22 February 2011

Jesus Relates Obedience and Judgment

John 7:10-24

A few years ago I was hiking along a trail near a cove in Southwest Australia.  3 of my 4 children were with me.  We had the opportunity to jump the trail and head out to a spectacular sight on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  We spent a few moments there and I decided to find our way back to their mom and baby brother. 

Instead of doing the smart thing and going back the way we came, I saw a faint trail going back inland.  The kids and I followed this "trail" for a while as the bush became thicker and thicker around us.  After we had to duck a log in order to stay on that trail, I realised that we were lost.  I didn't want to frighten the kids so I tried acting like I knew where I was and we would be back on the main trail soon.  But, after a time, the older two children knew what I knew.  We were lost.

Thankfully, we finally found our way back to the main trail after hearing some voices nearby.  We were able to follow the voices of the ones who were on the main trail so we could find the main trail.

That reminded me how easy it is to become lost.

There were a number of citizens of God's nation who were trying to determine whether Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus, knowing the hearts of men, made his reasoned appeal to the people, "Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own."

The Father and The Son are one.  Jesus never, ever contradicts his Father in Heaven.  The Father sent His Son so that we may follow Him as He shows us the way to the Father.  A way, clearly, that we can not find on our own.

But, there are some who are not sure.  Worse, there are some that are so convinced that he is not the Messiah, they want to kill him.  Why is this?  According to Jesus, they do not do the will of God.  Jesus skillfully warns them that they do not know God, so they will not know him.  Their priorities are not God's priorities.

Jesus points out their hypocracy.  They are angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.  After all, God told them to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy (or cleanly seperate).  Jesus, speaking the Word of His Father, points out they do things on the Sabbath all the time.  They circumcise children whose eighth day falls on the Sabbath.  They do this clearly because they deem the precise keeping of circumcision as more important than the keeping of a day.

Healing someone, loving people is always the priority of our Father in Heaven.  If someone needs help, the will of our Father is to help them.  We see a need.  We meet a need.  This is the will of our Father in Heaven.  The religious leaders of Jesus' day had placed holy days ahead of loving God and loving people.  They had become lost.  They had left the true trail and could not find their way back even though that way back was living among them.  The reason they did not recognise this is because they did not think they were lost.  They thought they were on the trail.  But, if they had honestly examined the hardness of their hearts toward their neighbours who desperately needed help, they might have realised their plight and repented.

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

But I thought Jesus told us not to judge?  He did.  But in that context, he was warning us not to try to decide who was and was not worthy of the grace of God.  But, in that same sermon, he taught about distinguishing between true and false prophets and teachers. 

Yes, there is good teaching and bad teaching.  There is a true Word of God and teaching that God never said.  Not all teaching is good.  Not all teaching is profitable or useful.  Jesus never, ever told his followers to turn off their brains.  Quite the opposite, he wants us to turn on our hearts by aligning our hearts with His heart. 

Jesus' words, no doubt, turned many of the crowd's recollection to when Samuel went to find a successor to King Saul at the home of Jesse.  The prophet Samuel thought for certain that God had chosen the tall, strong and handsome as King.  But the Lord tells Samuel,

for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

We must learn to see as our Father in heaven sees.  We must learn to see with our Father's heart.  And our Father's heart is His Son Jesus' heart.  By His grace, by the gift of His Word, the gift of His Son, the gift of His Spirit, we are able to choose to do the will of God.  When we do the will of God, we are able to see Him more clearly.  We are able to see where He is going, so that we are able to tell what is the true trail and what trail is false.

10 February 2011

Jesus Is First

Luke 9:57-62

"Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first..."

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but..."

Jesus is Lord.  Period.  If we believe that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, then Jesus is our Lord and our Saviour.  If we believe that Jesus is THE teacher, then Jesus is THE teacher.

This seems harsh to those of us who like to keep our options open, but do the responses of Jesus to these would-be followers surprise us knowing the God of the Bible?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

Yes, this reality is hard to accept for this American-Western citizen.  I value my freedom.  I value my ability to choose my life's path.  One way makes me nervous.  I like believing that whatever is available to me to make me happy is available.  What if my commitment to something cuts off an option that I may find valuable later?  Is this wise?

Throughout man's story, we hear about the heavenly Father who continually attempts to convince his people that He is good, that He is trustworthy, that He is faithful.  Through the same man and woman who allowed evil into paradise, God brings a way to purge the evil.  Through the same woman who laughed when told she would give birth to a son, God brings a nation that would be a light to the nations.  Through a people grumbling about being rescued from slavery, God brings a way to free all of creation.  It's the story of the Bible; people reject, God forgives and restores.  There are no "Bible heroes".  There is only one Bible hero and that is God.

This is why Jesus is amazed at the centurion's faith and proclaims that he has not found such faith in all of Israel.  The military officer knows what it is to follow orders without full understanding.  Soldiers follow orders to the point of giving their lives all the time.  Why?  Because they are absolutely convinced that their lives are worth a cause that is greater than themselves.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

When we are convinced that Jesus is good, we will follow Him whereever He leads us.  When we are convinced that Jesus is trustworthy, we will not hesitate when He calls us to be His disciple.  When we are convinced that Jesus is faithful, we will not even think of telling him "but..." 

Jesus is the way.  Jesus is the truth.  Jesus is the life.

What else do we need?

02 February 2011

Jesus Confronts Our Prejudices

 Luke 9:51-56

Disciples are students.  Disciples should be constantly learning from their teacher.  In becoming disciples or apprentices to anyone, we recognise the expertise of the master that we do not have but want to gain.  In recognising the expertise of the master, we are wise to be willing to change every habit and every thought that may keep us from following our master's instructions.

If we recognise Jesus as the master of life, we are wise to be willing to change every habit and every thought about life that may keep us from following our His instructions. 

This is why disciples of Jesus find many ways of Jesus difficult.  We have been learning about life since conception.  We have many habits and many thoughts that are just plain wrong.  If this wasn't the case then we would be making life better for everyone.  But, we only need a brief, truthful examination to know this is not the case.

The message that Jesus preaches is a call to discipleship, "Repent.  For the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  At it's core, discipleship is about change.  Proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour is about humbling ourselves and submitting our way so that we can learn His way.

This is why Jesus cannot work with people who have hard hearts.  If we are set in our ways, we cannot follow Jesus' instructions.

Jesus had performed many wonderful miracles in Samaria before.  He had convinced many Samaritans that he is the Messiah, the one who was sent by God to save his people.  And yet, this time he is rejected.  Why?  Because he is going to Jerusalem.  In their mind, Jesus going to Jerusalem is Jesus taking sides in the generations-old debate between Jew and Samaritan about where was the proper place to worship God.

Was Jesus really taking sides in this debate?  No.  He already explained his position to one Samaritan woman.  He would do in Jerusalem what he had done in other Galilean and Samaritan towns, announce to his people, "Repent.  For the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Ultimately, he would go to Jerusalem because that is where he is supposed to be judged and killed by his people.

Do these facts and teachings matter to these Samaritans?  No.  Anyone who goes to Jerusalem to worship is an enemy of Samaria, period.  They were set in their hearts on this.  They would not learn otherwise.  So, Jesus is not welcome there.

In turn, Jesus' Jewish disciples want to punish the Samaritans.  The disappointment and anger in Jesus' rebuke must have been clear.  How quickly did James and John allow the hardness of their hearts to cause them to forget what Jesus had been teaching them all along?

Father, I know nothing.  You and your Son know everything.  Change my heart, O God.  Keep it soft and tender so that you can change it into the heart that you need to serve in Your kingdom.