

The Lord Jesus and His disciples began their trek from Bethany to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  Jesus had raised His friend, Lazarus from the dead only a few days before.  Multitudes of people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast had gone to Bethany to see Lazarus and Christ.  It was the talk of the nation.  It confirmed to the religious leaders that Jesus had to die.  Now as Jesus and His disciples made their way back to the City of David, the crowds followed them with all the clamor and excitement of high expectations.  What was Jesus going to do when He arrived?  Would there be more miracles?  What would He say to their leaders?

When they arrived at Bethphage, which was on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of the disciples on ahead. There were special preparations that had to be made. For you see, the events of this day were going to have a high and holy meaning. Events that were predicted hundreds of years in the past would finally come true.

Jesus gave two disciples very specific directions. He said:

“‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her upon which no person has ever sat. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’”

Matthew 21:2-3 and Mark 11:2b

 The disciples went off and did just as the Lord had said. They found the animals tied to a door outside in the street. When they began to untie them, some people standing nearby with the owners asked, “‘Why are you untying them?’”

The disciples said, “‘The Lord has need of them,’” just as Jesus had told them. The owner gave them permission to take the creatures. The disciples lead the donkey and her colt out to Jesus on the Mount of Olives.   Little did they understand the significance of what they were a part of. In fact, it was only after Jesus ascended into Heaven that they would think back on this day and realize the great prophecy they had taken part in. For you see, in Zechariah 9:9, the prophet said:

“‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you,

righteous and having salvation is He,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Zech. 9:9, ESV

These verses are a part of Zechariah’s description of a time when the King of Israel would see that His people were deeply afflicted. God would move in power on behalf of His people to deliver them. After complete and final victory over their enemies, their righteous King would ride into Jerusalem in victory. His conquest would bring peace not only for Israel, but for all the nations of the world. He would be the perfect, ideal ruler, like nothing the world had ever known. He would also be humble. Though He was mighty, He would submit with perfection to the King of Creation, honoring the Most High God with His reign.

Obviously this King would be no ordinary man. These were prophecies of the coming Messiah. As Jesus operated in absolute obedience to the will of His Father, God carried out His plans in perfect unison with the things He had foretold in His holy Word.

As the disciples led the donkey and her colt to Jesus, they had no idea they were swept up in the Great Unfolding of Zecheriah’s words. They just obeyed. When they arrived, they lay their garments across the back of the colt. Jesus sat on the young creature, and they began their procession into the City of David.

As Christ and the multitudes with Him moved towards the high walls of Jerusalem, the great crowds inside the city heard that Jesus was on His way. They began cutting the branches of palm trees to wave for the royal procession. Then they rushed out to receive the One they had been waiting for. Imagine their joy and excitement as they all began to shout out praises from their sacred book of worship:

“‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Psalm 118:26

 The crowds that had followed Jesus and the disciples from Bethany walked along behind Jesus as He rode on the colt. They had watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and they were full of hope for the great things that He would do. Pretty soon, the masses from Jerusalem joined them in one great throng of vibrant energy and celebration as Christ rode the hill up into the City. The people began laying their cloaks and garments out on the road ahead of Him. It was an act of humble submission. They were physically showing their homage to the Man they were calling their King.

Imagine the fervor and joy! Thousands of years of national longing was pouring out in a lavish display of thankful praise. They had seen the miracles! They had heard the stories of His powerful works! The Great Day had arrived!

The entire city was alive as even more people rushed out to see the Man who had raised Lazarus from the dead.

The religious leaders heard the commotion and joined the throng of jubilation. When they heard the people give praise to Christ as King, they began to grumble to one another. “‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!’”

Then some of the Pharisees went to Jesus as He rode through the shouts and praise of the crowd. “‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!,’” they demanded.

Jesus looked back at them and declared, “‘I tell you, if they kept quiet, the stones will cry out!’”

Jesus was not only the King of Israel, He is King of the universe, and every part of it is called to worship Him!

But even as the Lord rode through the excitement and clamor, He was flooded with a deep, inner sorrow. He looked up at the great walls of Jerusalem, the City of God’s special choosing, and wept, saying:

“‘If you, even you, had only known what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you in the ground, and you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’”

Luke 19:42-44

This terribly sorrowful saying was a prophecy. “If only you had known what would bring you peace.” Consider the sorrow of Jesus, reconciling His rejection with the vast and breathtaking consequences that were to come. The city of Jerusalem was going to be so devastated that every building would be crushed to the ground. But Jesus was not only mourning the future of Jerusalem. He was mourning the future of the whole nation. Jerusalem was the capitol, where God had set His special, intensified presence on earth. It was also a symbol for Israel, His treasured possession.

Even now as the people joined in wild celebration, Jesus knew what lay ahead. This moment of righteous glory would not last long. The nation that refused to repent through the Lord’s years of wondrous ministry would not stand with the Messiah in the end, either. The consequences would be great. Within the lifetime of the children who walked the streets of Jerusalem that day, the Roman army would come. When they were finished brutalizing the City and its people, there would be nothing left to call a city. The nation of Israel would disappear from the face of the earth for thousands of years.

With the rejection of their Messiah, the Jewish people were about to choose the ways of God’s enemy over the way of God’s righteous plan. And so the Lord would give them their way. Instead of having this humble King on a colt, they would have the malicious ways of the world, and it would devour them. The mighty Roman Empire would crush them. The depths of grief in this Son of David, this Son of God’s holy love, must have been great as He wept on His way into his City.

Picture the moment…the eloquent mourning of the King for the deep tragedy ahead in the midst of the jubilant crowds, waving their palms.

Yet in the midst of the disaster that faithless Israel was bringing upon themselves, Jesus carried a much deeper hope. He would have victory in spite of their betrayal.   It would be nothing like what they were hoping for. Through His perfect life, Jesus had been conquering the powers of sin and death by making the way to become the perfect, spotless Lamb. Now the time of His sacrifice was upon Him.

The grandeur of what He was going to do was far more vast and deep and high than anything they could comprehend. His deliverance was not for the nation of Israel alone. It was not merely for all the nations on earth for all time. Jesus had come to redeem the entire created order! His death would purchase the entire universe. He would make all things new!

As the throngs of people entered Jerusalem with their Messiah, they had no idea of the greatness of what they were celebrating. But the ruckus they caused stirred the rest of the city. “‘Who is this?’” was asked as the loud parade made its way inside the walls.

“‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth!’” the crowds proclaimed back to them.

The crowds journeyed with Jesus all the way to the Temple. The blind and the lame were there among the people, and an outpouring of healing came through Christ, making them whole and strong. What a delight and absolute thrill to watch men and women who were bound up and deformed jump up and dance and sing! What a marvelous party they were having, right on the steps of God’s holy Palace! The children were so swept up in the excitement that they were jumping and crying out with happy exaltation, “‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’”

In the midst of this unimaginably boisterous and absolutely appropriate happiness, the religious leaders and Pharisees grew bitter with indignation.‘Do you hear what they are saying?’” they demanded to Jesus “. They were red hot mad. The people were calling Him the Messiah, and Jesus wasn’t doing anything to stop them. It was as good as if Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah Himself.

Fortunately, Jesus was the Messiah, so He told them, “‘Yes! Have you never read:

‘From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise’”?

Wow. Now Jesus was quoting Psalm 8. If we read a little bit more of the Psalm, we will understand why this made the Jewish leaders even more angry:

“‘O Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens,

From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise.

because of your enemies,

to silence the foe and the avenger.’”

Psalm 8:1-2

 Jesus didn’t have to quote the whole Psalm to these men. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying. The children who give praise in these verses are giving praise to God Himself. Jesus was making it very clear that He was the divine Messiah. He was also making it clear that King David had foretold this very event.

The children were proclaiming the praise of Jesus against the religious leaders who had made themselves Christ’s enemies. These men should have led God’s nation to worship their Messiah. They had failed, and now the children cried out in their place.

Jesus spoke the truth boldly to them, and it was a kindness and a grace. There was still time, this was fair warning. They were on the wrong side of God’s holy plan. Would they repent?  They wouldn’t. They did just as the Psalm foretold. They were silenced in their rebellion, and they went away to plot once again about how to destroy the Son of the Living God.

The evening was drawing to a close on that remarkable day, so Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and went back to Bethany to stay for the night.

 

Story 153: The Priorities of God

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

Jerusalem - The paint of Jesus among the children

One of the best things about reading about Jesus is how surprising He often was.  He never seemed to do quite what His disciples, the religious leader, or even His family, expected.  It is as if His straight and perfect path, the one that absolutely honored the goodness of God, kept rubbing up against the crooked confusions and deceptions that the rest of humanity fall into and live out of.  The story for today is one of those stories.  It is famous because it is beautiful, and it has the power to help us reset what we think is important with what God says is important.

In the midst of Jesus’ teachings, some of the people started bringing their children to Him so He could bless them. The disciples tried to stop the parents. Why bother the Lord with these kids? But when Jesus saw them come between Him and little ones, He rebuked His men. He said:

“‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”

Mark 10:14b-15

Wow. Imagine that moment for a second. What was the expression in Jesus’ voice when He said this to His disciples?

Jesus took each of the children in His arms. He lay His hands on each one and blessed them, giving them His time and attention.

What do you think was the expression on His face when He looked at the children? Can you imagine His kindness, acceptance, and embrace? Can you imagine being one of those children, or bringing your own children to Jesus and watching His love for them?

It is interesting that Jesus taught us to call God our Father. That is what happens when we put our faith in Him. We become the children of God. The Lord Jesus is keeping the entire universe going (see Colossians 1:13-20). He knows how many hairs are on the head of every person in the world (see Matthew 10:29-31). Yet when you come to Him, He has the same response to you that He had towards those kids. You have His full attention.

Do you remember the story of the praying widow? Do you remember the story of the tax collector who cried out in humble repentance? The Lord honored them for how they came to God. Now children were the model for the relationship God wants to have with His faithful ones. When we talk about being childlike, we think of the sweet trust that we see in kids: the way they seek out the help of adults, depend on them, take them by the hand, freely express their love and freely express their need for love. Childlikeness is one of the most disarming and tender things in the universe, and it has a powerful effect on the heart of God.

As Jesus began to journey on, a young man came running up to Him. He was from a very rich family who were rulers in the nation of Israel. As he drew near, he knelt down in front of Christ and said, “‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Jesus answered, “‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good, if you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’”

“‘Which ones?’” the ruler asked.

Jesus said, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The young man said, “‘All of these I have kept.’”

Jesus looked at him and was filled with a great love for him. Then He said, “‘One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow Me.’”

Wow! What a bold thing to ask of someone! Yet what an amazing privilege. What a glorious invitation! Jesus had been among thousands upon thousands of people as He travelled all over Israel. Yet the only other times we see Him inviting someone to follow Him was when He invited the disciples.

Yet when the young man heard him, the excitement on his face fell to disappointment. He rose up and walked away sad. The cost was too high. For you see, he was tremendously wealthy with great properties, and he couldn’t let them go. Not even for Jesus.

What a heartbreaking story. This young man could confidently proclaim that he had earnestly obeyed the Law of God. He was truly devout, and since Jesus believed him, we can be sure he was being honest. The Spirit didn’t warn Him otherwise. All of those Laws from the Old Testament were given to the Jewish people to prepare them for the coming of Jesus, their Messiah. Yet now that this young man stood there, face to face with the Lord, he faltered.

It is interesting that when Jesus learned that the young man had truly obeyed the words of Scripture, He was filled with love for him. Obedience, purity, seeking after righteousness…while we will never be perfect in any of these things as we walk this crooked world, we can have the deep joy of knowing that our efforts profoundly delight the heart of Christ.

Imagine walking away from the Lord after seeing that look of love in His eyes. Imagine the heaviness of heart, the disappointment in himself…the stark, new awareness of what was really important to him.

This story can be a powerful moment for each of us to consider what our choice would be if we were faced with the same decision. All that we have is from the Lord. If He asked you to give it all up to follow Him into some new obedience, what would you do?

As Jesus and the disciples watched him walk away, the Lord said, “‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven!’” How sorrowful Jesus must have felt to watch the young man leave. Yet He understood the heart of humanity caught in the grip of “having things.”

The disciples were stunned! The Jewish people of their day believed that the rich were wealthy because they were good. They assumed that God had blessed them because they were better than everyone else. This can often be true today as well. How often do people assume that someone who is rich or talented or powerful is so because they are better, smarter, or more spiritual than everyone else?

Yet here was Jesus, speaking with total authority about why things work the way they do. He almost made it sound like wealth was an unhappy burden! How could that be?

Well, the character and emotional strength of most men and women is too weak to withstand the temptations of wealth. It is intoxicating and deceiving. Their money and property and ease, the social status and influence and lack of want that it brings, are like a bondage that keeps them from living for God’s Kingdom, which is where true, living wealth really exists. Jesus understood the vast splendor of God’s Kingdom. He understood how impoverished this world is by comparison. From God’s perspective, anything that keeps someone from the wealth of Heaven is crippling.

Think about how freely a child is able to come to Jesus! Think how desperately the widow knew her need…the tax collector’s repentance was beautiful next to the reluctance of this rich young ruler (see Story 151 for both stories). The freedom of a child, the desperate dependence of the widow, and the humble repentance of the tax collector are the signs of true, heavenly wealth. They are gifts from the Lord, great treasures that aid His children in coming to Him with right hearts. In God’s view, people that are rich in this world are often very poor. But those who know their need for God and cling to His hope are bathed in eternal riches!

Jesus went on:

“‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Matthew 19:23b-24

Wow. Do you know how big a camel is? They can weigh over 1,500 pounds! Jesus picked the biggest animal that could be found in Israel. Do you know how small the eye of a needle is? It is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle! The disciples were shocked to hear this. “‘Who, then, can be saved?’” they asked. If even those they had grown up believing to be the people on the fast route to salvation were hopeless, what chance was there for anyone else?

‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” Jesus answered.

Then Peter jumped in and said, “‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’”

Jesus’ answer is absolutely stunning. If we really read it, and we really think about what it means, it is a breathtaking truth:

“‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”

Matthew 19:28

Wow. After all of Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, this must have been a great relief! Not only were His disciples going to be welcomed into eternal life, they were going to have commanding roles to play! What Peter said was true, he and the other disciples had left everything. They had stood by Jesus even when the most powerful men in the land were plotting to have Him killed. They served long hours with no pay, allowing their faith and knowledge to be challenged every day as they walked in the presence of the Son of God and confronted all of their own misconceptions and confusion. And for them, there would be a magnificent reward.

Can you picture it? At the end of days, God is going get rid of the Curse completely and make all of Creation brand new. At that time, the Lord’s twelve disciples will sit on their own thrones and act as judges over their nation. Wow. They had not left their homes and lives for nothing. Their reward would be far more than they could ask or imagine.

Story 152: Sacred Romance

Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

Couple holding hand at sun rise

As Jesus finished His astonishing teachings about prayer (see Story 151), He moved on from the region in the north and worked His way through Perea. He journeyed as far as the region of Judea, on the far side of the Jordan.   Still the crowds gathered around Him, and He went on healing one person after another. Imagine the people as they watched His glorious miracles, the shouts from thrill and amazement as broken people were made whole! Imagine them listening intently to His teaching.  Surely nothing like this had been seen in Israel for hundreds of years. Who could this Man be?

In the midst of His bright, beautiful Kingdom work, some Pharisees came to Jesus. They had carefully crafted questions to catch Him in a trap. If they could get Jesus to say something that went against the Law, they would have a good reason to arrest Him.

It might be worthwhile at this point to consider what other choices these leaders had. They could have looked around at all the people who had been healed and rejoiced. They could have asked Jesus questions to help them understand why He was doing things that seemed to violate what they thought God wanted them to do. They could have bowed down in worshipful repentance before Him, just as Peter had done at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (see Story 37). They could have declared to the nation that He was the Messiah and encouraged the people to follow Him. But they didn’t, and that tells us a lot about their hearts.

Instead, they asked Jesus, “‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’” This was a question that the people of their own time argued over. It was difficult because there were different passages of the Old Testament that seemed to give different answers. But Jesus wrote the Old Testament, so it wasn’t a challenge for Him.

Jesus answered:

“‘Haven’t you read that from the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate”’”

Matthew 19:4-6

What a pure and holy ideal! What a beautiful truth! It was straight from the story of Creation. Marriage was designed at the beginning of time to make two souls one. It is part of who we were made to be as humans. In God’s perfect Garden, He brought Adam and Eve together for a perfect love. Imagine being a part of a romance where there is total acceptance and love that never fades.  Imagine a marriage where there is no failure, disappointment, or sin.  That is what we were created for.  That is why it hurts when sin and brokenness damage love…something in us knows that this is not how things were meant to be.  The Lord continues to call His children to strive for the goodness of what was meant to be in paradise, and He uses the challenges that our broken souls in this broken world bring to marriage to transform us.

But the Pharisees weren’t interested in pondering the good things of God. They were too busy trying to catch His Son in a mistake. Imagine the crowds of people as they listened to their elite leaders try to stump Jesus once again.   “‘Why, then,’” asked the Pharisees, “‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’”

Now they were trying to pit Jesus against Moses! It wasn’t going to work. Jesus said:

“‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”

 Once again, the Lord took the twisted words of the Pharisees and made them straight. The Pharisees were talking about Deut. 24:1-4.   In that command, Moses said that if a man divorced his wife for being unfaithful and she married another man and then he divorced her, her first husband was not allowed to remarry her. What a twisted possibility, creating confusion for families and children, wreaking havoc on emotional and financial stability, inviting jealousies and division at the very point where we are meant to feel the most united intimacy and security.  It was a detestable offense against what God meant marriage to be, so far from the splendor of the Garden!

The Pharisees used the very law that should have pointed the Jewish people away from divorce and towards God’s wonderful hope for marriage to justify divorce. Once again, Jesus held pure light up against the dark compromises of the Curse that were running rampant among God’s people.

Yet the compromises and teachings of the Pharisees ran deep in the Jewish people. Even His disciples were stunned by what Jesus said. Later on, after they had gone away from the crowds and into a house, they talked about it. “‘If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry!’” they declared.  Jesus answered:

“‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”

Matthew 19:11-12

Wow. Jesus was issuing quite a challenge. When the disciples said, “It is better not to marry,” Jesus basically said, “You’re right!” In the paradise of the Garden, marriage was God’s ultimate plan to reflect His image. But many things were broken by the Fall. In the age of the Curse, there are many men and women who are called to be the Lord’s special servant warriors. They lay aside the wonderful gifts and treasures of marriage so they can live fully and completely for service to God’s Kingdom.   But humans are full of passions and emotions that God created for rich blessing in marriage. We were created for partnership, to become one soul with a husband or wife. Most people will not be able to accept giving up marriage. The power to accept a life apart from marriage is a sacred gift from God. It is part of a high and holy calling.  Imagine how it pleases the Lord.  Imagine how He blesses these set-apart ones with nearness to Him, the exclusive Lover of their souls.  Imagine the way their hearts are being prepared for eternity.  It is the richness of God’s Kingdom that the world does not understand.

As we look at the longer story of the lives of Jesus’ apostles, we see what a powerful gift it is. Men like the Apostle Paul had the freedom to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. When their lives were at risk, as they were beaten and stoned, and as they travelled all over the known world, they had no fear of abandoning a wife or children. They sacrificed many of the delights of this world, counting all things as nothing compared to winning victories for Christ and the greater glory ahead (check out 2 Corinthians 4Galatians 2:20, and Philippians 1:21-26).

As valuable as the men and women who give up marriage for the sake of the Gospel are to God , this in no way diminishes the goodness of marriage or God’s blessings and strengthening power to bring renewed love between a man and his wife. God hates divorce because He loves marriage.

It is interesting that this story came right after two stories about prayer…one was about praying relentlessly to God for justice, and the other was about praying with genuine humility and repentance over sin. For a man and wife, the desire for justice in the marriage and the challenge of having genuine humility about one’s weaknesses are great obstacles to loving each other for a lifetime. Jesus said that prayer is a powerful way to engage God’s heart and guidance.  Surely He will hear the prayers of those who come to Him like the persistent widow on behalf of their marriage.

Story 150: The Options

Luke 17:30-36

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Noah and Lot were far from perfect men, but they listened to their God (see Genesis 6-9 and 18:16-19:29). When God’s merciful warnings came, they had ears to hear and were saved. The rest of the people during their times chose their own terrible ends by treating the words of their Maker with contempt. It was the same sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden and that the religious leaders committed against Jesus. It is happening right now in the hearts of humanity all over the planet. It will still be happening when Jesus returns. Each person throughout history has had a choice about whether they will heed the righteous ways of God or not.

Those who reject the Lord have decided that they can make life work their own way. If they fail to repent in this life, God will honor their choice. He will give them their way. He will separate them from Himself and all the good things He provides, which is every good thing in the universe! It is pure human arrogance to believe it can be any other way.

This judgment to come is a cataclysmic, awesome, frightening thing. It should cause us to have a holy, reverent fear of God. It could draw us into our rightful place of worship and wholeness before Him…to enter into the grace He has made the way for. It could bring us to our knees, where we will know the supreme peace and joy of right relationship with the Almighty Lord! That’s if we let it. Right now, we have a choice. Will we respond to His Spirit and His transforming power?

Somehow, in a paradox that the divinely inspired authors of Scripture never choose to make absolutely clear, God holds humanity responsible for our response to Him. And yet we also know that God chose those who would respond to Him. We were chosen from before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. We are the elect (see Ephesians 1-3 for an epic vision of what it means to have life in Christ or Romans 8:26-39 for the incredible security of that gift of grace).

Yet many will not be numbered among those who put their faith in the Lord. Jesus went on to describe how it will be for the people walking the earth on the Day of the Lord, the time of His righteous judgment at the end of the world:

“‘It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.’”

Luke 17:30-36

Can you picture it? When the moment has come, somehow, the Lord Jesus will return as the Son of Man with great, flashing brilliance in the sky above. Heaven will invade earth finally and completely through the power of God’s Son. Nothing will ever be the same. This is how the Apostle Paul described that astonishing moment:

“…the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

Wow. What will you do when He comes? Will you run inside? Will you try to grasp a hold of all your worldly goods? Will you be like Lot’s wife, who looked back towards the city of sin with longing? Or will lift your arms to your Lord, ready to leave it all behind for Him?

Jesus revealed to His disciples amazing and glorious mysteries about how He was going to return in cataclysmic glory on the great and terrible Day of the Lord. But even as He spoke of how He would come flashing across the sky, He told them how to live their lives on earth. The way to prepare for His coming was by living lives of absolute devotion to Him. It is the only right response of love to the One who is Love.

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